Islam’s Scriptural Books & Sharia Law
Dr. Andrew Jackson
Islam’s teaching and practices are based primarily on two scriptural sources (1) the Koran containing Allah’s revelations, and (2) the Hadith, the collections of the traditional practices and teaching of Muhammad.
For Muslims, the Koran and the Hadith collections complement each other. The Koran emphasizes primarily theological issues, while the Hadith collections are full of minute details about how Muslims should live their lives based on Muhammad’s sayings and practices.
PART ONE: THE KORAN – MUHAMMAD’S REVELATIONS
1 – Islam’s primary Scriptural book is the Koran, which contains a collection of Muhammad’s revelations. The Koran (meaning “recitation” in Arabic) has many names, such as the mother book, the eternal guide, and the word of God.
2 – Muhammad received his first revelation during the month of Ramadan in the year 610 A.D. when he was about 40 years old. Over the next 23 years of his life, he received a total of 114 separate revelations which were eventually compiled into the Koran.
3 – Because Muhammad was illiterate, most of his revelations were apparently memorized, others were written down on whatever was available, from parchment, palm leaves, animal bones, sides of animals, tablets, wooden boards, pieces of leather etc.
4 – Islam considers the Koran to be is a miraculous book. It is eternal, uncreated, perfect in its message, language, style, and form. It is believed that the Koran was sent down from heaven in Arabic by direct dictation from God. It is God’s final and all authoritative revelation to humanity, overshadowing, and superseding the Bible.
5 – The Koran is approximately the same length as the New Testament, and is divided into 114 revelations/chapters (surahs). The number of verses in each chapter vary from three to 286, and totals 6,289. The Koran has no logical order, and the revelations are very repetitive.
6 – Each chapter in the Koran has its own name. The name of each chapter is derived from a name or quality discussed in the chapter, or from the first letters or words of the chapter.
7 – The Koran is not organized chronologically or thematically. It is primarily arranged by the length of chapter or revelation, starting with the longest chapters/revelations, and ending with the shortest chapters/revelations.
8 – Muhammad’s revelations can be divided according to Mecca revelations (shorter, more mystical, and warn against paganism) and Medina revelations (usually longer and deal in detail with aspects of Allah’s law). The structure of the Koran is rather odd in that earlier Mecca revelations are at the end of the Koran, and the later Medina revelations are in the front of the Koran.
9 – The Koran is a very puzzling collection of revelations that do not seem to fit together in any logical organization or linear sequence. It has no real beginning, middle, or end. Readers of the Koran are often confused because of its lack of arrangement, continuity, chronological or thematic order, and is filled with repetitions.
10 – The Koran was not collected during Muhammad’s lifetime. There were various readings/versions of the Koran circulating throughout the geographical regions of Islam’s rule during the reign of the third caliph Utham (644-656). In order to establish Islamic unity, Utham authorized one official standard Koran, and the other versions were destroyed and burned.
11 – Memorizing portions of the Koran by heart is part of Islamic devotion, and children start memorizing it at an early age. In many Islamic countries, memorizing the Koran is part of the curriculum of primary school education. Muslims that memorize the entire Koran are given the honorable title of al-hafiz. For Muslims, the power of the Koran is found in the combination of the words and rhythms in the original Arabic, the way it sounds when recited.
12 – The Koran is the focus of Islamic art. Fine decorative art found in many mosques is largely based on Arabic calligraphy woven into patterns repeating Koran passages.
13 – Muslims treat copies of the Koran with deep reverance. They often ritually wash their hands before reading the Koran, as only the clean should touch it. Worn out or torn Korans are not discarded as wastepaper, but rather are left free to flow in a river, kept somewhere safe, burnt, or buried in a remote location. Muslims believe that intentionally insulting the Koran is a form of blasphemy. For example, placing the Koran on the floor.
14 – Although they are often changed, it is surprising to many Christians when they discover that the Koran includes many of the Old Testament (some from the New Testament Gospels) theological stories of the Bible. For example: Garden of Eden, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus etc.
15 – Muslims strongly believe that the Koran maintains its ultimate authority only in the language of Arabic. Arabic is not the first language of 80% of Muslims, and many Muslims are illiterate.
16 – The Islamic principle of abrogation: later verses in the Koran overrule an earlier verse on the same subject.
PART TWO: SUNNAH/HADITH – MUHAMMAD SAYINGS & PRACTICES
1 – Although the Koran is Islam’s primary Scriptural book, numerous collections (several volumes each addressing a list of topics) of narrations/reports concerning what Muhammad said and did also have binding Scriptural authority for Muslims. These collections are called “the Hadith” (the traditions of Muhammad), which together are identified as the Sunnah (the straight path, way of life, the way Muhammad lived his life).
2 – Compared to the Koran, the Hadith are large and they are full of minute details about how a Muslim should live. For example the Koran just says “be clean,” but the hadiths contain long chapters explaining how Prophet Mohammed used to wash himself. Then there are commentaries based on these hadiths giving unbelievably detailed instructions on how a Muslim should be clean by “imitating” the prophet. The content of these commentaries are very similar to the Halakha of Orthodox Jews.
3 – The Muslims that emphasized the Sunnah in interpreting the Koran became known as the “people of the tradition,” or “the Sunnis.” Approximately 85% of Muslims are Sunni Muslims.
4 – These collections of what Muhammad said and done was compiled in written form mostly from the 700s to 900s, between 238 to 280 years after Muhammad’s death. Islamic Hadith scholars assessed the narrations, and determined which ones were authentic and which ones were fabricated.
5 – Sunni Islam has six authorized Hadith collections (made up of numerous volumes).
6 – Of Hadith collections the majority of Muslims believe in Sahih Bukhari as being the most authentic. Imam Bokhari the collector of the narration lived in a period over 230 years after the death of Muhammad. Bukhari collected 600,000 hadith (narrations), but threw out 592,700 as being false, and kept only 7,300 as being genuine. They were further reduce to 2762 hadith after repetition.
7 – Many moderate Muslims do not see the problem with Islam as revealed in the Koran, but they do see a need to reinterpret and purge the Hadiths. There is a growing reform movement within Islam simply to follow the Koran, and not the Hadith.
THIRD: ISLAM’S SHARIA LAW
1 – Sharia (meaning ‘the way’) is the body of Islamic religious law. It is the legal framework within which the public and private aspects of life are regulated. Sharia deals with many aspects of day-to-day life, including politics, economics, banking, business, contracts, family, sexuality, hygiene, and social issues.
2 – There is no strictly static set of laws of Sharia. Sharia is more of a system of law based on the Koran and the Hadith.
3 – The Hadith collections contain many of the harsh measures of Sharia law. The stoning of adulterers, the killing of apostates, the banning of fine arts, the seclusion and suppression of women, or the punishments for drinking alcohol or other sins – all of these are based on the Hadiths, not the Koran.
4 – Five crimes known as the Hadd offenses in Islam. These offenses are mentioned in the Quran, and committing them is considered an affront to God. They are: (1) alcohol-drinking punishable by flogging (2) unlawful sexual intercourse, punishable by flogging for unmarried offenders and stoning to death for adulterers (3) false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, punishable by flogging (4) theft, punishable by the amputation of a hand (4) highway robbery, punishable by amputation, or execution if the crime results in a homicide.
5 – The traditional punishment for Islamic apostasy–leaving Islam for another religion or otherwise abandoning the Islamic faith–is death.