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I. A Definition of Islam

II. A Brief overview of the life of Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

III. Sources of Authority in Islam: The Qur’an and Hadeeth


I. A Definition of Islam

Here are two basic definitions that explain the Arabic term Islam to better understand what it stands for and how it describes Islam as a worldview:

Arabic etymology of Islam & Muslim

II. A Brief overview of the life of Muhammad and the Rise of Islam

Before giving an overview of Muhammad’s life as it relates to the Qur’an and the rise of Islam it is important to take into account that according to a conservative Sunni Muslim position the Qur’an is the eternal word of God and Muhammad was not the author, he merely dictated the revelation of the Qur’an.  Muhammad therefore has a passive role in Islam for the Qur’an and is not considered the author of the Qur’an (except by more liberal Muslim scholars).

Islam arose in part due to a response to polytheism prior to and during the lifetime of Muhammad where images and idols were worshipped in Mecca (which is believed by Muslims to be the location where Abraham and Ishmael made the Kaaba as a place to worship the one true God).  It wasn’t until later in Muhammad’s life at the age of 40 in 610 AD that he claimed to receive revelation from God starting his prophetic ministry.  Although when he first claimed to receive revelation from the angel Gabriel he doubted whether it was genuine,

“…there came to him an Angel in the form of a man.  The Angel said to him, “Recite!” and he said: “I am not able to recite,” whereupon, as he himself told it, “the angel took me and whelmed me in his embrace until he had reached the limit of my endurance…He recited these words after the angel, who thereupon left him; and he said; “It was as though the words were written on my heart.”  But he feared this might mean that he become a jinn-inspired poet or a man possessed.  So he fled from the cave, he heard a voice above him saying: “Oh Muhammad, thou art the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel[3]”.

The process by which God revealed the Qur’an to Muhammad occurred over a period of 21 years, although it is traditionally accepted that all of the revelation was given to Muhammad on the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr).  Another crucial event in Muhammad’s life that is credited to prove his authenticity as a prophet of God is called the Mi’raj, which was a night journey where Muhammad rode upon a winged mule (called Buraq) to the furthest mosque and ascended to heaven receiving direct revelation and commandments from God.

“Then a white animal which was smaller than a mule and bigger than a donkey was brought to me.”(On this Al-Jurad asked, “was it the Buraq, O abu hamza?” I [i.e., Anas] replied in the affirmative.)  The prophet said, “The animal’s step (was so wide that it) reached the farthest point within the reach of the animal’s sight.  I was carried on it, and Gabriel set out with me till we reached the nearest heaven.  When he asked for the gate to be opened, it was asked, ‘Who is it?’ Gabriel answered, ‘Gabriel.’  It was asked, ‘Who is accompanying you?’ Gabriel replied, ‘Muhammad.’  It was asked, ‘Has Muhammad been called?’  Gabriel replied in the affirmative.  Then it was said, ‘He is welcomed.  What an excellent visit his is!”…”When I went over the second heaven, there I saw Yahya (i.e. John the Baptist) and ‘Isa (i.e. Jesus) who were cousins of each other.  Gabriel said (to me), ‘These are John and Jesus; pay them your greetings.’  So I greeted them and both of them returned my greetings to me and said, “You are welcomed, O pious brother and pious prophet[4]”.

By briefly observing the citation given above it supports Muhammad’s claim of being a prophet by being allowed entrance into heaven and by meeting and being affirmed by prophets from Adam to Christ which is used to argue for Islam’s continuity with previous religions, Judaism and Christianity, that Muhammad is another prophet from God.

At the beginning of Muhammad’s role as a prophet with death threats and a limited number of followers they left Mecca and sought refuge in the city of Yathrib (later renamed Medina).  This important event is known as the Hijra (Pilgrimage), and it also marked a shift in a larger political and military role in Muhammad’s prophetic ministry.  Military conquests of Muhammad with surrounding tribes and cities are recorded in the Qur’an and Hadeeth, and the final battle that gave a crucial victory for the spread of Islam was its conquest of Mecca in 630 AD.  Muhammad led a siege of the city and also cleansed the Kaaba and removed all of the idols and declared himself the political leader.  All non-Muslims were driven out of both Mecca and Medina, which is still true to the present day.


III. Sources of Authority in Islam: The Qur’an and Hadeeth

The foundational revelation for Islam is the Qur’an, but there are also several other forms of tradition and sources of authority which are crucial for interpreting the Qur’an which are frequently used by Muslim scholars for Qur’anic exegesis.  The Qur’an is divided into different chapters called Surahs.  The Qur’an’s chapters are arranged by length, not chronologically, and some Islamic scholars have divided the Surahs into two basic categories based on the life of Muhammad: the Medinah Surahs written while Muhammad was in Medinah which detail warfare and battles, and the Meccan Surahs after Muhammad conquered Mecca.  Although the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad and later written down in the 7th century after Muhammad’s death it is viewed as the eternal and uncreated revelation of God perfectly preserved in the Arabic language.

