The Early Muslim Understanding of the Prophetic-Revelatory Event

The Early Muslim Understanding of the Prophetic-Revelatory Event

William A. Graham – Harvard University


“In the time of the Apostle of God, people were judged by revelation. Then revelation was cut off, and now we judge you by those works of yours that are apparent to us….”1 While Muhammad still lived and prophecy and revelation in Islam continued, an order of existence prevailed that was unattainable in subsequent times. Human affairs stood under the special “judgment” of the prophetic-revelatory event, which illumined not just appearances, but realities in human life. For most Muslims, the “cutting off” of revelation at the Prophet’s death marks not only the end of one historical order and the beginning of another, but also the transition from one order of being to another.2 Once past, “the time of the Apostle of God” became – most vividly for those who had participated in it and the early Muslims after them, but in a real sense for all Muslims – a wholly different mode of time: a time made holy by divine activity, “a time out of time”, what Mircea Eliade has called “sacred time”.3 All succeeding generations would look back upon the time of the Prophet as the paradigmatic age, the era hallowed by the divinely ordained mission of Muhammad and the divine revelation communicated through him. No other age could attain its perfection, no ensuing accomplishments equal its glories.

 The hallmarks of this age are divine revelation and prophetic4 activity. In religious terms, the laylat al-qadr, the “night of power” in which the Qur’an symbolically “came down”, is indeed “better than a thousand months” (S. 97:3) – or a thousand years. Similarly, the Prophet is “the best of men”, and every Muslim who experienced his loss could join the Companion, Hassan b. Thäbit, in his lament: “I was in a flowing stream [while Muhammad lived], and [now removed] from it, I have become one thirsty, alone.”5 Prophecy and revelation had dried up like an evanescent desert stream; historical time had replaced sacred time.

This elevation of the time of prophet and revelation out of the realm of “ordinary” time is the recognition of the “breaking” of historical time from outside of history, the irruption of the infinite into the finite. Thus it could be said that “revealing” (wahy) was “cut off”, for here wahy is not meant as a synonym for “book” or “scripture”; rather, it is to be understood as an activity coextensive with the life of the bearer of revelation, the Prophet. It is only comparatively late that the verbal noun wahy becomes a concrete noun that refers primarily to a text rather than a happening. In the early period, “as against the lifeless and abstract character of the written word in isolation, revelation is seen to be an activity of God directed towards human beings and expecting a response from them. Thus it is imbedded in the texture of life.”6 This divine activity was the prophetic-revelatory event in which Muhammad as God’s messenger mediated God’s word explicitly in divine “recitations”, or queans, and implicitly in his own words and actions to his people. Their response was isläm, “submission” to the will of God as revealed by prophet and revelation, the two conjunct elements of the divine activity in the Muslim view. They were and are distinct from each other, yet they were and are inseparably intertwined. It was no more possible for later generations of Muslims to understand and to live by the Qur’an without the Hadith (“tradition”, “report”, “story”; in general, the accounts of the words and deeds of the Prophet) than it was for Muhammad’s Companions to receive qur’ans without the person of the Prophet to bring them, to interpret them, and to use them in directing the new society of the Ummah, or Muslim community. Revelation and prophetic mission are together the essence of the transhistorical, sacred event that stands at the beginning of Islamic history.

 Psychologically and religiously, the Islamic era dates from the “cutting off” of revelation at the death of the Prophet. If the Hijrah from Mecca to Medina marks the birth of the Muslim community, it is Muhammad’s passing that signals its coming of age. Bereft of the guidance of its charismatic prophet-founder and the “revealing”, the ongoing revelation, which he brought, the Ummah was now on its own. This is the moment in the history of a nascent religious tradition when, as Max Weber puts it, the charisma of the founder (and, in Islam, of his revealed message) undergoes a “routinization” (Veralltaglichung) in which it is “rationalized” (rationalisiert) into new patterns of authority within the charismatic community.7 The transition is, in other words, from an active divine guidance that is still unfolding in the time of the prophet-founder to a “completed” or “closed” divine guidance mediated by structures and mechanisms developed by the community. In Weber’s words, after the death of the founder, “die charismatische Gemeinde fortbesteht (oder: nun erst entsteht).”8 In the case of Islam, the Ummah had now in a sense to reconstitute itself as a postprophetic, post-revelatory community and to begin to work out its own destiny in the light of its understanding of the prophetic-revelatory event that had brought it into being.

