Beliefs, Teachings, Wisdom, Authority

Interpreting teachings, sources, authorities and ways of life in order to understand religions and beliefs;


Understanding and responding critically to beliefs and attitudes.


Basic Beliefs

There are two main sources for religious truth claims within Islam – the Qur’an and hadith. The Qur’an is the final revelation from God; it is the word of God. The corpus of hadith literature contains the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); this is known as his Sunnah (Practice).

The Qur’an teaches the concept of Tawhid, the unity of God (Surah 112:1-4), that the whole of creation with the exception of human beings is in a state of submission (Islam) to God. To realize our fullest potential as God’s vicegerents on earth (khalifah), we must follow His guidance relating to every facet of our lives.

As an expression of His love and compassion He sent Prophets and Messengers (Surah 16:36) to remind humanity of the Unity of God and to remind them of their purpose in creation.

The Qur’anic teachings place great emphasis upon social justice and the striving towards the creation of a just society (Surahs 5:8, 6:162-164). God’s justice is inescapable and human beings are reminded continuously of accountability to God on the Day of Judgment (Surah 17:13-14). For Muslims, the Prophet is the Insan-i-Kamil, the Perfect Human being, and therefore must be emulated, and the seminal community of Muslims established in al-Madinah is the paradigm community.

The central beliefs and teachings of Islam are contained in a famous hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) called the hadith of Jibra’il, in which he defined Islam as constituting three dimensions – Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Islam is to testify there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad (pbuh) is the Messenger of Allah, to perform the Salah, to give Zakah, to fast in the month of Ramadan, and to perform the Hajj, if one is able to. Iman or faith is defined as belief in Allah, His angels, His Revealed Books, His Messengers, the Day of Judgement, and in destiny, both the good and the evil. Ihsan or perfection of faith is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, know that He sees you.

Islam is one of the Abrahamic faiths and maybe referred to as a cousin faith of both Christianity and Judaism. The central difference between Christianity and Islam is their conceptions of God. Christianity proclaims a Trinitarian nature of God and Jesus as the Son of God. Whereas for Muslims Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the final Messenger of Allah and therefore the Qur’an is the last and final revelation of Allah and His word. Allah is One, He neither begets nor is begotten (Surah 112) and is nothing like His creation (Surah 42:11). For Jews, Moses is the human receptacle through whom God reveals Himself and His law.

Founders and Exemplars of Faith

Without doubt, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the key figure who has been the most influential for Muslims. In Islam, he is the Seal of the prophets sent by God and it is through him that the foundations of Islam were laid down. It is because of him that Islam flourished and nowadays is the fastest growing religion in the world even after 14 centuries.

Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is seen as the mother of Islam, as it is she who gave all she had in the way of Islam which initiated the success of the religion in the early days. She was an eminent woman who was highly respected by both men and women. She was the wealthiest woman in Arabia who was very powerful and influential. There is a difference of opinion between the two main sects in Islam (Sunni and Shi’ah) as regards the succession of the Prophet.

The Sunni hold the companions (ashab) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in high regard and consider the first four as the rightly guided successors (Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali). The Shi’ah Muslims believe that the first legitimate successor is Imam ‘Ali, as they believe he was chosen by God as opposed to being elected by the people.

‘Ayshah, daughter of Abu Bakr and one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), is the lady who shaped Sunni Islam. She is held in very high esteem by Sunnis.

His family (Ahl al-Bayt) are also very important to Muslims, especially Shi’ah Muslims, who regard the family of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as the true authorities and successors after his demise.

Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and wife of Imam ‘Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)), was a lady of knowledge and piety. Men and women would seek guidance and knowledge from her on many Islamic issues. It is Fatimah who shaped Shi’ah Islam. Imam Hussein, the third Shi’ah Imam is considered, particularly by Shi’ah Muslims, as the saviour of Islam who sacrificed his life for the faith along with some of his family members and companions.

