The Sources of Islamic Knowledge

There are two primary sources of Islamic knowledge:

The Holy Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them), i.e. what he said and did. The secondary sources of knowledge are ijma, qiyas, and ijtihad, all of which are explained towards the end of this chapter, must find their basis in the Qur’an and sunnah and must not reject or contradict the Qur’an and sunnah. These secondary sources were initially derived by and from the noble companions of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon them), and Islamic scholars and jurists thereafter.

The two Primary sources

The Holy Qur’an is the living Word of Allah of which every letter of every verse was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) through Archangel Jibra’il (Gabriel) A.S. Many verses of the holy Qur’an are clear and to the point, and the message, rules, and regulations contained in them can be easily understood. At the same time, the Qur’an contains many verses with terms that can have multiple meanings, and some terms can never truly be interpreted to show there meaning. A consensus has been reached among exegetes to leave them as is to avoid controversies over their definitions However, if it becomes necessary to explain what they may mean,they should be interpreted in such a way that their definition does not contradict other verses of the holy Qur’an. In any case, the safer route is to leave their underlying meaning to the Revealer Himself.

To truly comprehend the divine message in the holy Qur’an and to see its commandments in practice, we need to focus on the life of the holy Prophet(Peace be upon them). If we ignore the ideal example of the Prophet and his explanation of the holy Qur’an, interpret the holy Qur’an as per our own initiative, and set our own precedents, we will certainly be misguided. As such, Muslims rely upon the sunnah, which is what Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) said and did.  To determine the sunnah, Muslims turn to reports by the Prophet’s (Peace be upon them) companions as to what the sunnah was. The reports are known as the ahadith (sing. hadith). Thus, the ahadith and sunnah are the second primary source of Islamic knowledge.

The holy Qur’an

At the age of forty, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) received the first verses of the holy Qur’an from Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) later commanded him to proclaim prophethood and to begin calling people to the One God, Allah (SWT). For the next twenty-three years, Allah (SWT) sent revelations to the holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) as they were needed. After the entire Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (Peace be upon them) and had been well preserved, he passed away at the age of sixty-three.

Every word with its proper pronunciation was revealed by Allah (SWT) to Prophet Muhammad(Peace be upon them), who after receiving it, memorized it almost instantly through the grace of Allah (SWT). The prophet (Peace be upon them) immediately communicated every word and message of the holy Qur’an to his companions. Those who were literate among them wrote it down and some memorized it. Since the revelations came as they were needed , the prophet (Peace be upon them), according to Allah’s direction, instructed and designated seventeen of his companions to compile them.  Even though its chapters and verses were revealed in a different order, the Qur’an was complied according to the way it is written in the Lauh-e-Mehfuz (Sacred Tablet in the Heavens), of which the holy Qur’an is a small portion. The holy Qur’an has 114 chapters consisting of about 6,600 verses. Not only the text, but also the way it was written and pronounced is preserved in its original form since its inception.

The third caliph, Uthman (R.A) compiled a complete copy of the holy Qur’an (Mas-hafe Uthmani) on papyrus fourteen hundred years ago, and it is currently available for public viewing at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Moreover, not only is the Qur’an preserved in book form, but millions of Muslims have also memorised the entire Qur’an, word for word. Preservation through memorization has continued from the days of its first revelation and will continue until the last day. If every written copy of the holy Qur’an were destroyed (May Allah SWT forbid), which is highly unlikely, no force or individual can erase it from the hearts of millions of Huffaz-e-Kiram, the honorable Muslim adults and children who have memorised it.

A miracle of the holy Qur’an is that Allah (SWT) made it easy to be memorized by anyone who intends to do so. [Qur’an 54:17] In the Muslim ummah (community), millions memorise the entire Qur’an in Arabic, some as early as ten years of age, regardless of their mother tongue. This is one of the great miracles of the holy Qur’an and the best way to preserve and safeguard it. No other book on the face of this earth, heavenly or not, can match this divine quality or duplicate this miracle of its followers’ and their affection for the Qur’an.

