Chapter 1: The Origin of Islam by Mohammad Abd Allah Draz
(Mohammad Abd Allah Draz is a member of the Grand Ulama, Professor of Interpretation of the Qur’an, Al Ashar University, Cairo, Egypt.)
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being,
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
the Master of the Day of Doom.
Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour.
Guide us in the straight path,
the path of those whom Thou hast blessed,
not of those against whom Thou art wrathful,
nor of those who are astray.
(The first Surah of the Qur’an,
The straight path of Islam requires submission to the will of God as revealed in the Qur’an, and recognition of Muhammad as the Messenger of God who in his daily life interpreted and exemplified that divine revelation which was given through him. The believer who follows that straight path is a Muslim.
The word Islam literally means "peaceful submission to the will of God -- without resistance." This complete submission presupposes as an acceptable minimum a firm belief in the truth and justice of all that God has revealed in human history. In the Qur’an it is made clear that from most ancient times the word Islam has been used by all divine messengers and their followers as the name for their religion. Islam is thus the generic term applicable to every revealed religion so long as that religion is not altered by men. The Qur’an assures us of the intimate relation of its revelation to the previous revelations: "God has ordained for you that religion which He has already commended to Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus" (Surah XLII, 13).
Thus it is that Noah declared, "I was commanded to be among the Muslims" (Surah X, 73). Abraham and Ishmael, (Isma’il), when they were constructing the Ka‘ba as a place of worship at Mecca, addressed God in these words: "Our Lord! Make us Muslims unto Thee and of our seed a nation of Muslims unto Thee" (Surah II, 128). Jacob gave his sons this counsel: " . . and die only as good Muslims" (Surah II, 132). His sons reassured him with their reply, "We do worship thy Lord, the unique God, the God of thy fathers Abraham, Ishmael, Noah, and Isaac, and we are good Muslims" (Surah II, 133). When Moses was instructing his people, he said, "Trust yourselves to God if you are true Muslims" (Surah X, 85). The disciples of Jesus avowed, "We have believed and you can be witness that we are Muslims" (Surah V, 111).
The Qur’an makes it clear that Islam is the only religion acceptable to God when it says, "Lo! religion with God is Islam" (Surah III, 19). That is, religion is submission to God’s will and guidance. Again the Qur’an says, "And who seeketh as religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him" (Surah III, 85). Thus there has been but one true religion on earth, the religion of God, to which believing men have belonged at all times and places. Each of the holy messengers of God who has taken part in revealing the nature of the religion of God has been a stone in the building of that edifice. For the Qur’an this unity of believing humanity is not only a fact, it is above all an essential part of religious belief.
The prophets are required to show mutual recognition and acknowledgment of each other. The believers must accept and respect all revealed books and all messengers of God without distinction between them. To show preference among the revelations of God is to be guilty of a mortal sin which destroys the very basis of our belief. "Those who wish to separate God from his envoys, those who say we believe in some and do not believe in others, those are all the true infidels, and we have prepared for the infidels a terrible torture" (Surah IV, 150- 51). Showing preference among the revelations of God is infidelity because it makes our own desire, our own passion and fanaticism, a criterion and principle of belief; because it resists the will of God which has been authenticated by the divine signs which appear with each one of His messengers.
The fundamental mission of the messengers of God has been to teach true belief about the one God and to establish justice among men. The unity of this belief springs from the one God and creates a union of the prophets and of their followers, who together form a unique spiritual nation, Islam. Thus, after enumerating the prophets from Noah to Jesus, the Qur’an says, "Here is your nation, one and united, and I am your Lord. Worship me, then" (Surah XXI, 92).
The belief in the divine revelation and in the spiritual peace which comes from submission to God is expressed in daily life by obeying His commandments and avoiding that which is forbidden. A humble obedience to the divine commandments is a second essential part of Islam, completing the act of faith -- which is belief in God’s revelation -- by obeying God’s commandments in practical affairs. For example, in our personal life we are commanded in the Qur’an to act with righteousness, to be straightforward in speech, to control our passions, and to purify our souls. In family life, we are commanded to treat women kindly, with full regard for their rights, and to be generous in our dealings with them. In social life, God commands that all cases shall be judged with equity; justice and charity are required; no injustices shall be done to people because of hatred toward them; all life is made sacred by God and may not be ended except through justice. In spiritual life, the Muslims must have always present in their minds the idea of God and must never despair of the forgiveness of the Lord; it is in God that believers must put their trust.
"The Muslim," said Muhammad, "is he who spares others all his bad words and evil deeds." Thus, Islam is external peace and internal peace, peace with God and peace with all creatures, the peace which comes through submission to God. It is noteworthy, however, that historically speaking the meaning of the term Islam has undergone a continuous and gradual evolution in the successive divine revelations. Each new book and each new prophet constitutes a new element to be added to our creed. The most complete revelation has naturally been reserved for the latest revelation which summarizes and confirms all the others. It is thus justified to consider those who accept the last revelation as the Muslims. It is in that spirit that Qur’an calls them not only Muslims, but the Muslims.
God’s latest revelation is given in the Qur’an; therefore, it is necessary to know the Qur’an in order to follow the straight path of Islam. The message of the Qur’an, however, is better understood by those who know the Prophet Muhammad who was the Messenger of God, the interpreter of the Qur’an and its living example.
Muhammad, the son of an illustrious Arab family known for its religious accomplishments and political activities, was born in Mecca on Monday, the ninth of the month Rabi Awwal (April 20, A.D. 571), in the fifty-third year before the beginning of the Muslim Era. His father died before the child was born. When Muhammad lost his mother in his sixth year he was taken into the house of his grandfathers who foresaw for him a splendid future. The grandfather died two years later, leaving him to be cared for and educated by his uncle Abu Talib who had always shown a fatherly interest in him.
The affectionate bond between the young lad and his uncle was so strong that he often traveled with him on caravan journeys. Tradition says that when he was twelve he accompanied his uncle on a commercial journey to Syria, where they met a Syrian monk called Bahira who recognized in the young man the characteristics of a prophet. He advised the uncle to take good care of Muhammad always, and to mistrust especially the Jews who might wish him ill if ever they learned of the prophetic mission he would be called to fulfill.
Muhammad spent his youth in humble circumstances, much of the time working as a shepherd. As he later pointed out, herding sheep was also the occupation of many other prophets, Moses and David in particular.
As a young man he distinguished himself by his refined manners, his extreme shyness, his absolute chastity, and his avoidance of the easy pleasures pursued by other young men of his community. All those who knew him showed complete confidence in him for he fully deserved the name by which he was called, al-Amin, which means the true and reliable one. When he was only twenty years old he was called to sit with the most venerable shaikhs of the Fudul league, an association which cared for the weak and helpless and sought to assure peace between the tribes.
At the age of twenty-five he married the rich and virtuous Khadijah, and in his married life he revealed to his family and the community his excellent human qualities. The trade which he carried on with his wife’s funds kept them in comfortable circumstances, but he used his resources only as a means of spreading happiness. For instance, in order to repay his uncle for having taken care of him in his youth, he took responsibility for the education of Abu Talib’s son, Ali.
Muhammad remained a faithful, loving husband during the quarter-century of his marriage to Khadijah, and after her death he was so fond of recalling the sweet memories of their married life that he caused not a little naive jealousy in his second marriage. He was an excellent father and grandfather, showing an ideal tenderness toward his children and grandchildren. He allowed them to hang on his neck or to mount on his back, even while he was praying; he interrupted his speeches in order to greet them and made them sit with him on his chair. Some Bedouins, seeing him kiss one of his grandchildren, said, "You kiss the children? We never do that." To which the Prophet replied, "What can I do if God has deprived your hearts of all human feeling? God does not grant His mercy to those who are not merciful." (al-Bukhari, Al Adab, Chapter 18).
