There are a number of Arabic terms which you may come across when studying this topic. Here is a brief overview of some of these terms:
- Sunnah – literally a way or something which is followed. The term however is used generally to refer to all of the sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions of the Messenger Muhammad. The term ‘sunnah’ can also refer to something which is recommended, this latter use is a more restricted term to show that an action is not compulsory but to perform it is rewarding.
- Hadith – literally speech. This term refers to everything which is attributed to the Messenger Muhammad. As with the term ‘sunnah’ it includes sayings, actions, tacit approvals and descriptions. A hadith consists of two parts, the sanad which is the chain of narrators and the matan which is the text.
- Sanad/Isnad – This refers to the chain of narrators between the Messenger Muhammad and the scholar who would eventually record the hadith in a book. A sanad can typically include three narrators or more. Each narrator is usually from a different generation. The chain of narrators helps hadith specialists to ascertain whether or not a hadith has been correctly preserved or whether there is a defect in it.
- Matan – This is the second part of a hadith and is the part which contains the text which would be the saying, action, tacit approval or description of the Messenger Muhammad.
- Sahih – This means authentic, i.e. that all the narrators are reliable people and they correctly recorded and relayed the hadith.
- Da’if – which means weak. This is when there is a defect in the hadith either in transmission or the text. This is mostly due to one or more of the narrators being unreliable.
There are four parts to God’s providence and decree:
- God’s infallible and complete knowledge – God has knowledge of everything which takes place. His knowledge includes all that has happened and will happen. God says, “Not even the weight of a speck of dust in the heavens or earth escapes His knowledge, nor anything smaller or greater.” [34:3] God’s knowledge is perfect. He does not forget or make mistakes. His knowledge is also all-encompassing. Nothing is beyond His knowledge. There is nothing that God does not know about.
- God has recorded everything – God has recorded everything that will occur until the Day of Judgement. It is recorded in the Preserved Tablet (in Arabic: Al-Lawh al-Mahfuz). The Messenger Muhammad informed us that God first created the pen and asked it to record all that would take place.
- Whatever God wills happens – God says, “When He will something to be, His way is to say, ‘Be’ – and it is.” [36:82] Therefore, only what God wills to happen and take place. If things happened without God’s will or permission, it would be a weakness in God and He is far removed from all weaknesses.
- God is the Creator of everything – God says, “Praise belongs to God who created the heavens and the earth and made darkness and light.” [6:1] This includes all creations, their actions and their characteristics. In short, God is the creator of a
If God has decreed and pre-ordained everything, what role and freedom do we have as humans? Is it worth doing anything if it is all decreed to happen anyway?
In Islam, we believe that God’s providence and decree does not interfere with our ability as humans to make choices. God Himself gave us that ability and so our free will is part of God’s will. God does not force us to do anything or compel us to follow a certain way. If God had done so, there would be no disbelievers. However, the opposite is true as God says in the Quran, “There is no compulsion in religion.” [2:256]
Thus, we are all free to make our own choices and we do so on a daily basis. However, we cannot know what God has decreed for us. For us to assume that God has decreed us to be evil or a non-believer goes against common sense. We work to the best of our ability hoping in God’s reward and grace. We wouldn’t sit at home and expect money to come to us, or food to appear on our table without putting in some work and effort. Therefore, the believer in God trusts in His decree but also works to ensure they have a good life in accordance to God’s commands.
The Messenger Muhammad told us that we should work towards what is beneficial and seek God’s help. If something bad happens, we don’t say, ‘If only I’d done such and such’, because ‘if’ only opens the door to evil. Instead, we trust in God’s decree and say, ‘It is the decree of God and He decrees what He wills.’
The Gospel (Arabic: Injil) was the divine scripture revealed to the Prophet Jesus. In this post we will look briefly at this Scripture:
- The word Injil means glad tidings.
- When mentioned in an Islamic context, the gospel refers to the scripture given directly to the Prophet Jesus.
- The gospel is considered an extension of the Torah with some amendments and abrogations in laws. God says in the Quran about Jesus, “I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden.” [3:50]
- As the Gospel follows on from the Torah, much of what God ascribes in the Quran to the Torah also corresponds to the Gospel. This includes mention of the Messenger Muhammad and the description of his disciples.
- God mentions in the Quran that the Prophet Jesus spoke of the coming of the Messenger Muhammad, “Jesus, son of Mary, said, ‘Children of Israel, I am sent to you by God, confirming the Torah that came before me and bringing good news of a messenger to follow me whose name will be Ahmad.’” [61:6] Ahmad was one of the names of the Messenger Muhammad.
