The concept of revelation in Islam, from the book of traditions of al-Bukhârî

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The present article deals with the notion of revelation in Islam through the study of one of the sources of Islamic dogma: the Sunna or “tradition”, a corpus constituted of hadîths (accounts about the Prophet Muhammad or his companions). It investigates what information is provided about the Qur’ân in one of the most canonical collections of hadiths: the Ṣaḥîḥ (“authentic”) gathered by Abû ‘Abdullâh al-Bukhârî (d. 256 h./870 CE). The first part shows that a substantial portion of the text was used to support and reinforce the status of the qur’ânic text, and the authority which proceeds from it. The second part analyzes the other important component of the speech about the Qur’ân: the speech about the qur’ânic reading-reciting-psalmody and about the bodily movements, postures, and conditions that accompany it. This research has shown the conceptualization of the relationship of the believer towards the Qur’ân as is put forth by the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî: the concept of an external relationship though the performance of qur’ânic recitation.

Key Words

Islam, hadith, Sunna, Qur’an (Koran/Quran), Islamic dogma, tradition, Bukhârî, authority, recitation, rituals, beliefs, religious practice, interreligious dialogue.

The dialogue between religions constitutes a vital issue today, and this includes the dialogue that deals with the dogmas enunciated by these religions. The creation of the Foundation for Interreligious and Intercultural Research and Dialogue, initiated by eminent representatives of the three main monotheist religions, is a prominent sign of this. The support granted by this Foundation to the development of mutual knowledge among religions is fundamental, because it places this knowledge within the framework of scholarly knowledge, that is, within the framework of scientific and critical knowledge which aims at being independent and neutral. It refuses to serve religious edification or, on the contrary, the “destruction” of religions. It seeks to support an objective knowledge of religious dogmas and facts. Thus, such knowledge is designed to improve the mutual understanding of religions as well as the conceptualization and comprehension of religions by the states, governments, administrations, companies, institutions, groups, or persons of whatever religious affiliation.

The present article comes out a long research conducted within the framework of the fellowship provided by this Foundation. It thus lies within a framework that seeks to establish objective knowledge about religions. It deals with the notion of “revelation”. Indeed, the notions of “revelation” as well as those of “Scripture” or “revealed Scripture” are central notions in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Their concepts are specific: for instance, generally speaking, according to Judaism the Torah was “revealed” to Moses as the action of Adonaï towards His chosen people; according to Christianity the person of Jesus Christ is the “revelation” of the love of God the Father towards all humans; and according to Islam the qur’ânic Scripture was directly “revealed” by God and recited by Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets. Whatever their particular concepts might be, each of the three main monotheisms has the concept of “revelation” as a central aspect of the definition of its own faith. Therefore, a dialogue which seeks genuineness beyond general considerations should not be initiated without considering developing a mutual knowledge concerning the different concepts of “revelation” and “Scripture.” A discussion of such concepts cannot be achieved, I believe, without a study of the founding texts, in their own original language, with suitable linguistic tools, and situated within the historical and cultural context where they appeared and developed.

Let us focus on the notion of “revelation” in Islam. A first philological analysis led me to observe that there was no term that expressly encompassed this notion in Arabic, and that this notion was for the most part inadequately translated in Western-European languages by the word “revelation.” “Revelation” in the English language as well as in similar western idioms refers to the “unveiling of something which is hidden.” In a civilization imprinted by Christianity – and of course in relation to Judaism – the term means “unveiling of the identity of God, leading humans to realize or discover who He is and what He does, that is, His love towards all mankind.” Now, in the Arabic language, in the qur’ânic text as well as in the Islamic literature and tradition which goes along with it, the terms generally translated later on by the word “revelation” do not exactly carry this meaning. The term waḥy means, among other things, “inspiration,”1 and was used within a religious framework to name the mode of mysterious communication, by which God transmitted His divine Word to Muhammad. Whereas the term tanzîl literally means “the fact of having something come down, of making something come down,”2 and refers as well to the mode of transmission of the divine Word to Muhammad, defining the fact that God is “higher” than mankind, that is, “transcendent.” The concept of “revelation” in Islam is thus different from the one in Christianity and from the one in Judaism. Nevertheless, the Islamic concept of revelation is meant, from the beginning and from the qur’ânic text itself, to be following upon the Christian and Jewish concepts of “revelation.” It indeed possesses their main feature: the dimension of transcendence, of divinity. The notion of “revelation” in Islam, just as in Judaism and Christianity, is understood as the communication of something which originates in the divinity; however, each religion understands this in its own specific way.