His most famous action between the time of his marriage and his prophetic calling came when he was thirty-five years old. The sacred shrine in Mecca, the Ka‘ba, was being rebuilt, and when the time came to place the Black Stone (the revered angular stone of the traditional monument), there was a furious competition among the Arab tribes for the honor of lifting it into position. The controversy was about to break out into a fight, with swords drawn, when Muhammad was seen to enter. The crowd started shouting, "al-Amin, al-Amin!" and all submitted to the arbitration of the true and reliable one. With his remarkable presence of mind and the impartiality which he always showed, Muhammad spread his coat on the ground, put the Black Stone on it, and asked the chiefs of the principal tribes to grasp the edges of the coat and together lift the stone to the required height. Then he took the stone and placed it with his own hands, thus resolving the dispute and restoring harmony among the tribes.
By this time Muhammad was physically, intellectually, and morally a mature person, endowed with those characteristics which made him a leader throughout the rest of his life. His figure was taller than average, solidly built, with a large chest and shoulders. He had a noble and always serene countenance, a large mouth with white, slightly separated teeth, black eyes set in a somewhat bloodshot background, a white, rosy skin, and black, wavy hair falling just below his ears. His walk was lively yet dignified. He wore simple clothes which were always clean and well-groomed.
He was very sober and normally restrained; he talked little, but always agreeably and with good humor. His sweet temperament and extreme delicacy would never allow him to force the pace of a conversation with anyone, nor would he ever show a desire to finish a discussion. He never withdrew his hand first from a handshake. While he was inflexible and impartial in applying justice to others, he was indulgent and yielding when his personal rights were involved.
When he later became sole master of the state he was not tempted by earthly wealth but remained as simple and frugal as he had always been, deliberately avoiding all luxury and pomp for his family as well as for himself. After his death his few possessions were not inherited by his relatives but were distributed among the poor.
In his fortieth year he approached the decisive event which wrought a complete change in his life and in the history of mankind.
The first sign of his prophetic vocation, according to his own words, was the discovery that everything which he dreamed happened in his waking hours precisely as he had foreseen it. After a time he felt a strong inclination to seek solitude and withdrew to Mount Hira, or the Mount of Light, north of Mecca. This was a spiritual withdrawal, broken only occasionally by visits to the town for food.
Muhammad received his first revelation on the seventeenth day of Ramadan (February, A.D. 610) in the thirteenth year before the beginning of the Muslim Era. This revelation took the form of a discussion between teacher and pupil, between the Archangel Gabriel and Muhammad.
"Read!" commanded Gabriel. "I am not of those who know how to read," replied Muhammad. "Read!" Gabriel repeated. "What shall I read?" asked the astonished pupil. "Read!" insisted Gabriel. "But how shall I read?" asked the solitary hermit. The Archangel then recited the first five verses of Surah XCVI:
Read: In the name of thy Lord who createth,
Createth man from a clot.
Read: And thy Lord is the most Bounteous,
Who teacheth by the pen,
Teacheth man that which he knew not.
This is the first fragment of the Qur’an. The Angel then disappeared and Muhammad, completely overcome, was starting to leave the grotto when he heard a voice calling to him. He lifted up his head and saw the Angel filling all the horizon in its immensity, and heard the Angel tell him, "O Muhammad: Really, you are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel." After that, Muhammad saw nothing else.
When he reached home he told Khadijah of these happenings and expressed his fears. His devoted wife reassured him with wise and consoling words, "No," she said, "do not worry. God would surely not do you any harm, nor heap shame upon you, for you have never done harm. You always speak the truth, you help the feeble, you always assist those who suffer for a just cause." To comfort him further she accompanied him on a visit to her cousin, Waraqa Ibn Nawfal, who said to him, "This is good news which should fill you with rejoicing. I declare that you are the prophet announced by Jesus. Oh, that I could live until your countrymen will chase you, Muhammad, from your country." "How is it," cried Muhammad, "that they will chase me from here?" "Of course," replied Waraqa, "never has a man brought his fellow-men what you brought with you without becoming the object of persecution and hostility."
Muhammad often returned to the grotto where he had received his first message to seek another revelation. He placed himself in the same condition, he walked the mountains, he turned his eyes in all directions. Days passed, weeks went by, month followed month, one year was gone, another began, and according to the account of al-Cha’bi even a third year came without another revelation. His only comfort was that each time when he felt himself on the brink of despair he heard, "O Muhammad, you are the messenger of God, and I am Gabriel," but without hearing the message he so ardently expected.
By this time Muhammad was forty-three years old. He continued to wake up almost every night in the hope of hearing this "heavy and grave" promised word. Each year he withdrew to Mount Hira in the month of Ramadan. Finally one day, when he had finished his retreat and was descending to the town, he heard someone calling him. He looked around, to the right, to the left, and behind him, but saw no one. Then he lifted his eyes toward heaven and recognized the Angel whom he had seen at Mount Hira. The suddenness of the apparition, the majestic immensity of the heavenly being, struck him so strongly that he could not remain standing. The sublime visitor then gave him the decree which invested him with his second responsibility: "Oh you, who cover yourself carefully, get up, and spread your announcement" (Surah LXXIV, 1-2).
Thus Muhammad must not only receive his divine knowledge, he must also transmit it to the people. To his role of Prophet was added that of Apostle.
After this second message, the revelations succeeded each other without the long interruption which came between the first and second.
Muhammad’s career as the Messenger of Islam lasted for twenty years, with ten years in Mecca before the Hijrah (the move from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622, which is the starting date for the Muslim Era) and ten years at Medina before his death.
He began his preaching in Mecca by discreetly speaking only in his most intimate circles. Abu Bakr was the first man to be converted to Islam and Khadijah the first woman; All was the first young man. The first foreigners were Zaid Ibn Haritha, the Yemenite; Bilal Ibn Rabah, the Abyssinian; and Sohaib Ibn Sinan, the Roman. Islam spread slowly in Mecca, privately at first, and then, in the tenth year before the Hijrah the calling to Islam became public. At first it was kind and courteous and evoked no animosity among the unbelieving. But when the message became reproachful of paganism the Arabs rose in opposition and showed their hatred.
The opposition of the Arabs was at first directed mainly toward the Prophet. It was relatively mild toward those of his believers who had a distinguished family or tribal position, but tended to be cruel toward the humble and the powerless. Therefore, in the middle of the ninth year before the Hijrah the Prophet allowed eleven men and four women to seek refuge with the King of Abyssinia, who received them well and was himself converted to Islam. By the beginning of the eighth year before the Hijrah there were scarcely forty men and about ten women who were Muslims in Mecca, and they met in secret. The conversion of such important people as Hamzah and Umar in this year gave such strong support and encouragement to the followers that they were able to say their prayers openly near the Ka‘ba, and the new religion began to spread more rapidly.
This new growth of Islam aroused the unbelieving to redouble their violence and persecutions and in the seventh year before the Hijrah a second contingent of refugees, eighty-three men and eighteen women, emigrated to Abyssinia. The Prophet himself became the target of a conspiracy but was protected by the two family branches most closely related to him, the Bani Hashim and the Bani al-Muttalib, who rallied around him in the Hashimid quarter. The other branches and tribes thereupon banded together in opposition and took a written oath to boycott the protecting quarters until Muhammad was handed over to them. They maintained their severe boycott for three years, abandoning it in the fourth year before the Hijrah.
The ending of the boycott would have been a great relief to the Prophet if it had not been that just at this time he suffered two cruel losses: the death of his uncle Abu Talib and shortly afterward the death of his wife Khadijah. The Prophet calls this year "the year of suffering." Having become a widower without the consoling intimacy of a wife, he married Sawdah, a courageous believer whose suffering during the persecution and emigration had just been crowned by the loss of her husband after their return from Abyssinia. Accordingly, this marriage must be considered more a compensation for her than for him.
When Muhammad lost the support which his uncle afforded him in Mecca, he left the town to look elsewhere for allies and adherents. He spent ten unsuccessful days with the tribe of Thaqif, at at-Ta’if, but he was received badly and returned disappointed to Mecca to devote his proselytizing efforts to the pilgrims’ encampment at the Ka‘ba. Toward the end of the third year before the Hijrah he saw a faint hope in six men from Medina. These good men, who had heard the message of the Prophet during a brief encounter at Mina, responded enthusiastically to his appeal and carried the holy message to Medina where they made many converts.