 In general terms, Islamic history is the history of Muslim interpretation and implementation of the divine will that it saw communicated in the prophetic-revelatory event. In concrete terms, it is the history of the development of the legal, social, political, and other religious institutions that enabled the Ummah to continue in at first rapidly changing circumstances as a community guided by a theocentric ideal. The early stages of this development are clearly seen in the process by which the initially unitary, undifferentiated (ilm (“knowledge”, especially knowledge of essential facts; ultimately knowledge of God’s will) of the early community gradually crystallized into the distinctive (ulum (plur. of ilm), or “sciences”, of later Islam.9 This process, in all the emerging spheres of intellectual life during the first century of Islam, was naturally built upon the two primary sources of (ilm available to the Community: the verbal revelations brought by Muhammad and his divinely-inspired words and example. The former were soon given formal shape in the official text of the Qur’an; the latter were much more slowly verbalized and then codified in the form of hadiths and later formally identified as sunnat an-nabi, “the way (sunnah) of the Prophet”.

 It is in this natural reliance upon the historical inheritances from the prophetic-revelatory event that the origin and meaning of Muslim traditionalism is to be sought. If a sacred event is an historical as well as a mythical reality,10 it serves all the more powerfully as the source of guidance and authority for the Leben im Heil that every religious community seeks. Traditionalism here means continuing contact in historical, “profane” time with transhistorical, sacred reality that transforms everyday, “profane” reality. Abandoned in a sense to history, Islam looked back – and continues to do so – to a time that is essentially beyond history. When “revealing” ended and prophecy ceased, the revelations and prophetic guidance already given became the only fixed standards upon which life could be patterned.

Yet the Ummah could be and indeed had to be the arbiter of the crystallization, preservation, and application of these standards. Thus the element in the developing traditionalism that offered a measure of adaptability and flexibility in applying the norms of prophetic and revelatory guidance to new situations was the agreement or consensus (ijma1) of the Community. Naturally enough, the living sunnah (“way”, “practice”) of the charismatic Ummah (and the Medinan community in particular), which was rooted in the sunnah of the Prophet, became the active, practical standard of authoritative faith and practice.

It would, however, be a mistake to see this living sunnah of the community of the Companions and early Followers as ever having been consciously set up as a standard different from what was understood to be the sunnah of the Prophet. What the post-prophetic community practiced was perceived as but the continuation of what the community in Muhammad’s time had practiced. The relatively recent scholarly theory that the stress on the sunnat an-nabi developed only after A.H. 150 in legal circles as an ex post facto confirmation of the living sunnah of the community,11 must be modified in light of the most recent investigations into the early history of the development of the Hadith.12 This theory rests not only upon a rather selective reading of the early legal sources, but also upon a misperception of the basis of Muslim traditionalism, which is the conviction of the sacred nature of the prophetic revelatory event. Whatever the number of late hadiths ascribed to the Prophet, or however late the formal development of sunnat an-nabi as a conscious legal principle, the community always and ever understood its authoritative source of ilm and guidance to lie in the Revelation and the practice of its bearer. The later fabrication of hadiths is not a sign of the late appearance of emphasis on the sunnat an-nabi.

 The explicit divine “recitations” and the divinely guided words and actions of the Prophet were from the beginning the only natural recourse for ultimate authority in making any judgment that could claim to be based upon true film. One senses that the traditional accounts of the special aura that surrounded the recitation of the revelations and the telling of stories about the Apostle of God mirror the pietism of the earliest days of Islam, whatever the actual date of origin of the reports themselves. There is a touching naivete to the story of how one of the Companions had a horse that tried to bolt away one night from his courtyard when this Companion began to recite the divine word. He went out to see what had happened to the animal, but found nothing that could have frightened it. When he told this to Muhammad the next morning, the latter explained the incident by saying: “That was the sakinah™ that descended with the recitation.”14 Compare this with the story of ‘Amr b. Maymün about the Companions’ reverence for the sayings of Muhammad:

 I kept frequent company with ‘Abdallah b. Mas’ud for a year, during which time I never heard him report an hadith from the Apostle of God nor say, “the Apostle of God said”, save for one day when he reported an hadith. [As] there came to his tongue, “the Apostle of God said”, fear came over him so that I saw the sweat stream from his brow. Thereupon he said, “May it please God, either somewhat more than that, or about that, or somewhat less than that [was what Muhammad said].”15

