Qur’an and its preservation through chain of oral tradition

Updated 26 February 2015

Qur’an and its preservation through chain of oral tradition

The Glorious Qur’an, the Muslims’ religious Scripture, was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel (peace be upon him). The revelation occurred piecemeal, over a period of 23 years, sometimes in brief verses and sometimes in longer chapters.[1]
The Qur’an (lit. a ‘reading’ or ‘recitation’) is distinct from the recorded sayings and deeds (Sunnah) of the Prophet (peace be upon him), which are instead preserved in a separate set of literature collectively called the Ahadith (lit. ‘news,’ ‘report,’ or ‘narration’).
Upon receiving revelation, the Prophet (peace be upon him) engaged himself in the duty of conveying the message to his Companions (may Allah bless them all) through reciting the exact words he heard in their exact order. This is evident in his inclusion of even the words of God which were directed specifically to him, for example: “Qul” (“Say [to the people, O Muhammad]”). The Qur’an’s rhythmic style and eloquent expression make it easy to memorize. Indeed, God describes this as one of its essential qualities for preservation and remembrance (Qur’an, 44:58; 54:17, 22, 32, 40), particularly in an Arab society, which prided itself on orations of lengthy pieces of poetry. Michael Zwettler notes that: “In ancient times, when writing was scarcely used, memory and oral transmission was exercised and strengthened to a degree now almost unknown.”[2]
Large portions of the revelation were thus easily memorized by a large number of people in the community of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) encouraged his Companions to learn each verse that was revealed and transmit it to others.[3] The Qur’an was also required to be recited regularly as an act of worship, especially during the daily meditative prayers (salah). Through these means, many repeatedly heard passages from the revelation recited to them, memorized them and used them in prayer. The entire Qur’an was memorized verbatim (word for word) by some of the Prophet’s Companions. Among them were Zaid ibn Thabit, Ubayy ibn Kaab, Muadh ibn Jabal, and Abu Zaid.[4]
Not only were the words of the Qur’an memorized, but also their pronunciation, which later formed into a science called Tajweed. This science meticulously elucidates how each letter is to be pronounced, as well as the word as a whole, both in context of other letters and words. Today, we can find people of all different languages able to recite the Qur’an as if they are Arabs themselves, living during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Furthermore, the sequence or order of the Qur’an was arranged by the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself and was also well-known to the Companions.[5] Each Ramadan, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would repeat after the angel Gabriel (reciting) the entire Qur’an in its exact order as far as it had been revealed, while in the presence of a number of his Companions.[6] In the year of his death, he recited it twice.[7] Thereby, the order of verses in each chapter and the order of the chapters became reinforced in the memories of each of the Companions present.
As the Companions spread out to various provinces with different populations, they took their recitations with them in order to instruct others.[8] In this way, the same Qur’an became widely retained in the memories of many people across vast and diverse areas of land.
Indeed, memorization of the Qur’an emerged into a continuous tradition across the centuries, with centers/schools for memorization being established across the Muslim world.[9] In these schools, students learn and memorize the Qur’an along with its tajweed, at the feet of a master who in turn acquired the knowledge from his teacher, an ‘un-broken chain’ going all the way back to the Prophet of God. The process usually takes 3-6 years. After mastery is achieved and the recitation checked for lack of errors, a person is granted a formal license (ijaza) certifying he has mastered the rules of recitation and can now recite the Qur’an the way it was recited by Muhammad, the Prophet of God (peace be upo him).
A.T. Welch, a non-Muslim orientalist, writes: “For Muslims, the Qur’an is much more than scripture or sacred literature in the usual Western sense. Its primary significance for the vast majority through the centuries has been in its oral form, the form in which it first appeared, as the “recitation” chanted by Muhammad to his followers over a period of about 20 years… The revelations were memorized by some of Muhammad’s followers during his lifetime, and the oral tradition that was thus established has had a continuous history ever since, in some ways independent of, and superior to, the written Qur’an... Through the centuries the oral tradition of the entire Qur’an has been maintained by the professional reciters (qurraa). Until recently, the significance of the recited Qur’an has seldom been fully appreciated in the West.”[10]
The Qur’an is perhaps the only book, religious or secular, that has been memorized completely by millions of people.[11]
Leading orientalist, Kenneth Cragg, reflects that: “…this phenomenon of Qur’anic recital means that the text has traversed the centuries in an unbroken living sequence of devotion. It cannot, therefore, be handled as an antiquarian thing, nor as a historical document out of a distant past. The fact of hifdh (Qur’anic memorization) has made the Qur’an a present possession through all the lapse of Muslim time and given it a human currency in every generation, never allowing its relegation to a bare authority for reference alone.”[12]

1. Muhammad Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, London: MWH Publishers, 1979, p.17.
2. Michael Zwettler, The Oral Tradition of Classical Arabic Poetry, Ohio State Press, 1978, p.14.
3. Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.546.
4. Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.525.
5. Ahmad von Denffer, Ulum Al-Qur’an, The Islamic Foundation, UK, 1983, p.41-42; Arthur Jeffery, Materials for the History of the Text of the Qur’an, Leiden: Brill, 1937, p.31.
6. Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith No.519.
7. Saheeh Al-Bukhari Vol.6, Hadith Nos.518 & 520.
8. Ibn Hisham, Seerah Al-Nabi, Cairo, n.d., Vol.1, p.199.
9. Labib as-Said, The Recited Qur’an, translated by Morroe Berger, A. Rauf, and Bernard Weiss, Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1975, p.59.
10. The Encyclopedia of Islam, ‘The Qur’an in Muslim Life and Thought.’
11. William Graham, Beyond the Written Word, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993, p.80.
12. Kenneth Cragg, The Mind of the Qur’an, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973, p.26.