Thus, using this brief example, one can see that this notion does not refer to the same concept in each of the three dogmas, but that it nevertheless implies a shared common definition. It is essential to understand this nuance: the same notion refers to three distinct concepts, but these three concepts have some features in common. Thus, the use of these concepts requires a certain caution, because to try to understand them is more delicate than to try to understand concepts which have nothing in common. One has to make clear what they have in common and what is different in the same notion. The present article will try to contribute to this by providing more information about the notion of revelation in Islam through the study of one of the sources of Islamic dogma: the Sunna or “tradition.”

The “Sunna”

By “tradition” (in Arabic Sunna) is meant here something more specific than the common use of the word “tradition” in English, which has a broad meaning including all kinds of culturally transmitted items. The Sunna-tradition refers to transmitted short accounts of what the prophet Muhammad said, or did – or did not say in a particular circumstance – or what his companions said, did, or did not say. Each unit account is termed “a hadîth, but this word also designates the whole of the knowledge emanating from a number of hadîths. This latter meaning generally somehow equates with the term of “Sunna,” as the knowledge about the “tradition” or “way of doing” of Muhammad, which has to be imitated by the believers and the community. The “ways of doing” of the companions of Muhammad are also presented as an example. For Shii Muslims, the hadîths also include the “ways of doing” of the Imâms (who are the religious leaders descending from the family of the prophet via his daughter Fâṭima, wife of ‘Alî).

Each single hadîth is normally composed of two parts: the first is a chain of transmitters indicating the names of who is said to have heard the hadîth from whom, back to Muhammad, or one of his companions (or an Imâm), and the second part is an account of what happened, or what was said (by Muhammad, his companions, or an Imâm). The chain of transmitters is called isnâd and the account is called matn. Nevertheless, some hadîths do not have an isnâd, whereas some isnâds are quoted without mentioning the full matn if similar to an adjacent hadîth in a collection. The hadîths were gathered during the classical period of Islam by scholars called the muḥaddithûn (sing. muḥaddith). Six collections of hadîths have been considered by the Sunni Muslim milieu as valuable: those of al-Bukhârî (d. 256/870)3, Muslim (d. 261/875), Ibn Mâja (d. 273/886), Abû Dawûd (d. 275/888), al-Tirmidhî (d. 279/892), and al-Nasâ’î (d. 303/915). The most highly recognized are the first two, called “authentic, true” Ṣaḥîḥ  – the two of them referred to as “the Ṣaḥîḥayn.” To these six books can be added the collection of a predecessor: the Muwaṭṭa’ of imam Mâlik (d. 179/795), and other collections such as the Musnad of Ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855). Shii Muslims do not rely on these collections but have their own. Only a portion of the hadîths are common to both Sunni and Shii collections.

Because the Sunni collections of hadîths exposed what Muhammad and his companions had done or said, and that these deeds and words were considered as a model, the “six collections” are thus representative of what was supposed to be the duty, or what was supposed to be believed, in the Sunni milieu of the ninth century. They provide a testimony of the predominant religious vision in Sunni Islam some two and half centuries after the death of Muhammad.

I have chosen to conduct my research using the collection gathered by Abû ‘Abdullâh al-Bukhârî (the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî). Along with the Ṣaḥîḥ of Muslim, it is the collection which has received the highest degree of canonicity. Nevertheless, a researcher recently showed that the two Ṣaḥîḥ were not immediately canonized, and were even quite criticized in the beginning.4

Methodology of this research

One question was important to address before starting my research: What was the relationship between the accounts (matn) provided by each hadîth of the collection and the historical truth? Indeed, it is well known that forgery (fabrication) of hadîths took place at several periods of Islamic history, especially during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods. This was identified by Muslim scholars during the classical period of Islam, and they tried to organize ways of guaranteeing the validity of hadîth through both a “science of hadîth” (‘ilm al-ḥadîth) and a “science of the transmitters” (‘ilm al-rijâl), checking, for instance, whether two transmitters of an isnâd could actually have met. Contemporary scholars also tried to investigate the reliability of hadîth by questioning the validity of transmissions and went a step further than ancient Muslim scholars by critically addressing the construction of isnâds as a claim for their authenticity: quotable in this regard are the pioneer works of Ignaz Goldziher5 and Joseph Schacht6, and those of more recent scholars such as Gautier H.A. Juynboll7, John Burton8, Harald Motzki9, Asma Hilali10, Lahcen Daaif11, or Nicolet Boekhoff-Van der Voort12.