There are also contemporary personalities who are regarded as being influential in Islam. Malcolm X was a convert and a promoter of civil rights. He was affiliated with the Nation of Islam until 1964 when he entered mainstream Islam but was assassinated in 1965. Imam Khomeini was the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran (1979) after an uprising the Shah regime. His thought and movement was inspired by Imam Hussein (mentioned above). He was a political and a spiritual leader.

The Prophet

Before the dawn of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was someone who attracted many people towards him. He was known as the trustworthy (al-aman) and to be very truthful (sadiq). Prior to the announcement of Islam and his Prophethood, there is a famous story about a Christian monk who saw the sign of prophecy in him and informed his uncle that he must look after him as he was destined for greatness. The migration (hijrah) from Makkah to al-Madinah is another notable event in the history of Islam as well as the night of ascension (mi’raj) where the Qur’an states that he was taken up to the heavens and travelled on a mystical and spiritual journey. There are many more stories about the Prophet and his mission in his biography (sarah).

There are numerous stories about the way in which the Prophet interacted with people prior to and after the birth of Islam. He treated all people equally, male or female, prince or pauper, black or white, rich or poor. He never discriminated against anyone and everything he did was for the sake of God and for His pleasure.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the best example of spiritual and moral values. The Qur’an states:

‘Indeed you have in the Messenger of Allah an excellent exemplar (of moral conduct) for he whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day and who (frequently) engages in the remembrance of Allah’ (Surah 33:21).

God tells Muslims that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the most perfect example of moral conduct and who possesses sublime ethics. He is seen as the epitome of perfection in morals, conduct and in his very being as a human, he is the manifestation of the Beautiful Names of God on earth. According to some Muslims, Imam Khomeini is an example of someone who in modern times showed something similar to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as he was a charismatic leader. His teaching and humble way of life influenced and attracted hundreds of thousands of Muslims to re-evaluate their Islam in this day and age.

Although the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) passed away more than 14 centuries ago, his teachings are still leading Muslims today. Islam is a universal religion that caters for all people of all times. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the eternal word of God and therefore Islam and its teaching are able to accommodate any society and any people, it should be adapted to cater for the society in which someone lives.

For all Muslims, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is the very person who gives a meaning to their lives, it is he who sets the standards of human behaviour and it is he whose message is the very key to salvation in this temporal world and the eternal next.


God is the source of inspiration. There is a saying in Islam that when a person takes one step towards God, God takes ten steps towards them (as in gaining closeness, not literal steps). Although God is the One who inspires and guides, the human being has to be ready to ‘receive’ that guidance.

The Qur’an (cf. Surahs. 2:285, 112:1, 45:26) and the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are replete with statements relating to principal beliefs of Islam. However, following the passing away of the Prophet, the early Muslim community was confronted with numerous doctrinal and theological challenges and to safeguard the community from heretical beliefs the leading scholar-jurists sought to provide creedal clarity and refine certain points of contention. The major Sunni creeds were articulated by Imam Abu Hanifa (80-150), Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (780-855), Imam al-Ash’ari (873-935) and Imam al-Tahawi (d. 933). Whereas Allama-i-Hilli (1250-1325) expresses the mainstream Shi’ah creed.

Visitors to Islamic countries often comment that one of the striking features of their visit is the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, called at every minaret of every mosque five times a day, the call is timed in such a way that the completion of one leads to the beginning of another, punctuating the air space of the village or town witnessing of the unity of Allah and the Messengership of Muhammad (pbuh). It invites Muslims to the congregational performance of the Salah and therefore all Muslims share the space for worship. The standing in rows shoulder to shoulder, the facing towards the qiblah, the recitation of the Qur’an, the movement of the body, culminating in the placing of one’s nose, forehead, and both hands on the floor in sijdah, is the greatest symbol of a Muslim’s complete and utter submission to Allah. After the Salah, Muslims will often recite litanies in glorification, praise and greatness of Allah by using the tasbih and will also recite the salawaat (blessings) upon the Prophet. Imams will often provide tafsir (commentary) on verses of the Qur’an or hadiths of the Prophet reminding one of Allah, the stories of the Prophets, the transient nature of this life, the grave and the ethical, moral and spiritual practice of the Prophet.

