Islam and Scripture
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Islam acknowledges two primary varieties of scripture, the Quran and the hadith. The Quran is believed to be directly spoken, eternal, and yet "uncreated" word of Allah, while the hadith comprise reports of varying authenticity from Muhammad's companions (the sahabah), transmitted through various members of successive generations regarding specific actions, statements, or 'tacit approvals' of Muhammad. The 'tacit approvals' of Muhammad include any event where Muhammad was present or regarding which Muhammad was aware of or made aware of and against which he did not protest - his silence in these cases is held to count as his approval. The textual history of the Quran is complex and subject to interminable debate, but it is generally agreed that some final version of the Quran was compiled and authorized by the Rashidun ("rightly guided") Caliphs within a decade of Muhammad's death, with all competing versions being outlawed and destroyed. While a select few hadiths were written down in the first century after Muhammad's death, these were, as a rule, not recorded with their chains of transmission (pl. asaneed, s. Isnad). Vastly more hadiths were compiled in writing in the period 150-200 years following Muhammad's death. While Islamic scholars to this day place great faith in the historicity and preservation of the sahih ("reliable") hadith and especially the Quran, the traditional narrative regarding the preservation of either has been increasingly challenged by professional historians. The hadith in particular have been subjected to wide-ranging criticism and are said to bear the clear marks of early sectarian influence, hagiographic idealization, and the competing fancies of early scholars of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh).
- Main Article: Qur'an
The Qur'ān (القرآن) is the central religious text of Islam and is held to be the final and perfect guidance for all of mankind. The text in its original Arabic is believed to be the literal word of Allah revealed by the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) to Prophet Muhammad over a period of twenty-three years.
Textual history of the Quran
The textual integrity of scripture is an important topic in Islamic circles that has been subject to ongoing debate among scholars in both religious and academic circles. Western research on the textual history of the Quran, conducted in the recent past, has reinvigorated these debates and shed unwelcome light on some of the problems inherent in traditional accounts of the Quran's early compilation by bringing details generally ignored by traditional, religious scholarship to the forefront.
As Arabic writing system was still in development during the time of Muhammad, the Qur'an was originally written without the diacritical and phonetic marks that today appear in virtually all printed versions of the scripture. These markings were added years after 'the final Qur'anic revelation' and Muhammad's death. Historians and critics have continually noted that the late addition of these markings is problematic for a traditional narrative which argues for the preservation of the Quran, since various sets and arrangements of diacritical markings can and do significantly impact the meaning of the Arabic text.
Excepting the first surah, al-Fatiha ("The Opener"), the surahs (chapters) contained in the Quran are, broadly speaking, arranged in order of diminishing length. The longest sura is surah 2 (al-Baqarah, "The Cow") and the (second) shortest is surah 114 (al-Nas, "The People"). While standard prints of the Qur'an make no distinction between passages revealed to the prophet in Mecca or Medina, Islamic scholarship and professional historians generally agree that a part of the Qur'an was revealed before and a part after the prophet's hijra, or flight, from Mecca to Medina.
This page lists the chronological (or revelational) order of the Qur'an. Whereas the earlier Meccan verses of the Qur'an focus on matters of belief and general behavior, the later, Medinan verses of the Qur'an, revealed during the prophets political and military campaign in and reign over Arabia, focus a great deal more on matters of Islamic law and jihad. In this order, over time, the revelations also shifted from a poetic and morally exhortative style in Mecca to a more prosaic and often aggressive style in the later years in Medina.
The messages of later Medinan Qur'anic revelations frequently changed, contradicted, and revised earlier Meccan ones. As a result the Qur'an, read in its non-chronological organization, appears at surface-level to support a wide variety of doctrines, many of which are mutually exclusive (such as the complete prohibition of alcohol, partial prohibition of alcohol, and outright praising of wine-producing vineyards). To reconcile these differences, drawing on Quran 2:106 and similar verses, developed the doctrine of Abrogation (Naskh). While the specifics and application of the doctrine have been and continue to be widely contested by Islamic scholars, with some denying it outright (including, most recently, Sh. Jasser Auda), it is accepted by most Islamic scholars as operative at at least some, minimal level, since it is difficult to otherwise justify the contradictory messages found throughout the text.
