The Qur’an Its Definition and How It Differs from Hadith

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The word Qur’an in Arabic is a form of the infinitive, which means ‘to read’. The term is used in this infinitive sense in the two verses: “It is for Us to gather it and to cause it to be read. Thus when We recite it, follow you its recitation.”

(75: 17-18).

The term has come to acquire a new sense, which denotes the glorious Book revealed by God. Today, this is the most common usage of the word. It also occurs in God’s statement: “This Qur’an shows the way to all that is most upright.”

(17: 9.)

In fact, it is called ‘The Qur’an’ because it is actually read by mouth, and it is called ‘The Book’ because it is written down with pens. Both names are derived from what actually takes place with regard to it.

The fact that these two descriptions have come to be treated as names of the Divine Book refers to its rightful treatment which requires that it be kept and preserved in two places instead of one: people’s memories and the pages of a book. Thus, should an error find its way into one, the other will correct it. We do not trust what a reciter learns by heart unless it is confirmed by the written text which has been unanimously approved by the Prophet’s companions and which has come down to us, through the generations, in its original form. Nor do we trust the writings of any scribe unless it is confirmed by what scholars who memorise the Qur’an have shown to be its correct version through uninterrupted chains of reporters.

This double care, which God has ensured, imparts to the Muslim community a keen desire to keep the Qur’an intact, in conscious following of the Prophet Muhammad’s guidance. This exceptional care has ensured that the Qur’an remains in an unassailable position with regard to its accuracy and purity from all distortion.

This is a practical aspect of the fulfilment of God’s promise to preserve the Qur’an in its original form, as it is clear in His statement: “It is We Ourselves who have bestowed from on high this reminder, and it is We who shall truly preserve it [from all corruption].”

(15: 9.)

Hence, it has remained free from all manner of distortion, corruption and interruption of reporting which befell earlier Scriptures. Those Scriptures God did not take upon Himself to preserve. He left it to people to guard and keep. He says: “And so did the [early] men of God and the rabbis, inasmuch as some of God’s writ had been entrusted to their care; and they all bore witness to its truth.”

(5: 44.)

This distinction has a reason. All former Divine revelations have been meant to apply for a period of time, not for all times. The Qur’an, on the other hand, was sent down from on high to confirm the truth of what was revealed earlier and to supersede them all. Thus, it contains all that they established of true fact, adding whatever God has willed by way of addition. It takes over their roles, but none of them may play its role. It is God’s will that the Qur’an should remain the final arbiter until the Day of Judgement. When God wills something, He, Wise and All-Knowing as He certainly is, brings together what ensures that His will is done as He pleases.

In this fine sense, the Qur’an may be described as particular and true, as may be said in logic. Hence, it is difficult to define it by any standard logical definition which speaks of kinds, parts and characteristics.

This applies to all that is true and particular: they cannot be defined in this manner, because each part of a logical definition is universal in itself, and what is universal cannot, conceptually, be exactly like what is particular.

This is because the universal applies to all that is mentally considered identical to it in that sense, even though it may not exist in reality. Thus, it does not distinguish it from everything else. As such, it does not become a truly definitive description.

A particular object is defined by reference to it when it is physically present or familiar to our minds. Thus, if you want a definitive description of the Qur’an, you have no way of doing so unless you refer to it as it is written down in its book or read by mouth. You will then say: “it is what is contained between this front cover and this back cover.” Or you may say: “It is the following text – [and then you read it all from the first word in Surah alFātiḥah, or The Opening, to the last word in Surah al-Nās, or Men.]”

The definitions used by scholars in terms of kinds and parts, which are normally used to define universal facts, are mainly intended to make it easier to understand and to distinguish it from whatever may be given a similar name, even falsely. All books revealed by God, sacred hadiths and some of the Prophet’s hadiths are, like the Qur’an, revelations by God. Someone may, on the basis of this fact, imagine that these may also be called by the same name, the Qur’an.

Hence, scholars try to explain that the name applies only to it by highlighting its qualities and characteristics that distinguish it from all others.

They may define the Qur’an as follows: “The Qur’an is the word of God, which He has sent down to Muhammad [peace be on him] and the recitation of which is a form of worship.”

When we analyse this definition we find that the term ‘the word’ refers to a type that includes all speech, but when it is attributed to God, it excludes the speech of everyone else, human, jinn or angels.

That this word of God is ‘sent down’ excludes all other words of God that He has kept to Himself or addressed to the angels to implement without imparting it to any human being. Not every word of God has been revealed or sent down.

Indeed, what has been sent down is only a small portion: “If all the sea were ink for my Lord’s words, the sea would indeed be exhausted before my Lord’s words are exhausted, even though We were to add to it sea upon sea.”

(18: 109.)