Toward the end of the following year, the second before the Hijrah, five of those men from Medina with seven new converts visited the Prophet and took an oath to abstain from any polytheistic cult, from all vices, and to observe strict discipline. A year later, seventy-five men from Medina came to swear allegiance, confess their faith, and declare their submission. They also promised to defend the Prophet and their Muslim brothers if they should choose Medina as their refuge. This represents the first defense treaty in Islamic history.
Immediately after receiving this promise from the men of Medina the Prophet authorized and even obliged those men among his followers who had sufficient means to settle in Medina with their new brothers. Those who insisted upon remaining in Mecca without valid reason were to be regarded as hypocrites. But the Prophet himself did not hasten to leave his post and join the community of his faithful followers. He awaited an express authorization by revelation, an authorization which came after three months, on the day before the unfaithful had planned to carry out a plot against him.
Before the Hijrah, when Muhammad joined his followers in Medina, the Muslims did not form a nation or even a community; they did not even have a majority in Mecca. In Mecca they occupied no post of authority. They could not make a solemn call to prayer or come together for a public gathering. In Medina, however, Muslims could settle openly and Islam could develop. Communal prayer was observed solemnly even before the arrival of the Prophet. The day after his arrival in Medina the Prophet assumed full authority, started forming the state, and began the building of the great mosque.
Muhammad’s authority in Medina was of an entirely new and original kind: it was at the same time absolute and consultative, theocratic and socialist. It was religious and absolute in its framework, based on revealed commandments and general rules, but socialistic and consultative in the details and the application of the rules.
The Muslim state which the Prophet created in Medina remains the model of every Muslim state worthy of the name. It is unique in human history, for although this Muslim state was fundamentally religious, it established two principles which are not found elsewhere except in a nonreligious state or in a religion which has no state government associated with it. The first is the principle of freedom of religion, a freedom which the Muslim state not only admits and authorizes but must even defend and guarantee. The second is the principle which defines the idea of fatherland or nation in the most tolerant and human sense, a principle which guarantees equality of rights and national duties for those of all races, colors, languages, and ideologies existing in the country.
The first year and a half after the Hijrah were entirely devoted to purely pacific and constructive activities, to the development of religious and social institutions such as fasting, almsgiving, fraternization of the immigrants with the original inhabitants, agreements between tribes, and the like. Thus far nothing suggested the use of force. It was only because they wanted to be indemnified for the loss of their houses and worldly goods, which had been left behind in the hands of their enemies in Mecca, and because they wanted to put an end to the persecution and violence which the enemies were inflicting upon their brethren in Mecca that the Muslims tried several times, unsuccessfully, to intercept enemy caravans passing near Medina.
In Ramadan of the second year after the Hijrah the pagans reacted to these fruitless attempts to intercept the caravans by declaring an offensive against Medina. The Muslims thereupon sought to defend themselves, in a rather improvised manner, and although inferior in numbers and weapons they obtained a decisive victory. In the month of Shawwal in the third year the Meccans took their revenge, and for the next few years actions and counteractions followed until in the sixth year a ten-year truce was concluded. This truce was very favorable for the growth of Islam. Not only did it spread among the Arabs of the Hijaz -- the western side of the Arabian peninsula -- who were in frequent contact with the Muslims, but during this time the Prophet sent his messages and messengers to the Roman Emperor Heraclios, and to the kings and princes in Persia, Egypt, Bahrein, and Yemen.
In the year A.H. 8 the Meccans broke the truce, and this time the Prophet marched victoriously into the capital. The indulgent and merciful character of the Prophet, which he had always shown, was clear to all the people of Mecca after this conquest when, without repressive action or loss of life, he generously pardoned all his former persecutors. The conversion and submission of the whole Arab peninsula came soon after the conquest of Mecca, but in the northern part of the peninsula the Romans (Byzantines) prepared themselves for a strong attack against the young religion. In A.H. 9 the Prophet himself led an expedition as far as Tabouk (halfway between Medina and Damascus) which made the Romans renounce their enterprise. When the Prophet returned to Medina he had concluded non-aggression treaties with the neighboring countries to the north.
It was also in the ninth year of the Hijrah that the Prophet ordered Abu Bakr, his closest disciple, to lead the pilgrims to Mecca and to proclaim that the approach to the Ka‘ba from that time onward was to be forbidden to all pagans and polytheists.
In the tenth year after the Hijrah the pilgrimage to Mecca was led by the Prophet himself. This is known as the "farewell pilgrimage," during which the Prophet received the divine message that his mission was fulfilled and foresaw that the end of his life was near. "This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have approved for you as religion AL-ISLAM" (Surah V, 3).
Those who heard his sermon on Arafa day in the tenth year recognized that they were hearing his last will and testament. With great emphasis he reminded all human beings of their brotherly love, their common origin, their equality without distinction except by means of virtue. With clear authority he commanded respect for the person, the family, and for property. With kindly compassion he recommended gentleness toward women. With great vision he enjoined his listeners to retain and transmit his message to all those who have not heard it, for, he said, "Who knows? Maybe I shall not see you again after this year." Finally, addressing himself to the pilgrims who had come from all the surroundings countries in such numbers that they reached the horizon and spread over all the desert, he said, "God will ask you about me: did I transmit to you His message?" "Yes! Yes!" Thereupon, looking toward heaven and pointing his fingers, Muhammad prayed in a loud voice, "My God, be witness."
Less than three months after this sermon, on the twelfth day of Rabi Awwal, A.H. 11 (June 7, A.D. 632), Muhammad’s soul returned to his eternal resting place.
The question of miracles in relation to Muhammad has often been debated. Did he perform miracles other than the Qur’an?
The Qur’an, revealed to the world by the voice of Muhammad, is a miracle -- yes, rather THE Miracle. Everything proves it: its style, its contents, the extraordinary events by which it was revealed, taught, and written down; its constant conformity with past, present, and future truth; its transcendent character which never shows a trace of a particular man, of any one society or epoch of history or specific region of the globe. The Qur’an is not a passing event in history which appears one day and disappears the next, to be known only by more or less correct hearsay reports. No, it is a fact, stable and durable, which remains unchanged and eternally present for the admiring contemplation of all men.
The Qur’an is not a temporary wonder which deceives the mind and is alien to the new knowledge which it has come to influence. It is the truth, the truth which proves itself, and while it appeals to reason it transcends reason and thus shows its divine origin.
The recognition of the Qur’an as THE Miracle does not diminish the value of other material and tangible miracles, known through our senses. These miracles, too, can very well bring us conviction; they are often the best means to reinforce our faith. That is why our earlier prophets have performed miracles.
Was it the same with the Prophet of Islam? Has he performed miracles other than the transmission of the Qur’an?
There are current tendencies toward answering in the negative, pretending to find proof in the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an, it is said, tells us that the Prophet Muhammad systematically refused to satisfy those who asked him to produce miracles.
And they say: We will not put faith in thee till thou
cause a spring to gush forth from the earth for us;
Or thou have a garden of date-palms and grapes, and
cause flyers to gush forth therein abundantly ...
Or thou have a house of gold; or thou ascend up into
heaven, and even then we will put no faith in thine
ascension till thou bring down for us
a book that we can read. (Surah XVII, 90-93)
And they say: Why are not signs sent down upon him
from his Lord? Say: Signs are with Allah only,
and I am but a plain warner.
Is it not enough for them that We have sent down unto
thee the Scripture which is read unto them?
