When God created man, He placed two things within him: firstly, the cognition that he has a Creator who is his Master, and secondly, the awareness of virtue and vice. There are other things as well which are innately found in him. When he is reminded of them, they appear with time in his concepts and actions. These two things have also been similarly placed in him.
These two things are the foundations of religion which were given by God to man when He created him. Then God selected certain personalities from among the Muslims, gave them His message and sent them to human beings for delivering this message to them. It is these personalities who are called prophets and messengers. They came and fully explained to human beings the beliefs and regulations of the religion which God had placed in them.
Prophethood began with Adam (sws), the first human being and ended on Muhammad (sws). The Almighty has disclosed to us that Muhammad (sws) was the last of this series. After him no prophet or messenger will come. Hence, religion can now only be obtained from him and true religion is that what he sanctions from his tongue, or through his practice or when he does not stop a person who does something that falls in the ambit of religion.
Thousands of people learnt this religion from Muhammad (sws) in his lifetime and also practiced it before him. Then millions learnt from these who learnt it from Muhammad (sws) and this chain has never been broken. His followers among every generation disseminated this religion and passed it on by studying and teaching it and communicating it to others through the oral and written word. It has now reached us and we can say with full certainty that it has reached us the way Muhammad (sws) had transferred it to those who became his companions in his life after accepting him as a prophet and messenger of God.
The reason for our certainty is that such a large number of people in every generation in so many diverse areas transmitted it through the oral and the written word and by practically following it that it cannot be imagined that together all of them can lie or make a mistake. In parlance, this is called ijma‘ (consensus) and tawatur (concurrence). All sensible people accept that what is transmitted in this manner from one generation to another acquires certitude.
This religion has reached us through two ways:
1. The Qur’an
2. The Sunnah
The Qur’an is the Book which the Muslims call the Qur’an. God revealed it to Muhammad’s heart through His angel, Gabriel. The words in which this Book has been revealed and the way this book has been revealed was read out repeatedly by Muhammad (sws) in the same way and in the same words before people. His followers memorized it by listening to it from him, and those of them who knew how to write, wrote it out and kept it with them. These people were in thousands. Some memorized one surah, some two, some many and some even the whole Qur’an and some had their own written copies of it. People of the next generation too followed suit. In fact, every generation of Muslims has been following suit. The written copy of the Qur’an is found today in every house and millions today can recite the whole of it from their memory. As a consequence, in spite of several attempts from people, neither has anyone been able to alter it before nor can this happen now. Hence, it is absolutely certain that the Qur’an we have in our hands today is the very one word for word that was transferred by Muhammad (sws) to his followers.
Similar is the case with the Sunnah of Muhammad (sws). The nation in which he was born was Abraham’s progeny. The Almighty directed him to follow the way of Abraham (sws). Some constituent practices of this way were found in their original shape amongst the descedents of Abraham (sws). However, some of them had been forgotten and errors had crept into others. Muhammad (sws) revived these practices and set right the errors in them, and at the behest of God also added some more practices. He then asked his followers to adhere to them. It is these practices which are called his Sunnah. Most of these practices pre-date the Qur’an. The Arabs already knew them. That is why when the Qur’an mentions them, it does so as if they are already known to people. No introduction or details of these practices is needed.
These practices have reached us in the very manner the Qur’an has reached us. Muslims from every generation received them from their previous generation, practically adhered to them and transferred them to the next generation. This has been going on since the time of Muhammad (sw). Hence these practices of the Sunnah also possess certitude. There is no difference between it and the Qur’an as far as their authenticity is concerned.
(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)