Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Comparative Study: ISLAM & SIKHI Part 1


The Muslim community itself has, of course, an explanation for why the Qur’an looks the way it does, but the contradictory nature of the accounts within the multiplicity of version of the story has raised grave doubts on the part of many scholars as to their motivation.

Generally, Muhammad himself is excluded from any role in the collection of the text, although it is possible to find some accounts which talk of him going over the whole text with Ali, his cousin, son-in-law and figurehead of the later Shi’a. Zayd ibn Thabit, a companion of Muhammad, is generally credited with an early collection of the scripture and the pages of the text are said to have been entrusted to Hafsa, one of Muhammad’s wives. Under the instructions of ‘Uthman, the third ruler (Caliph) of the Muslim empire after the death of Muhammad, the major collection of the text “as we now have it” (as the Muslim claims have it) is said to have taken place.

Working on the basis of pieces of text written “on palm leaves or flat stones or in the hearts of men,” the complete text (deemed to have survived in full) was written out in full and distributed to the major centres of the Muslim empire.

Thus, within 30 years of the death of Muhammad, it is understood that the Qur’an existed in its fixed, if skeleton form; theologically, it is held that the form that the text was in at this point was an image of the “heavenly tablet,” suggesting that its structure and content were precisely that which God desired. (John Burton, The Collection of the Qur’an, Cambridge University Press, 1977)

From this skeleton text, which indicated only the consonants of the Arabic script in a rudimentary form, the final text of the Qur’an was developed over the next two centuries, such that all the subtleties of the language and the script were indicated. Most important from the Muslim perspective, it is held that an oral tradition preserved the full text from the time of revelation, the written form serving only as a mnemonic device for memorisation of the text. There are in a sense, two ways of dealing with the Qur’an within Muslim tradition: the oral, the tradition about which stems from Muhammad, and the written, the tradition stemming from the caliph ‘Uthman.

(Andrew Rippin, Muslims - Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (2nd Ed.), Routledge, 2001)(Toby Lester, “What is the Koran?”, The Atlantic Monthly, 283, I, January 1999)

Part 1

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