 Such accounts underscore the special qualities ascribed to both the divine word and the word of the Prophet in early Islam. They point up the fact that, as religious phenomena, both are sacred word, “the word of life”, the word of power, the saving word.16 As such, they possessed from the beginning, from the time of the Prophet, a divine authority. Long before ash-ShäfiTs (d. 204/820) codification of Muslim thinking about the relationship of Qur’an, sunnat an-nabi, communal consensus (ijma1), and individual reasoning (qiyäs) into a formal theory of usül, or “sources” (literally: “roots”), of authority,17 the former two of these “sources” had established themselves as the primary loci of definitive guidance in Muslim life.18 What is less clear, however, is that the formal and especially the theological distinctions between the Qur’an and the Hadith (which is considered to be the guide to the sunnat an-nabi) began by being perceived and understood in the way that later Muslim theory defined them.



The Islamic distinction between the word of God preserved in the Qur’an and the word (and example) of Muhammad preserved in the Hadith has an important theological basis. The distinction represents an attempt to preserve the absoluteness and uniqueness, the “partnerlessness”, of God by careful separation of His word from the limited, human words of His apostles and prophets. The Qur’an as divine word is immutable and absolute; in due course, Muslim theology even insisted that it was uncreated, existing eternally as the divine attribute of speech (kaläm Allah). The Hadith as vehicle of the prophetic sunnah is mutable and historically contingent; thus the Islamic “science of Tradition” ((ilm al-hadtth) maintained that an hadith from Muhammad is divinely inspired in its meaning, but not verbally revealed (and hence not “fixed” as to wording) like the Qur’an. Such dogmatic distinctions belie, however, both the later effective importance of Qur’an and Hadith in Muslim piety and also, as will be seen, the early understanding of the division between the two insofar as it can be accurately reconstructed.

 Whatever the sophisticated theological distinctions between the divine kaläm and the prophetic Hadith, psychologically the person of the Prophet and the importance of the pattern of his life (sirah) have always occupied a central place in Muslim faith19 – a place derived from the implicit recognition that the divine hand was at work in the person and sending of Muhammad, to the extent that his historical and eschatological role in God’s Heilsgeschichte also takes on aspects of eternity. The theologians themselves recognized the very special human status of Muhammad and previous prophets in their doctrine of cismah, or “protection” of the prophets from error. Similarly, the legists’ reliance upon the sunnat an-nabi as reconstructed from the Hadith reached a point where “the sunnah is judge over the Qur’an, and not the Qur’an over the sunnah”.,20 As a further example, one need only mention the spiritual role assigned the Prophet in mystical and popular piety, where he takes on the aspect of the perfect man, the soul’s guide, the intercessor on the Last Day, and even the divine Light. The great Swedish Islamicist, Tor Andrae, has devoted an entire book to a sweeping analysis of the varied ways in which Islam gradually elevated its Prophet into an almost superhuman figure whose example stands beside the Qur’an as an authoritative guide to God’s will.21

 The present study is an attempt to discern some of the ideas and attitudes of the earliest period of Islam about revelation and prophet.22 What were the early – one might say, the “pre-theological” – Muslim concepts of divine  word and prophetic word and the relation between them? There is evidence that in the formative decades of Islam, for those for whom the Qur’an and Hadith were still primarily oral rather than written facts,23 the distinctions between revelation and prophetic inspiration were, even though present in some degree, less absolute, and certainly less important than the overwhelming awareness of one’s being close to what has here been termed “the prophetic-revelatory event”. In the early sources, there are glimpses of a more unitary understanding of its own origins by the early Ummah, and a broader interpretation of revelation than was later the case. It appears that for the Companions and the early Followers of the Prophet, the divine activity manifested in the mission of Muhammad was a unitary reality in which the divine word, the prophetic guidance, and even the example and witness of all who participated in the sacred history of the Prophet’s time, were all perceived as complementary, integral aspects of a single phenomenon.