For each hadîth I studied in the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî, there were two possibilities:

- either the hadîth was “authentic,” in the sense that it had transmitted faithfully an event which had really occurred: a word, an action, or an attitude of Muhammad, or of one of his followers;

- or this hadîth was “false,” in the sense that what it transmitted did not actually happen, and that this hadîth was invented at a later period.

In this latter case, the matn is no longer about what Muhammad did or said, but rather about what some people found worthy of expressing and transmitting during a period which took place at some point in time after the beginnings of Islam and possibly until al-Bukhârî’s time. These people thus transmitted it by investing this material with religious authoritativeness – or they may even have transmitted it without any idea of investing it with a religious authority, and their text may have received such authority later on.

The position of scientific research is to suppose that a collection of hadîths such as the one of al-Bukhârî includes both these types of hadîths, and that each hadîth can possibly have been modified or altered during its transmission. It maintains that it is impossible to state precisely if such or such a hadîth is close to what historically happened or not.

Nevertheless I believe that an analysis of the content of the text of hadîths can be done while putting these issues to one side, and only taking them into consideration when analyzing the results. Regardless of these questions, my current study deals at the very least with what was important for the muḥaddith (ancient hadîth scholar) al-Bukhârî to transmit to his contemporary believers.

The research I conducted deals with the question: What is the information provided in the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî about the Qur’ân? In a previous work, I had shown what information was provided about the Qur’ân in the qur’ânic text itself, that is, I had analyzed the “self-referential speech’” of the Qur’ân13. The present article is about exploring how this self-referential speech and the dogmas it generated in the Islamic faith are seen in the hadîth texts: Do these latter continue the qur’ânic speech or bring new specificities about the definition of the Qur’ân?

Let me emphasize at this juncture that this article does not deal with the issue of the global effective link between the Qur’ân and the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî. The study of such a link would consist of how the information provided about all the possible topics dealt with by the qur’ânic text – from the story of Muhammad to religious dogmas – appears or does not in the hadîths and how; whereas in this article the focus is only on one particular topic: the description of the Qur’ân.

In the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî, speech about the Qur’ân is scattered in different chapters, and is expressed in both explicit and implicit ways. The Ṣaḥîḥ is divided into 97 chapters about very eclectic topics, which reflect the divisions of the sub-disciplines of Islamic law. Each chapter lists a number of entries, whose title usually provides the juridical application or the dogmatic concept which is supported in it. Following each entry are a number of hadîth units which are related more or less to the entry topic – and more or less to the chapter topic – and next to these hadîths appears a commentary here and there, some qur’ânic verses, and some information which looks like a matnwithout isnâd. The same hadîth appears in several chapters and entries, either in an identical shape or in a variant shape (same story or same idea transmitted, but with different details in the matn and/or different isnâd). Most probably al-Bukhârî tried to obtain as many deductions as possible out of a single hadîth, and thus he classified it in as many entries as possible; when doing so, he usually gave only one or few versions of this hadîth in one entry, and put the other versions in other places.

Several chapters have titles explicitly relating to the Qur’ân. The one which provides the most explicit discourse on the Qur’ân is Chapter B6614, entitled Fadâ’il al-qur’ân, namely, the “excellent qualities of the Qur’ân.” It is located in the middle of the collection, after the chapter on qur’ânic commentary. It deals with miscellaneous aspects of the Qur’ân, from the mode of the revelation of the first verses to Muhammad, to the powers given to the performance of recitation of such and such a surah. Chapter B96, the penultimate chapter, concerns the fact of “relying on the Scripture of God (i.e., the Qur’ân) and the Sunna” (al-i‘tiṣâm bi-l-kitâb wa-l-sunna). It reminds the reader of the precedence of the Qur’ân, but even more so the precedence of Sunna, and then describes late elements such as the role of the Islamic judge (qâḍî). Chapter B65 is an interpretative commentary (tafsîr) of parts of the Qur’ân: it is similar to classical works of tafsîr, commenting on the verses in their qur’ânic order by quoting related hadîthswhich provide either the circumstances of the apparition of verses, or words and deeds of Muhammad, or his companions which in some way bring about an interpretation of the verses. The last chapter, B97, is called Tawḥîd, “Of the unicity of God,” but is far from concerned only with the idea of the oneness of God. Indeed the term tawḥîd had, in the first centuries of Islam, come to designate the whole science of Islamic dogmas. It thus deals with issues debated by later theologians, such as the names and attributes of God, free will, and the importance of the Qur’ân. Chapter B17 is entitled “Of prostration [during] the recitation [of the Qur’ân]” (sujûd al-qur’ân). A number of other chapters are associated with this chapter, more particularly B8 to B22, as well as chapters linked to the ritual purification required to perform the recitation (B4, B5, B7).

