The Quran (Arabic: القرآن al-Qurʾān, literally meaning “the recitation”; also romanized Qur’an or Koran) is the central religious Book of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from GOD (Arabic: الله, ALLAH). It is widely regarded as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language. The Quran is divided into chapters called suras, which are then divided into verses called ayahs.
Muslims believe the Quran was verbally revealed by GOD to Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel (Jibril), gradually over a period of approximately 23 years, beginning on 22 December 609 CE, when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632, the year of his death. Muslims regard the Quran as the most important miracle of Muhammad, a proof of his prophethood, and the culmination of a series of divine Messages that started with the Messages revealed to Adam and ended with Muhammad. The word “Quran” occurs some 70 times in the Text of the Quran, although different names and words are also said to be references to the Quran.
According to the traditional narrative, several companions of Muhammad served as scribes and were responsible for writing down the revelations. Shortly after Muhammad’s death, the Quran was compiled by his companions who wrote down and memorized parts of it. These codices had differences that motivated the Caliph Uthman to establish a standard version now known as Uthman’s codex, which is generally considered the archetype of the Quran known today. There are, however, variant readings, with mostly minor differences in meaning.
According to Islam, the Old Testament is a Divine Text, however corrupted by time and by some Jews (the time and some Christians would have corrupted themselves the New Testament, also considered Divinely inspired). The Quran cites many times in a non-literal way the characters and the events narrated in the Hebrew Bible (as well as in the New Testament and even in the Apocryphal Gospels), suggesting a knowledge orally Old Testament by Muhammad. The Quran is therefore nothing more than yet another Divine Revelation to men to obey the will of the CREATOR.
The oral tradition: Sunnah and Hadith
Sunnah (sunnah, سنة, plural سنن sunan) is the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad’s companions. The Quran and the Sunnah make up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law. The Sunnah is also defined as “a path, a way, a manner of life”; “all the traditions and practices” of the Islamic prophet that “have become models to be followed” by Muslims. Sunnah is the Arabic word that means “habit” or “usual practice”. Sunni Muslims are also referred to as Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l-Jamā’ah (“people of the tradition and the community [of Muhammad]”) or Ahl as-Sunnah for short.
In the pre-Islamic period, the word sunnah was used with the meaning “manner of acting”, whether good or bad. During the early Islamic period, the term came to refer to any good precedent set by people of the past, including the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Under the influence of Al-Shafi’i, who argued for priority of Muhammad’s example as recorded in hadith over precedents set by other authorities, the term al-sunnah eventually came to be viewed as synonymous with the sunnah of Muhammad.
The sunnah of Muhammad includes his specific words (Sunnah Qawliyyah), habits, practices (Sunnah Fiiliyyah), and silent approvals (Sunnah Taqririyyah). According to Muslim belief, Muhammad was the best exemplar for Muslims, and his practices are to be adhered to in fulfilling the divine injunctions, carrying out religious rites, and moulding life in accord with the will of God. Instituting these practices was, as the Quran states, a part of Muhammad’s responsibility as a messenger of GOD (ALLAH). Recording the sunnah was an Arabian tradition and, once people converted to Islam, they brought this custom to their religion.
Ḥadīth (Arabic: حديث ḥadīth pl. aḥādīth, أحاديث, ʼaḥādīth, also “Traditions”) in Islam refers to the record of the words, actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The hadith are consider as a source for religious law and moral guidance ranks second only to that of the Qur’an (which Muslims hold to be the word of GOD revealed to the prophet). Scriptural authority for hadith derives from the Quran which enjoins Muslims to emulate Muhammad and obey his judgments (in verses such as 24, 54 and 33, 21). While the number of verses pertaining to law in the Quran is relatively few, hadith give direction on everything from details of religious obligations (such as Ghusl or Wudu, ablutions for salat “prayer”), to the correct forms of salutations and the importance of benevolence to slaves. Thus the “great bulk” of the rules of Sharia (Islamic law) are derived from hadith, rather than the Qur’an.
Ḥadīth is the Arabic word for things like “speech”, “report”, “account”, “narrative”. Unlike the Qur’an, not all Muslim believe hadith accounts (and for sure nobody of the Muslim believers convey that all hadith are good to follow) are divine revelation. Hadith were not written down by Muhammad’s followers immediately after his death but several generations later when they were collected, collated and compiled into a great corpus of Islamic literature. Different collections of hadīth would come to differentiate the different branches of the Islamic faith. A small minority of Muslims called Quranists reject all Ḥadīth.
Because some hadith include questionable and even contradictory statements, the authentication of hadith became a major field of study in Islam. In its classic form a hadith has two parts — the chain of narrators who have transmitted the report (the isnad), and the main text of the report (the matn). Individual hadith are classified by Muslim clerics and jurists into categories such as sahih (“authentic”), hasan (“good”) or da’if (“weak”). However, different groups and different scholars may classify a hadith differently.
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