This is a continuation of a previous program on The Sources of Islamic Doctrine. We covered the Qur’an and now we want to look at the Sunnah. The Qur’an contains the words of their god, Allah, and the Sunnah is the words and acts of the Prophet, Muhammad. The Sunnah is a collection of the testimonies of the companions of Muhammad, what they saw him do and heard him say.
There is also the biography of Muhammad. There are a few of them out there, but the most honored and accepted is Ibn Ishaaq’s version. These biographies are known as the Sira’
There are a number of collections, and this can get a bit confusing. A Sura, it is a chapter from the Qur’an, the Sunnah is a collection of books, the Sira is one of those books. Remembering which is which is not all that easy.
Sunnah, in Arabic, means the practice. It is given pretty much equal weight with the Qur’an for most Muslims in the world. The Qur’an tells Muslims to follow the example of their Prophet more than 90 time, so you can see why the Sunnah is so important.
The word Hadith means an account or a narrative. The Sunnah is made up of narratives (Hadith), which give us the deeds and sayings of Muhammad. They give Muslims the pattern they are to follow. There are many Hadith, but there are only a few that are universally accepted. They are called Sahih, which is a stamp of approval by Islamic scholars.
This is similar to what we find when we study the origin of the Bible. Before the age of printing there were a large number of handwritten Greek manuscripts. There are several families of these manuscripts, the largest family (more than 95%) of these is called the “Textus Receptus” (Received Text). This is the text that was used through the centuries by Bible believing Christians.
There are two major collectors Hadith, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, which are the most well received in the Islamic world.
There is a difference between the Sunni and the Shi’ite Muslims and how they look at the Hadith. The word Sunni comes from the word Sunnah. The Sunni Muslims make up more than 85% of all Muslims. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, are all Sunni Muslims. They accept the Qur’an and the Sahih Hadith as authentic.
Shi’ite Islam, is only about three countries, Iran, Lebanon, and Syria. There are 14 verses that are different in the Qur’an used by the Shi’ite Muslims. There are also differences in who they accept as the successors to Muhammad. They only accept those who are blood descendants of Muhammad. They recognize all Hadith that are directly sourced to Muhammad, especially Bukhari and Muslim.
While there are differences between the Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, on the things we are going to talk about today, they are in perfect agreement. Both groups accept these these things as coming from Muhammad.
There is also another Hadith that is considered to be pretty reliable, it is the Dawood Hadith. These top three are the ones that are the most well referenced in Islamic writings. There are a few others that are sometimes referred to.
The Shi’ite Muslims believe that they are to follow the law, through a counsel. This is why in Iran, there is a Supreme Counsel that governs the country under Islamic law. They believe that to be authentic, everything must be tied to Muhammad.
There are supposedly 600,000 Hadith. These are quotes that the companions of Muhammad heard him say, or saw him do. The Bukhari and the Muslim collections only contain about 60,000 each. This means that only about 1/10 of them are accepted as authentic.
The Bukhari has nine volumes. I carry these nine volumes with me when I travel to teach or do presentations in churches. I want people to see that there is more to the sources of doctrine in Islam than simply the Qur’an. While the Sunnah is not considered inspired like the Qur’an, Muslim consider this to be an authentic source of Islamic doctrine.
One of the reasons the Sunnah is so important is that there are so many contradictions in the Qur’an that a Muslim trying to follow only the Qur’an will be confused. Because of abrogation and contradictions they need the Sunnah to see how Muhammad understood the Qur’an. If the Sunnah was not there, there would be no clarity in Islam.
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