Lo! herein verily is mercy, and a reminder for
folk who believe. (Surah XXIX, 50-51)
At the basis of the theory that the Prophet refused to perform miracles we find a grave misinterpretation, not only of the meaning of these quotations, but more so of the Islamic conception of the author of miracles in general. In those quotations the possibility of a miracle is not denied. Rather, they point out that miracles come from the supreme authority which alone is capable of any form of creation, and above all of creating supernatural things. It is a matter of demarking the frontier which separates human and divine power. The man is not yet possessed of the true Islamic faith who confounds those two powers, believing that the prophets themselves created their miracles. For the prophets are only human; they cannot overcome physical laws nor can they overcome the laws of the mind. God alone does so, if and when He wants to, in order to prove the divine origins of the message which the prophets transmit.
Therefore, it was not Moses who transformed the stick into a living snake, for this transmutation took place to his great surprise. It was not Jesus, either, who by his own power revived the dead; he did it only by the authority of the Lord. And when he refused the demands of those who once asked him to produce a sign from heaven, does this mean that he no longer performed miracles? Evidently not!
It is the same with Muhammad in his refusal to comply with certain pagan requests. The answer with which he avowed his own incapability to perform miracles is the same which he gave concerning the Qur’an. It is not Muhammad who is the author of the Qur’an, but it is "the faithful spirit"; it is the Archangel Gabriel who, on God’s command, brought the Qur’an down from heaven and deposited it in Muhammad’s heart so that it may guide and rejoice those who believe in it. Not only could Muhammad not modify an iota of it, he did not even expect to be its bearer and was not sure that he would continue to receive it.
Thus no miracles, material or spiritual, are of human origin, for all are exclusively within God’s domain and competence. All prophets have avowed that they are subject to the same limitations. Neither they nor the people to whom they were sent could demand a certain miracle or substitute one miracle for another according to their preferences. God gives His mandate to whomsoever He wills, in the form which He deems proper to persuade any epoch of history or any age of humanity. To each epoch its book. To each people, its guide.
And verily We sent messengers (to mankind) before thee,
and We appointed for them wives and offspring,
and it was not (given) to any messenger that he should
bring a sign save by Allah’s leave.
To each epoch, its book.
(Surah XIII, 38)
In Islamic terminology a miracle is most often defined as a fact contrary to general rules, opposed to the normal course of events, with a cause which escapes human comprehension; and this fact is also a challenge to anyone who doubts it. Now the only fact which most obviously fulfills all these conditions is, of course, the Qur’an, which repeatedly and in many ways cries out its challenge to all beings visible and invisible and predicts their impotence to prove that it is not the miraculous message of God. It invites them first to imitate its text in its entirety, then to create ten Surahs similar to those in the Qur’an or to create but a single similar Surah, and finally asks but for a Surah only slightly resembling one in the Qur’an.
The question as to whether or not the Prophet performed any miracle other than the revelation of the Qur’an thus depends on the definition of a miracle. If it is required that such a challenge must have been explicitly expressed, then it must be said that in Islam there has been no miracle other than the Qur’an. But once we eliminate the arbitrary stipulation that the challenge must have been expressed, we find an uncountable number of miracles performed by the Prophet.
Some of those miracles are mentioned in the Qur’an itself:
The Prophet’s journey made by supernatural means from Mecca to Jerusalem in a single moment of the night; a journey during which he saw many divine signs, and distinguished clearly all topographical details of the place, details which he later described, to the surprise of all (Surah XVII, 1).
The prediction of a cleavage on the surface of the moon, a celestial phenomenon which indeed took place immediately in the presence of the crowd of people he was addressing and which was observed and confirmed by travelers (Surah LIV, z). The miraculous victory over the army of his enemies which was accomplished by a small number of faithful, poorly armed followers, but men who were assisted by divine power (Surah VIII, 17).
The fact that the society in Medina, which had been divided and eaten by hatred and civil war for dozens of years, became overnight a united group of intimate friends -- a sudden change of mind which could not have been accomplished by earthly forces (Surah III, 103; VIII, 63).
The revelation by the Prophet of secret facts which had been carefully hidden from his knowledge (Surah IV, 113; LXVI, 3). Innumerable predictions fulfilled, such as the announcement of the precise date of a coming victory of the Romans over the Persians (Surah XXX, 2-6).
Also innumerable truthful reports of historic facts which were unknown to him and his people (Surah XI, 49; XII, 102; XXVIII, 44-46).
Among other miracles not mentioned in the Qur’an only a few can be cited here. The knowledge of these miracles, performed publicly by the Prophet, has been transmitted from generation to generation by reporters who have been identified and are known to be trustworthy historians. These examples are taken from the first chapter of al-Bukhari’s Alamate El Noboua:
The prediction that the Roman and Persian empires would cease to exist immediately after the death of their emperors who were contemporaries of the Prophet.
The announcement of the death of the King of Abyssinia on the date of his death.
The assurance he gave that, after the battle against the pagans of Mecca in the fifth year of the Hijrah, the Meccans would never again march against Medina and that Mecca would be conquered by the Muslims.
The prediction that his grandson al-Hasan would re-establish unity and end the conflict between two great parties of Islam, a prediction which was fulfilled in the days of Mu‘awiya, the fifth Caliph.
A miracle which was often repeated during times of drought and general thirst in the army was the production of an abundant yield of water from a little vessel which the Prophet blessed by putting his fingers in it. Fifteen hundred soldiers were able to quench their thirst, perform their ablutions, and water their animals with the water from that little vessel.
During a Friday sermon, when a Bedouin complained about the continuing dry weather and the famine which would ensue, the Prophet prayed for rain, and storm-clouds gathered from all directions, bringing rain which continued until the following Friday.
The next Friday the same Bedouin complained of the destruction being caused by the rain, and after the Prophet prayed the sky above Medina cleared immediately.
Once when the Prophet had been sitting on a tree stump and then abandoned it for a higher seat in order that the increased number of listeners might hear him better, all the audience heard the wailing complaint of the stump, a wailing which continued until the Prophet took the stump in his arms and consoled it as one would console a baby.
These are only a few of the many authenticated examples of miracles, other than the great miracle of receiving the revelation of the Qur’an, which were performed by the Prophet Muhammad, the Messenger of God.
The greatest miracle was the revelation of the Qur’an which was transmitted by the Prophet in passages of unequal length at different times over a period of twenty-three years.
As soon as the Prophet received each inspired message he recited it to his audience and they in turn repeated it to the community, which was made up of people who were fond of literature and eagerly awaited each new message, whether they were partisans or adversaries.
As the Prophet dictated each new passage it was written down by the scribes on anything within reach, on thin white stones, pieces of parchment, wood, leather, or whatever was available. Tradition counts up to twenty-nine different persons in Medina who served as secretaries; a lesser number of scribes recorded the revelations received in Mecca. From the very beginning the faithful never failed to record the revealed messages, even during the persecutions. Among these scribes were included the first five Caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Mi, and Mu’awiya.
Thus the holy book of Islam became known in both an oral and written form. In its oral form it was called Qur’an, that is, Recital. In its written form it was called Kitab, or Scripture.
At the beginning the written extracts were not put in order or even gathered together, for other messages were expected.
As time went on several groups of verses began to grow up and tended to become independent unities as new verses were added according to the instructions given by the Prophet, who was following the orders of the Revealer Spirit. Although the text was originally scattered in its written form, it always had a definite order in the Prophet’s mind and in the minds of the faithful, with each verse or group of verses fitting into its proper place in the structure of the whole. In the Prophet’s lifetime there were hundreds of his Companions, called "Qur’an bearers," who were specialists in reciting the Book and knew by heart every Surah in its proper place in the structure.
At the death of the Prophet the Qur’an was preserved in the memories of the faithful as well as in writing. While in its oral form every Surah was complete and in its proper place in the order known today, in its written form it was nothing but scattered documents written on many different materials. During the year following the death of the Prophet no one worried about the written form because there were innumerable oral witnesses among them as living copies of the Qur’an complete in its final form. But about a year after the Prophet’s death seventy of the Qur’an bearers were killed in the battle with Musailima, the false prophet, and it became clear that it would be necessary to guard against the loss of the oral tradition by gathering the written documents into a book easy to handle and use for reference. The idea of preparing the book was suggested by Umar and carried out by Zaid Ibn Thabit, a Qur’an bearer who had attended the last recital of the Qur’an by the Prophet and a man known for his intelligence, integrity, and competence.
