DAVID S POWERS: The Quran is the record of the revelations that Muhammad received during the 23 year period between 610 and 632. The word quran comes from the same root as the word iqra, the instruction that the angel Gabriel gave to Muhammad at the time of the first revelation.
It's important for Westerners to understand that the Quran situates itself squarely within the Judea-Christian tradition. It acknowledges, as prophets, figures such as Adam, Noah, Moses, David, and Jesus, all of whom have the same status as the prophet Muhammad.
In its final collected form, the Quran is composed of 114 chapters. The Quran contains approximately 500 verses of legal content. For example, the Quran contains verses that explain marriage, divorce, inheritance, the treatment of slaves, contracts, foods that you may not eat, and beverages that you may not drink.
The Quran also contains a number of verses dealing with what we would call criminal law. It identifies five crimes against God. These include theft, highway robbery, the consumption of wine, illicit sexual relations, and false accusation of illicit sexual relations. Each one of these crimes is referred to as a hudud crime. Anyone who perpetrates one of these crimes has violated a right of God, haq Allah.
The punishments for these crimes are severe. For example, the punishment for theft is amputation of the right hand. And the punishment for illicit sexual relations is either flogging with 100 lashes or stoning to death, depending on whether the perpetrator is a virgin or not.
During the lifetime of the prophet, revelation was a dynamic process. Let's consider, for example, the revelations dealing with the consumption of alcohol. We find three or four different revelations in the Quran dealing with this subject.
One of them says that there are good things and bad things associated with the consumption of alcohol. But the bad things outweigh the good things. Another verse cautions believers not to come to prayer under the influence of alcohol. A third revelation instructs the believers to avoid the consumption of alcohol in all circumstances.
Here we see that there are three separate revelations about a single topic. Muslim scholars teach that the second verse on the subject of alcohol abrogated the first one. And that the third verse abrogated the second one. They explain that God sent these individual revelations to Mohammad and conditioned each revelation for the circumstances of the Muslim community at the time that it was revealed. God knew in advance that He would ultimately forbid alcohol. But he understood that it was necessary to do so in some kind of a process.
This doctrine of abrogation is applied to other verses in the Quran. Indeed, there are upwards of 200 or more pairs of verses of the Quran in which one element of the pair is an abrogating verse. And the other element is an abrogated verse. These verses are not tagged in the Quran as either abrogating or abrogated. And it requires some kind of special knowledge in order to know which verse of the Quran is effective and which verse of the Quran is not.
Muhammad did not receive revelation 24/7. His followers pay careful attention to everything that he said, did, or condoned by his silence during those moments of his life when he was not receiving revelation. Their memory of the prophet's behavior came to be known as the Sunnah, or tradition of the prophet.
For example, we learn that the prophet said "avert the application of the hudud punishments in cases of doubt." This is an important legal principle which Muslim judges and jurists would subsequently use in order not to have to apply the harsh punishments that I referred to earlier.
These Sunnahs, or traditions of the prophet, were transmitted orally by Muhammad's followers after his death. And it was only in the middle of the ninth century that they were eventually put together in six major collections. Each collection might contain as many as 10,000 different statements attributed to the prophet.
The two most famous of these collections are each known as a Sahih, an Arabic word which means sound or authentic. The name refers to the fact that, by this time, Muslim scholars acknowledge that some people within the Muslim community were putting into circulation statements attributed to the prophet that he had not, in fact, made. And so they had to work out some kind of a system or method to distinguish sound from unsound traditions, or sayings of the prophet. And they did so.
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What is Islamic law? Explore the history as David S. Powers explains the origins, concepts, and misconceptions of Islamic law.
This video is part 3 of 7 in the What is Islamic Law? series.