Islam in general refers to the religion which God Almighty sent His Prophets to teach mankind: The worship of the One God alone (pure Monotheism) while submitting to God's will in gratitude for being given life and innumerable blessings.
The Sources of Islamic Faith and Law
Islam is a way of life and provides a complete guide for human existence on this Earth to the betterment of man and looks forward to the Hereafter. In His infinite Love and Compassion for us, God Almighty has shown us the way to attain His mercy and the salvation of our souls. All humans have to do is open their eyes and educate themselves about the path that leads to righteousness.
The sources of Islamic faith and law in Islam can be broken down into four main categories in order of significance:
The Holy Quran
The primary source of Islamic guidance for Muslims comes from the Holy Quran, which is the purely unadulterated word of God. Not a letter has been changed in more than 14 centuries, which fulfills a promise that God made to mankind to preserve the holy book. God Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
“Truly it is We who sent down the Quran and We indeed are its protector.”(Quran 15:9)
The main factor in this miraculous preservation is that many of the Prophet’s companions memorized the Quran word for word. Every verse became engraved on their hearts and they passed the lessons learned on to just about anyone who would ask or listen. They deeply loved the word of God and were in awe of it. Even more amazing than the Prophet’s companions who memorized the Quran “word for word” is the fact that millions of people worldwide have since memorized the Quran. The cycle of learning continues as millions of Muslims from various nationalities have memorized the entire Quran despite the fact that they do not even speak Arabic, which is the language of the Quran! The recording of the Holy Quran was also vital in preserving it. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was illiterate. He assigned several of his companions the task of recording the Qur’an on whatever surface they could find whether it was on date palm leaves or bark from the tree. Twelve years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh), his primary companions agreed to make a master copy to be kept with the Caliph, or leader of an Islamic state. After which, copies of the Holy Quran were distributed to all of the governorates. Republishing the original copies of the Quran, by the governorates, was painstakingly overseen to ensure that not a letter of the Quran was altered. No matter which country you visit in the World, from China to Russia, all copies of the Holy Quran that you find will match identically.
However, it is important to note that the Holy Quran was revealed in Arabic and preserved in the same language. It has, however, been translated into numerous different languages of the World. Translations of the Quran do not count as the real book itself because something most definitely gets ‘lost in translation’. There is no way to perfectly translate from Arabic into another language as some words simply do not translate. Also, the translator interprets a verse of the Quran himself and then translates according to his own understanding which means the translation is subject to human error whereas the pure Arabic Quran is not. The Quran contains innumerable wisdoms in an easy to understand format that reverberates a completely monotheistic way of worship throughout the entire text. It is a Divine Constitution of guidance that defines faith, law, and self-purification. There are two basic themes in this guidance. They are the relationship between God and Mankind and the relationship between people.
The Sunnah of Muhammad (pbuh)
The Qur’an contains the basic guidelines for Islamic Law. For example, the Quran tells us to pray, but how should we pray, at what times and how many times per day? How do we determine the complete meaning of the phrase “Establish Prayers” which is often found in the Quran? For this reason, God clearly sent the Prophet (pbuh) to teach us His book and it’s wisdom. God Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
“It is He who has sent among the illiterates a messenger from among themselves reciting to them His verses, purifying them, and teaching them the book and its wisdom. While before that they were in clear error.” (Quran 62:2)
The second source of Islamic faith and practice is the Sunnah, or example of the Prophet. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was known as the ‘walking Quran.’ He clarified the Qur’anic text by putting it into use during the course of daily living. He also expounded upon some verses to include more knowledge to clear up any ambiguity the early Muslims may have had and prohibited some matters which was in accordance with the Quran. The Sunnah is also considered to be a revelation from God, yet in the words of the Prophet or the companion who witnessed the implementation of it. We know this because of the few verses, which were sent to correct the Prophet’s (PBUH) course of action in certain circumstances. As for the circumstances that weren’t corrected, we can infer that the All-Knowing, All-Aware Creator approved of them. The Qur’an never mentions obeying God without mentioning obedience to the Prophet separately which alludes to the fact that God sent two separate revelations – the Quran and the Sunnah. God says in the Holy Quran:
“And No! By your lord, they will never have Faith until they make you (the Prophet) judge in all of their matters, and then find no resistance in themselves against your decisions, and they accept them with full submission.” (Qur’an 4:65)
The divine guidance of the Sunnah was also memorized by the Companions and later recorded in what is known as “Hadiths” (sayings, actions, and silent approvals of the Prophet). The collection of the hadiths is a very fine science with every single hadith having been traced back to the narrator to guarantee authenticity. Here are a few samples of hadiths:
“God does not judge you according to your bodies and appearances, rather He looks into your hearts and observes your deeds.”
“A man walking along a path felt very thirsty. Reaching a well he descended into it, drank his fill and came up. Then he saw a dog with its tongue hanging out, trying to lick up mud to quench its thirst. The man saw that the dog was feeling the same thirst as he had felt, so he went down into the well again and filled his shoe with water and gave the dog a drink. God forgave his sins for this action. The Prophet was asked: ‘Messenger of God, are we rewarded for kindness towards animals?’ He said, ‘There is a reward for kindness to every living being.”
Consensus of the Scholars and Muslims in General (Ijma’)
A consensus means that Muslim scholars (mostly among the companions of the Prophet) are in agreement about a certain ruling in Islam, which is based on the verse:
“And whosoever opposes the Messenger after the right path has been made clear to him, and then follows a way other than that of the believers, We shall open his path to the Hellfire, what an evil destination.” (Quran 4:115)
The portion “and follows a way other than that of the believers” means that someone goes against the scholarly consensus, which stems from God’s guidance. Now this verse uses the word “believers” and does not refer to anyone who calls himself or herself a “Muslim”. We can infer that it refers to the strong believers of Knowledge and Piety, which the majority of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) were. For example, you may talk to 10,000 Muslims and they all tell you the same thing about a given ruling, but that doesn’t fall under this verse because you may go to five scholars and they tell you something different about that same subject because of their knowledge. Another proof of the Consensus or (Ijma’) is in the well known Authentic Hadith:
“My nation will never agree upon misguidance”.
So if the scholars agree, then it is a Divine proof of authority in Islamic Law.
Reasoning or Analogy from Established Rulings (Qiyas)
“Qiyas” means reasoning, or analogy, from authentic texts by a competent Islamic scholar on a particular issue. This is a very important source of Islamic Law as it allows competent scholars to solve particular questions on Islam, which are new, by means of analogical reasoning based on sound Islamic texts. Basically, a scholar has to look into a specific text and identify a point of cause for a certain ruling in common with the new subject, which has no direct text in relation to it. Then he takes the cause for the ruling from the text and applies that ruling to the new situation, which has the same cause. A person who applies Qiyas must also have thorough knowledge of the sciences of Quran and Hadith, the principles of Jurisprudence according to all the major scholars, the consensus (ijma’) and differences on a particular issue, the Arabic language, and finally the ruling should not contradict common sense. The knowledge of analogy is probably the most important function of being a modern Muslim scholar because any scholar throughout history was well acquainted with Quran and Sunnah and the laws found therein. If God were to send us guidance, which would directly deal with everything until the Day of Judgment, then He would have sent a few thousand books that no single scholar could ever master in one lifetime. Instead the All-Wise Creator sent the guidelines and principles, which we may use to apply rulings to everything that we may face until the Last Day. Analogy is one of the primary sources of Islamic Law.