Under the guidance of Zaid Ibn Thabit the correct written form of the Qur’an was determined by including only those passages which were verified by two witnesses as having been written down at the dictation of the Prophet and as being in the oral text of the last recital by the Prophet. This official collection is distinguished from the other personal, oral versions by an absolute rigorism which excluded from the text any explanatory notes and even eliminated the Surah titles. ‘When the written form was completed it was given to the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, who entrusted it to Umar when he designated him the second Caliph. Since the third Caliph had not been chosen at the time of Umar’s death, he gave it to his daughter Hafsah who was one of the widows of the Prophet.
The universal authority of the written form of the Qur’an dates from its publication by the third Caliph, Uthman, who received it from Hafsah and ordered four secretaries to write as many copies of the document as there were big towns in the Islamic Empire. From that time the Uthman edition has been the only one in use in the Islamic world.
Ever since the earliest days the question has been raised as to whether the Qur’an was of divine or human origin. The explicit and implicit testimony of the Qur’an is that the author is God Himself. It is never the Prophet who speaks in the Qur’an. The Scripture either refers to him in the third person or addresses him directly -- O Prophet, O Messenger, We reveal to thee, We send thee, do this, recite this; such is the language of the Qur’an.
The direct proof of the divine origin of the Qur’an is manifest all through the Scripture itself. It is also shown by the peculiar phenomena which accompanied every revelation of the Qur’an, according to the testimony of the true tradition. The Prophet’s contemporaries were objective witnesses of the visible, tangible, and audible signs of the mysterious accompanying phenomena which made evident the real source of the Qur’an and opened the eyes of the truth-seekers. In the presence of the Revealer Spirit the Prophet’s inspired face was illumined, like a mirror; there was silence; conversation stopped as if in moments of absence of mind; his body relaxed as if in sleep and a mysterious buzz was heard around him -- as in a telephone conversation where the one listening is the only one who can hear distinctly enough to understand. There was nothing voluntary about these phenomena, for the Prophet could neither avoid them when they came nor bring them into being when he earnestly desired to receive a message. On many occasions the Prophet sought a revelation but it was not given; then, sometimes after an interval as long as a month, the mysterious phenomena would come, appearing suddenly and vanishing abruptly, after which the people with him would listen to the wonderful text.
The literary style and contents of that text are conclusive evidence of the divine origin of the Qur’an, but before considering that evidence let us turn to the arguments by which attempts have been made to prove that the origins were human. It is to the honor of Islam that the Qur’an records all hypotheses, reasonable or absurd, by which the contemporaries of the Prophet attempted to establish human origins for the Scripture. If the origins were human, they must have come from Muhammad’s environment, from other religions in that environment, or from the meditations and reasoning of the human author. Let us examine the activities of the Prophet before and during his apostolate and see what he could have learned from his surroundings or from his own meditations.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that at the beginning of Islam neither the ideas nor the practices of the people of Mecca show any resemblance to the teachings of the Qur’an. There is no relation between the pure unitarian system, the most perfect and refined ethics of the Holy Book of Islam, and the ignorance, paganism, superstitious idolatry, arrogant materialism, infanticide, prostitution, incest, dowry extortion, oppression of orphans, disregard for the poor, and scorn of the weak which were characteristics of Mecca in those times.
An effort has been made to show that the teachings of the Qur’an are similar to those of the Sabians, a sect well-known in Mecca at that time. But the Sabians were idolatrous and polytheistic, worshiping the stars and angels with a mixture of pagan, Christian, and other rites. Their pilgrimage was not to the Ka‘ba, but to Harran in Iraq, and their prayers were to the stars at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset -- three times when prayer is prohibited in Islam.
It was also suggested that Muhammad might have been influenced by the travelers and immigrants who came to Mecca: the Abyssinians or Romans, the laborers or wine merchants. It is clear that our Personage could not have known the vulgar class of immigrants for he lived either alone, in complete solitude, or as a shepherd, or as a big merchant in a caravan, or in the high society with the leaders of the community. Even if he had any contact with such people, their lack of religious knowledge would have been evident, and as the Qur’an points out, their foreign language would have made communication impossible (Surah XVI, 103).
It has been argued that in Muhammad’s travels he became acquainted with Arab tribes which had been converted to Christianity and got his ideas from them. Many scholars, ancient and modern, have pointed out that such contact with Christianity is unlikely but that, even if it did happen, the Christianity practiced in that part of the world was so debased that it was indistinguishable from paganism. The fourth Caliph, Ali, said that the tribe Taghlib had taken from Christianity nothing but the habit of drinking wine. Wherever Muhammad traveled he found beliefs to be rectified, deviations to be brought back to the right way. Nowhere did he find a moral or religious model which could have been copied for his work of reform.
Again, it has been suggested that the Prophet gleaned his teachings from the reading of books recording previous revelations. But the Qur’an categorically denies that he knew how to read or write (Surah XXIX, 48). Furthermore, the Bible was not available in Arabic until many centuries after the Prophet’s time, and the Bible in other languages was out of reach of the common people. The few biblical ideas which may have circulated among the common people were so vague and often contradictory that they cannot be the basis for the precision, extensiveness, unity, and vigor of the material in the Qur’an.
Nor can it be argued that Muhammad was influenced by Jewish teachings after he came to Medina, where he was in contact with Jewish scholars. Even before the Hijrah the Holy History had been revealed in all its true details in the Meccan Surahs, and the Qur’an had condemned the believers in the Pentateuch as followers of satanic inspiration, unworthy of being accepted as teachers or examples (Surah XVI, 63). In the revelations in Medina the Qur’an goes even further in its condemnation of the followers of the Pentateuch (Surah II, 79-80; III, 75; IV, 161). The psychological attitudes on both sides made Jewish influence on Islamic thought practically impossible. The majority of the Jewish scholars adopted an antagonistic position which was far from the benevolent attitude of teachers. Those of the Israelite scholars who were impartial enthusiastically welcomed the Prophet in Medina and declared their conversion to Islam, thereafter as disciples recognizing him as their Master. Between the two categories of the hostile or the submissive, there was no place for a third group of friendly tutors.
Thus it is clear that the teachings of the Qur’an cannot be attributed to the influence of the environment on Muhammad. There remains the question as to whether or not he could have created the Qur’an by himself through the use of meditation and reason. To a limited extent, reason could have revealed the falseness of idolatry and the senselessness of superstition, but how could it know how to replace them? It is not by mere thinking that facts can be known, that previous events can be described, yet the Qur’an was always in perfect accord with the essential data of the Bible, even those hidden from Muhammad by scholars. Mere intellect by itself could not have given such details. The Qur’an confirms that before the revelation Muhammad did not know any book nor even the meaning of faith (Surah XLII, 52). He could not possibly have guided others, for he did not even know how to guide himself in religious matters. He was ignorant of all the legislative, moral, social, and ritual details which are included in the revelation of the Qur’an. It was not by reason, or by the study of books, but only by revelation that Muhammad could know the creative God and the divine attributes. Only as it was revealed to him could he define the relation between God and the visible and invisible worlds and specify the future reserved to man after death.
We have seen that the Qur’an could not have human origins traceable either to the experience of Muhammad in the environment of his time or to his ability to construct the Holy Book by use of his reason. We have seen that the divine origin of the Qur’an is attested by the mysterious phenomena which always preceded a revelation. Now let us look further and consider the internal evidence for the divine origin in the literary form and contents of the Qur’an.
The literary form of the Qur’an is distinguished clearly from all other forms, whether they be poetry, rhythmic or non-rhythmic prose, the style of the common people, or that of the Prophet himself. The exceptional eloquence of Muhammad was always acknowledged and is known to us in countless instructions which he gave after careful thought, or dictated as non-Quranic insights. In all such passages there is not the slightest resemblance between them and the revealed messages.
