The Sources of Islamic Guidance - Imam Suhaib Webb [1/7]
The two fundamental sources of Islamic doctrine and practice are the Quran and the Sunnah, or the exemplary conduct of Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah.
The Quran literally means "the recital." Muslims regard the Quran as the authentic revelation of God to Muhammad, revealed in Arabic by Gabriel, the Angel of revelation to all the Messengers of Allah. This divine revelation of the Quran implies that the words are divinely given; so any text can be interpreted in the light of other texts. The Quran is the collection of the verses revealed to Muhammad during approximately 23 years of his prophetic life (610-32). It is divided into 114 chapters (Surah) of unequal length, the shortest containing only 3 short verses, and the longest containing 286 verses. Both Islamic and non-Islamic scholars agree on the essential integrity of the text of the Quran throughout its history. Because of the distortion of all previous Books by humans, God kept his promise that He Himself will protect the Quran. The Quran is complete and authentic. Nothing of it is missing and no more of it is expected. Its authenticity is beyond any doubt, and no serious scholar or thinker has ventured to question its genuineness. God made it incumbent upon Himself to protect it against distortion of any kind. Thus it is given to mankind as the standard or the criterion by which all other books are judged. Consequently, whatever agrees with the Quran is accepted as divine truth, and whatever differs from the Quran is rejected. God says:
Surah 15, Ayah 9 "We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)."
The purity of the text of the Quran through fourteen centuries is a foretaste of the eternal care with which Allah′s Truth is guarded through all ages. Allah′s Pure and Holy Truth will never suffer eclipse in any time or in any place. Unlike the Bible, in the present day, millions of Muslims (Arabs and non-Arabs) memorize the whole Quran by heart. Some of them have been able to memorize the entire Quran by the age of ten. This is a simple and yet an overwhelming fact. Not only did God preserve the text of the Quran, but also the style of reciting the Quran by today′s Muslims is exactly the same style of recitation as that of Muhammad himself. Muslims, when reading verses of the Quran, stop where the Messenger of Allah stopped, and continue where he continued. One may really wonder about the strength of God′s promise to preserve the Quran in writing as well as in reading. When one recites the Quran, one is reading the authentic Words of the Only God, with the exact reading style of the greatest man ever lived. This is definitely an enormous spiritual experience.
From the very beginning of the revelation, the Messenger of Allah and the Muslims recited the Quran by heart, and the scribes wrote it down in his presence. The Quran therefore starts with two elements of authenticity that the Gospels do not have: true divine inspiration and immediate recording. This continued until the Messenger′s death. This memorization of the Quran by heart was crucial because not everyone could write, but everyone was able to recite. About thirty thousand companions of the Prophet memorized the whole Quran during his time. The Arabs at that time used to memorize very long poems. All these poems exist in the present Arabic literature. So it was not difficult for the Arabs to memorize a very long text by heart. Also the fact that millions of present day Muslims know the entire Quran by heart provides an assurance that it was done before. This memorization of the Quran provides a considerable advantage because of the double-checking that occurred when the definitive text was compiled.
The Angel Gabriel made the first Quranic revelation to Muhammad when he was in the cave of Hira in a mountain outside Mecca. He never worshipped any idols, and he used to go to this cave every year on the month of Ramadan (the ninth Arabic month) to meditate and search for the truth. The first verses that were revealed to him were those of Surah 96, Ayah 1-5. The first revelation was as follows:
"Proclaim! (or read!) in the name of thy Lord and Cherisher, Who Created. Created man, out of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the pen, Taught man that which he knew not."
In these first verses, the Quran praises reading, knowledge, and using pens, which explains the Messenger′s concern for recording the Quran in writing. When the revelations became known, he was accused that the Quran was tales of the ancients which he has caused to be written and they were dictated to him, Surah 25, Ayah 5. The unbelievers treated him as an impostor, and they spread rumors that the established Jewish and Christian communities in Arabia dictated the stories to him! This is in spite of the fact that during many divine revelations he was with his family or his companions, and those fictitious sources never revealed themselves.