Allah revealed the holy Qur’an in Arabic, the language of the holy Prophet (PBUT) and of the Arabs. Previous holy books were not protected from human interference, and the language in which they existed became obsolete. Those books only exist in much later manuscripts by which one cannot verify the authenticity of their contents. However, the holy Qur’an is protected and remains in its original form, and Arabic is well preserved and widely spoken throughout the world.

Almost every single Muslim, regardless  of his or her  mother tongue,learns to recite the holy Qur’an in Arabic from childhood.  During salah (Daily Prayers), the Qur’an must be recited in Arabic. To understand the meanings of the Qur’anic verses, translations are available in almost every language. However, it is preferred that one know  the Qur’anic Arabic in order to concentrate on and grasp the wisdom of the holy Qur’an, and it is very beneficial and rewarding to do so.

Arabic is a complex language. A slight error in pronunciation and / or misplacement of the diacritical marks can change the meaning of a word. When used in different contexts, Arabic words can have different meanings, and in just a few words one can say and mean a lot.

Allah (SWT) reveals in the holy Qur’an that it contains the knowledge of everything we need to know to reach our ultimate goal. To reveal the holy Qur’an, Allah (SWT) chose the Arabic language, because it is inherently unique and has the capacity to hold such an ocean of knowledge in a compacted form. No other language could have encompassed the Qur’an’s vast knowledge and wisdom. This may be the reason why it was revealed in Arabic. As human faculties progress,especially in the fields of science and technology, new and amazing information and miraculous knowledge from the holy Qur’an are continuously unfolding, proving its universality, the divinity of Allah’s book and His choice of the Arabic language.


The literal meaning of the word Qur’an is ‘read a lot.’ This also explains why the Qur’an is the most read book in the world. Tens of millions of Muslims recite the holy Qur’an five times a day in salah and may millions recite a considerable portion of it on a daily basis. The holy Qur’an is continuously recited throughout the world in millions of masjids (Mosques), especially in the two holiest places of Islam ( Makkah and Madinah). It is recited in thousands of holy shrines and in Islamic educational institutions. Ever since its inception, this practice has been ongoing and continuous. When a Muslim passes away, friends and family members recite the holy Qur’an abundantly and convey its earned blessings to the deceased.  In the holy month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the month of fasting, almost every single Muslim recites the entire Qur’an at least once, and some do it many times more.

People who constantly read the holy Qur’an feel an indescribable pleasure, peace, and contentment, making them want to read more and more. No other book has drawn so much attention, and the privilege given to the holy Qur’an is unique. The name Qur’an says it all. Such a befitting name could not be chosen by any man, but only by its own Author, the All-Knowledgeable Allah (SWT). The proof of its holiness is within it, and man’s natural attraction to it shows that the Maker of both humanity and the Qur’an is One. Let alone recitation and contemplation, just touching the holy Qur’an with clean hands brings many blessings.

The holy Qur’an is a miracle. Miracles become possible only through supernatural qualities. Allah (SWT), the All-Powerful, gives the power of miracles to His prophets to prove the claim of prophet hood. Allah (SWT) revealed the holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them). It is, therefoe, his miracle, and no man can ever produce a chapter or even a verse of its kind, thereby proving that it is the book of Allah (SWT).

To defeat and overcome the disbelieves, Allah (SWT) granted miracles to almost every prophet. The kinds of miracles shown by prophets were the kind needed in their specific times. Ibrahim (Abraham) (A.S), Musa (Moses) (A.S), Isa (Jesus) (A.S), and other prophets were given various miracles to make people believe in their prophet hood.


The time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) was the time of literary excellence and eloquence in the Arabic language. To prove his prophet hood,among other miracles,  a miracle full of eloquence and linguistic qualities was needed. The revelation of the holy Qur’an fulfilled the need for that miracle and miraculously provided everlasting guidance to mankind. It was revealed orally to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them), who had not acquired any education from any person, not did he read or write.