- Main Article: Asbab al-Nuzul (Revelational Circumstances of the Quran); See also: Convenient Revelations
When discussing the applicability of the commands of the Qur'an in modern times, some modern Islamic scholars have argued that the less agreeable verses contained in the Quran apply only to their original revalational circumstances. However, such ideas regarding the evolution and changing of Islamic law are generally considered heresy in traditional formulations of orthodox Sunni Islam, which adjudicates that the relevance and applicability of Quranic verses is 'by the generality of the word (umoom al-lafdh) and not by the specificity of the circumstance (khusus al-sabab)". With more than a millennium of tradition militating against this revisionary perspective, it is perhaps unsurprising that the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholars have been unwelcoming to attempts at historicizing parts of the Quran.
Parallelism with the Bible
The thematic and narrative contents of Islamic scripture (and hence Islam) draw heavily on the Abrahamic tradition as it existed in and around Arabia in late antiquity. Where the contents of scripture diverge from or even directly contradict (at times pointing out the disagreement) this heritage, Islamic scholars hold that this is due to the corruption of the previous scriptures which Muhammad's revelation only seeks to correct. Historians, however, do not see the Islamic scriptures as in any way correcting the biblical narratives so as to make them more historically accurate (Indeed, the stories that comprise the Abrahamic tradition are, for the most part, of very limited historical merit to begin with). Instead, historians hold that Islamic scriptures present adaptations of pre-existing ideas to fit the needs and beliefs of Islam.
Specific items that appear in Islamic scriptures which draw on and develop what is covered in the Bible include: the story of the talking baby Jesus, the character(s) of Mary and Miriam, the contents of Sanhedrin 37a, the story of the burial of Abel and the raven, the trinity, the story of Jesus and the clay birds, the story of Mary's upbringing and her relationship with Zachariah, the story of Mary delivering Jesus involving a palm tree, the story of Satan's refusal to prostrate before Adam, the story of the queen of Sheba, the story of the wealth of Korah, and the story of Abraham and the idols.
Contents of the Quran
The most recognizable and most often recited chapter, or surah, of the Quran is the first chapter which is entitled al-Fatiha, or the Opener. Muslims are required to recite the chapter seventeen times a day (over 5,000 times a year) at the opening of every unit of the daily prayers. The chapter is very brief and reads as follows:
The final portion of the surah is also the most controversial, as hadith literature has traditionally held Muhammad to interpret the group described as 'having earned God's wrath' as referring to the Jews and the group described as 'having gone astray' as referring to the Christians. Some contemporary translations, such as that of Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali go so far as to incorporate this explanation into the text itself, writing, "Guide us to the Straight Way. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians)." In recent times, a few modern Islamic scholars have felt troubled by this interpretation and have suggested de-emphasizing the hadith-based interpretations, which implicate the Jews as objects of God's wrath and the Christians as being misguided, in favor of a more generic and thus less hostile reading.
The Quran, in laying out the rules of divorce, provides also the procedure for divorcing pre-pubescent girls and in doing so affirms the hadith accounts and near-universal formulations of Islamic law which endorse child marriage and permit the marital rape and beating of child brides. The relevant verse is Quran 65:4.
The verse discusses the Iddat (العدة), which is a waiting period a female must observe before she can remarry. According to this verse, the stipulated waiting period for a divorced girl who has not yet menstruated is three months.
Muqatta`āt (Arabic): مقطعات, are unique letter combinations that begin certain chapters of the Quran. Muqatta`āt, literally, means abbreviated or shortened. They are also known as Fawātih (فواتح) or openers as they form the opening verse of the respective chapters. In Arabic language, these letters are written together like a word, but each letter is pronounced separately. While the letters appear joined together in print, they do not form a meaningful Arabic word, and are held by traditional Islamic scholars as having a metaphysical meaning 'beyond human comprehension' and which therefore serve as reminders of human ignorance. Historians have generally found these arguments unconvincing and have advanced a variety of (as yet inconclusive) alternative hypotheses. Muqatta'at have been and continue to be a topic of intense research and academic discussions in Islamic literature and Quranic studies.
