(Part 1) Sources for Muslim
The Qur’an, usually indicated with an apostrophe: Qur’an, because it is pronounced as Qur-an and not as Qu-ran, is the Holy Book of Muslims all over the world. It is in Arabic, the language of Prophet Muhammad to whom it (the entire text) was revealed by God over 23 years. Muslims take the whole Qur’an or any part of it as the Words of God. The Qur’an is for all mankind, not only for Muslims only, as mentioned in the Qur’an itself.
Translations of the Qur’an in numerous languages are available now but they are not called the Qur’an. They are simply referred to as the translation or interpretation of the Qur’an and Muslims will not take it as the Words of God. Nowadays, both the original text (in Arabic) and the translated language – English, Malay, Chinese or German, are printed in adjacent columns for ease in reading and reference.
In the category of this blog, “The Qur’an”, a series of articles will be made available, on a weekly or fortnightly basis, to show the uniqueness of the Qur’an. When Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was asked by some people of his time what miracle he had performed, he simply said, “The Qur’an”, meaning that the Qu’ran is a living and tangible miracle that exists right to this day and will remain in the future.
Muslims use two separate books for their guidance; one, the Qur’an (Words of God) and the other, the Hadith (Words and practices of Prophet Muhammad). These two main sources regulate everything from religious undertakings to civil matters of the Muslim lifestyle.
The Words of God as revealed exactly to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) make up the Qur’an while the sayings, advice and explanations of the Prophet (on any subject) are contained in the Hadith. The Words of these two sources are kept separate – to avoid getting them mixed up for the simple reason that the Words of the Qur’an are of divine origin while the words of the Hadith are inspired words of the Prophet reported by his Companions.
While the Prophet specifically conveyed the Revelations of the Divine Words, (as and when they came to him) to be recorded as the Qur’an, he did not ask his own words and actions on any issue to be recorded for the fear that his sayings would be mistaken as Divine Revelations.
However, the Prophet did not forbid his Companions to record his sayings and doings to aid memory so long as they did not regard his personal words as the Words of God. His Companions, on their part, took exceptional pains to maintain and preserve the entire record which was handed down to succeeding generations with utmost care and attention.
The Qur’an carries no acknowledgment of any human name as its author. This is because God is the Author of the Qur’an. Only the Words were committed into prints by human agency. The Qur’an is just ONE book comprising 114 chapters. On the other hand, the words of the Prophet were reported by the Prophet’s Companions and wives. Each saying of the Prophet carries the name of the person who reported it. The Hadith, classified according to subject matter, is available in volumes.
The fact, that the Qur’an comprises the Words of God and the Hadith the records of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet is clear from the distinct style and language used in them. The former, being God’s Words, is inimitable while the latter, being the words of Prophet Muhammad reported by people, is ordinary.
QUR’AN, A REVEALED HOLY BOOK
The Quran was revealed by God portion by portion over 23 years to Prophet Muhammad, an unschooled person who could not read or write. It is NOT that Prophet Muhammad was inspired by God to write the scripture called the Qur’an as the Prophet was unschooled. In other words, the words of the Qur’an were not composed or authored by Prophet Muhammad but by God.
The first Revelation Prophet Muhammad received from God was the instruction to read or recite a 5-verse Revelation that began: “Read! In the Name of thy Lord and Cherisher…” (96:1) It was conveyed by Archangel Gabriel, the same Angel who conveyed God’s Revelations to His earlier Prophets, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Prophet Muhammad received this first Revelation at the age of 40 in 610 AD.
It is interesting to note that the first Revelation of the Qur’an is the word “Read!” (Iqra).
The Prophet received the Revelations on various matters, ideas, knowledge, elucidation, instructions, advice and guidance over 23 years. Sometimes the Prophet received a single verse, sometimes a few verses together and sometimes an entire chapter. God says: “We have rehearsed the Qur’an to thee (O Muhammad) in slow, well-arranged stages gradually.” (25:32)
Upon receiving each Revelation, the Prophet asked any one of his Companions who could read and write to record it. This was done by the Prophet reciting the Revelation he had received from God and the scribe taking it down. After the scribe had taken down what had been dictated to him (on the writing materials of those days), the Prophet asked the scribe to read aloud what he had recorded – to make sure that he had recorded correctly what had been dictated to him.
In this way, the entire Qur’an – 114 chapters in all – was completed in manuscript form before the Prophet’s death. The various chapters in the Qur’an were arranged by the Prophet himself through divine guidance. (The chapters of the Qur’an are not arranged in chronological order but in the order of divine preferences. For instance, the first verses the Prophet received, which began with “Read! In the Name of thy Lord…” are in Chapter 96, not in Chapter 1).
A standard copy of the Qur’an was made within a few years of the death of the Prophet when most of his immediate Companions, who had heard him recite the Qur’an and had themselves committed it to memory, were still living. The Prophet’s successor, Caliph Abu Bakar, requested Zayd bin Thabit to compile all 114 chapters of the Qur’an into one volume. Zayd was chosen because it was he who had taken down most of the Prophet’s dictation of the Revelation. The volume was then scrutinised by the Prophet’s Companions and kept with Hafsah, the Prophet’s widow.
It was during the time of Caliph Othman, the third Caliph, some 12 years after the death of the Prophet, that a committee was formed, with the celebrated Zayd bin Thabit as Chairman, to take on the task of reproducing the standard volume into a number of copies to be sent to all the principal cities, like Mecca, Madinah, Kufah, Basrah and Damascus, for other copies to be made from the standard copy sent.
Thus, began the spread of Islam – by the Book.
(Part 2 will be published in the next issue.)
By: Shaik Kadir
* ** * ** *