The holy Qur’an was written as it was being revealed, in the order established by the Prophet (Peace be upon them) and as instructed to him by Allah (SWT). It was later complied in the same order in the form of a book, shortly after the Prophet’s passing. Then again, within a matter of years, during the leadership of the third righteous khalifa (caliph), Uthman (R.A), More copies from that original were drafted and sent to different parts of the Islamic world to be copied as needed. To make it easy for non Arabic-speaking Muslims to read the Qur’an precisely and to pronounce each word without error, diacritical marks were placed within the Qur’anic text.


Those well versed in the Arabic language were spellbound upon hearing the unique coherence, style and prose of the holy Qur’an. The holy Qur’an’s compilation, coherence, relevance, rhetoric, eloquence, perfect order, and arrangement of words, phrases, and inner meanings were completely unique to the contemporary Arab style of prose and poetry. The orators and masters of linguistics were awestruck by the miraculous Qur’an.


The way the holy Qur’an laid down the authentic stories of the previous nations, especially of bani Israil (Nation of Israel) and the past prophets, amazed even the scholars of Ahle Kitab (Primarily Jews and Christians). They themselves did not know for certain the ture accounts of those authentic narratives and held varying views about them. Moreover, future events revealed in the holy Qur’an happened as predicted, proving it to be a miracle and the book of Allah (SWT). It is not possible for a man to compile such creativity, rarity of words and meanings, and hundreds of other qualities with such precision.

Throughout the history of Islam, Muslim scholars have dedicated their entire lives with love and affection, without intending to earn fame or money, but only to serve the holy Qur’an in every way possible. Thousands of translations came to the fore and guided Muslims throughout the ages by explaining the teachings of the holy Qur’an.

Many people have served the holy Qur’an in unique ways. Some translated it into poetic form, and others inscribed it in gold lettering. Some carved it on gold plates, and some inscribed it on huge parchments, making it the largest and heaviest edition. Some wrote it so minutely that it became the smallest, legible version. Some became experts in Qur’anic calligraphy, developing thousands of different designs. Muslims created and perfected the art of recitation of the holy Qur’an. In summation, Muslims have served and continuously serve the book of Allah (SWT) in every way possible to gain the pleasure of Allah (SWT). No other book besides the holy  Qur’an can claim such a unique love and affection from it followers.

The Qur’an is unlike any other book. It is the word of Allah (SWT) and must be respected in every possible way. There are uniform rules and regulations about its safekeeping, transportation, and even how it should be placed on a shelf.  Its utmost care and protection bring many spiritual benefits, and even a slight gesture of care pleases Allah (SWT). Even the thought of disposing it with everyday garbage or intentionally placing it on walkways or  on the floor earns Allah’s wrath, and there are grave consequences of doing so. Old and worn-out copies of the Qur’an and any of its verses, no matter what material it is written on should be recycled with other holy material, buried in the ground or submerged in a body of water, i.e., pond, river, or ocean. It must not be taken into bathrooms, placed under beds, or put close to any filth. Muslims must be in the state of tahara (purity) before touching the holy Qur’an. In any case, great care must be utilized when handling holy verses of the Qur’an, and any and all disrespect must be avoided.

Compared to other books, whether sacred or secular the holy Qur’an surpasses every book in every respect. It is the most published,decorated, read, researched, and analyzed book in the world. To this day, new knowledge and wisdom are being extracted from it, and its mysteries are being disclosed as the science of every field progresses and makes new discoveries. Science brings to light what the Qur’an informed us of some 1,400 years ago. Numerous examples of this fact can be found.


