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Quran and Hadith |

Quran and Hadith is drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 63, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Muslims believe the holy Qur’an contains the final and absolute word of God, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 114 infallible messages called ‘sura’

Quran and Hadith - ‘Like the ringing of a bell’

Quran and Hadith - ‘Like the ringing of a bell’

Non-Muslims often assume that the Qur’an is Islam’s equivalent of the Christian New Testament. In reality, however, the two scriptures are quite different. The Qur’an consists of commandments and warnings, along with concise explanations and anecdotes. Not even a basic description of Muhammad’s own life appears in its pages. The New Testament, in contrast, consists of four accounts of Jesus’ life, a chronological history of the first Christians, letters from the Christian apostles, and a heavenly vision in Revelation.

The Qur’an (Arabic for “recitation”) is made up of 114 individual messages, each known as a “sura,” the original text of which, say the faithful, is preserved on a tablet in heaven. They believe that most suras were delivered to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in a mountain cave. Other messages came, he said, “like the ringing of a bell, penetrating my very heart, and rending me.” To the faithful, only the Arabic version is valid, and it must be accepted as inerrant.

Seventh-century Arabs, like many preliterate peoples, could preserve epics and poems for generations through simple memorization. In early Islamic assemblies, oral repetition of the Qur’an was obligatory. Some Muslims within the Prophet’s lifetime could recite the entire opus.

It is not certain whether Muhammad could read or write, but he definitely did not authorize a complete edition. Within a year of his death, however, textual variations began creeping into Qur’anic verses written on palm leaves and thin white stones. Alarmed, the caliph Abu Bakr commissioned Zayd, Muhammad’s secretary, to complete a reliable version.

But this did not resolve all the problems. Besides accuracy, the young man faced another issue. In what order would the suras appear? Should the holy messages be organized by subjects? Or should the Qur’an proceed chronologically from the Prophet’s first revelation to the last? Zayd opted for a third choice. After a brief opening, he began with the longest sura (two hundred eighty-six verses) and progressed with little variation to the shortest, just six concise lines.

This approach has awkward aspects. Muhammad’s earliest pronouncements were often poetic, vigorous and brief. As he aged, the suras typically grew more complex, frequently dealing with social issues faced by his growing community. By placing the longest suras first, Zayd tends to present the messages in reverse chronological order. Also, subjects are addressed in no particular order whatever. Thanks in part to this confusing composition, few non-Muslims read the Qur’an, despite its relative brevity (its word count is similar to the New Testament).

In any event, new variations continued to appear in the text. So Uthman, the third caliph, instructed Zayd to authenticate a perfect edition. Three Meccans, experts in Muhammad’s own regional dialect, ruled on language usage. Around 650, Uthman dispatched copies of the authorized Qur’an throughout the Arab empire, ordering all rival scripts destroyed. The decree proved effective, and as intended, the authorized Qur’an has proven to be a crucial unifying factor within a frequently fragmented religion. “There is probably no other work in the world that has remained twelve centuries with so pure a text,” concludes British historian William Muir.

Christians, in contrast, have never forced an all-encompassing official recension of their scriptures. Gospels not included in the official biblical canon have not been physically eliminated. Regarding the authorized books, variant records are never annihilated in Muslim fashion. Instead, Christian scholars have striven century upon century to evaluate all evidence and preserve both the original wording and its underlying meaning. Controversies within this relatively free-spirited transmission process have been minor, and modern archaeological discoveries testify to the remarkable textual precision of today’s Bible.

But the Qur’an alone could not satisfy the natural yearning of the faithful to know the actual history of their religion’s foundation, and the human context in which the divine laws had been laid down. So the Prophet’s Companions (any believer who knew him) gave personal accounts describing the sunna–principles and practices approved by Muhammad through his own words and deeds. These “Hadith” (traditions) carry scriptural weight, albeit distinctly second to the Qur’an, and they underlie the Muslim legal code.

Two centuries after Muhammad’s death, specialists began to weed out false traditions and compile authoritative collections. Al-Bukhari is considered the most rigorous in ensuring the authenticity of his 2,602 Hadith. Even so, valid questions of reliability remain, and some Hadith appear outlandish today. Modern readers cannot help questioning whether God really made women deficient in intelligence, if a mixture of camel urine and milk makes an effective medicine, and whether a child’s gender is determined by which partner reaches sexual climax first.

A few modern Muslims, noting that Muhammad did not proclaim his opinions and behavior as a personal model, think the Hadith may need reevaluation. But most scholars continue to employ Hadith in interpreting the Qur’an itself, as well as legal questions. And beyond the traditions, the Prophet’s own scriptural witness continues to weather the test of time for all the faithful. As the Qur’an in its second sura avows about itself: “This book, there is no doubt in it. . . .”

This is the end of the Quran and Hadith category article drawn from Chapter Two, beginning on page 63, of Volume Five, The Sword of Islam. To continue reading more about Quran and Hadith from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at