“Another characteristic of the kalaam (speech) of Allah is that it is uncreated…Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah said, “He has lied (who says that the Qur’an is created)!”  Allah has stated, “To Him belongs the Creation and the Command,” so the creation is the creation of Allah, and His Command is the Qur’an[5]”.

The Holy Qur’an rightly claims to be the only divine revelation that is everlasting, preserving its originality and genuineness beyond all reasonable doubts.  This living miracle of the Holy Prophet is unique in that it continued beyond his death unlike the miracles of the previous Prophets that lasted only as long as they lived.  The texts of other Prophets and their signs have disappeared with them and no trace of them can now be found in the world.  The Holy Qur’an made a simple challenge to humanity to produce the like of it or any of its parts.  Centuries have passed and it remains as incomparable today as it was on the day it was revealed and will remain so up to the Day of Judgment.

According to this Qur’anic challenge, every individual surah of the Holy Qur’an, indeed any part equal to its smallest surah, is in itself a separate miracle making the Qur’an a collection of nearly two thousand miracles[6]”.

In addition to the Qur’an are the Hadeeth, which are the traditions about the teachings of Muhammad that were passed down by oral tradition and later written down.  The two most authoritative and reliable Hadeeth acknowledged by Muslims scholars are Sahih Al-Bukhari and Sahih Al-Muslim since they have the most reliable chain of tradition dating to an earlier date that the other Hadeeth traditions.  Here is a basic overview of how the Hadeeth are verified as reliable according to Islamic scholars,

“Then Bukhari and Muslim made their collections for their books including only sahih hadiths of the Prophet and did not allow any tradition that was not qualified as sahih (Sahih = genuine/authentic).  Muslim hadith scholars invested great labor and took great pains in maintaining the accuracy of the prophetic traditions.  A new branch of knowledge known as Asma’ ur-Rijal, that is the biographies of each and every reader of the hadith right from the Companion to the present time.  It helped them know everything about a particular reporter in the chain of reporters of any single tradition.  All the collections known as Sihah (the books containing only sahih hadeeths) were so compiled by their authors that each and every statement is prefixed with complete chain of reporters starting from the author to the Holy Prophet himself (Muhammad).  There are some hadiths reported by Bukhari that have only three names between him and the Holy Prophet[7]”.

The Hadeeths help to provide important information on ambiguous passages in Islamic interpretation since the chain can be traced back to an early source it helps to prevent misinterpretation of the Qur’an.  Scholarly commentaries in Islam are called Tafsir, early Islamic commentators help to provide an interpretive lens of how the early Muslims followers understood the Qur’an and interpreted it.

This brief overview has attempted to provide a concise overview of both the meaning of Islam and the sources of its revelation and authority as well as the historical background.  Many events of Muhammad’s life are recorded in the Qur’an such as military conquests, so viewing the helpful distinction between the Medinah and Meccan Surahs of the Qur’an does help to interpret the Qur’an by better understanding the historical background.  The Hadeeth and Tafsir can help us to understand early interpretations of the Qur’an and Islam, so that we don’t misrepresent the affirmations of the Islamic worldview.  Many claims have been made in the citations from Islamic scholars about the superiority of the Qur’an to all other revelations from God and Muhammad’s status as a prophet of God which will be further evaluated in the following lessons.  The groundwork has been laid so that the following lessons can further discuss the Doctrine of God and Christ, Doctrine of Salvation, and the Doctrine of Revelation in the Qur’an as presented in the Islamic worldview to contrast with the Christian worldview by using the primary sources of the Islamic worldview (The Qur’an, Hadith, and Tafsir) and Islamic scholars to present their position.

[1] E. J. Young, Arabic for Beginners (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), 42

[2] Thomas Patrick Hughes, A Dictionary of Islam: Being a Cyclopædia of the Doctrines, Rites, Ceremonies, and Customs, Together with the Technical and Theological Terms, of the Muhammadan Religion (London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1885), 220.

[3] Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2006), 44-45, cited in James White, What Every Christian needs to know about the Quran (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2013), 22-23

[4] Sahih Al-Bukhari, 2:177; 6:385-6 cited in Ibid, 30-31

[5] Yasir Qadhi, An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’an (Birmingham, UK: Al-Hidaayah, 2003), 34 cited in Ibid, 56

[6] Maulana M. Rahmatullah Kairanvi, Izhar-Ul-Haq (truth Revealed): Proof of the Divine Origin of the Qur’an and the Authenticity of the Hadiths Part 3, second edition (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Word of Knowledge for Publishing & Distribution, 1992), 18

[7]Ibid, 94