The contents of the Holy Qur’an

As per the holy Qur’an, Allah (SWT) states:

…and We have sent down to you this book explaining in detail everything… [Qur’an 16:89]

And there is not a grain in the dark recesses of the earth, nor anything wet or dry, but it is written in the Luminours book. [Qur’an 6:59]

Allah (SWT) reveals Himself in the holy Qur’an and tells us how and why He created the universe and, most importantly, human beings [Qur’an 41:9-12 & 51:56] The Qur’an underlines the main purpose of our earthly life, i.e., how and why we will pass on to the Hereafter and what are the next and final phases of human life. It guides us in how to live life successfully on Earth and teaches us how to achieve ultimate success in the Hereafter. It tells us how to obtain the pleasure of Allah. It informs us of our inner and external enemies, about our physical and spiritual aspects, and about the positive forces that assist us and the negative forces that oppose us in life.

The Qur’an establishes rules and regulations for every human affair, from the most personal and private to those that affect society as a whole, It explains forms of direct and indirect worship. It discloses to us what Allah (SWT) likes and dislikes. It describes reward and punishment for good and bad behavior. It reminds us how previous nations disobeyed Allah’s (SWT) prophets and earned His wrath. It recounts how the prophets struggled to deliver Allah’s (SWT) message to humanity. It discusses human nature and the nature of everything, the creation process, the powers of the Almighty, the relationship of the Creator to His creations and every bit of matter that is required for man’s journey through this temporal state to the state of eternity.

On the other hand, the Qur’an is divine guidance for believers and remains with them all the way to their final destination. On the other hand, the Qur’an is guide for all other people whom it informs, but then does not remain with them all the way,. Taking one to his destination and simply giving him directions are two different things. Islam is the complete way of life, and all relevant information, knowledge, wisdom, and guidance are revealed in the holy Qur’an.

Here, I include the translation of the opening chapter of the holy Qur’an, which in a few short verses is believed to contain the entire message of the Qur’an [Tibrani]. Many scholars have written volumes to explain this preamble to the holy Qur’an.

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All praise is due to Allah indeed – Sustainer of all the worlds – the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful. – Master of the Day of Judgment. – You alone we worship and You  alone we ask for help. – Walk us on the straight path, – the path of those upon whom you (have given) blessed favours, – not of those who were put under wrath, nor of those who are astray. [ Qur’an 1:1-7] (Ameen!)


What does the holy Qur’an say about itself?

In several places, the holy Qur’an testifies to its own authenticity and absolute divinity. The following verses illustrate this fact. That book in which there is not doubt of any kind; it is guidance for the fearful ones. [Qur’an 2:2]  And this is a book We have sent down, a blessed one, confirming those that were before it…[Qur’an 6:92]


Announce that “If all people and jinns united on that to bring the like of the Qur’an, they cannot bring  one like it, even if they become each others back support.”  And without a doubt, We clearly explained to people everything in the Qur’an in many ways; yet many of them, indeed, rejected (it) ungratefully. [ Qur’an 17:88-89]

And We sent the Qur’an bit by bit, so you can read it to people little by little, and We revealed it slowly and slowly. [Qur’an 17:106]

Had We sent this Qur’an on a mountain, certainly, you would see it humbled, split asunder in the fear of Allah…[Qur’an 59:21]

It is but a glorious Qur’an, in the sacred tablet [Qur’an 85:21-22]

And if you are in any doubt about what We have sent upon Our exclusive being (Muhammad), then bring just one chapter like it and call your own helps besides Allah, if you are truthful. But if you cannot do it – certainly, you will not be able to do it-so fear the fire, whose fuel is people and stone idols, prepared specifically for disbelievers.  [Qur’an 2:23-24]

And this is not a Qur’an produced by anyone, besides Allah….[Qur’an 10:37]

And without a doubt, We have explained for people in this Qur’an in every way so they may embrace guidance. [Qur’an 39:27]

Those who rejected guidance when it came to them (are going to lose) and this certainly is a dignified Book. Falsehood cannot come from before it nor from behind it – sent from the All- Wise, the All- Praiseworthy. [Qur’an 41:41-42]

“Do they not use intellect in (evaluating) the Qur’an?” Had it been from other than Allah, they would have found much contradictions in it. [Qur’an 4:82]


Interpreting the Holy Qur’an

Most people who are interested in learning about Islam turn to the holy Qur’an. Perhaps this is because of its accessibility, because they do not know of any other book that may fulfill their need to know about Islam, or maybe because they just prefer the holy Qur’an. Since the holy Qur’an is in Arabic, and not everyone knows Arabic, people choose a translation in the language with which they are most  familiar. At this point, it is important to note the difference   between a translation and interpretation of the holy Qur’an.