All sources agree in stating that whenever a verse of the Quran was revealed, the Prophet called one of his literate companions and dictated it to him, indicating at the same time the exact position of the verse in the fabric of what had already been received. The Prophet Muhammad then asked the scribe to reread to him what had been dictated so that he could correct any inaccuracies. It is a known fact that there were 27 scribes in his following. The most famous of scribes, Zaid Ibn Thabit and Obayy Ibn Kaab, have recorded their names in history. Another famous tradition tells how every year in the month of Ramadan, the Prophet would recite all the revealed Quran to Gabriel. Also in the month of Ramadan preceding the Prophet′s death, Gabriel had made him recite the Quran twice. It is a fact that millions of Muslims all over the world recite the Quran in its original Arabic language during the month of Ramadan, following the habit of the Prophet. The method of doubly preserving the text both in writing and by memorization proved to be extremely precious.
Not long after the Prophet′s death (632), his successor Abu Bakr, the first religious head of the Islamic state or Caliph, asked Muhammad′s former head scriber Zaid Ibn Thabit to assemble an official copy; this he did. On Omar′s initiative (the future second Caliph) Zaid Ibn Thabit consulted all the information (those who memorize the Quran, copies of the Book on various materials belonging to individuals) he could assemble, all with the objective of avoiding any possible errors in transcription. According to the instruction of Abu Bakr, a verse could be accepted only if it was presented at least in two manuscripts and should conform to the memorized version of the commission headed by Zaid Ibn Thabit. A parallel to this conscientious performance does not exist in the case of any other scripture in the history of the world. Thus an extremely faithful copy of the Quran was obtained. Truthful history states that Caliph Omar, Abu Bakr′s successor in 634, subsequently made a single volume that he preserved and gave on his death to his daughter Hafsah, the Prophet′s widow who was one of the few literate women of her time.
The third Caliph Othman, who held the Caliphate from 644 to 655, realized that copies of the Quran from the original text at Hafsah had to be available to different Islamic countries. Othman entrusted it once again to Zaid Ibn Thabit with the request that its copies should be prepared, compared and corrected for spelling mistakes. The commission consulted Muslims that knew the Quran by heart. The critical analysis of the authenticity of the text was carried out rigorously. The agreement of all the witnesses were deemed necessary, before the slightest verse containing debatable material was retained. Othman ordered that all the finished copies of the Quran should be read aloud, one by one, from the beginning to the end in the Prophet′s Mosque. The result was an authentic text containing an order of the Surah that reflects the order followed by the Prophet in his complete recital of the Quran during Ramadan. The Quran is classified as to the place of revelation, whether it is Mecca or Madinah. Some verses are doubted only regarding the place of revelation.
Othman sent a copy of the verified text to the centers of the Islamic Empire, and that is why, copies attributed to Othman exist in Tashkent and Istanbul. About fifty photocopies of that of Tashkent exist in Cairo, London, Kabul and other cities. The oldest documents known to be present today are identical; the same is true for the documents preserved in Europe. The numerous ancient texts that are known to exist all agree. The ancient writing was simpler than that of the present day, due to the absence of diacritical marks. This could make a verb either active or passive, and in some instances, masculine or feminine. More often than not, this was hardly of any consequence, since the context indicated the meaning in many cases. The fact that the Quran is memorized by heart throughout the years, since its revelation, helped to eliminate any change in the meaning. As an example, because of the different Arabic dialects, the Quran calls Mecca as Bakka. But every Muslim on Earth knows that Bakka is Mecca.
A large number of descriptions, in the Quran, are mentioned in several places in the text, sometimes giving rise to repetitions. Very frequently, a verse will add details to a description that appears elsewhere in a compressed form. Verses associated with scientific facts, like many other subjects dealt with in the Quran were spread throughout the Book without any attempt of classification.