The Qur’an

The Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) between the years 610-632 CE. The first revelation took place in the month of Ramadan 610CE. in the cave of Hira on a mountain called al-Nur.

That this is indeed a Qur’an Most Honourable,

In Book well-guarded,

Which none shall touch but those who are clean:

A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. (Surah 56 77-80)


The word Qur’an means ‘reading’ or ‘recitation’ in Arabic. The original Qur’an, ‘the mother of the book’, is in heaven. The Qur’an is the words of Allah. The words of the Qur’an were read or recited to Muhammad (pbuh) by the archangel Jibril at the command of Allah. Jibril’s first words to Muhammad (pbuh) were, ‘Proclaim (or read) in the name of Allah …’

The first revelation came on Laylat-ul-Qadr, the night of Power, one of the last ten days of Ramadan in the year 610 CE. It is said to have been twenty two years, five months and four days after the first revelation that the last verse was given:

This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. (Surah 5:3)

In Surah 97 it says that the Qur’an came to earth in its entirety on Laylat-ul-Qadr.

Theologians explain that it came to a spiritual sphere above the earth called the Bait al-Izza, the House of Glory, where eternity meets the world of time.

The Qur’an is divided into surahs which are made up of verses, ayat. One verse or unit is an ayah ‘a sign’.

The114 surahs are arranged according to length with the longest chapters at the beginning and much shorter surahs at the end. The main exception is the first surah Al-Fatihah, the Opening, which is short but very significant for iman – ‘faith’.

Every surah apart from Surah 9 begins with the words, ‘Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim’, ‘In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.’

The Qur’an is divided into thirty parts or ‘juz’. The whole book is a unity and is called al-kitab, the book or the scripture. Muhammad (pbuh) memorised the Qur’an as he heard it and then repeated it to his followers who learnt it and wrote it down. The Qur’an was not compiled as one book until after the death of the Prophet, since when it has remained unchanged.

Two years after Muhammad’s (pbuh) death, the first Khalifah, Abu Bakr, had all the pieces of the Qur’an collected into one book. Just before he died, Muhammad (pbuh) had sorted the revelations into surahs according to themes or because they had been received at the same time.

In 652 CE the third Khalifah, Uthman, had four copies of the Qur’an made based on the official version and sent one to each of four Islamic cities: Basra, Damascus, Kufh and al-Madinah.

Authoritative Scriptures

Islam teaches that throughout history, from the time of the Prophet Adam and Hawwa (Eve), the first humans, Allah has sent revelations to help people to live according to his will. The last of these revelations was received by Muhammad. The earlier ones were:


-Sahifah revealed to the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham)
-Tawrah, Torah, the Law revealed to the Prophet Musa (Moses)
-Zabur, the book of Psalms revealed to the Prophet Dawud (David)
-Injil, the Gospel revealed to the Prophet Isa (Jesus)

Sunnah (Hadith): After the Qur’an, the second textual source for Islam is the record of the sayings and doings of the Prophet. These are known as the sunnah, the trodden path. Individual verbal records of what the Prophet said or did are known as hadith – a saying (plural: ahadith).

There are two types of ahadith; the Prophetic (sayings and advice from the Prophet) and the Qudsi or Sacred – insights about Islam in the words of Muhammad (pbuh). The number of ahadith reached thousands and some seem to be contradictory. A Muslim scholar, Bukhari made a list of 600,000 Hadith. He then rejected all those which could not be traced back to the companions of Muhammad (pbuh).Others were rejected because they contradicted the principles of the Qur’an. His final collection numbered 2762. He died in 870 CE.

Authoritative Leadership

The authority for leadership arises from the Qur’an (Surah. 4:58-59), hadith and historical precedence. All Muslims will adhere to the belief in Allah and the finality of the Messengership of Muhammad (pbuh) and practice the five pillars of Islam.

