Sources of Islam
One of the things that separates Islam from other philosophies and religions is the integrity and provenance of its sources. In other words, the sources that Islam is based on can be traced back and ‘proven’ in a very scientific manner, one of the things that most commonly convinces people to turn to Islam.
There are two primary sources of Islam, the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an (which in Arabic means ‘recitation’) is the Word of God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in Arabia over 1400 years ago. The Sunnah is the collected sayings and reported actions of the Prophet Muhammad. There are a number of secondary sources, which are based on these, such as Ijtihad (reasoning), Qiyas (analogy) and Ijma’ (consensus).
Muslims believe the Qur’an to be divine guidance and direction for mankind, and consider the original Arabic text to be the final revelation of God.
The Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel (Jibra’eel in Arabic) over a period of twenty-three years, beginning in 610 CE until 632 CE, the year of his death. Initially, Muhammad’s companions and followers memorised the text in this entirety, and it was fixed in writing shortly after Muhammad’s death by order of the caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar. Muslims emphasise the fact that, since the very beginning, the Qur’an was memorised by so many people as evidence that it has not changed, even by one letter, since it was first revealed.
Muslims do not regard Islam as a new religion, nor do they see the Qur’an in isolation. Rather, Muslims regard the Qur’an the final of a series of divine messages. These started with the messages revealed to Adam, regarded in Islam as the first prophet, and continued with Ibrahim, the Torah, and the Christian Gospel, amongst others. Islam thus recognises all the prophets and revelations of earlier religions; the Qur’an is the final revelation.
One of the origins of this term is a hadith, a report of a conversation, at the time of the appointment of Mu`aaz ibn Jabal as the Prophet’s representative to Yemen, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Mu`aaz: “How would you decide among people?”
Mu`aaz (ra) replied: “I shall decide according the directives of the Qur’an”.
The Prophet asked: “If the issue relates to something about which the Qur’an is silent, then what will you do?”
Mu`aaz replied: “Then I shall seek guidance from the Sunnah of the Prophet of God”. The Prophet (pbuh) asked: “And if even the Sunnah does not have a clear guidance regarding the issue, then what shall you do?”
Mu`aaz replied: “I shall then try hard to make up my own mind and shall leave no stone unturned in doing so.”
The Prophet replied: “I thank God for giving you the wisdom to say that, which is correct”.
In other words, Ijtihad is used to understand an issue when the Qur’an and Sunnah are both silent on the matter. The scholars would use their knowledge and understanding of the letter and spirit of both the sources to try to arrive at a logical conclusion.
It should be understood that the concept of Ijtihad relates only to the interpersonal aspects of human life. The concept of Ijtihad does not apply to matters relating to worship. The reason for this distinction is that the Qur’an and the Sunnah has determined all aspects of the matters relating to worship. For interpersonal aspects of human life (like political, economic, social, penal issues) the Qur’an and the Sunnah has determined only basic limits; the details, extensions and applications of these limits have been left for the individuals to decide, according to their particular situations and circumstances.
Qiyas implies trying to draw a ruling for a situation, which is not expressly mentioned in the Qur’an or Sunnah, from another situation, which closely resembles it and about which there is an express ruling. For instance, if a person says that because the effects of taking drugs is comparable to that of consuming liquor, therefore, the punishment for taking drugs should be the same as consuming liquor, the person would be said to have made Qiyas (drawn analogy) on the punishment of taking liquor and derived the punishment for taking drugs.
Ijma` is used for something on which there is complete agreement of the Muslim scholars, even where there is no direct ruling from Qur’an or Sunnah. This is using where the spirit of these sources is clear, even if there is no direct mention of the issue.