Nevertheless, the information about the Qur’ân does not appear only in the chapters I just mentioned but are everywhere in the collection. What is more, some titles are not followed by related elements; thus it was necessary to research not only the chapters I mentioned above but the whole corpus – although I excluded from my scope of inquiry the tafsîr chapter, as I estimated this would require a specific study unto itself.

To the best of my knowledge, a study of this question has not been done before. The great hadîth scholar G. Juynboll dealt partially with the definition of revelation by the hadîth texts; but in so far as the Ṣaḥîḥ of Bukhârî is concerned, his study seems limited to the chapters Ba’d al-waḥy and Faḍâ’il al-Qur’ân,and he only briefly mentions the tafsîr chapter15. Rather, his main concern is the analysis of the transmission of each hadîth, whereas my work focuses on the contents of the hadîths (matn) and not on the chains of transmitters.

Summary of the results 

Before starting this work, I had supposed that, contrary to what is the case in the qur’ânic text, hadîth texts would deal only (as far as the Qur’ân is concerned) with prescribing “how to behave towards the Qur’ân,” especially towards the Qur’ân as a material object, for instance, describing the rules of purity to respect when handling the book of the Qur’ân. But my work on speech about the Qur’ân in the hadîth collection of al-Bukhârî has enabled me to grasp that such was not the case. Indeed, on the one hand, the text presents notions about the status of the Qur’ân that al-Bukhârî – or the other people involved in the origin and transmission of these hadîths – had about it, or wanted the reader to have about it. On the other hand, the text deals with the performance of reading-recitation-psalmody of the Qur’ân, and all the obligations which go along with this.

The first part of my study showed that a substantial part of the text was used to support and reinforce the status of the qur’ânic text, and the authority which proceeds from it.

This concerns first, of course, the definition of what the qur’ânic text is, that is, what are its delimitations, its origin, and its mode of transmission. Nevertheless, in many hadîthsthese elements are implied and not directly expressed. As in the qur’ânic text, parts of these elements restate the divine origin of the Qur’ân and its status as sacred scripture – though in a more unostentatious way than in the qur’ânic text. Other parts of these elements mention the history of the Qur’ân and its modes of transmission, both during the period of Muhammad’s life and after his death.

Second, speech concerning the role of the Qur’ân completes the qur’ânic speech on the same topic. Compared to what happens in the latter, the role is described in the hadîthtext as a role of guidance: the Qur’ân guides the believers. But this role is presented here as its role as a source of political and juridical authority – although only very few hadîths deal with this matter. The idea that the role of the Qur’ân includes granting the possibility to Muhammad of being exempt from certain habitual practices is also expressed but very rarely. Another idea is that the Sunna also starts to play a part in the role of guidance, and not just the Qur’ân itself.

The third point concerns a speech on the “excellent qualities” (faḍâ’il) of the Qur’ân. These “qualities” are not directly expressed in the qur’ânic text; nevertheless, it develops speech about the superiority of the Qur’ân to the other sacred scriptures and to any human word. In the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî, the “excellent qualities” of the qur’ânic text are directly expressed and are intertwined with the “excellent qualities” which appear through – or proceed from – the performing of the reading-recitation-psalmody of this text. The believer who performs it deserves the credit for it, and, at the same time, his performing of it is described as being able to generate certain powers (healing powers, notably) and, at the very least, as being of special importance.

The second part of my study analyzed the other important component of the speech about the Qur’ân which is displayed in the hadîths collected by al-Bukhârî: a speech about the qur’ânic reading-reciting-psalmody. Through my research I became aware that it is necessary to describe this performance by these three words (reading, reciting, and psalmody) in order to understand what is exactly meant by what is usually termed “recitation.” First, this speech presents the modes of this “recitation,” and the modes of the process of learning it by heart. Second, it provides details about the circumstances, under which such a “recitation” has to be performed. I noted the specific place for what is called ṣalât (“ritual prayer”), and the presence of the “recitation” at the heart of many everyday rituals. Third, the speech of hadîth deals with the bodily movements and postures, as well as the practical conditions necessary for the performance of the “recitation.” This latter dimension is the one which takes up the most space in speech about the Qur’ân that one can find in the collection of al-Bukhârî.