However, the point of departure relates to the question of authority. For Sunnis, the sources of authority are the Qur’an, hadith, ijma and qiyas. Over the first four centuries of Islam a sophisticated and complex methodology was developed for an authentic understanding of these sources. This led to the emergence of four major schools of law or madhahibs – Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Maliki. For the Shi’ah, the major school of law is the Ithna Ashari (Twelvers) or also known as the Jafari, named after Imam Jafar as-Sadiq. The legitimate interpreters of the Qur’an are the Imams, who are from the ahl al-Bayt, the family of the Prophet. The major groups from these are Jafaris, Ismailis and Zaydis.

Islam is Din, a whole way of life and provides Muslims with guidance permeating every aspect of human existence. The life and example of the Prophet provides the ideal for all Muslims to aim for and emulate. The whole purpose and aim is to develop a perpetual consciousness of Allah within the life of the individual, to remind one of the ephemeral nature of her existence and to cultivate a human personality that seeks the peace, compassion and harmony of all.

Following the passing away of the Prophet, the early Muslim community was confronted with the question of leadership of the Community. A large gathering of the companions selected Abu Bakr (r. 632-634 CE), a senior companion (sahaba) of the Prophet, following his death he was succeeded by Umar ibn al-Khattab (r. 634-644 CE), Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644-656 CE) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (r. 656-661 CE). These four are revered in Sunni Islam as the Calipha Rashidun (the Rightly Guided Caliphs). The assassination of Uthman led to a major rupture within the Islamic community, Mu’awiya’s (r.661-680) refusal to accept Ali’s leadership led to civil war and as a consequence resulted in the emergence of a group called Shi’ite Ali (the party of Ali). For the Shi’ah leadership was to be based upon the lineage to the Prophet’s family (ahl al-Bayt) and they too would appeal to the Qur’an and hadith for scriptural legitimacy. It was later that a fuller Shi’ah theology would develop the theory of the succession of twelve Imams (Ithna Ashari, Twelvers) and place Ali as the first Imam and the rightful successor to the Prophet and project back to the time of the Prophet’s passing away as the moment at which Ali was denied his rightful place as leader of the community.

Over the first three to four centuries of Islam, Muslim scholar-Jurists invented a sophisticated and complex discipline of Usul al-Fiqh, (Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence). This provided a sophisticated methodology for the deduction of the law from the four primary sources in Sunni Islam – Qur’an, Hadith, Ijma and Qiyas. In Sunni Islam therefore the practice is expressed through following one of the four major schools of Islamic Law (Madhahibs) that emerged during the first four centuries of Islam, these are the Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali and Shafi’i. The major Shi’ah school of law is the Jafari.

The Madhahibs are a source of orthopraxis for the Muslims and therefore many of the classical books from the different schools of law are now available in English. This has in practice resulted in many English speaking Muslims seeking a return to the classical law manuals rather than the inherited forms of practice through Salafi or Wahhabi groups. In cases of family law, for example, divorce, Muslim men and women may utilize the services of a number of Shari’ah Councils that have emerged over the last four decades, these have enabled Muslim women a release from marriage which in some cases their husbands had refused to do. These Councils also provide significant mediation and conflict resolution assistance based within the framework of Shari’ah.

The major Sunni institution on the world stage that provides fatwas on contemporary issues, such as IVF, abortion, organ transplants, terrorism, etc. is the Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt. For the Shi’ah their guidance emanates from the leading Ayatollahs from the Middle East. One of the contemporary challenges for British Muslims is the absence of a central authority, for example, the Mufti of Great Britain, who could address issues concerning British Muslims.

Due to the nature of Authority in Islam, there is continuous intellectual debate and discussion, and certainly in Sunni Islam it is evaluated through the degree to which an Ijma (consensus) of the community of Scholars may emerge. In relation to politics, of course, the greatest abuse of authority has been perpetrated by extremist violent ideologues who have sought to attack the madhahibs as outdated. By cutting off the primary sources, Qur’an and Hadith from their traditional complex and sophisticated methodology of interpretation invented by scholar-jurists, the extremists have sought to appeal to the literalist reading of these sources to justify their violent political ideology. The Islamist groups in their various guises throughout the Islamic world have sought to use their ‘Islamist’ credentials to gain power and many are leading campaigns for social justice and delivery of essential services often in deprived areas.



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