- Both the Torah and the Gospel no longer exist in their original form. Over time, the originals have been lost and the present versions have been changed from the original texts. The Quran also supersedes all scriptures that came before it. Therefore, what the Quran confirms from the present versions of the Torah and Gospel, we accept and what it contradicts we reject. The Quran has been preserved and safeguarded against such corruptions.
The Torah was the divine scripture revealed to the Prophet Moses. In this post we will look briefly at this Scripture:
- The word Torah is Hebrew for guidance or teaching.
- The Torah is mentioned 18 times in the Quran. God also describes the Torah as something which distinguished between right and wrong.
- The Torah was revealed to the Prophet Moses after he and the Israelites left Egypt. Moses went to speak to God and left his people for forty nights. It is at this point that he was given the Torah.
- God describes the Torah in the Quran, “We revealed the Torah with guidance and light, and the prophets who has submitted to God, judged according to it for the Jews…” [5:44]
- The Torah contained the command to worship God alone as well as laws. It also made mention of the Messenger Muhammad and spoke of his coming. God says in the Quran, “…who follow the Messenger – the unlettered Prophet they find described in the Torah that is with them, and in the Gospel – who commands them to do right and forbids them to do wrong, who makes good things lawful to them and bad things unlawful…” [7:157]
- The Torah also described the disciples of the Messenger Muhammad. God says in the Quran, “You see them kneeling and prostrating, seeking God’s bounty and His good pleasure: on their faces they bear the marks of their prostrations. This is how they are pictured in the Torah and the Gospel…” [48:29]
- The Torah mentioned that those who seek to purify themselves will be rewarded by God. God says in the Quran, “Prosperous are those who purify themselves, remember the name of their Lord, and pray. Yet you prefer the life of this world, even though the Hereafter is better and more lasting. All this is in the earlier scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.” [87: 14-19]
Before being appointed a Messenger of God, the Messenger Muhammad would spend time in the Cave of Hira in one of the mountains of Mecca. He would go there to think about God feeling repulsed by the pagan rituals and practices of his people. It was at this time that God sent to him the angel Gabriel with the first words of the Quran, “Read! In the name of your Lord who created.” [96:1]
From that moment on, the angel Gabriel would come periodically to the Messenger Muhammad bringing revelation, comforting him, bringing him assistance and teaching him what he needed to know. The Messenger Muhammad informed us that Gabriel would come every Ramadan and revise the Quran with him, and he did this twice in the final Ramadan the Messenger Muhammad witnessed.
Gabriel would teach him things like the timings of the five prescribed ritual devotions. Gabriel accompanied the Messenger Muhammad on the Night Journey to Jerusalem and the heavens and was present during the first battle in Islam, Badr with an army of angels. Gabriel would sometimes come and bring him glad tidings for some of his followers. He brought God’s blessings for the Messenger Muhammad’s first wife Khadijah.
On one occasion the Messenger Muhammad was crying. Gabriel came on the instruction of God and asked him what made him cry. The Messenger Muhammad replied that he was afraid for his followers. God commanded Gabriel to go to the Messenger Muhammad and inform him that he would be pleased with regards to his followers.
Thus, Gabriel has a special place in our religion as God says, “Say, ‘If anyone is an enemy of Gabriel – who by God’s leave brought down the Quran to your heart confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful. If anyone is an enemy of God, His angels and His messengers, of Gabriel and Michael, then God is certainly the enemy of such disbelievers.” [2:97-98]
All angels praise and worship God as God mentions, “If the disbelievers are too arrogant, those who are with your Lord glorify Him tirelessly night and day.” [41:38] Some angels also have specific tasks.
1. Recording deeds – two angels record all our deeds, good and bad. The Messenger Muhammad informed us that if we intend to do a good deed but then don’t, it is written as a good deed. If we perform the deed it is recorded as ten good deeds up to seven hundred or more. Likewise, if we intend to do an evil deed but do not it is written as a good deed, but if we act upon it, it is recorded as a bad deed.
2. Protect the believers – God says, “Each person has guardian angels before him and behind, watching over him by God’s command.” [13:11] In the Battle of Badr, the first battle the Messenger Muhammad fought, God sent angels to help the Muslims.
3. Specific Responsibilities – Some of the angels are responsible for the mountains or the wind or the rain. Others are guardians of the heavens, Paradise or Hellfire. Yet others carry God’s throne.
4. Daily interaction – Angels are present from the time of birth until death. There are angels responsible for writing down our life span, provision and actions whilst the foetus is still in its mother’s womb. There are angels that bring blessings such as for the people who gather and study the Quran. Other angels are responsible for taking our souls at the time of death.
5. Encourage good deeds – the Messenger Muhammad told us that just as we there are devils who accompany us and encourage us to do evil, there are also angels who accompany us and encourage us to do good.