We feel such ascendant power in the revealed texts that they penetrate the soul. The infidels in the time of the Prophet considered the form of the text such an extraordinary phenomenon that they used to call it magic. Even in modern times those who can understand the Arabic text recognize its sublime character without being able to explain it.
In our lectures on exegesis at Al Azhar University in Cairo -- the oldest university in the world -- the following analysis is used to point out the ways in which the literary form of the Qur’an transcends the powers of man and defies imitation.
The form of the Qur’an reflects neither the sedentary softness of the townsman nor the nomadic roughness of the Bedouin. It possesses in right measure the sweetness of the former and the vigor of the latter.
The rhythm of the syllables is more sustained than in prose and less patterned than in poetry. The pauses come neither in prose form nor in the manner of poetry, but with a harmonious and rhythmic symmetry.
The words chosen neither transgress by their banality nor by their extreme rarity, but are recognized as expressing admirable nobility.
The sentences are constructed in a dignified manner which uses the smallest possible number of words to express ideas of utmost richness.
The brevity of expression, the conciseness, attains such a striking clearness that the least learned man can understand the Qur’an without difficulty.
At the same time there is such a profundity, flexibility, suggestivity, and radiance in the Qur’an that it serves as the basis of the principles and rules for the Islamic sciences and arts, for theology, and for the juridical schools. Thus it is almost impossible in each case to express the ideas of a text by one interpretation only, either in Arabic or in a foreign language, even with the greatest care.
Quranic speech appears to be superhuman in its transcendence of the psychological law that intellect and feeling are always found in inverse proportion to each other. In the Qur’an we find constant cooperation between the two antagonistic powers of reason and emotion, for we find that in the narrations, arguments, doctrines, laws, and moral principles the words have both a persuasive teaching and an emotive force. Throughout the whole Qur’an the speech maintains a surprising solemnity and powerful majesty which nothing can disturb.
Finally, when we pass from the structure of a sentence, or a group of sentences dealing with the same subject, to the structure of the Surah and of the Qur’an as a whole, we find an over-all plan which could not have been created by man.
We know that the Qur’an was revealed in long and short fragments over a period of twenty-three years and that they have been arranged according to neither their chronological order nor their subject matter but in an independent, complicated order which appears to be arbitrary. As each revelation appeared it was placed in its fixed place, given its number among the verses, and its place was never changed. Thus, for every revealed verse there are two different orders, the chronological order based on the date of its revelation and the architectural order which determined its place in the composition of the Book. Throughout the long period of the revelations these two orders were strictly followed for every verse, every Surah, and the whole work.
In the chronological order, every revelation meets the need of the hour and links with the previous and following ones in a gradual progress in teaching and legislation. For instance, consider the main outline of these successive stages: it begins with the simple command, "Read!" (Surah XCVI, 1); then goes on to the apostolic charge, "Preach!" (Surah LXXIV, 2); then the call at first to the near relatives only (Surah XXVI, 214), extended next to the whole town (Surah XXVIII, 59), then to the neighboring towns (Surah VI, 92), and at last to humanity (Surah XXI, 107). Consider also the general outline of the progress in teaching in its two big divisions: first the fundamental bases of the work in the Surahs of Mecca; then the codified application of those general principles in the Surahs of Medina. This long course of events continued from the day of the grotto, when Muhammad was simply warned that he would receive a divine teaching, until the day of the last pilgrimage, when he was told that his mission was accomplished and he had nothing else to do on earth. After receiving the revelations for twenty-three years, he was called back.
Nothing, therefore, has been improvised in the Qur’an. Everything was foreseen and formed as a whole and in every detail, from the beginning to the end, including the death of the Prophet. Who could have formed and carried out such a complete plan? Who other than God from whom came this heavenly mission?
In addition to the chronological order there is the architectural order in the Qur’an. The very texts which follow in the chronological order the most wise educational plan were taken from their historical positions and fixed in the architectural order, every one in a definite frame already built to receive it, taking its place in those units of different length called Surahs. What makes it so wonderful is that once each Surah is completed from those scattered parts it is a unit faultlessly formed, artistically, linguistically, and logically. A special musical rhythm runs equally through all parts of the speech; there is a common, harmonious style, and a logical plan in the development of the ideas expressed.
It is clear that to establish such a scheme in advance the author would have had to foresee not only the problems which would arise from the events of the next twenty-three years, and their solutions, but also the literary form, the musical tone and rhythm in which it would be expressed, the appropriate structure for all the revelations yet to come, and the precise spot in that framework where each revelation would be fixed.
It must be confessed that no man or any other creature is capable of knowing the future in such detail or creating such a Book. Only the Divine Omniscience could be the creator of the Qur’an.
The teachings of the Qur’an are universal, addressed to all people throughout the world regardless of their origins and revealed to mankind to enlighten man’s spirit, to purify his morals, to unify his society, and to replace the domination by the powerful with justice and fraternity. As is confirmed in Surah XVI, 89, all human problems can be solved through the Qur’an, either directly or indirectly: "And We reveal the Scripture unto thee as an exposition of all things."
This revelation in the Qur’an deals primarily with the Supreme Truth and with virtue. All the rest of the contents of the text -- such as knowledge of the soul, the sciences of the nature of the heavens and the earth, history, prophecy, warnings, and the like -- are only means to strengthen the message of the Qur’an, to give it more weight and conviction. The great theologian al-Ghazali, who died A.H. 505 (AD 1111), pointed out in his Pearls of the Qur’an that 763 verses are concerned with knowledge, and 741 verses with guidance in virtue. For him these 1504 verses represent the most precious substance of the Book, while the remaining 5112 verses are, so to speak, the envelope or shell of the teachings.
According to the Qur’an, the act of faith must include these three elements:
Belief in God
Belief in His messages addressed to humanity
Belief in the Day of Judgment.
The starting point in Islam is belief in God, the Almighty, the Benefactor, the Creator of everything, the only proper object of worship. In the attempts to persuade the polytheists to accept this pure monotheism, the chief point at issue is the question of the proper object of worship. The Qur’an in many passages points out that the pagans confess that there is but one Creator and Administrator of the universe (Surah XLIII, 9), but their mortal mistake is that in their worship they associate secondary gods with God and claim that those secondary gods are capable of interceding with Him on their behalf and winning His favor. The Qur’an uses arguments based on reason and on tradition to bring back those who have strayed from monotheism into polytheism.
In the rational arguments directed at the polytheists, the Qur’an emphasizes their agreement that creation and providence are attributed exclusively to God and seeks to persuade them to the exclusive worship of God. How can one equate the creature to the Creator? Is it conceivable that the being which has created nothing equals the One who has created everything? (Surah XVI, 17). Is it not illogical to invoke that which never answers us, which never even hears our appeal? (Surah XLVI, 5). Is it not ungrateful on our part to forget the Benefactor who grants us our happiness, the Benefactor to whom we address all our supplications in times of disaster? Is it not ungrateful to associate with Him in worship others who are incapable of either good or evil actions? (Surah XVI, 53-54). And finally, those polytheists who pretend that any man or saint or other being has the power of mediation or intercession with the great God must prove that it can be done (Surah II, 255; XIII, 33; XXXIX, 3).
In addition to the rational arguments against polytheistic worship, the Qur’an points to the unanimous testimony of the prophetic traditions. "There has not been one previous prophet to whom We have not revealed this truth that there is no God but Me, therefore worship Me" (Surah XXI, 25). "Ask the divine messengers who preceded you: Have We allowed them to worship other gods than the Merciful?" (Surah XLIII, 45).
While the starting point of faith is belief in God as the Creator, the Benefactor, and the only object of worship, it must be recognized that God is also the Legislator. He commands our actions and our emotions. He requires our trust and obedience. This truth can be known by natural intelligence, by common sense and conscience, and also by the confirmation given in the Qur’an. God has given man the natural power to discern good and evil, justice and injustice (Surah XCI, 7-8), but the experience of all time shows that passions, work, and material and worldly preoccupations sometimes turn our minds away from the highest ideals and lead us to erroneous judgments and practical mistakes. Therefore the Divine Mercy did not abandon us to our natural intelligence alone. To check any tendency in us toward declining our responsibilities, God has reinforced our natural intelligence with revealed Truths (Surah XXIV, 35).