To translate simply means to convert one language into another, and to interpret means to explain in terms in which the matter can easily be understood.  The holy Qur’an is the Word of Allah (SWT) in the Arabic language therefore, a true translation is not possible. Now, if someone insists on taking a literal meaning of every word of the holy Qur’an, it will create confusion and the intended message of the holy Qur’an will not be understood. To understand the underlying meanings of the Qur’anic text, we need the help of a legitimate interpretation; a translation does not suffice.

The proper Arabic terms for the ‘explanation of the holy Qur’an’ is tafsir. Anyone who genuinely desires to study the holy Qur’an must resort to its tafsir. It is also important to note that not everyone is qualified to do the tafsir of the holy Qur’an, even if one is an expert in the Arabic language. An unqualified or a less qualified person who writes tafsir only interprets what he understands and does not bring forth the actual of closest meaning; therefore, he should never be entrusted with the work of tafsir.

Many Qualified people have attempted to explain the holy Qur’an according to their poor judgment had have thereby caused great harm to the religion and divided the Muslim ummah (community) into many factions. Presently, many individuals and groups refer to literal meaning of the Qur’anic text and its interpretations to promote their personal/political agendas in Muslim and non-Muslim communities. I fear that if this practice continues, it will bring forth irreparable damage to peace and harmony.

Thus, before forming opinions or making decisions about the holy Qur’an or any of its verses, a thorough study of legitimate explanation is necessary. Only a tafsir written by a qualified mufassir (one who does tafsir) sufficiently explains the actual meaning of the Qur’anic text.

As stated earlier, the holy Qur’an is an ocean of knowledge and wisdom, and it is full of guidance. Therefore, new information from it will continue to surface according to the needs of the time until the Day of judgment. The process of this flow of knowledge will be ongoing, as it has been, through proper tafsir of the holy Qur’an.   Every unqualified interpretation only brings harm and causes misunderstandings abut Islam, the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon them), and about the Qur’an itself.

There are established guidelines to translate/interpret the holy Qur’an and set requirements for an individual to become a certified mufassir. Allah (SWT) revealed the holy Qur’an to the sacred heart of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) and made it compulsory for him to teach Allah’s (SWT) word to his companions and, subsequently, to all of humanity. Allah (SWT) verifies this in the holy Qur’an:

Undoubtedly, Allah conferred a great favour on Muslims when He raised a prophet from among them, who recites to them the revelations of Allah and purifies them and instructs them in the Qur’an and Sunnah, whereas before, they were in manifest error. [Qur’an 3:164]

Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) fulfilled this duty. He taught the Qur’an in its entirety, to his companions in the best manner possible. Therefore, he became the first Mufassir-e-Qur’an (Authorised commentator on the Qur’an) and, at the same time, he established rules to undertake further work of tafsir.  Why would he not be the first mufassir, since the Qur’an was revealed and well taught to him by Allah Himself [Qur’an 55:2] and why would he not establish rules to further the work of tafsir through his sayings that safeguard the final book and guidance of Allah (SWT)? If anyone deviates from the Prophet’s (Peace be upon them) way and attempts to write tafsir through his own judgment, opinions, and explanations of choice or convenience, he will not only become a sinner, but the proper message of the holy Qur’an will never be understood that way.  In this regard, a hadith states that if anyone misquotes the Prophet (Peace be upon them) intentionally, he secures a place in Jahannum (Hell) for himself [Bukhari and Muslim].