Thus, the results of my inquiry are as follows. Speech about the Qur’ân in the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî is composed of:

1) a confirmation of the positive status given to the Qur’ân – in continuity with speech which is developed in the qur’ânic text; and

2) the institution or confirmation of practice accompanying the performance of the reading-reciting-psalmody, and the institution or confirmation of the performance of this reading-reciting-psalmody itself.

1) Confirmation of the positive status given to the Qur’ân

The hadîths of the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî developed a positive discourse on the Qur’ân by confirming its authoritativeness as proceeding from its divine origin – just as does the positive discourse put forth in the qur’ânic text. Some hadîths even extend this speech to the period after the death of the prophet. Nevertheless this affirmation of the authority of the Qur’ân is not as strong or as developed as it is in the qur’ânic text. It does not represent the main part of the speech conveyed by the hadîths. Indeed, the idea that the Qur’ân is what God has transmitted to Muhammad, and that Muhammad has transmitted this without alteration, seems to be an idea already known and believed among the community of people producing or receiving this collection of hadîths – even though one can feel the expression of a need for a reaffirmation of this idea.

What is more, beyond the reaffirmation of the dogma of qur’ânic authoritativeness, the hadîths also provide stories of characters (Muhammad and his companions) with whom the believer is called upon to become acquainted, and towards whom he is pressed to feel confidence and familiarity. The acquaintance with or even intimacy with the character of Muhammad reinforces his status – that of an authentic prophet – and therefore, reinforces the idea that the Qur’ân is of divine origin.

2) Institution or confirmation of practice around the performance of the reading-reciting-psalmody

The hadîth sets up – or confirms – the practice of reading-reciting-psalmody and all the other practices which accompany its performance, notably, the ritual of ṣalât, and by means of everyday circumstances. My research led me to some observations:

2a) The reading-reciting-psalmody and the practices around it appear as a mode, a dealing with the power of the Qur’ân, that is, a mode of human reaction or human response when face-to-face with a sacred power (the power of the Qur’ân). After all, the speech on the “recitation,” and the way it has to be performed, makes explicit how the authoritative status of the Qur’ân has to be “dealt with” by the believers. In other words, it states what has to be done when faced with the strong affirmation about the authoritative status of the qur’ânic text: What does this affirmation entail for those who subscribe to it? In this regard, performing the reading-reciting-psalmody means demonstrating the acknowledgement and faith that one has in this authoritative status. It also demonstrates how conciliatory and submissive the believer is towards the source of power. This source of power is seen as supernatural: It is considered to be God, as the author of the Qur’ân. Thus, to deal with this source of power appears to be difficult for the human believer, because he cannot master it. His only possible response is to seek ways to express his submission in order to reduce the arbitrariness of potential punishment by the source of power.

2b) Showing acknowledgment of the authoritative status of the Qur’ân has consequences for the believer: This generates an even greater certainty about this authoritative status. By integrating practices linked to the reading-reciting-psalmody in his daily life – as is strongly suggested by the hadîth text – in a repetitive way and without neglecting any aspect of his life, the believer tends to believe even more in this status. Furthermore, these practices have a social dimension: When all the believers practice together all these rituals around the “recitation,” then they persuade one another of the veracity of the authoritative status of the Qur’ân and of the necessity of performing such rituals. Their belief in this authoritative status is reinforced by practice.

2c) Finally, what should be noted is that the hadîth text strongly implies that the relationship between the believer and the Qur’ân has to be “external.” By “external” I mean here that what is seen to be of primary importance is not the relationship of the believer with the heart of the text, its contents, and its meanings. Rather, what is important appears here to be the relationship of the believer to, on the one hand, the status of the text (through rituals he reminds himself constantly of the authoritative status of the Qur’ân) and with, on the other hand, the oral shape of the text: its pronunciation, its sounds, the physical feeling of the bodily movements that accompany the “recitation,” and the obligations surrounding this. The attention of the believer does not need to focus on the text but rather on its recitation and what accompanies this performance.

