Islam from a Biblical Perspective XVIII
The Sacred Texts of Islam
The first and most well-known of Islam’s sacred books is the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the foundational holy book of Islam, conveyed entirely by Muhammad, the founder and “prophet” of Islam. Qur’an literally means “recitation” or “reading” in Arabic. The Qur’an comprises 114 chapters, called suras. Throughout the book, when a portion is cited, following the citation it will say “sura” followed by the chapter, verse, and translation.
The Qur’an, however, is not the only source of sacred or even inspired traditions in Islam. Of equal importance to all Muslims is the Sunna. Sunna in Arabic literally means “a clear or well-trodden path”. It refers to whatever Muhammad said, did, condoned, or condemned. It is the record of Muhammad’s sayings, customs, teachings and the example that he left for all Muslims to follow.
Muslims view Muhammad as the perfect example for all human beings – a doctrine spelled out quite clearly in the Qur’an: “If you love Allah, then follow me (Muhammad)”. Sura 3:31 Shakir “Ye have indeed in the Apostle of Allah a beautiful pattern of (conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day”. Sura 33:21 Yusuf Ali
The Sunna interprets the Qur’an. Without the Sunna, the Qur’an cannot be properly understood. Many aspects and practices of the Islamic religion are not even mentioned in the Qur’an but are found only in the Sunna. Muslims believe both the Qur’an and the Sunna to be inspired and authoritative. The Sunna is mined primarily out of two different types of Islamic literature. The first and most important of the two types of traditions is hadith literature. Hadith literature specifically records the sayings of Muhammad. Second, there is Sirat or Sirah literature. Sirat literally means “biography”. So the Sirat-rasul is a biography of the “apostle” or “prophet” Muhammad. Besides these two types of literature are histories of Islam and commentaries on the Qur’an by early scholars called tafsir.
A hadith is a record of the sayings and deeds of Muhammad.
The Isnad and the Matn
Each hadith consists of two parts – the isnad and the matn. At the beginning of any hadith is the isnad or the chain of transmission. The isnad is essentially the “he said, she said” chain of people who relay a memory of something Muhammad said or did. Here is a real example of an isnad from a hadith taken from Malik’s Muwatta: “Yahya related to me from Malik from Amr ibn Yahya al-Mazini from Abu’l-Hubab Said ibn Yasar that Abdullah ibn Umar said…” The other part of the hadith contains the actual text. It is the portion that records the sayings or deeds of Muhammad. This part of the hadith is called the matn. So every hadith consists of the isnad (chain of transmitters) and the matn (the sayings or actions of Muhammad).