Authored by: Daniel W. Brown

Routledge Handbook on Early Islam

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138821187
eBook ISBN: 9781315743462
Adobe ISBN:


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Since the late 19th century the idea that the Qurʾān should serve as the sole source of Islamic faith and practice has been articulated by a variety of Muslim thinkers in a variety of places. The idea itself is easily articulated: If the Qurʾān stands alone as the pure revelation of God, perfect and incomparable both in origins and transmission, then it must be the exclusive source of guidance for the faith and practice of Muslims. This apparently simple extrapolation from standard Muslim beliefs about the Qurʾān might be uninteresting except that most Muslims through most of Islamic history have thought differently. While we find traces of Qurʾān-only ideas attributed to early theological movements, notably the Khārijites, such ideas gained little traction. The classical position, powerfully argued by al-Shāfiʿī, made the Sunna of the Prophet a source of Islamic law on par with the Qurʾān, and more important in practice. Since the Sunna could only be known by means of authoritative ḥadīth, the result was that authenticated ḥadīth reports from the Prophet became foundational to the structure of Islamic law, and the challenge of authenticating ḥadīth gave rise to one of the great intellectual traditions of Islamic civilization. The Qurʾān took its place as one part of a larger epistemological system, and the interpretation of the Qurʾān and its of application in the formation of Islamic norms was filtered and bounded by a variety of other sources and principles including, but not limited to, the Sunna of the Prophet.

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