Some basic requirements for becoming a certified scholar of tafsir are listed below. Only once someone has mastered these skills and fields of knowledge can he begin the arduous process of explanation. Can you imagine what would become of a philosopher’s thesis or arguments if “Joe the Plumber” were to break it down and explain its meaning? Similarly, what would happen to the living word of Allah (SWT) if an unqualified person attempts to define it?

A Person must be an expert in the following areas before undertaking the task of Qur’anic tafsir. [al-Itqan]

  1. He must first be a righteous believer
  2. Knowledge of the Arabic lexicon and etymology (derivation)
  3. Knowledge of Arabic syntax (Grammar)
  4. Knowledge of Arabic morphology (internal construction of words)
  5. Knowledge of Arabic rhetoric, eloquence, and manners of oration.
  6. Knowledge of Qur’anic recitation
  7. Knowledge of the principles of Islam (dogmas, axioms)
  8. Knowledge of the principles of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence)
  9. Knowledge of the fiqh (Jurisprudence- to interpret laws)
  10. Knowledge of the reason for revelation of a specific verse (To know proper context; Makki, Madni, Muhkam and Mutashabih)
  11. Knowledge of those verses (that annul other verses or are annulled)
  12. Knowledge of principles of hadith
  13. Knowledge of hadith (at least those related to tafsir of a verse)
  14. Knowledge of history (of past prophets,nations, and peoples)
  15. Knowledge of Arab culture (prevailing norms and practices)
  16. Ilm-e-Ladunni – divine knowledge bestowed by Allah (SWT); usually granted to only a select few.
  17. Knowledge of the fundamentals of Islam (beliefs)
  18. To some, the main ingredient is the love Allah (SWT), His Prophet (Peace be upon them). The holy Qur’an, and the propagation of Islam – this love brings the light necessary to acquire and spread the knowledge of Qur’an
  19. Ikhlas – Purity of intent – through which Allah’s (SWT) help is granted.


Even with these qualifications, one must embark on this tasks with utmost care, common sense, foresight, and complete knowledge and command of the language in which he attempts to write tafsir. Attempting to guide just a few at the inadvertent cost of misguiding many, through unqualified work of tafsir, is disastrous and unacceptable. Anyone insisting on doing tafsir without fulfilling these core prerequisites is not serious in serving the Qur’an and Islam and is in clear violation of the rules of Allah (SWT) and of the prophets (Peace be upon them). Thus, before choosing a translation/interpretation/explanation of the holy Qur’an, it is important to verify the author’s qualification, and not to accept  a tafsir just because it is widely available, commonly referred to, or free-of-charge.

The holy Qur’an is the word of Allah (SWT), and prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) is the complete reflection of the message of the holy Qur’an. Thus the Prophet’s sunnah (sayings and actions) became the second main source of Islamic knowledge.


Sunnah of the  Holy Prophet (Peace be upon them)

The collected actions and practices of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) are called his sunnah, and Muslims are required to follow them. The Sunnah is also used to explain Qur’anic verses and the message and the guidance of Allah (SWT). Whatever he said or did became his hadith (pl ahadith). Furthermore, whatever actions taken or performed by his companions that the prophet (Peace be upon them) took notice of or was informed of and did not overrule or object to were also included in his sunnah.

During the holy Qur’an’s revelation, the common practice of Muslims was to memorise it;nevertheless, many companions were assigned to transcribe in written form. In the early days, the Prophet (PBUH) prohibited the writing of his words (ahadith), except for the revealed verses of the Qur’an. Later, when the difference between the Qur’anic text and ahidith was fully established and understood by the noble companions, the Prophet (PBUT) permitted the writing of ahadith separately from the holy Qur’an.