In order that His commandments might be known to men without dependence on reason alone, God chose among men and Angels those worthy of receiving and transmitting the divine light, sending to every nation or large tribe His warning (Surah XVI, 36). Those who refuse to believe in any spokesman of God refuse to believe in God himself, for every divine messenger has been given proof of the divine origin of his revelations (Surah LVII, 25).
The first two elements in the faith of Islam -- belief in God and in His messages -- are not complete without the third: belief in the Day of Judgment. God is Creator, God is Legislator, and God is also the supreme Judge. He is the beginning and the end; to Him all men must turn to give an account of their deeds and to receive from Him equitable retribution according to their merits (Surah XL, 16; LVII, 3; II, 281). The doctrine of life after death includes belief in the survival of the soul and the resurrection of the body. The belief in the survival of the soul did not give rise to difficulties, but the impious objected with irony to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body: "Give us back our fathers if you speak the truth!" (Surah XLIV, 36).
The Qur’an opposed such superficial reasoning by pointing out the argument from nature, how the earth is at one time dead and dry and then living and fertile. (Surah XXII, 5-7; XXX, 50). The Qur’an establishes that resurrection is not only possible, it is certain. It is certain because God has promised it, and it is certain because it is required by wisdom and justice in order to give to each creature a just retribution for his deeds. Otherwise, the creation of man would have been in vain. "Deemed ye then that We had created you for naught, and that ye would not be returned unto Us?" (Surah XXIII, 115). Nor should it be thought that good and bad men would be treated in the same way, giving them similar life and death (Surah XLV, 21). In the Day of Judgment, justice will be given to all men.
Belief in God the Creator, God the Legislator, and God the Judge is not enough in itself. The Qur’an teaches that a genuine believer must have that faith and must also observe the law; it requires sincere belief and laborious obedience. In giving its commandments it awakens in us a sense of good and evil, of beauty and ugliness. "God could not order indecent things" (Surah VII, z8). "Tell them: My Lord forbids only what is indecent done in public or in private; deeds of the limbs or of the heart, such as any impious action and any unjustified violence" (Surah VII, 33). "The faithful do not defame the reputation of those who are absent. Would any one of you like to eat his dead brother’s flesh?" (Surah XLIX, 12). The Qur’an points out that such ideals of universal duty were always taught by wise men and the saints. The names of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, and Jesus are often mentioned as having taught such virtues and the necessity for prayer, charity, fasting, and the like.
Thus it is clear that the Qur’an has preciously preserved these previous teachings concerning virtue which were true, but we must notice that the Qur’an does not synthesize the sometimes divergent previous teachings; it marks out its own way by a spontaneous impulse. While it preserves the religious and moral patrimony, it adorns it more, crowning the divine building on which all the prophets have collaborated. By means of a variety of proofs convincing to the mind and attractive to the heart, the teaching concerning the divine attributes, the destiny of the soul, and the moral duties of man is much more developed in the Qur’an than anywhere else.
For instance, instead of only prohibiting drunkenness, the Qur’an stops the evil at its source by strictly forbidding the use of all intoxicants. Again, after reconciling the two apparently opposed principles of the Old and New Testaments, the principles of Justice and Charity, the Qur’an adds quite a new dimension which can be called the Code of Politeness, Discretion, and Propriety (Surah IV, 86; XXIV, 27 -28, 31, 58-62). With the Decalogue of Moses, we are still in the fundamental and elementary laws, as if on the ground floor of morality. With the Sermon on the Mount we already find ourselves on a very high level at which charity excels justice and the heavenly kingdom scorns the earthly realm. Finally, through the laws of the Qur’an we reach the summit where charity and justice are combined and there is a total disinterestedness which aims at the absolute Good which is God. It is God Himself who must be borne in mind while carrying out His will by living a virtuous life.
In the revelations of the Qur’an, as in every previous revelation, a new and original contribution is added to the earlier ones. It is the purpose of the Qur’an to "confirm and to safeguard the former books" (Surah V, 48). "Safeguard," in that verse, means to discard the alterations and false interpretations unjustly attributed to the earlier revelations (Surah XVI, 63-64). The text of the Qur’an itself is safeguarded against any additions or changes because God Himself promised to be its protector (Surah XV, 9). As for the other books, they were written by men and left to their protection (Surah V, 44).
In addition to the Qur’an’s primary aim of revealing religious and moral truths, there arc secondary objectives designed to strengthen faith in the Creator or to support the faithful in their hope. It is striking to discover the extent to which the explanations of the natural world, God’s creation, correspond precisely with the latest discoveries of cosmology, anatomy, physiology, and the rest of the positive sciences. For instance, consider these remarkable examples of scientific knowledge: the sphericity of the earth (XXXIX, 5), the formation of rain (XXX, 48), fertilization by the wind (XV, 22), the aquatic origin of all living creatures (XXI, 30), the duality in the sex of plants and other creatures, then unknown (XXXVI, 35), the collective life of animals (VI, 38), the mode of life of the bees (XVI, 69), the successive phases of the child in his mother’s womb (XXII, 5; XXIII, 14).
A constant support to the faithful in their hope is the fulfillment of prophecies. In a short passage in Surah XLIV the Qur’an predicted accurately the different stages through which the Islamic preaching would pass and the different attitudes toward it which would be taken by the first adversaries, how they would at first be heedless and careless, then conciliatory and interested, and finally opposed and obviously hostile. At the same time it was predicted that the ungrateful town of Mecca would at first endure an awful misery which would bring some of the people from incredulity to an attraction of their souls toward heaven, then it would have prosperity which would make them forget God, and finally Mecca would suffer a humiliating defeat in the first battle (Surah XLIV, 9-16). Other verses announce the triumph of Islam, the permanence of its doctrine, the growth of the empire of young Islam, and the inability of any earthly power to annihilate Islam (XIII, 18; XIV, 24; XXIV, 55; VIII, 36).
The Qur’an also predicted the eternal schism in Christendom (V, 14), the dispersion of the Israelites (VII, 168), their world (VII, 167), their everlasting need of a protecting ally (III, 112) , and the dominance until the day of resurrection persecution until the end of the world (VII, 167), their everlasting need of a protecting ally(III, 112), and the dominance of the Christians over the Jews until the day of resurrection (III, 55).
It must be noted that not only have the prophecies of the Qur’an been confirmed, but the Qur’an has thrown out this challenge: nothing can ever contradict the prophecies of the Qur’an, neither in the past, the present, nor the future (XLI, 42).
Who could ever give guarantees against space and time other than the Master of Space and Time Himself?
The divine origin of the Qur’an is evident for all the reasons which have been considered in this discussion. The possibility of human origin has been eliminated. Nowhere in the Qur’an is the personal character of the Prophet reflected, nowhere is there an echo of his daily joys and sorrows or of his earthly surroundings. There are no indications of geographical, atmospherical, racial, tribal, or individual peculiarities in the subjects treated. Only that which is necessary for the education of humanity is found in the Qur’an. The revelations were accompanied by visible signs of their divine origin. The linguistic and stylistic form of the Qur’an give positive signs of its divinity. The religious and moral teachings are clear evidence of its divine origin, free from the possibility of borrowing from other books.
It is for this reason that the Qur’an holds the highest place in Islam. For Muslims, the Qur’an is not only the text of prayers, the instrument of prophecy, the food for the spirit, the favorite canticle of the soul; it is at the same time the fundamental law, the treasure of the sciences, the mirror of the ages. It is the consolation for the present and the hope for the future.
