The Preservation of the Original Teachings of Islam
There can be nothing in common between the true and the false and there can be no two things in the world which can be as opposed to each other as these. In the ordinary materialness of everyday life, the evils of falsehood are obvious and acknowledged by all. Of course in matters of eternal salvation, of beliefs, and of the original teachings of a religion, the evil that falsehood effectuates transcends all other evils. An honest and reasonable man will not experience difficulty judging whether or not a certain teaching is just and acceptable. In matters of dogma, however, it often happens that one judges first the character of the teacher before knowing his precepts. Then, if the teacher is found trustworthy, one can more easily persuaded to acknowledge one’s own defects in understanding parts of the teacher’s teachings, rather than rejecting all his words outright. Particularly when the teacher has died, the authenticity of the teacher’s words and teachings becomes more essential in such cases. All the important religions of the world are based on certain sacred books, which are often attributed to Divine revelations. It would be pathetic if by some misfortune, one were to lose the original text of the revelation. The substitute would never be in entire conformity with what is lost. The Brahmans, Buddhists, Jews, Parsis and Christians might compare the method employed to preserve the basic teachings of their respective religions with that of the Muslims. Who wrote their books? Who transmitted them from generation to generation? Was the transmission from the original texts or merely their translations? Were not fratricidal wars caused damage to the copies of the texts? Are there no internal contradictions or gaps to which references are found elsewhere? These are some of the questions that every honest seeker of truth must pose and demand satisfactory replies.
Means of preservation
By the time the ‘great religions’ emerged, man had not only relied on his memory, but had also invented the art of writing to preserve his thoughts. Writing was more endurable than the individual memories of human beings who, after all, had a limited lifespan. But neither of these two means [memory and writing] is infallible when taken separately. It is a matter of daily practice that when one writes something and then revises it, that one finds more or less inadvertent mistakes, omission of letters or even of words, repetition of statements, use of words other than those intended, grammatical mistakes, etc., not to speak of changes of opinion of the writer, who also corrects his style, his thoughts, his arguments, and sometimes rewrites an entire document. The same is true of the faculty of memory. Those who have the obligation or habitude to learn by heart some text and to recite it later (especially when it involves long passages), know that sometimes their memory will fail during the recitation: they jump over passages; mix up one with the other; or do not remember the sequence; sometimes the correct text remains subconscious and is recalled later either at sometime or at the jogging of the memory at the urging of someone else or after consulting the text in a written document. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad of blessed memory, employed both methods simultaneously, each helping the other and strengthening the integrity of the text and diminishing to the minimum the possibilities of error.
The teachings of Islam are based primarily on what the Prophet Muhammad said or did. He himself dictated certain texts to his scribes, which we call the Qur’an, while others were compiled by his companions, mostly on their private initiative, and these we call the Hadith.
[From the book – ‘Introduction to Islam’ by ‘Dr Muhammad Hamidullah]
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