Introduction to Quran and Sunna for interfaith dialogue
July 23, 8:32 AM · J. Samia Mair - Baltimore Muslim Examiner
Most non-Muslims in interfaith discussions understand the Qur’an to be the Holy Book of Muslims, similar to what the Bible is to Christians and the Torah to Jews. Details about the Qur’an’s revelation and other related matters are less known.
But many non-Muslims have never heard the word Sunna and thus do not understand its significance in Islam. Once the concept of Sunna is introduced in interfaith discussions, the question naturally arises about its relationship with the Qur’an.
Below is a very brief explanation on the relationship between the Qur’an and Sunna and some background information.
In Arabic, the word islam means “to turn oneself over to, to resign oneself, to submit.” In religious terms, it means submission to God (swt). The term islam or a derivative is mentioned in about 70 verses of the Qur’an. Of those, only a few verses refer to Islam specifically as the religion* established by the Qur’an and explained by its Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (saas).
Source: The Vision of Islam
The word muslim also has a general and specific meaning. In the general sense, muslims are “those who have submitted to God.” In the Qur’an, the word muslim can refer to followers of any of God’s prophets. Most commonly, however, a Muslim is understood to mean someone who follows the Qur’an as explained by the Prophet Muhammad (saas).
Source: The Vision of Islam
Muslims believe that the last revelation from God to humanity is the Qur’an, which God revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saas), through the Angel Jibril or Gabriel (pbuh) over a course of 23 years (610-632 CE).
He [God] has ordained for you that which He had enjoined upon Noah—and into which We gave thee [O Muhammad] insight through revelation—as well as that which We had enjoined upon Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus: Steadfastly uphold the [true] faith, and do no break up your unity therein. (Al-Qur'an, 42:13)
The Qur’an is the Word of God that emanated from Him without modality in its expression. He sent it down to His messenger as a revelation. The believers accept it as such literally. They are certain it is, in reality, the Word of God, the Sublime and Exalted...Unlike human speech, it is eternal and uncreated. (The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi)
God sent down the Qur’an to remind humanity of His Oneness, a truth God conveyed to all of His prophets, and to provide guidance.
For example, God tells Moses (pbuh):
Verily, I – I alone – am God; there is no deity save Me. Hence, worship Me alone, and be constant in prayer, so as to remember Me!.” (Al-Qur'an, 20:14)
Noah (pbuh) (as well as other prophets) conveyed the Oneness of God to his people:
Indeed, We sent forth Noah unto his people, and he said: “O my people! Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him. Verily, I fear lest suffering befall you on an awesome Day! (Al-Qur'an, 7:59)
The last legal injunction revealed, which Muhammad Asad describes in his translation and commentary as “a seal on the message of the Qur’an” states:
Today have I perfected your religious law for you, and bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion. (Al-Qur'an, 5:3)
General source for above: Submission, Faith & Beauty: The Religion of Islam
The word Sunna means “the customary practice of a person or group of people,” although it has become to refer almost exclusively to the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (saas). Sunna has been defined as:
The way of living and acting set down by the Prophet; hence, the model that Muslims follow in order to lead a life that is pleasing to God. The basic source for the Sunna is the Hadith. (The Vision of Islam)
Hadith, in turn, means:
The sayings of the Prophet himself or of his companions concerning his activities. Hadith is contrasted with Koran, which is the word of God. A hadith is one of the sayings found in the Hadith. The Hadith are gathered together in a number of collections. (The Vision of Islam)
Muslims are told to obey God and His Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad (saas), whom God describes as “good example” (Al-Qur'an, 33:21):
O you who have attained to faith! Pay heed unto God, and pay heed unto the Apostle and unto those from among you who have been entrusted with authority; and if you are at variance over any matter, refer it unto God and the Apostle, if you [truly] believe in God and the Last Day. This is the best [for you], and best in the end. (Al-Qur'an, 4:59)
Whoever pays heed unto the Apostle pays heed unto God thereby. (Al-Qur'an, 4:80)
Now whenever God and His Apostle have decided a matter, it is not for a believing man or a believing woman to claim freedom of choice insofar as they themselves are concerned: for he who [thus] rebels against God and His Apostle has already, most obviously, gone astray. (Al-Qur'an, 33:36)
Relationship between Qur’an and Sunna
The relationship between the Qur’an and Sunna has been explained by Muhammad Abu Zahra in the book, The Four Imans as follows: “the Qur’an contains all the Shari’a” (defined as “[t]he legal modality of a people based on the Revelation given to their Prophet”) and “the Sunna is simply its exposition.” In other words, “The Sunna is the straight way to grasp the meanings of the Book. That is why it is not correct to hold only to the Qur’an without seeking help in its explanation, meaning the Sunna."
The Qur'an is the primary source and the Sunna “clarifies and complements” it in 3 ways:
1. It directly confirms the judgments of the Qur’an, adding nothing new.
2. It explains the intention of the Qur’an and limits some things which are unrestricted in the Qur’an and gives details to some matters that are undefined in the Qur’an. For example, the Qur’an instructs Muslims to pray and perform the Hajj. The Prophet Muhammad (saas) expounded upon the relevant verses, teaching Muslims how to pray and how to perform the Hajj.
3. It provides judgments about which the Qur’an is silent. For example, the inheritance of a grandmother is not mentioned in the Qur’an but explained in the Sunna.
Following the Prophet Muhammad (saas) is an integral part of Islamic worship and the means by which one becomes closer to God.
Say [O Prophet]: “If you love God, follow me, [and] God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” (Al-Qur'an, 3:31)
* The English word “religion” does not adequately capture the meaning of the word Islam. Islam has been described more accurately as a complete way of life.
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J. Samia Mair is an Examiner from Baltimore. You can see J. Samia's articles at: http://www.Examiner.com/x-9968-Baltimore-Muslim-Examiner
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