 It is, on the one hand, indisputable that from the time of Muhammad himself there existed a clear sense of theological dangers in any quasidivinization of the Prophet or confusion of his judgments with those of God. The Qur’an calls upon Muhammad to say: “I am only a man like you, one to whom it has been revealed that your God is one God ,…”24 There are several similar statements in the Hadith by the Prophet himself that show him at pains to stress his own fallibility and relative insignificance vis-a-vis the perfection and majesty of the Qur’an. Most of these involve stories in which Muhammad stresses that he has been given no special, superhuman knowledge, usually by echoing the Qur’änic word, “I am only a man”.25 One of the early revelations shows clearly that it was God’s grace, not Muhammad’s inherent merit, that led to success: “Did He not find you erring and guide you?” (93:7) Both the message of the Qur’an and the preaching of the Prophet carry an unmistakable emphasis upon the unimportance of the messenger relative to the divine message itself.26

 This emphasis was clearly aimed at the preservation of the ultimacy of God from any idolatrous “association” of His earthly representative with Him. That the early Ummah had some sense of this is most vividly illustrated in the story of the events immediately after the Prophet’s death. The faithful but precipitate ‘Umar tried at once to reassure the people (and himself) by claiming that Muhammad was not really dead, but only “gone away like Moses”.27 Abu Bakr, however, interrupted his speech and addressed the Muslims: “As for those of you who used to serve and worship28 Muhammad, verily Muhammad is dead! And as for those of you who used to serve and worship God, verily God is alive and never dies!”29 Then he proved his point by quoting a Qur’anic ayah: “Muhammad is but a messenger; messengers before him have passed away. If he should die or be killed, will you then take to your heels …?” (3:144) At this, the people recognized the truth of his words, and, the reports say, it was as if they had not known that God had revealed these words before they heard them from Abu Bakr.30 In their response to them, the Muslims showed that they were prepared to face the future without their beloved Prophet, firm in their faith in the God that his mission had served.

 On the other hand, whatever the faithfulness of the early Community to the ideal of a “pure” monotheism unsullied by misguided elevation of Muhammad to a divine or semi-divine plane, it must have been extremely difficult for those close to the Prophet to keep the authority of the divine judgments communicated as qur’ans distinct from the authority of his own judgments as God’s Apostle. The Qur’an itself- not to mention the Hadith literature – uses the formula “God and His Apostle” as though their authority for men were indivisible. Muhammad was sent, after all, “as a mercy to all beings” (rahmatan li-l-‘älamin: S. 21:107). The faithful are admonished: “your comrade [i.e., Muhammad] is not astray, nor does he err. Neither does he speak from caprice” (53:2-3); or: “Obey God and His Apostle” (8:20); or: “Verily, in the Apostle of God you have a good example” (3:21). If the Muslims accepted his “mission” (risälah), how could they help but ascribe to him the magical and spiritual qualities, the barakah, of the saint or holy man? Even in the face of the Arab tradition of the leader as primus inter pares, the chosen bearer of revelation was still a man set apart by his intimacy with the divine word. As God’s prophetic voice, Muhammad’s own personal, human words and deeds necessarily carried no small measure of divine authority for those around him.31

 The apparently contradictory evidence as to the relative importance of the Prophet’s word and example vis-ä-vis the divine word in the time of Muhammad and the early days of Islam must be squarely confronted. Andrae has tried to explain the apparently contradictory Qur’anic materials by using the Qur’an to investigate the prophetic self-consciousness of Muhammad himself.33 He postulates a gradual change in Muhammad’s own consciousness of his role as his historical mission progresses. Thus he theorizes about an initial unity of prophetic consciousness and divine revelation (seen especially in the early Meccan Surahs), which gradually dissolves (in the Medinan revelations) as the idea of a concrete “Book” grows more prominent, and as Muhammad’s evaluation of his own role recedes before the massive fact of God’s holy scripture. According to this interpretation, Muhammad’s awareness of “his personal importance as God’s Apostle” was, at the outset of his mission, “equally as free and ‘regal’ [königlich]” as that of the greatest Hebrew prophets,33 but changed later on as his relation to the revelations became more and more stylized and objectivized and his “theory” of the recurring revelation of scriptures taken from God’s divine Book (the I/mm al-kitab) developed.34