Let me digress a bit at this point and indicate that the holy Qur’an is the word of Allah (SWT). If it were not Allah’s (SWT) word and were put together by Prophet Muhammad (PBUT) himself, then why was the distinction between the Qur’an and the hadith necessary? If both originated from the same source, contained the teachings of the same person, and were unconditionally accepted by the companions of the Prophet (PBUT) then this distinction would be unnecessary. The separation of the ahadith from the Qur’an clearly shows that the Qur’an is the word of Allah (SWT) as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUT) through Angel Jibr’il (Gabriel-A.S) and that the Qur’an was not written by Prophet Muhammad (PBUT).

It is well-recorded history, supported by authentic proofs and conveyed through reliable sources, that some companions continuously wrote down ahadith of the Prophet (PBUT) in his lifetime with his permission and separately from the holy Qur’an. The Islamic nation was emerging; therefore, everyone close to the Prophet (PBUT) kept him self busy doing essential work. After the Prophet’s (PBUT) passing, the emergence of the new Islamic nation, stretching from East to West, occupied almost every companion in such activities as governmental affairs, teaching and preaching Islam, and solving issues related to the responsibilities of defending Islam. Under these Circumstances, only the compilation of the holy Qur’an into one volume could be achieved and up to that point, no considerable need arose to compile the ahadith collectively.

As time progressed, and due to the publicizing of false ahadith the prophet’s companions and the rightly guided  scholars after them to compile the ahadith in various orders and categorical sequences. They developed rigorous methods to verify the authenticity  of narrations and to test and establish the credibility of the narrator in order to avoid preserving false sayings. With such standard in place and with the application of other stringent procedures, individuals and collectively, formally and informally, scholars compiled a treasury of ahadith. A new field of knowledge and many sub-fields related to it evolved, in which thousands of researchers became extensively engaged from the latter part of the first century of Islam and continuing until this task was completed and brought in order.

This topic  itself requires a separate book to be fully explained. It is sufficient to say that due to extensive efforts of the companions and later scholars, a huge treasury of authentic ahadith was compiled and published. Now anyone interested in Islamic knowledge can refer to this treasury of ahadith and know anything and everything contained therein. Most verses of the holy Qur’an could now be understood through relevant ahadith of the Prophet (PBUT). Because of these efforts many great works on ahadith became available in which every hadith was placed into relevant categories/subjects.

The famous authentic books of ahadith are referred to as Al-Sihah al-Sittah (“The Authentic Six”), which includes Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan an-Nasa’i, sunan Abu Dawood, Jami Al-Trimidhhi and Sunan ibn Majah. They have been translated from Arabic into all major languages, and their shuruh (explanations/commentaries) are available worldwide. Besides Prophet Muhammad (PBUT), no other personality can be accounted for in such detail; his every action and sayings is well-preserved. His ahadith are the second primary source of Islamic knowledge.

The companions and religious scholars who came immediately after them not only transmitted the ahadith in their most authentic version, but they also gave explanations and defined them and their historical context, i.e., what the occasion, circumstance, and purpose were when the Prophet (PBUT) said it or executed an act. Many books of ahadith, along with their explanations and with explanations of those explanations to clarify them further, have been written to enhance the Islamic knowledge.

Allah (SWT) makes it incumbent upon Muslims to follow the sunnah (Sayings and actions) of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) in addition to the teachings of the holy Qur’an. Allah (SWT) states:

Any obey Allah and His Prophet in order that you may be shown mercy.  [Qur’an 3:132]

As stated earlier, the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them) is the second of the two primary sources of knowledge. If we are unable to locate or understand anything from the Qur’an, we have to consult the sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon them). For example, the holy Qur’an obligates Muslims to establish salah (daily prayers of worship), but it does not explain how to do it. It is only in the sunnah that Muslims can find how to perform salah. Thus, we find in the sunnah how to perform correctly and practically our religious duties. According to a hadith: Ibn Abbas (R.A) narrated that the Prophet (Peace be upon them) in his Last Sermon said,

“I leave two things amongst you. If you strongly hold on to them, you will not go astray.

