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“Qur’ān and Hadith” by M. a. s. Abdel Haleem

As main sources of the Islamic belief, the Qur’ān and hadith have a pivotal role in shaping the Muslim mind in almost every aspect. In his article “Qur’ān and Hadith”, the opening chapter of “The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology” of the Cambridge Companion series, M. a. s. Abdel Haleem offers a theological basis for the Islamic thought by examining these two main sources.

As a starting point, Abdel Haleem emphasizes the important place of the Qur’ān in all Islamic things, right before he gives the classical definition of the Qur’ān in Islamic theology and law as “The corpus of Arabic utterances sent down by God to Muhammad, conveyed in a way that categorically establishes its authenticity”. He goes on to argue that this definition summarises the basic characteristics of the Qur’ān and that it is also what makes it different than The Prophet’s (pbuh) words for the definition includes the word “sent down”. After that the author simply goes through the history of the first revelation and he emphasizes that the completion of the revelation was shortly before The Prophet’s (pbuh) death. While mentioning the Qur’ān comes from Allah, he takes his time to highlight the quality of Him (pbuh) being a “prophet” and that He (pbuh) is often reminded that his duty is simply to communicate the message to his community. Subsequently, he talks about the state of revelation of The Prophet (pbuh), that The Prophet (pbuh) would become bright, would become heavy as though in sleep, a humming sound would be heard around Him and so on; and as it did so He would immediately recite new verses of the Qur’ān. He points out that “For the Qur’an, The Prophet (pbuh) is the passive recipient of a revelation over which he has no control, and which does not allow for dialogue, even between him and the Angel of Revelation.” According to the Muslim historians with each new accumulation in the Qur’anic corpus, the Prophet (pbuh) would recite it to those around him, who would memorise it and in turn communicate it to others. There were some companions who wrote down the revelation (twenty-nine have been counted in the Medina period).

As for the meaning of the word “Qur’ān” he mentions that it means “reading” and it is referring to the text which is read. Qur’ān occasionally refers to itself as “kitāb” and this is to show that it is actually a “written book”. Qur’anic revelations are believed to have come to the Prophet gradually; over a period of twenty-three years. The material is divided into 114 suras (‘‘sections’’, generally translated in English as ‘‘chapters’’ which does not seem to fully correspond with the meaning provided by the Arabic word).

Some surahs contain Meccan and Medinan ayahs: the order of material in each surah, according to the classical Muslim teaching, having been determined by the Prophet at the command of the Angel of Revelation, who delivered the Qur’anic material to him. The hadith records that when each new unit of text was received He would request his disciples to place it in a given chapter, and the result was that the material was distributed over the surahs not in chronological order of appearance, but as they were to be read by the Prophet (pbuh)  and the believers.

Unlike some scholars, he states that the whole scripture had been written down by the death of The Prophet (pbuh). Also many of the companions had already been memorized it. They were coming from a culture that memorising literature, history and geneology by hearing was really common and successful. Over the years, in liturgies and in advising His companions, He recited Qur’ānic material so often. Two years after The Prophet’s (pbuh) death, the battle of Yamāmah took place and a great number of ḥuffāz had lost their lives. So the first caliph Abū Bakr (radiyallahu anhu) decided to collect the Qur’ān in one copy after ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb (radiyallahu anhu) confessed his fear that some portions of the Qur’ān might have been forgotten.

This copy was the basis of the manuscript issued in several copies by the third caliph, ʿUthmān (644–56), to be distributed to several parts of the Muslim world to ensure that a universal standard text of the scripture would prevail. This has remained the sole canonical text of the Qur’an, recognised by Sunni and Shi’i theologians to the present time.

After the Qur’ān, the tradition recognises another resource and that is hadith. Technically, Muslims came to define the hadith as ‘‘the attested reports of the sayings, actions, and tacit approvals and accounts of the Prophet Muhammad”.

The author states that the relationship between the Qur’an and hadith is that the hadith either emphasises what is in the Qur’an (sunnah mu’akkidah), explains the manner in which something should be carried out (sunnah mubayyinah) or introduces teaching based on certain Qur’anic verses or principles (sunnah muthbitah). Although there are narrations belong to the period before the prophethood, most hadith refer to the Madinan period.

Ahadith indicate the eloquence of The Prophet (pbuh). He was definitely encouraging His companions to pass on His sayings: ‘‘God bless the one who has heard me say something and preserved it [in his memory] so that he can pass it on to others, for many a person carries knowledge to others more knowledgeable than himself.’’