 Whatever accuracy there may be in Andrae’s interesting hypothesis about the personal psychology of Muhammad, the apparently conflicting ideas about the relative authority of the prophetic life (sirah) as model and the divine kaläm as commandment were all preserved and known in the early Ummah. The simplest explanation appears in this case to be the best: that all these ideas were accepted and integrated into the Community’s understanding of its origins. In the minds of Muhammad’s Companions and early Followers, and very likely in the Prophet’s own mind, the emphasis upon his humanity and the consequent limitations of his words and deeds did not contradict the sense of his unique rank as the final Prophet and Apostle of God and of the consequent divine authority of his words. For the life of faith, both perceptions were true. Just as the time of the Prophet and Revelation was at once an historical reality and a mythical paradigm, a moment in history and beyond history, so the humanity and fallibility of the Prophet coexisted with the trans-human significance of his mission and function in the eyes of the Community. Empirically, Muhammad was certainly “only a man”; yet, at the same time, he was God’s intimate, His Prophet, and the leader and lawgiver of the new community.35 Theologically, the Prophet’s words were on a plane inferior to that of the divine revelations; psychologically and religiously, Muhammad’s role as the instrument of the divine word imbued his own words and actions with the force of divine authority.

 Such a complexity in the early understanding of divine word and prophetic word can be seen specifically when one attempts to reconstruct the early Muslim attitudes toward Qur’an and Hadith. There are, on the one hand, numerous indications that the first one or two generations of Muslims had a much less fixed notion of the boundaries of the Quranic corpus itself than did those who came later. At least until the ‘Uthmanic redactors some two decades after Muhammad’s death brought the separate qur’ans that had been revealed to the Prophet “between two covers” (bayn ad-dqffatayn), and perhaps for some time thereafter, the intimate involvement of the Prophet with the revelatory process that produced the qur’ans appears to have been a natural and unproblematic assumption for the Community. The contemporaries of the Prophet and even their immediate successors were close enough to the active, ever-unfolding, often ad hoc Qur’anic revelations to have recognized that the qur’ans were in a sense prophetic word as well as divine word. Nor did that recognition lessen the force of the qur’ans for them as revelation.

On the other hand, the boundaries of the -Qur’änic, prophetic words of Muhammad were apparently far less clearly defined than those of the qur’ans. The formal notion of the Hadith as the corpus of prophetic word and deed, and even the standardized form for an individual hadith report, developed only gradually in the course of about the first one-hundred or one-hundred-and-fifty years of Islam.36 In the evolved, technical sense of the word, hadith refers to any report or narrative (and collectively to all such reports), the “text” of which is ascribed either to the Prophet himself or to one of the Companions, and which is attested to by a chain (or chains) of supporting authorities or transmitters (the isnäd). The isnäd (“support”) begins with the last person reporting the tradition and extends backwards from transmitter to transmitter, ending properly only with Muhammad himself, or sometimes a Companion. This description, however, is a normative pattern rather than an exact representation of the contents of every report that may be given the name hadith, even within the “standard”, or “classical”, collections of Hadith.

When one examines the Hadith literature, it becomes rapidly apparent that even within the framework of the Prophetic Tradition, or hadith nabawt, which reports specifically the words or actions of Muhammad, a wide variety of other “authorities” may be quoted by the Prophet himself. These may take the form of words of previous prophets, earlier scriptures or “Books”, or angels or devils as well. Muhammad is even on occasion quoted as having transmitted direct, non-Qur’änic words of God Himself that he had received or recognized as authentic revelations. Thus it can be argued that the boundaries of divine word and prophetic word were apparently much more loosely defined in the thinking of the first century or so of Islam than was possible, at least among the religious scholars, in later times.

 For an understanding of the early Muslim attitudes toward revelation and the prophetic-revelatory event, the unity of divine word and prophetic word is ultimately more significant than are the undeniable distinctions between the two. If too mechanical a line is drawn between verbatim Qur’anic revelation communicated through Muhammad and implicit, non-Qur’anic revelation and inspiration granted him as a function of his prophethood, the early Community’s essentially unitive understanding of God’s activity in the sending of His Apostle is distorted. The “pre-theological” Muslim understanding of revelation was focussed not solely upon a scriptural revelation, but upon a revelatory event in which a scriptural revelation was the principal, but not the only aspect of God’s revelatory activity. In the next chapter, specific evidence from traditional sources for the existence of such an “open” understanding of revelation in the early period will be examined.