One is the book of Allah (Qur’an), and the other is the sunnah of the Prophet of Allah.”[Al- Mustardark]

This shows the importance of sunnah/ahaidth for Muslims. The knowledge contained in them is essential to understand and apply the message of the holy Qur’an. Leaving aside the sunnah will make an understanding of Islam incomplete and will result in the holy Qur’an being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Upon sending the honorable companion Mauz (R.A) to Yemen to resolve a matter of distributing alms to the poor, the Prophet (PBUT) asked him, “O Muaz, by what rule will you act?” The companion replied, “By the law of the Qur’an.”  The Prophet (PBUT) said, “If you find no direction therein?” He replied, “Then I will act according to the sunnah of the Prophet.” The Prophet (PBUT) said, “What if you do not find it there?” to which he replied, “Then I will make ijtihad and act on that.” Approving of his response, the Prophet (PBUT), bade him farewell and , raising his hands, said, “Praise to be Allah, Who guides His Prophet in what He pleases.” The Prophets’s (PBUT) approval of the companions ijtihad (use of best judgment based on Qur’an and sunnah) set a precedent and became a permissible way to make decisions. According to the Qur’anic injunctions, whatever Allah’s Prophet (Peace be upon them) approves of becomes legitimate and is made into law, and whatever he disapproves of becomes prohibited and is made unlawful.


Ijma, Qiyas, and Ijtihad

The act of deducing and formulating injunctions based on the Qur’an and sunnah is called ijihad (the use of personal judgement) and qiyas (logical deduction by way of analogy). The one who does ijtihad is called mujtahid (pl. mujtahidun). Ijma is the majority consent of the mujtahidun. These three standards interchangeably are considered the secondary sources of Islam knowledge.

Whenever learned scholars of Islam are unable to locate specific religious injunctions because the holy Qur’an and sunnah are silent and do not clearly define a course of actions, they have been permitted to exercise their judgment and formulate a course of action for new circumstances/issues. The verdict of a mujtahid is widely accepted because it is deducted from the primary sources.  If any individual or collective judgment contradicts the Qur’an and sunnah, it is unacceptable, no matter how sound or appropriate it may seem.

After the passing of the Prophet (Peace be upon them), ijtihad and qiyas became a normal practice of his companions as new issues surfaced. The first and second generations of scholars after the companions were also authentic mujtahidun because they came immediately after and were direct descendants and students of the companions who learned Islam directly from the Prophet (PBUT).


The notable Imam Abu Hanifa strongly supported qiyas to deduce judgments as new and unusual needs and circumstances arose. Since these needs will continue to come abut, the use of qiyas can be utilized. For example, a Muslim wants to know whether a kidney transplant is allowed in Islam or wants to obtain a fatwa (religious edict) from a mufti (Muslim jurist) on what Islam says about selling beer. It is a religious duty of a mufti to issue a fatwa on the basis of Islamic sharia law and properly guide the inquirer. In Islam, no human being has authority to insert ideas into Islam. Thus, the original message and guidance of Allah (SWT) remain preserved.

Some of the initial qualities required for mujtahid or serve Islam are piety, religious and spiritual knowledge, inner wisdom, compassion and affection for the Prophet (PBUT), iklas (Purity), dedication, and determination. At this point, it is fair to say that since these authentic saintly and selfless beings who served Islam have now become scarce, it is necessary to keep ijtihad off-limits to incapable Muslims in order to preserve and maintain the validity of the authentic teachings of Islam.

The holy Qur’an, the Prophet’s (PBUT) sunnah, ijma, and qiyas cover every aspect of human life. Nothing is left out for Muslims to search anywhere else for religious and ethical answers. A well-regulated system and knowledge base to legislate laws have been established by the historical mujahidun. Every Muslim scholar of law must refer to those when making new laws for the the ever-changing needs of the Muslim society.


 This post is in a series of many to come on the topic of Islam from a Sufi Perspective. More articles are to follow. Please follow in the Category : Islam as a Sufi Perspective, or subscribe to our blog!

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