The definition of the Sunnah in terminology differs according to the difference in the purposes of the scholars from their research, depending their different specialties, and the following is its definition with orators, the fundamentalists and the jurists.
The Sunnah in the terminology of the orators:
Orators have multiple definitions for the Sunnah; among these definitions:
1 – It is his sayings - peace be upon him -, his actions, his endorsements, his physical and moral qualities, and all his accounts, whether before or after the mission. This is what is widely known to the majority of orators, as though the Sunnah for them is concerned with the Marfu’ (elevated) Hadith only. As to the Mawquf (stopped) and Maqtu’ (severed), it is not.
Perhaps the supporting basis of these for the adoption of this definition is: the appellation of the Prophet - peace be upon him – of all that which he came up with, in reciprocity of the Quran with the Sunnah, such as saying in his Sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage: (O people, I have left among you that which if you hold fast to, you shall never go astray: the Book of Allah and my Tradition) (1).
Based on this statement, many of the orators attribute, in the appellation of their books in Hadith, the name Sunnah, such as: Sunan Abu ‘Isa At-Tirmidhi, deceased in the year 279 AH, and the Sunan of Imam Abu Dawood Al-Sedgestani, deceased in the year 275 AH, and Sunan An Nisa’ee, deceased in the year 303 AH, and Sunan Ibn Majah Al Qazweeni, deceased in the year 373 AH or in the year 275 AH.
2 - It was said: it is – ie: the Sunnah - his statements - peace be upon him - his actions, his endorsements, his physical and moral attributes, and all of his accounts, whether that is before or after the mission, as well as the statements of the Companions and their actions.
Among those who adopted this statement is Imam Abu Hanifa An-Nu'man ibn Thaabit - may Allah be pleased with him - deceased in the year 150 AH, it has been reported that he said: "What came to us from the side of the companions, we followed them, and what came to us from the side of the followers, we looked to converging them."
He said: "If I do not find in the Book of Allah or the Sunnah of His Messenger, I consider the statement of his companions, whomever I wished; and I leave the statement of whomever I wished, then again, I do not step beyond their word to that of others" (1).
As if the Sunnah for Abu Hanifa is specific to the Marfu’ (narration attributed to the Prophet specifically) and Mawquf (narration attributed to a companion) only, while other than that, among the Maqtu’ (narration attributed to a successor), is not. Perhaps his basis in adopting this definition is his saying- peace and blessings of Allah be upon him -: (You ought to follow my Tradition and that of the rightly-guided, upright successors; bite upon it with your back teeth) (1).
3 - It was said: it is – ie: the Sunnah - his statements - peace be upon him -, his actions, his endorsements, his physical and moral attributes, and all of his accounts, whether before or after the mission, as well as the statements of the companions and the followers, and their actions.
Among those who adopted this definition; Al-Haafidh Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Al-Hussein, known as Al-Bayhaqi, deceased in the year 458 AH, where he called his book – in which he collected what came from the Prophet - peace be upon him - the edicts of the companions and the followers and their actions: As-Sunan Al-Kubraa, as though the Sunnah for him includes: the Marfu’ (narration attributed to the Prophet specifically), Mawquf (narration attributed to a companion) and Maqtu’ (narration attributed to a successor).
He might have based his adoption of this definition on: the fact that the companions were in contact with the Messenger of Allah - peace be upon him - and witnessed the revelation and descent, and that the followers intermingled with the companions, mixed with them and heard from them, so much so that their words and actions were worthy of acceptance than others, and became part of the concept of Sunnah.
(1) This Statement was narrated by Maalik in Al Muwatta’ Communication, Kitab Al-Qadar (Book of Destiny), p.: 561, ed.: Ash-Sha’b, Zarqaani said in his interpretation of the Muwatta’ (4 / 246): "His communication is authentic, as Ibn Uyaynah said" and has been documented by Ibn Abd Al-Barr in At-Tamheed according to the Statement of Abu Hurayrah and that of Amr ibn Awf, and said: "This is a reputed Statement of the Prophet - peace be upon him –the scholars dispose of a reputation, which would almost obviate the chain of narration", refer to: (Fatḥ Al-Maalik with the arrangement of At-Tamheed of Ibn Abd Al-Barr on Malik’s Muwatta’ (9/282- 283), and narrated by Al-Haakim in Al-Mustadrak (No. 931), and authenticated and converged by Adh-Dhahabi".
(2) The Principles of As-Sarkhasi (1 / 313).
(3) This Statement was narrated by Al-Tirmidhi in his Sunan, Kital Al-‘Ilm (Book of Knowledge), section of what came on following the Sunnah and avoiding innovations. No (2676), and said: a sound, authentic Statement, and narrated by Abu Dawood in his Sunan, Kitab As-Sunnah (Book of Tradition of the Prophet), the section on the adherence to the Sunnah. No (4607), and Ibn Majah in As-Sunan, the Introduction: section on following the Tradition of the rightly-guided, upright successors. No (42, 43), and Imam Ahmad in his Musnad (4 / 126, 127), all are according to the Statement of Al-‘Arbadh bin Saariyah - may Allah be pleased with him.