“If all the trees on earth were pens, and the sea were ink, with seven more seas yet added to it, the words of God would not be exhausted.”

(31: 27.)

The definition makes a further exclusion by saying that it is ‘sent down to Muhammad.’ This excludes what has been sent down to earlier prophets, such as the Torah revealed to Moses and the Gospel revealed to Jesus, and the Psalms revealed to David and the scrolls sent down to Abraham [peace be on them all] .

The last exclusion is indicated by the phrase which describes its recitation as a form of worship. This means that the Qur’an includes only the part of revelation that we are ordered 10 to read in prayer and at other times as part of our worship. Thus, everything that we are not required to recite is excluded, such as the methods of recitation which have been transmitted by single reporters at a time, unlike the methods of recitation transmitted by large numbers of reporters in every generation.

Also excluded are the sacred hadiths, which quote God Himself, if we take the view that their wording was revealed by God. Ordinary hadiths said by the Prophet may be divided into two categories according to their meanings: the first is ‘deduced’, which includes those hadiths the Prophet stated on the basis of his understanding of God’s word or his contemplation of the universe.

This category is certainly not part of the word of God. The second category is ‘received.’ The import of such hadiths is given to the Prophet through revelation and he has taught it to mankind in his own words.

This means that in meaning and content, this second category is attributed to God, but in its phraseology should be attributed to the Prophet [peace be on him]. Normally speech is attributed to the speaker who constructs it in its style, even though the meaning it expresses may be one that is very familiar and has been transmitted from one person to another.

Thus, the two categories of hadith are excluded because the first qualification in the definition of the Qur’an is that it is ‘God’s word.’ Similarly excluded is the sacred, or qudsi hadith, if we say that it is revealed in meaning only.

This is the weightier view in our judgement. Had it been revealed in wording as well, it would have had the same sanctity as the Qur’an. There would be no grounds for distinguishing two types of revealed speech attributed to God. Had the case been so and the qudsi hadith been revealed in word and meaning, it would have been imperative to preserve it intact, and it would not be permissible to quote it in meaning only, and its narrator would not have been allowed to handle its sheets without performing ablution. No scholar has ever claimed that.

In addition to the fact that we are required to implement the Qur’an in practice, it also has another purpose, which is to set a challenge by its superior style and to perform worship by its recitation. Hence, it had to be revealed by word and text.

The qudsi hadith has no such additional purposes of challenge and worship. It is simply revealed for the implementation of its message. For this purpose, understanding the meaning is sufficient.

To claim that it is revealed in word as well is to claim what is unnecessary and without a solid basis, except perhaps the phrases mentioned in some of the qudsi hadiths attributing the statement to God. But what we have already said tells us that this applies to the meaning rather than to the wording. It is, in fact, common usage in Arabic. When one explains a line of poetry, for example, one says, ‘the poet says so and so’, and when we explain in our own words a verse of the Qur’an we say, ‘God tells us this and that’. In the same way God tells us what Moses, Pharaoh and others said, stating the import of what they actually said, but expressing it in words and styles other than those they used. He nevertheless attributes those words to them.

If we were to claim that nothing other than the meaning is sacred in a qudsi hadith, we would be right to use the same description, i.e. qudsi, in reference to some of the Prophet’s hadiths as well, because they include meanings revealed by God. The answer to this is that we know for certain that a qudsi hadith has been revealed in meaning. We have clear 11 statements by the Prophet which attribute it to God Himself.

In this it is distinguished from ordinary hadiths which have no such attribution. Thus, it is possible that an ordinary hadith may be taught to the Prophet by revelation or deduced by him through reflection. Hence we describe all hadiths as statements by the Prophet, because this is what we are certain of. Had we had a distinctive mark to indicate the part that is revealed to the Prophet, we would have called it qudsi or sacred as well.

However the division of hadith into these categories does not entail any practical distinction.

We must act on every hadith, whatever its category is. The Prophet is honest and truthful in what he conveys of what is revealed to him and he is always right in what he deduces. He is also supported by the Holy Spirit, who does not allow a mistake to pass, should the Prophet make any such mistake in matters of religion.

This means that in both respects, what the Prophet says has its origin in what is revealed to him, either by instruction or by confirmation. Hence, we must accept all his Sunnah and act on it, as we are commanded in the Qur’an: “Take whatever the Prophet gives you and refrain from whatever he forbids you.”

(59: 7.)

“Whenever God and His Messenger 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.”

(33: 36.)
chapter II

The Source of The Qur’an: Divine Text, Divine Meaning

It is universally known, beyond any shred of doubt, that this sublime book, the Qur’an, was delivered to mankind through Muhammad ibn ᶜAbdullāh ibn ᶜAbd al-Muṭṭalib...