The Prophet (pbuh) was really careful to have Qur’ānic verses written, whereas this was not the case with the ahadith. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that only once the Qur’an was fully recorded did he begin to allow those Companions who could write proficiently to record the hadith in written form. The collection of ahadith gained official sanction only after the Umayyad caliph ‘Umar II (717-19) as the author stated.

By the beginning of the second Muslim century the writing down of hadith and of other forms of Muslim learning was spreading day after day. The early Muslim scholars admitted the existence of a large number of forgeries and misrepresentations, many of which echoed early sectarian tensions. In reaction, the growing class of scholars slowly developed elaborate methods for measuring the reliability of individual hadith reports. A tradition of traveling to seek authentic knowledge (riḥlah) began. The author of the book that is considered to be the most reliable resource of Islam after the Qur’ān is al-Bukhari and he has a very meticulous method for testing the narrations.

The author states in the topic of scriptural dogmas that the verse 285 of surah al-Baqarah carries the basic components of Islamic faith. Islamic theology was broken down into five basic components and they are: Belief in one God, His messengers, His books, His angels, and the day of judgement. Fundamental matters of creed can only be based on the Qur’an, since it is believed to be categorically authentic in the highest degree, and only on such verses in the Qur’an that are indubitable in meaning. They came to be distinguished from a range of other theological problems, such as whether God can be seen by the human eye, whether His attributes are other than His essence, whether or not a person committing a major sin will be punished everlastingly, whether there will be a mahdi who will come at the end of time, whether or not Jesus will return in person, whether or not it is obligatory for God to do what is best for people, whether or not a person creates his own actions voluntarily, and whether or not the sins people commit are willed by God. These issues, which have been a matter of dispute among the theologians, are not taken by Ash‘arism, the main school of Muslim orthodoxy, to be the most fundamental axioms of the creed, and disbelief in any one of them will not put anyone outside the fold of Islam, since they are not established by absolutely categorical proof-texts in the scriptures (p.25).

The first belief amongst the five fundamental beliefs of Islamic theology, tawhid (unity of God) is highlighted so often in the Qur’ān against polytheistic culture. It is highlighted for example in the “sign” verses.

For example: Another of His signs is the way He created spouses of your own kind for you to find repose with one another – He ordained love and kindness between you. There truly are signs in this for those who reflect. Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know. (30:21–2) 

Arabs’ idea of “angels are the daughters of God” was challenged through the second belief of Islamic theology which is the belief in angels. More than one ayah came down on that topic, clarifying the place of angels in the Islamic concept (Examples: 37:151–2 ; 66:6; 50:170-18; 32:11..).

The third belief which is the belief in scriptures that were sent down by God was exhorted the believers by the Qur’ān (3:3-4; 5:44).

The fourth belief is the belief in God’s messengers. The recipients of scripture are ‘‘messengers’’ (rusul), who are all addressed by God with the words: ‘‘This community of yours is one – and I am your Lord: be mindful of Me’’ (23:52). Those who accept them are asked to profess that they ‘‘make no distinction between any of them’’ (2:284). Over twenty prophets are mentioned in the Qur’an, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muh_ ammad, and over and over again the text rehearses their stories to emphasise that they brought a shared doctrine, which alone is to be followed (p.28).

The fifth belief is in the day of judgement. As the author states, day of judgement gives the sense of purpose to the whole creation; which is why it is mentioned in the Qur’ān as often as this life. The mention of the “first world” exists only with reference to the ‘‘other’’ world which is to come (al- ākhirah) as the author declares.

Given that one of the main focuses of this volume of the series, as stated in the preface, is the construction of the Islamic “orthodoxy”; this piece does a good job summarizing the most basic principles of the Islamic theology in a way that is brief and to the point. Yet the author seems to avoid any disputable issue or different opinions regarding the history of the Qur’ān or the various forms of understanding texts in the Islamic tradition and therefore does not elaborate on how the difference of interpreting the main sources led to different Islamic sects come into the picture; which shows that he examines the sources with which he deems to belong to the mainstream beliefs and understandings. In this sense the article does not lead a comprehensive overview since it does not display and provoke lively and controversial debate. On the other hand, it is easy to read, very clearly written and easily presented. In this sense it can be said that it is an efficient introductory work on the topic.



Winter, Tim, ed. The Cambridge companion to classical Islamic theology. Cambridge University Press, 2008.



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