This very point is related to the ambivalence I noticed in the use of the word qur’ânQur’ân means “recitation” and designates both the qur’ânic text and the performance of its reading-recitation-psalmody, and I have pointed out that, in the hadîth texts, most of the time it designates this performance. The Qur’ân is seen first as the performance of the recitation of its text, rather than the text itself and its meanings. Furthermore, and more precisely, what seems more important in the performance of reciting the Qur’ân is not even this recitation but what surrounds it and accompanies it (bodily movements, postures, conditions for performing it). Of course, the contents of the Qur’ân have an importance; however, it appears that according to the hadîth texts, this is far less important than its status and its oral shape, and these are even far less important than the way the believer has to deal with them every day.

Thus, the hadîths collected and presented by al-Bukhârî go in the same direction as the qur’ânic text. According to both, what prevails is the status of the Qur’ân and not its contents16. But whereas in the qur’ânic text this status is viewed abstractly, in the hadîthtexts it is viewed from the standpoint of “what one has to do” when being aware of this status. In the hadîth texts, the believer’s submission towards the Qur’ân is manifested through an everyday repetition of movements and words – not by an abstractive debate on its status.

There is a slight drawback that I should mention here. The “speech on the Qur’ân” in the hadîth collection of al-Bukhârî is not restricted to the two aspects I have dealt with. In the collection of al-Bukhârî, information is also gathered about the interpretation of the qur’ânic text and about rules for this interpretation, mainly in the chapter called tafsîr (“exegesis, commentary”) (B65). I did not research this chapter, as it deserves a study unto itself but would like to do so soon to deepen the analysis. Nevertheless I noticed that this implies the authoritative text has to be understood through specific traditions, that is, according to what has been transmitted from the interpretation of early scholars. Thus, while an important part of the hadîths deals with the affirmation of the authoritative status of the Qur’ân, another part seeks paradoxically at providing a framework (i.e., limits) for its interpretation. Even when the authority of the Qur’ân is put forth, its interpretation is henceforth bound by the limits, criteria, and guidance canonical hadîth texts impose. This argues again in favor of a concern for the claim of the status of the Qur’ân, rather than for the study of its text.

The core conclusion of my work is that the relationship of the believer towards the Qur’ân is here one of external performance. The believer is called upon to perform recitations within the framework of definite rituals such as ṣalât, together with definite bodily movements in definite time periods. These rituals and the movements, postures, and time conditions are what have to be done; thus they are considered as the most important thing for the believer. The collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî – and the earlier hadîths it includes – are designed in order to prompt the believer towards an externalconcept of the recitation of the Qur’ân. The believer has to put all his effort into performing the exact bodily movements that accompany this reading-recitation-psalmody and into respecting its imposed conditions. And putting all one’s effort into a performance leads to the thinking that this performance is of extremely great importance. The Ṣaḥîḥ does not teach the believer – in so far as what concerns the Qur’ân– to put all his effort into understanding the divine message. On the contrary, it teaches the believer to put all his effort into a technical practice which accompanies the recitation (and to a lesser extent to the technical pronunciation of the text). Thus, the believer is lead to see the importance of these technical performances (postures, bodily movements, conditions, pronunciation), and this is what constitutes, taken as a whole, his relationship towards the Qur’ân.

In reinforcement of these conclusions, I observed that there are some, rather few, hadîths which concern the “application” of the Qur’ân. What is meant here by “application” is rather “to pay attention when the Qur’ân is recited” or “to perform the recitation with sincerity.” According to Ibn ‘Abbâs, in the verse “When We recite it, then, follow its recitation!”17 “follow its recitation” means, act according to it (i‘mal bihi)18. But in another hadîth about the same qur’ânic passage, again according to Ibn ‘Abbâs, this means “listen to it and pay great attention to it” (istami‘ lahu wa-nṣit)19. The same appears in a hadîth which compares different types of people to different sorts of fruits according to their different types of beliefs and practice of recitation20. In one of its versions, it is said that the best type of people are the believers who recite the Qur’ân and “act according to it” [or: apply it] (ya‘malu bihi)21, as opposed to the believers who do not recite it, and a fortiori to the “hypocrites” who recite and to the “hypocrites” who do not recite. Therefore, “to apply the Qur’ân” does not mean to believe in the dogma and in the contents of the qur’ânic text – as this is what any believer would do – but rather, “to apply the Qur’ân” means in this case to perform the recitation sincerely. The performance of a sincere recitation is better than belief alone. In other words, according to this hadîth, “to apply the Qur’ân” or “acting according to the Qur’ân” means to recite with sincere intention and not “to apply the principles of the Qur’ân in one’s everyday life”. (Let me specify here that this does not means that to apply the principles of the Qur’ân is not considered a good thing!) But what is to be noted here is that once more the relationship of the believer towards the Qur’ân is a relationship towards its recitation, before it could possibly be a relationship towards the meaning of its contents.

