The Original Sources Of The Qur'an3
Qur'an and the Traditions, taken together, form the foundation of Islam. Much importance is also attachedto early commentators on the Qur'an, and to the deductions from it made by early jurists and doctors of thelaw. But in our investigation of the origin of Islamic beliefs and practices we are but little concerned withthese latter, except in so far as they throw light on what is really believed by Muslims. Even the Traditionsthemselves play but a subordinate part in our inquiry, since their authority - from the European point of view at least - is so very uncertain. Different sects of Muhammadans, too, accept different collections of Traditions 1: and even the collectors of these Traditions themselves confess that many of those which theyrecord are of doubtful accuracy. As the Traditions deal for the most part, moreover, with the sayings anddoings of Muharnmad, we shall have occasion to refer to them only in cases in which they amplify or explain the teaching of the Qur'an on certain points. The latter book contains some obscure and difficult passages, the meaning of which requires to be explained by reference to Tradition. For example, the fiftiethSurah or chapter of the Qur'an is entitled "Qaf," and is denoted by the Arabic letter of that name. It is not possible to be quite certain what is meant by this until we consult the Traditions, which tell us what is to be believed concerning Mount Qaf 2, to which the name of the Surah is held to contain a reference. Again,when in the Sirah entitled "The Night Journey" (Surah XVII.), we read in the first verse the words, "Praise be unto Him who caused His servant to journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the More DistantMosque," we must naturally refer to Tradition to 'understand the meaning of the verse. We thus learn allthat the 'UIama of Islam know for certain regarding the journey in question, generally styled the "Ascent (alMi'raj) of Muhammad.In dealing with the tenets and religious rites of Muslims, we shall make it our rule not to concern ourselveswith any doctrine or practice which is not implicitly or explicitly taught or enjoined in the Qur'an itself, or in those Traditions which are universally accepted by all Muhammadan sects, with the partial exceptions of the Neo-Muhammadans of India, who are not recognized as Muslims by the rest of the Muhammadanworld.It may be well to point out the fact that, though a measure of inspiration is supposed to belong to thegenuine and authoritative Traditions, yet their authority is very different from that of the Qur'an, to which,however, they stand in the second place. This is indicated by the difference in the manner of speaking of these different forms of revelation. The Qur'an is styled "Recited Revelation," and the Traditions"Unrecited Revelation", because the Qur'an and it alone is considered to constitute the very utterance of God Himself. Hence the rule has been laid down that any Tradition how- ever well authenticated it may be,that is clearly contrary to a single verse of the Qur'an must be rejected. This rule is an important one for usto observe in dealing with matters of Muhammadan belief. It renders it unnecessary for us to involveourselves in the mazes of the labyrinth of the controversy as to which traditions are genuine, whichdoubtful, and which unreliable. It is sufficient for our present purpose to note that in their written formTraditions are considerably later in date than the text of the Qur'an.Regarding the history of the latter accepted as it is by all Muslims everywhere, we have fairly full andsatisfactory information. Some of the Surahs may have been written down on any materials that came tohand by some or Muhammad's amanuenses, of which we are told he had a considerable number, as soon asthey were first recited by him. The knowledge of writing was not uncommon in his time among theMeccans, for we are informed that some of the latter, when taken captive, obtained their liberty byinstructing certain of the people of Medina in the art. Whether written down at once or not, they wereinstantly committed to memory, and were recited at the time of public worship and on other occasions.During Muhammad's lifetime frequent reference was made to him when any doubt arose with regard to the proper wording of a passage. Tradition mentions certain Surahs or verses which were preserved in a writtenform in the houses of Muhammad's wives during his life, and we are even told that some verses thus writtenwere lost and never recovered. From time to time the Prophet directed newly revealed verses to be insertedin certain Surahs, which must therefore have already assumed form and have even received the nameswhich they still retain There seems, however, to have been no fixed order prescribed in which these Surahsshould be arranged. Each formed a more or less independent whole. The task of learning the Surahs byheart was not only a labour of love to Muhammad's devoted followers, but it also became a source of dignity and profit, since not only were those who could recite the largest number of verses entitled in veryearly times to assume the position of Imam or leader in public worship but they were also considered tohave a claim to a larger share of the spoils than were other Muslims.