• Courtesy: islamreligion.com


The beauty of prayer in Islam

Updated 23 September 2016

The beauty of prayer in Islam

GOING deeper into our spiritual state during prayers (salah) requires that we have a presence of heart and are mindful of the words being said during the prayers.
Our prayer will feel shorter, yet when we look at how much time we actually spent, we will think, “Did I just spend 10 minutes?” or even 15 and 20 minutes.
A person who began applying this said he wished the prayer would never end.
A feeling that Ibn Al-Qayyim describes as “what the competitors compete for… it is nourishment for the soul and the delight of the eyes,” and he also said, “If this feeling leaves the heart, it is as though it is a body with no soul.”

The love of Allah
Some people’s relationship with Allah is limited to following orders and leaving prohibitions, so that one does not enter hell. Of course, we must follow orders and leave prohibitions, but it needs to be done out of more than fear and hope; it should also be done out of love for Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an: “… Allah will bring forth [in place of them] a people He will love and who will love Him.” (Qur’an, 5:54)
We often find that when a lover meets the beloved, hearts are stirred and there is warmth in that meeting. Yet when we meet Allah, there is not even an ounce of this same feeling. Allah says in the Qur’an: “And (yet) among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah.” (Qur’an, 2:165)
And those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. There should be a feeling of longing, and when we raise our hands to start the prayer, warmth and love should fill our hearts because we are now meeting with Allah. A dua of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “O Allah, I ask You for the longing to meet You” (An-Nisa’i, Al-Hakim)
Ibn Al-Qayyim says in his book Tareeq Al-Hijratain that Allah loves His Messengers and His believing servants, and they love Him and nothing is more beloved to them than Him. The love of one’s parents has a certain type of sweetness, as does the love of one’s children, but the love of Allah far supersedes any of that. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Any person who combines these three qualities will experience the sweetness of faith: 1) that God and His messenger are dearer to him than anything else; 2) that his love of others is purely for God’s sake; and 3) that he hates to relapse into disbelief as much as he hates to be thrown in the fire.” (Bukhari)
Thus, the first thing he mentioned was: “… that God and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else…”
Ibn Al-Qayyim says: “Since ‘there is nothing like unto Him’ (Qur’an, 42:11), there is nothing like experiencing love for Him.”
If you feel this love for Him, it will be a feeling so intense, so sweet, that you would wish the prayer would never ever end.
Do you truly want to feel this love? Then ask yourself: ‘why do you or should you love Allah?’
Know that you love people for one (or all, in varying degrees) of three reasons: For their beauty, because of their exalted character or/and because they have done good to you. And know that Allah combines all of these three to the utmost degree.

All-embracing beauty
We’ve all been touched by beauty. It is almost fitrah (natural disposition) to love what is beautiful. Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said about the Prophet, peace be upon him, that it was “as if the sun is shining from his face.” Jabir (may God be pleased with him) said: “The Messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful, and radiant than the full moon” (Tirmidhi)
Allah made all His Prophets have a certain beauty so that people would have a natural inclination toward them.
And beauty is more than what is in the face, because beauty is in all of creation and somehow has the ability to take our breath away and give us peace simultaneously. The glimmer of the crescent moon on a calm night, the intensity of a waterfall as the water drops for thousands of feet, the sunset by the sea … certain scenes of natural unspoiled beauty stirs something in us. As Allah is the One Who made it beautiful, so what of Allah’s beauty?
Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “And it is enough to realize Allah’s Beauty when we know that every internal and external beauty in this life and the next are created by Him, so what of the beauty of their Creator?”
This fitrah for loving what is beautiful is because Allah is beautiful. One of His Names is Al-Jameel (the Most Beautiful). Ibn Al-Qayyim states that the beauty of Allah is something that a person cannot imagine and only He knows it. There is nothing of it in creation save for glimpses.
Ibn Al-Qayyim says if all of creation were the most beautiful they could be (so let’s imagine, ever single human being looked as beautiful as Yusuf, peace be upon him, and the whole world was like Paradise), and all of them combined from the beginning of time until the Day of Judgment, they would not even be like a ray in comparison to the sun when compared to Allah. Allah’s beauty is so intense that we will not even be able to take it in this life. In the Qur’an, Allah describes Musa’s (peace be upon him) request: “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (Allah) said: ‘You will not see Me but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious.” (Qur’an, 7:143)
Even the mountain could not bear the beauty of Allah and crumbled, and when Musa, peace be upon him, saw this (he did not even see Allah), he fell unconscious. This is why on the Day of Judgment it is Allah’s light that will shine on everything. We talk about breathtaking beauty, but we have yet to experience Allah’s beauty. While things in this world can be beautiful or majestic or if they combine both they are finite, true majesty and beauty are for Allah: “And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor.” (Qur’an, 55:27)
Keeping all of this in mind, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Allah directs His Face toward the face of His servant who is praying, as long as he does not turn away” (Tirmidhi).
Remember this in your prayer, and ask Allah to allow you the joy of seeing Him in Paradise.