In what it affirms or denies, the Qur’an is the criterion of truth. In what it orders or prohibits, it is the best model for behavior. In what it judges, its judgment is always correct. In what it discusses, it gives the decisive argument. In what it says, it is the purest and most beautiful expression possible in speech. It calms or incites most effectively.
Since the Qur’an is the direct expression of the divine will, it holds supreme authority for all men. The obedience due to our parents, our superiors, our community, or the Prophet himself is given only when it is based on a principle found in the Book of God. Their commands are obligations to us only so long as they transmit the divine commandment or do not contradict it.
It is edifying to know how the Prophet himself regarded the text of the Qur’an. He could not by his own will retouch it in the slightest; he interpreted it exactly as any commentator would a text which was not his own. And when he postponed carrying out any of its commandments even for a short time, in order to treat kindly the souls of the faithful and to forestall the objections of adversaries, we see the Revelation reproaching him most severely. Those reproaches he accepted with resignation and left engraved forever in the text (Surah XXXIII, 37). This constantly humble, submissive, and reverential attitude toward the words of God is sincerely confessed in the Qur’an itself: "Recite: my prayer, my acts of devotion, my life and my death belong exclusively to God, the Ruler of the Universe, lone Ruler and without partner. Of this I received the order and I am the first of the submissives" (Surah VI, 163-64).
The prophetic teachings outside the Qur’an are called the Sunnah, the Traditions. The base of Islam, as we have seen, is the Qur’an, and nothing is believed or commanded which is contrary to any revelation in the Holy Book. The Sunnah is the derived law of Islam which every Muslim is obliged to obey.
The Prophet taught in three ways: by oral instructions; by the example of his personal behavior; and by his silence, his tacit approval of other people’s actions, by letting others do as they pleased without comment or reproach. These three aspects of the Prophet’s teaching -- speaking, acting, and approving -- are the basis for the Muslim tradition called the Sunnah, and are considered to be the second source of Islamic legislation and instruction.
The Prophet draws this triple authority from the Qur’an itself, for it commands us to obey the Messenger’s orders (Surah IV, 59; XXIV, 56), tells us that he who obeys the Prophet obeys the very commandments of God (Surah IV, 80), and recommends that we follow his example (Surah XXXIII, 21). In the Qur’an the Prophet is commanded to behave in such a way that his behavior will be a model for believers (Surah XXXIII, 37). It also describes the Prophet as one who gave to mankind all good instructions and forbade all bad actions; therefore, the action he does not forbid is permitted (Surah VII, 157).
The great majority of Muslim learned men hold, with good reason, that the Prophet’s teachings follow either the directive of divine, though nontextual, inspiration or, if it was a personal, purely human effort, he applied the very essence or spirit of the law of the Qur’an. If in his instruction as a human being, without specific revelation, he ever was in error, he was immediately brought back to the truth through a revelation (Surah IV, 106-13; VIII, 67; IX, 43, 113). In the absence of such correcting revelations, all his orders, permissions. judgments, and behavior are rightly considered as implicitly approved and having full legislative and educative authority, subject only to the condition that they have been transmitted through authentic and strictly verified sources. Thus the Muslim tradition in Islam is related to the Qur’an as a nation’s laws are related to its constitution.
It is a significant fact that regarding our two most essential practical duties -- prayer, which is our obligation to God, and alms, which is a duty to our fellow men -- the Qur’an refers us directly to tradition for detailed instruction. Speaking of prayer, the Qur’an says explicitly, "Do that which God has taught you" (Surah II, 239). Again, speaking of alms, it says that it is a "precise and known" right of the needy to receive a share of the possessions of pious men (Surah LXX, 24-25). And similar references are found concerning the season of pilgrimage and the sacred months. Now, in the absence in the Qur’an of any further elaboration on these subjects, any clear details as to how these duties are to be performed, it is obvious that through these references the Qur’an establishes the authority of the Sunnah, and grants to it the right to elaborate and define the general precepts of the Qur’an. Without the Sunnah, these texts would have been incomprehensible, stating as known things which were not known.
The role of the Sunnah is not limited to clarifying the duties implied in general commandments revealed in the Qur’an. Often the Sunnah establishes new obligations and prohibitions for which no clear reference can be found in the Qur’an. This is not, however, an addition to the legislation of the Qur’an, for a careful study will show that each of these traditions expresses the spirit of a more general teaching in the Book, even though the ties connecting each tradition with its appropriate foundation in the Qur’an are not easily discovered.
For example, the Qur’an made compulsory the alms deducted from gold, silver, and the crops, using also the more general terms "possessions," and "things granted by God"; the Prophet added the requirement that alms should be deducted from the herd. The Qur’an instituted the fast during the month of Ramadan as training in piety and patience and an opportunity to express thankfulness for divine blessings; the Prophet added the requirement that alms be given at the end of the fast of Ramadan as an act which is an additional means of accomplishing those purposes. The Qur’an forbids usury; the Sunnah forbids those usurious sales in which the increase in price has the same effect. Since such sales, halfway between a legitimate sale and forbidden usury, fell within a doubtful and suspect area of business activity, tradition rightly forbids them under the legislation of the Qur’an which recommends that we abstain from any action when in doubt. Again, the Qur’an prescribes scourging as the punishment for lewdness, while the Sunnah specifies scourging for unmarried persons and calls for death by stoning for adultery -- justified by the passage in the Qur’an which says that the punishment for lewdness in women should be confinement to the house up to death, until the time when another punishment should be revealed.
The Sunnah, based on the verified traditions concerning the teachings, actions, and tacit approval of the Prophet, is justifiably binding on all Muslims. Since the Qur’an gave the Prophet full power to enlighten men concerning the meaning of the revelations, he was the best qualified to legislate in matters requiring clarification. The Prophet knew better than any other possible legislator the essence and spirit of the Law. Therefore, it is not surprising that he took new legislative steps, creating the Sunnah, the Traditions binding on all Muslims, through legislation by analogy, by precise definition, and by extension of the revelations given in the Qur’an.
We now see how Muslims regard the Qur’an and the Prophet.
The Qur’an is a purely divine work, a textual revelation which reached the world through a heavenly Messenger, the Faithful Spirit, the Archangel Gabriel, who deposited it in the heart of Muhammad.
Muhammad’s role was limited to receiving the revelation, learning it, writing it down, transmitting, explaining, and applying it. Muhammad could not go beyond or change or modify the Qur’an in any way, nor can any other believer. Any human work can be discussed, controverted, or contradicted by events in the past, present, or future. But the Qur’an, the Word of God, is perfection itself; it is unchallengably true, infallibly just, and inimitably good and beautiful.
The Prophet Muhammad was but a man, of a purely human nature. He was neither a great god, nor a small god, nor a sub-god, nor even an auxiliary of God. He could not acquire any good or avoid any evil except through God’s will. He knew only so much of the past or the future as God revealed to him. He was infallible in his judgments only when sustained by revelation. But he was set apart from the rest of mankind by an excellent inborn morality, by the divine knowledge granted to him, and by the dignity of his apostleship: he is the head of all believers. As the faithful interpreter and living example of the Qur’an, we owe him obedience, respect, and love. The Qur’an urges us to treat him with particular reverence.
The Prophet led us out of the darkness of ignorance into the light of truth. Lost and vicious as we were, he brought us back to the straight path of Islam. But however great our respect for him may be, and however deeply we may love him, in our eyes he is not raised above the level of man. Muhammad never aspired to the rank of divinity; he was God’s apostle and servant. In our confession of faith, the Prophet’s role as a servant surpasses his role as apostle. For us, he is not an object of worship; we do not pray to him, but pray to God for him, asking God to heap blessings on him.
Islam’s monotheistic system is infinitely pure and unmixed.
There is no God but Allah.
Muhammad is his servant and apostle.
All men are brothers.
Such are the three elements of the Muslim creed, as they are stated in three successive Surahs of the Qur’an (XLVII, 19; XLVIII, 29; XLIX, 13). Such is the straight path of Islam, the path of those who submit to the will of God as revealed in the Qur’an, God’s Word as given by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, the Messenger of God.