This research has enabled me to show the conceptualization of the relationship of the believer towards the Qur’ân as is put forth by the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî: the concept of an external relationship. The collection seems to have been designed in order to be influential in three ways: via establishing proximity and familiarity with the life of Muhammad as presented, via positive speech about the status of the Qur’ân, and via the institution or description of practices such as recitation and what accompanies its performance.

But is it the Ṣaḥîḥ of al-Bukhârî which effectively, and historically, influenced Muslim practice (and the Muslim vision of the relationship of the believer towards the Qur’ân) – or was this practice an already ongoing practice (and the vision of the relationship towards the Qur’ân already spread) when the Ṣaḥîḥ was composed? This question remains open to discussion. I suppose, however, that the answer would be doubly positive: these practices could possibly have already been ongoing at that time and would have been then reinforced by their description and “officialization” in the Ṣaḥîḥ. The same goes for the vision of the relationship towards the Qur’ân.

Indeed, the collection of hadîths of al-Bukhârî, together with the one of Muslim, strongly influenced generations and generations of Sunni jurists. The concept of “qur’ânic revelation” that it sets forth participates highly in the construction of Islamic belief.

One can note here a connection with traditional ways of dealing with the Qur’ân, for instance, in qur’ânic schools in West Africa in more recent time periods. The Qur’ân is learned by heart through the practice of reading-recitation without concern for the meaning when the student is at an early age; it is only when older that the student reaches the stage of knowledge where qur’ânic commentaries are introduced. Furthermore, the relationship towards the Qur’ân is implemented in practices related to the body, as, for instance, the act of licking or drinking the ink which has been used to write the qur’ânic text on the tablet in order to erase it and symbolically to absorb it22. The external relationship to the text – even though here in a highly physical dimension – seems to preponderate here as well.

  • al-Bukhârî, ‘Abdullâh Muḥammad b. Ismâ‘îl, Ṣâḥîḥ al-Bukhârî, Tâmir, Muḥammad Muḥammad (ed.), Cairo: Mu’assasat al-Mukhtâr li-l-nashr wa-l-tawzî‘, 2004, 3 vol.
  • al-‘Asqalânî, Ibn Hajar, Al-Fatḥ al-bârî ‘alâ šarḥ ṣaḥîḥ al-Bukhârî, s.l., Dâr al-Fikr, s.d., 11 vol.
  • al-‘Aynî, Badr al-dîn, ‘Umdat al-qârî fî šarḥ ṣaḥîḥ al-Bukhârî, Egypt, Šarikat Maktaba wa Maṭbû‘a Muṣtafâ al-Bâbî al-Ḥalabî wa-awlâdih, 1972 (1322 h.), 1st ed., 20 vol.
  • Wensinck, Arent Jan, Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane. Les six livres, le Musnad d’al-Dārimi, le Muwatta’ de Mālik, le Musnad de Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Istanbul, Cagri yayinlari, & Tunis, Maison Souhnoun, 1988.
  • Boekhoff-Van Der Voort, Nicolet, Versteegh, Kees, Wagemakers, Joas (eds), The Transmission and Dynamics of the Textual Sources of Islam, Leiden, Brill, 2011.
  • Boisliveau, Anne-Sylvie, «Le Coran par lui-même»: l’autoréférence dans le texte coranique, doctoral thesis, Université Aix-Marseille I, 2010, 580 p.
  • Brown, Jonathan, 2007, The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim. The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadīth Canon, Leiden, Brill, 431 p.
  • Burton, John, An Introduction to the Hadîth, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1994, 210 p.
  • Daaif, Lahcen, book review of Brown, J. The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim, in BCAI 024.
  • Daaif, Lahcen, “Dévots et ‘‘renonçants’’ : l’autre catégorie de forgeurs de hadîths,” Arabica, 57, 2010/2, p. 201-250.
  • Goldhizer, Ignaz, Muhammedanische Studien, 2 vols, 1889-1890. Reed: Hildesheim et New York, Georg Olms Verlag, 1961. English translation: Muslim Studies, ed. by S.M. Stern, 2 vol. 254 p. and 378 p. French translation: Etudes sur la tradition islamique, Extraites du Tome II des Muhammedanische Studien, translation L. Bercher, Paris, Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1952, 357 p.
  • Hilali, Asma, “Compiler, exclure, cacher. Les traditions dites « forgées » dans l’Islam sunnite (VIe/XIIe siècle),” Revue de l’histoire des religions, 228 (2/2011), p. 163-174.
  • Juynboll, Gautier H.A., “Hadîth and the Qur’ân,” Encyclopedia of the Qur’ân, vol. 2, p. 376-397.
  • Juynboll, Gautier H.A., Muslim Tradition. Studies in Chronology, Provenance and Autorship of Early Ḥadîth, Cambridge UP, 1983, 273 p.
  • Juynboll, Gautier H.A., Studies on the Origins and Uses of Islamic Hadîth, Aldershot, Ashgate Variorum, 1996, 354 p.
  • Motzki (ed.), Hadîth. Origins and Developments, Aldershot, Ashgate Variorum, 2004
  • Motzki, Harald, Boekhoff-Van Der Voort, Nicolet, Anthony, Sean, Analysing Muslim Traditions. Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghāzī Ḥadīth, Leiden, Brill 2009, 520 p.
  • Schacht, Joseph, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, Oxford, 1950.
  • Ware, Rudoph T., “Qur’ān Schooling, Society, and State in Senegambia, c.1600-2000” in Mamadou Diouf and Mara Leichtman (eds.) New Perspectives on Islam in Senegal, Palgrave, 2009.
  • Ware, Rudoph T., Launay, Robert, “Comment (ne pas) lire le Coran : Logiques de l’enseignement religieux au Sénégal et en Côte d’Ivoire,” in Gilles Holder (ed.), L’islam Nouvel Espace Public en Afrique, Karthala, 2009.