The final message of the Quran
Chapter 9 of the Qur'an - al-Taubah (Repentance) - is considered to be the final substantive revelation contributed to the Quran. The only surah (chapter) said to have been revealed after this is al-Nasr (Victory), which consists of only three short verses and says nothing new in terms of doctrine or law. That chapter 9 is openly militant and contains what are arguably the most controversial verses regarding Jihad in the Quran, while also being something to the effect of "God's closing statement, has served as an explanation for the expansionist and imperial form that Islam finally took by the time Muhammad died. The develops the narrative whereby the world is divided into the domain of believers (Dar al-Islam) and unbelievers (dar al-kufr) or war (dar al-harb), the latter of which must ultimately be conquered and transformed into the former. Modern Islamic movements that have emphasized the militant and imperial elements in Islam have drawn heavily on the 'conclusive' ideas presented in this Surah. Traditional scholars, while operating in a different context, also read the chapter in a similar way and generally agreed that it's expansionist/imperial message could be taken as abrogating any other verses in the Quran which can be taken to advance a non-expansionist/imperial ideal.
Criticism of the Quran
- Main Article: Contradictions in the Quran
While the Quran straightforwardly states that it consistent to a degree that evidences its own divinity, critics have argued argued otherwise, pointing out a large number of what would, in absence of extremely creative exegetical interpretations, appear to be contradictions that suggest a non-divine origin of the Quran. A large, polemical discourse has emerged around these and similar proposed contradictions which primarily takes the form of online articles, online videos, and Islamic evangelical preaching.
A common criticism of the Quran, as with the Hadith, is that it contains numerous scientific and historical errors, with no obvious attempts to differentiate its understanding of the natural world and historical events from the common folklore and misconceptions of the people living in 7th century Arabia. Modern responses typically appeal to metaphor, alternative meanings, or phenomenological interpretations of such verses. They also argue that the wording needed to be acceptable to people of its time. Critics typically argue that an all-knowing, perfect communicator would nevertheless have been able to avoid statements in the Quran that reinforced misconceptions of the time, caused future generations to have doubts about its perfection, and on a scale that critics contend is an overwhelming weakness.
Misrepresentations of the Quran in English
Critics have pointed out that translations of the Quran in English in general, and particularly those translations used in evangelical and interfaith contexts, have distorted the plain meaning of the most controversial and troubling verses in the Quran while at the same time idealizing those verse which, when read a certain way, appeal to modern values, presumably to make it appear more acceptable to a Western audience. Verses most often distorted include Quran 5:32 (which regards murder), Quran 2:256 (which regards religious tolerance), Quran 2:195 (which regards participation in Jihad), Quran 8:61 (which regards military reconciliation), Quran 2:79 (which regards the 'corruption of previous scriptures'), Quran 4:3 (which regards the treatment of wives and orphans), Quran 2:190 (which regards defensive Jihad), Quran 4:129 (which regards the treatment of wives), Quran 109:1-6 (which regards pluralism), Quran 2:62 (which regards the salvation of 'people of the book'), and Quran 2:62 (which regards the extent of Jihad).
Mistranslations of the Quran in English
In some cases, published English translations of the Quran have opted for incorrect translations. Critics have suggested that this is for the same evangelical and interfaith-based reasons for which the scripture is often misrepresented in the first place. Translations with apparently deliberate errors include well known editions, such as the Yusuf Ali, Rashad Khalifa, and Muhammad Asad translations. Whereas scripture, critics argue, is frequently misrepresented in various contexts in the name of various levels of expedience, published mistranslations tend to deliberately err only in those instances where the original text poses a very acute challenge to Western values and sensibilities, particularly with respect to human rights and science. The verses most often distorted in published translations include Quran 4:34 (which regards wife-beating), Quran 67:5 (which regards the nature of stars, meteors, and/or comets), Quran 86:7 (which regards the origin of semen), Quran 21:91 & Quran 66:12 (which regard the birth of Jesus), Quran 3:52 (which describes Allah as 'the best deceiver'), and the various verses which employ the word qatal, which means 'kill', 'massacre', or 'slaughter'. The pages listed below cover some of these mistranslations individually:
- Main Article: Hadith
The Hadith (الحديث ahadith, plural) are traditions of Muhammad which provide information about him and his life. They are usually narrations about a certain incident in which he said, did, or tacitly approved of something. Unlike the Qur'an, the books that contain them are usually arranged in some logical fashion. The majority of Islamic law and belief derives from the hadiths. The hadith are said to be of varying authenticity according to the Islamic tradition, with some considered to be so reliable that to reject them would be tantamount to disbelief. Historians are less certain about the reliability of the hadith, as they were supposedly transmitted orally and written down, for the most part, some 150-200 years after Muhammad's death.