An author of a history book criticized the Quran as "disjointed." He expected the Quran to be divided into chapters, with each chapter dealing with one subject. He expects the Quran to be like, for example, a physics book, where the first chapter deals with static and the second chapter deals with dynamics and so on. This author fails to understand that the Quran is a Book of Guidance to mankind. It is not a history book; it is not a science book. It is a Book for the soul that is designed with absolute perfection to handle spiritual issues and materialistic subjects. This point will be dealt with in the next chapter.
The second authoritative source of Islam is the Sunnah, or examples of the Prophet′s way of life and his genuine statements known as "Hadith". It represents a body of traditions based on what the Prophet said or did regarding various issues. There are some traditions that suggest that the Prophet gave orders not to record his sayings. This is because he wanted to give the highest priority to recording the Quran. However, some companions approached the Prophet for permission to write down the traditions. The permission was granted to Abdullah Ibn Amr, Anas Ibn Malik, Abu Hurayrah, Zaid Ibn Thabit and others. A large number of his companions checked their writing with the Prophet. The collection of the tradition included thousands of his sayings during his life. For example, Abu Hurayrah knew thousands of traditions by heart and the numerous volumes he compiled for his students are still intact. Moreover, his companions and followers followed all the religious practices of Muhammad (Pbuh).
During the time of Caliph Omar ibn Abdul Aziz, the formal documentation of the Sunnah was performed. There are those who claim that the Sunnah takes a secondary place in Islam, or may deny it completely. This is in spite of the clear order from Allah:
Surah 4, Ayah 59 "O ye who believe, Obey Allah and obey the messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination."
The Quran orders the Muslims to pray but does not detail the method and number of prayers. Then the prophet said: "Pray like you see me praying." Thus, all Muslims during the last fourteen centuries pray the same way Muhammad did. The authentic traditions are recorded in two main references collected by Albukhary and Muslim among others. Each contains about four thousands authentic saying of the prophet. These four thousands authentic saying were chosen from a total of sixty thousands saying. Albukhary insisted on a chain of narration, a feature peculiar only to Muslims, and practically unknown to others. Sometimes he started with three intermediate narrators, the maximum number being nine, and culminated with the Prophet. Those authentic statements of the prophet are treated as part of the religion.
Islamic law called the Shariah, spells out the moral goals of the community. In an Islamic society, therefore, the term law has a wider significance than it does in the modern secular West, because Islamic law includes both legal and moral imperatives. For the same reason, not all Islamic law can be stated as formal legal rule or enforced by the courts. Much of it depends on conscience alone.
Islamic law is based on four sources, or "roots of law." The first two are the Quran and the Sunnah, or Hadith. The third source is called ijtihad ("responsible individual opinion"). It has been used when an issue is not covered by passages in the Quran or Sunnah. A Muslim jurist may then resolve the issue by using analogical reasoning (qiyas). Such reasoning was first employed when Islamic theologians and jurists, during the fast spread of Islam, were confronted with the need to integrate local customs and laws with the Quran and Sunnah. Later, Islamic authorities considered this original thinking a threat to the Quran and Sunnah and laid down strict rules limiting its use. Because of the profound changes in the Muslim world′s community during the last few decades, however, a renewed emphasis has been placed on the innovative thinking of ijtihad. The fourth source is the consensus (ijma) of the community, which is reached by gradually discarding some opinions and accepting others. Because Islam has no official dogmatic authority, this is an informal process that often requires a long period of time.
Five main schools of law developed in Islam, four Sunnite and one Shiite. The four Sunnite schools emerged in the first two centuries of Islam: the Shafii, the Hanafi, the Maliki, and the Hanbali. All use systematic reasoning to deal with areas of law not covered by the Quran or Sunnah. They differ primarily in their emphasis on textual authority or analogical reasoning, but each school recognizes the conclusions of the others as being perfectly legitimate and within the framework of orthodox Islam. Each school tends to predominate in certain areas: the Hanafi in the South and Central Asia, Turkey, and to some extent in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine; the Maliki in North Africa; the Shafii in Egypt and Southeast Asia; and the Hanbali in Saudi Arabia. The Shiite school (called the Jafari) prevails in Iran.