  1. Ascribed to ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, second Caliph, or “Successor”, of the Prophet: inna unäsan kanuyifkhadhüna bi-l-wahyfilahdrasul Allah wa-inna-lwahy qad inqata(a wa-innamä na’khudhukum al-än bi-mä zahara la-nä min cfmalikum (Bukhäri 52:5).


  1. This interpretation of the perceived discontinuity between the time of the Prophet and the Revelation and that of subsequent history must be qualified somewhat for Shi’i Muslims. They would understand God’s active revelation as having continued, albeit in different form, after Muhammad in ‘Ali and the succeeding divinely guided Imams.


  1. The Sacred and the Profane, ch. 2. Eliade uses the term primarily with reference to “a primordial mythical time made present”, which is “indefinitely recoverable, indefinitely repeatable” through its reactualization in religious ritual (pp. 68-69; cf. pp. 81, 104-107). Eliade does, however, note that the Judeo- Christian – especially the Christian – case is unique in that in it an historical (rather than a mythical, “original”) time is sanctified, and the cyclical, cosmic concept of time “is left behind” (pp. 72, 110-113). He does not, however, mention the Islamic case, in which there is also an historical event that is sanctified by the personal intervention of God. The sending of Muhammad, like the life of Christ or the Sinai event, is a sacred time in some ways discontinuous with the rest of historical time; and it, like them, is an “original” time insofar as it is a new beginning. The Islamic case also points to two facets of the notion of sacred time to which Eliade’s approach does not sufficiently do justice: the fact that historical sacred time is also mythical, in that myth deals with eternal truths; and the fact that an historical sacred time sanctifies to a certain degree subsequent historical time for the community that has its origins in that sacred time. In this sense, there is no “profane” time after the sacred historical event has occurred, for the sacred event gives meaning to all subsequent events: “The striking revelations of divine activity affect our conception of the world we see. Everything is then seen and understood in the light of those revelations” (W.B. Kristensen, The Meaning of Religion, p. 379).


  1. The term prophetic (also prophet, prophecy, etc.) is used throughout this study in its strictly Islamic sense: of or pertaining to Muhammad and/or the other persons referred to in the QuPän as prophets. The term prophet (nabi) in this usage is roughly the equivalent of apostle or messenger (rasul, mursal), even though technically there may be some functional differences between them in Qur’anic and later Islamic usage. For a fuller treatment of the subject, see: A. J.Wensinck, “Muhammad und die Propheten”; W. A. Bijlefeld, “A Prophet and More than a Prophet?”; J. Jomier, “La notion de prophete dans 1’Islam”.


  1. Ibn Ishaq, 1026 / Guillaume, Life, 690 [N.b.: All references to Ibn Ishäq are followed by references to the English translation by Guillaume. The responsibility for all translations in this study is, however, my own]. 6. Watt, Islamic Revelation in the Modern World, p. 6.


  1. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, pp. 178-188, esp. p. 182; cf. pp. 317-367, passim.


  1. Ibid., p. 182.


  1. “The film of the earliest period was integral but composite. It drew on the Qur*an, hadith and sunnah, and law and custom without any clear differentiation between lilm al-Qur’an and <ilm al-hadith and lilm al-fiqh, each of which was later to develop into various branches” (Abbott, Papyri, II, 14).


  1. Cf. n. 3, above (near the end). With the passing of time, every event of religious significance gradually takes on a mythical aspect. This does not mean that the “mythologization” of an historical event represents a distortion of reality. On the contrary, “myth-making” or “mythologizing” is the process by which an historical reality is recognized as having ultimate, transhistorical meaning (see also above, Introduction, n. 4). The myth founded upon an historical reality is recognized as having ultimate, transhistorical meaning. The myth founded upon an historical reality can be threatened by its tie with history (when historicism prevails), whereas a so-called “cosmic” myth without palpable historical nexus (and therefore inaccessible to the methods of historicism) cannot; but the “historical” myth carries for the man of faith the double force of history and myth, of temporal and eternal reality.


  1. Joseph Schacht, Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, pp. 1-5, 40-80, 133- 137, 176-179.


  1. Primarily those of Abbott and Sezgin; secondarily those of Azmi and Hamidullah (see above, Introduction, n. 2). For specific discussion of the reliability of the ijadith and the early emphasis on the Prophet’s words and deeds, see Abbott, Papyri, II, 6-7, 11, 22-23, 78-79; Fück, “Rolle des Traditionalismus”, p. 19; G. von Grünebaum, “Von Muhammads Wirkung und Originalität”, 29-30; and Goldziher, M. Studien, II, 4-5.