Quranism and the importance of hadith
The Qur'an, often presented as the exclusive domain of God's commands, also contains numerous injunctions from Muhammad himself, and indeed commands obedience of Muhammad. Traditionally, therefore, the hadiths have been viewed as an Islamic scripture of fundamental importance, without which Islam as it is known could not exist, since the Quran contains a relatively paltry amount of legal, ritual, and doctrinal content when compared to the hadith literature.
In recent times, a small minority of Islamic thinkers and modernists identifying as 'Quranists' have tried to reinterpret Islam from the ground up relying only on the Quran while at the same time disqualifying the hadith effectively wholesale, either on the basis of their historical questionability or on the basis of their at times troubling content. This has vexed traditionalist scholars, who consider the hadith to be of fundamental importance and without which, they point out, Muslims would have no solid epistemological grounding for such integral items as the rituals of the daily Islamic prayer, among other things.
In the mainstream theology of Sunni Islam, the Prophet Muhammad is known as al-Insān al-Kāmil (lit. "the perfect human") and uswa hasana (lit. "an excellent model"). This is taken to mean that his conduct in all things, from how he prayed, how he conducted himself in business and in war, his sexual relations with his wives, slaves and concubines, and even how he cleaned himself after defecation and urination is an exemplar and model for all humans to follow at all times, regardless of historical circumstance and independent of culture. This conception of Muhammad as the perfect man is the basis upon which the hadith, which describe his life, are used to formulate Islamic law and doctrine.
Sahih (صَحِيْح) is an Arabic word that means genuine/authentic/sound. It is used in classification of ahadith and is the highest level of authenticity given to a narration that passes the highest level of traditional methods of authentication. Therefore, in orthodox Islam, when refusing to accept the content of a narration, one must generally prove that a sahih hadith is in fact inauthentic in order to reject it, since rejection based on a dislike for the attested actions/statements of the prophet is not considered a rigorous, consistent, or reliable basis for rejection. Historians assessments of hadiths follow a different methodology and cannot be predicted reliably based on the traditional authentication given to a hadith alone, although this can be a factor (often indirectly) in their analysis.
Daleel (دليل, pl. adillah) is an Arabic word meaning evidence or proof, and in the terminology of Islamic jurisprudence, the word refers to anything that is used to deduce and justify a ruling or fatwa from the Shariah, or Islamic Law. While there exist numerous specific types of daleels arranged in a hierarchy, as understood variously by the different schools of Islamic law, all generally agree today that among the most important daleels are, in order, the Qur'an, Hadith, Ijma (consensus of Islamic scholars or Muhammad's companions), and some form of Qiyas (analogical reasoning).
In regards to Islamic hadith, Daleel can either be Maudu (fabricated), Da`if (weak), Hasan (good), or Sahih (authentic). Generally in Islam, only the authentic (sahih) and good (hasan) hadiths are used in deriving the rules. The weak (da`if) hadiths are of much lesser value for the purpose of formulating sharia, and the fabricated (Maudu) narrations are not even considered to be hadith at all (but can sometimes be useful as representatives of common perspectives circulating at the time of the fabricated hadith's origination).
Criticism of the hadith
Weak and fabricated hadith
While traditional Islamic scholars have generally disallowed the very weak and fabricated hadiths from playing any role whatsoever in the formation of doctrine and law, many of them have, in varying capacities, permitted the use of unreliable hadiths in preaching, particularly where the hadith regards a topic without legal or doctrinal consequence. Examples of this include hadiths which give details about stories regarding the lives of other prophets, stories without legal consequence having to do with the life of Muhammad, and hadiths which comment on the merit or dis-merit of some deed and what its consequences will be in the hereafter. An example of the second of these three common genres is the story regarding Muhammad visiting the vicious Jew he had for a neighbor while she was sick. The last of these three genres most very often feature hadiths which say something to the effect of how many good deeds or heavenly rewards a believer gets if they recite some prayer or set of verses a given number of times.
While the sheer vastness of the hadith literature coupled with the large percentage of it that is admittedly inauthentic virtually necessitates the presence of contradictions, critics and historians have pointed out that even among those limited number of traditions graded as very reliable by Muslim scholars, there exist contradictions which can only be resolved through the most inventive hermeneutical techniques, which, needless to say, strain credulity. Historians have referenced these contradictions to argue that traditional system whereby Islamic scholars have tried to ascertain the reliability of hadiths is itself not reliable.