  1. Sakinah is a Qur’änic term (S. 2:249; 9:26, 40; 48:4,18, 26). The basic Arabic sense of the word is “tranquillity”, but the Qur’an uses it primarily in an expanded sense as “some kind of aid sent down to believers from Heaven” (Jeffery, Foreign Vocabulary, p. 174). It would appear that some of the richness of the Hebrew shekinah has attached itself (probably through the medium of the Syriac: ibid., op. cit.) to the basic Arabic word, so that it conveys the sense of the active presence or manifestation of the presence of God (cf. George A. F. Knight, “The Shekhinah in Jewish and Christian Thinking”, p. 1). On the subject, see also: Goldziher, Abhandlungen, I, 177-204; Paret, Kommentar, p. 52 (to S. 2:248), and references there; M. Grünbaum, “Beiträge zur vergleichenden Mythologie aus der Hagada”, p. 109.


  1. Tilka as-sakinah tanazzalat bi-l-qur^än (Bukhäri, Tafsir S. 48, no. 2). I understand quryän in this context to mean not “the Book” as a whole, but the specific “recitation” (i.e., the act of reciting the particular ayah or Surah) that the man was engaged in on the occasion in question.


  1. Ibn Sa’d, III, i, 110. This and similar accounts are noted by Ignaz Goldziher, “Kämpfe um die Stellung des Hadil im Islam”, p. 860.


  1. Cf. van derLeeuw, Religion in Essence and Manifestation, II, 403-407, 418-421; cf. II, 435-446.


  1. Through his Risälah. Note that the usül are actually media rather than sources of authority, since ultimately God alone is the Source of authority. It is only within the temporal sphere that the usül serve the Community as the immediate “sources” for man’s knowledge of God’s authority, i.e., for man’s “understanding” (fiqH) of the divine “ordinances” (shara’i1). Beyond the contingent, temporal sphere, only God is the true “Source” of authority for the Muslim. See W.C. Smith, “Law and Ijtihad in Islam”, pp. 111-112.


  1. The Qur’än and sunnah are in fact called “the two sources” (al-aslan) by Shafi’i himself. In his theory of the usül, all other usul are secondary to these two, even ijma1 and qiyäs, which are seen as authoritative only where a decision cannot be reached through the asl&n (Schacht, Origins, p. 135).


  1. Cf. the discussion of sunnat an-nabi in Section A of the present chapter. Note that while the literary genre of the sirah, or “life” of the Prophet, was not used as a source for the prophetic sunnah in legal matters, the life of Muhammad depicted in the kind of accounts found in Ibn Ishäq/Ibn Hishäm, Ibn Sacd, or the Hadith has served all subsequent generations of Muslims as a pattern for their own lives. On this aspect of Muslim “traditionalism”, see the important study of J. Fück: “Die Rolle des Traditionalismus im Islam”.


  1. As-sunnah qädiyah lala al-qur^än wa-laysa al-qur^än bi-qädin fala as-sunnah (Därimi, Muqaddimah, 49).


  1. Die Person Muhammeds in Lehre und Glauben seiner Gemeinde (1918).


  1. By “earliest period” here is meant roughly the first century or century and a half after the time of the Prophet. It is recognized that one cannot place absolute reliance upon the hadith materials as documents of this “earliest period”, but, as noted in the Introduction above, these materials do contain much that dates at least from the middle of the second century. Thus they can provide valuable insights into the early community and its thinking even where they do not represent the actual words of Muhammad.


  1. This is not to deny that much of the Qur’än and many hadiths were from the beginning written down as well as memorized (cf. Abbott, Papyri, II; GAS, pp. 53-84; also Widengren, Hebrew Prophets, chs. , ). However, as the present chapter and especially Chapter 2 attempt to show, neither was thought of at the outset (in the case of the Qur’an, up to the time of the ‘Uthmanic Qur’än redaction; in that of the Hadith, up to at least the end of the first century) as a fixed book or books in the same way in which they were later understood.


  1. Qul innamä ana basharun mithlukum yuha ilayya innamä ilähukum ilähun wähidun (41:6; also at 18:110; cf. 17:93). For a full discussion of the humanity of Muhammad and earlier prophets in the view of the Qur’än, see Pautz, Muhammeds Lehre von der Offenbarung, pp. 234-235; cf. Nöldeke-Schwally, , 82-83.