A common criticism of the Hadith, as with the Quran, is that they contain numerous scientific and historical errors, with no obvious attempts to differentiate their understanding of the natural world and historical events from the common folklore and misconceptions of the people living in 7th century Arabia. Modern responses typically appeal to metaphor, alternative meanings, or phenomenological interpretations of such hadiths. They also argue that the wording needed to be acceptable to people of its time. Critics typically argue that an all-knowing, perfect communicator would nevertheless have been able to guide the avoidance of statements in the Hadith that reinforced misconceptions of the time, caused future generations to have doubts about its perfection, and on a scale that critics contend is an overwhelming weakness.
The Islamic tradition is truly vast, and covers an impressive number of different topics, often including surprising stories, anecdotes and injunctions. Some of these traditions are truly strange or noteworthy in their own right. As with contradictions, historians and critics (who also cite the scientific errors), have argued that the presence of absurd anecdotes among those hadiths that have been graded very reliable by traditional scholars directly undermines the traditional method of grading hadiths.
Other important texts
Tafsirs are commentaries written by scholars, generally relying on the hadith collections, to explain the meanings of verses in the Qur'an (as the Qur'an itself does not provide the context of its verses). The most respected and widely used being the Tafsir ibn Kathir. Modern Islamic scholars often deflect criticism from the Qur'an by arguing that it must be read in conjunction with an authoritative tafsir. Critics have argued, in response, that referencing traditional and authoritative tafsirs often renders the passages of the Quran an even less acceptable light.
Sirat Rasul Allah (Arabic: سيرة رسول الله, Romanization: Sīrat Rasūl-Allāh, Abv: Sirat), or Biography of the Prophet of Allah, refers to the collected biographies of Muhammad. It is also the title of one of the most important early Siras, namely that of Ibn Ishaq. In addition to the hadith (oral account of Muhammad's statements and actions), the Sirat provides an integral foundation to the sunnah (example, customs, and practices) set forth by Muhammad. Throughout Islamic history, the Siras and Sunnah have established the foundation of much of Islamic Law (Shariah) and Jurisprudence (Fiqh), including but not limited to the Five Pillars of Islam, societal code, and dietary standards. The biggest contribution of the Siras to the hadith is in their serving as a reference point whereby an attempt can be made to chronologize the events reported piecemeal in the hadiths.
Books of fiqh
Books of Islamic jurisprudence (فقه Fiqh) are complimentary expansions of the Shari'ah (Qur'an and Sunnah), written by Islamic jurists (experts on Islamic law). Reliance of the Traveller: The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law (Umdat Al-Salik), for instance, is the traditional handbook on Shafi'i law. Translations of these texts in English have been problematic, as translators have often mistranslated the texts where the prove objectionable to modern sensibilities.
Muhammad in other scriptures
The figure of Muhammad and the religion he founded is often depicted negatively in religious scriptures that post date him.
In the Bhavishya Purana, one of the eighteen major Hindu Puranas, Muhammad is depicted as a reincarnated demon, Islam as a demonic religion, and its followers as "the corrupters of religion".
In the Haran Gawaitha, a Mandaean text which tells the history of the Mandaeans and their arrival in Iraq as Nasoreans from Jerusalem, Muhammad is referred to as "the Son-of-Slaughter, the Arab", "the most degraded of false prophets", "the Seal of prophets of the Lie", who "converted people to himself by the sword".
And in the Kālachakra Tantra, a ninth century Tibetan Buddhist text, Muhammad is referred to as a demonic incarnation and a "false impostor". Muslims are described as invading "barbarians", bringing with them the barbarian religion ("mleccha-dharma"), a religion of violence ("himsa-dharma") that also advocates savage behavior ("raudra-karman").
- Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars - This section of WikiIslam lists quotations from the Qur'an, Hadith and Islamic Scholars
- Qur'an, Chapter 33, Verse 40
- Watton, Victor, (1993), A student's approach to world religions:Islam, Hodder & Stoughton, pg 1. ISBN 0-340-58795-4
- Qur'ān, Chapter 2, Verses 23-24
- Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World's Faiths, Mary Pat Fisher, 1997, page 338, I.B. Tauris Publishers,
- Qur'an, Chapter 17, Verse 106
- Jasser Auda, A Critique of the Theory of Abrogation, Kube, ISBN 978-0860377306, 2019
- Jacob Bender - Jewish-Muslim Dialogue and the Value of Peace - The American Muslim, July 19, 2007
- An example of such a mistranslation is argued for here, which should be read alongside the full entry for بَظْرٌ in Lane's lexicon available here.