  1. Innamä ana basharun (Bukhäri 8:31:3; 90:10; 93:20:1; 93:29:1; 93:31; Muslim 45:88-95; Muwatta1 36:1; further references at Concordance, I, 183a, “bashar”). Robson, “The Material of Tradition”, p. 179, gives other salient examples and references. Cf. also Muhammad’s statement that he has to “ask God for forgiveness more than seventy times a day” (Musnad, II, 282).


  1. For the Muslim, “to say ‘and Muhammad is the apostle of God1 is to commit oneself to a belief, not about the person of Muhammad, but about the validity of what he brought. The personality of Muhammad is essentially [italics mine] irrelevant. To declare that he is a prophet is to accept the Qur’an as binding (and therefore the community that lives according to it as embodying on earth what is of divine prescription)” (Smith, Islam in Modern History, p. 19. n. 18).


  1. The reference to Moses is found only in the account given by Ibn Ishäq, pp. 1012-1013 / Guillaume, Life, 682-683. The idea is apparently that Muhammad would return to his people shortly – but in the flesh and not as a Messiah (cf. Andrae, Person Muhammeds, pp. 22-23).


  1. The verb here is ya’budu, from {-B-D, “to worship”, “to serve”. As such it is used in the religious sense only with God as its object. In the present context, where the point is that only God is deserving of libadah, not Muhammad or any other man, the sense of the word is best preserved by translating it with both “worship” and “serve”, since these are the dual aspects of the proper relationship of man to God. In the Muslim view, man belongs to God: lAbd, literally ‘slave’, is best rendered theologically by our ‘creature'” (D. B. Macdonald, ‘”Isä”, SEI, p. 173a). Cf. the censorious Muslim reference to the fact that the Christians “serve and worship” (taibudu) Jesus (Musnad, I, 318).


  1. Amma ba^dufa-man käna minkum ya’budu Muhammadan fa-inna Muhammadan qad mata wa-man kana yalbudu Alläha fa-inna Alläha hayyun lä yamütu (Bukhäri 23:3:1).


  1. Basically the same story is told in several places in addition to those in Ibn Ishäq and Bukhäri cited in nn. 27 and 29 above: Bukhari 62:5:12; 64:83:19; Ibn Majah 6:65:1; Musnad, VI, 220; Ibn Sa’d, II, ii, 53-57 (various reports).


  1. The tendency to idolize Muhammad’s person may of course be quite different from regarding his words and acts as divinely inspired. The fact remains, however, that the divine authority of his role as God’s Apostle was a major factor in the tendency to divinize his person. It is Muhammad the bearer of revelation and messenger of God to his people who becomes the paradigm for Muslim life.


  1. Person Muhammeds, pp. 7-24.


  1. Ibid., p. 10.


  1. Ibid., pp. 12-14. Andrae goes on, however, to demonstrate that despite the growing sense of the importance of the Revelation in Muhammad’s consciousness, he still claimed for himself substantial privileges as the chosen bearer of revelation to his community (pp. 14-24). Still, as Andrae points out, one cannot in any way charge his Companions with idolatrous veneration of his person (pp. 24-25).


  1. Cf. Widengren’s statement with respect to the pre-Islamic notion of the identification of the namus [νόμος], or “law”, with the rasul: “It would on the whole seem to have been a common idea that the religious Law, as an expression of true revelation, is attached to the person of the Apostle – in a way incarnate in him. The Apostle is not only the guarantee of the truth of the religious scripture that he brings; he is somehow also in his person the outward, living expression of that religious Law. His own person is equally important as [sic] the revealed book that he brings” (Muhammad the Apostle, p. 101).


  1. This holds true without reference to the question of the “authenticity” of the Hadith as actual words of the Prophet (see Introduction). The formal criteria of the isnad, for example, could not have developed until several generations of Muslims had transmitted reports from the Prophet and the need arose for a standard form as a guarantee against the forgeries that were clearly developing apace from at least the time of the first civil war during ‘Ali’s Caliphate (35/656-40/661). Cf. Robson, “Isnad in Muslim Tradition”, and Horovitz, “Alter und Ursprung des Isn d”.