1 Semantically, the term can also mean, for instance, a written letter. Cf. Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 137-145.

2 Boisliveau, Le Coran par lui-même, p. 131-137.

3 First date in Hegirian calendar, second in Common/Christian Era calendar.

4 Brown, The Canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim. The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Hadīth Canon, 2007. Cf. the book review by L. Daaif.

5 Goldhizer, Muhammedanische Studien, vol. 2, 1890.

6 Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, 1950.

7 Juynboll, Muslim Tradition. Studies in Chronology, Provenance and Authorship of Early Ḥadîth, 1983; Studies on the Origins and Uses of Islamic Hadîth, 1996.

8 Burton, An Introduction to the Hadîth, 1994.

9 Motzki (ed.), Hadîth. Origins and Developments, 2004; and Motzki, e.a., Analysing Muslim Traditions. Studies in Legal, Exegetical and Maghāzī Ḥadīth, 2009.

10 For instance, Hilali, “Compiler, exclure, cacher. Les traditions dites « forgées » dans l’Islam sunnite (VIe/XIIe siècle),” 2011.

11 For instance, Daaif, “Dévots et ‘renonçants’ : l’autre catégorie de forgeurs de hadîths,” 2010.

12 For instance, Boekhoff-Van Der Voort, e.a. (ed.), The Transmission and Dynamics of the Textual Sources of Islam, 2011.

13 Boisliveau, “Le Coran par lui-même”: l’autoréférence dans le texte coranique, (doctoral thesis), 2010.

14 My way of quoting the Ṣaḥîḥ is by the letter “B” for “Bukhârî,” followed by the chapter number and the entry number, followed by the 4-digit general hadîth number.

15 Juynboll, “Hadîth and the Qur’ân,” p. 377.

16 What is more, a significant part of the contents of the qur’ânic text is itself the affirmation of its status. Cf. Boisliveau, “Le Coran par lui-même”.

17 Q75: 18. In this verse, the word for recitation is qur’ân.

18 B65, (surah 75), 2 – باب قَوْلِهِ ( فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ ) قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ ( قَرَأْنَاهُ ) بَيَّنَّاهُ ( فَاتَّبِعْ ) اعْمَلْ بِهِ .

19 B96, 43 (7524) حَدَّثَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ بْنُ سَعِيدٍ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَوَانَةَ عَنْ مُوسَى بْنِ أَبِى عَائِشَةَ عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ جُبَيْرٍ عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ فِى قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى ( لاَ تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ ) قَالَ كَانَ النَّبِىُّ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يُعَالِجُ مِنَ التَّنْزِيلِ شِدَّةً ، وَكَانَ يُحَرِّكُ شَفَتَيْهِ – فَقَالَ لِى ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ أُحَرِّكُهُمَا لَكَ كَمَا كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – يُحَرِّكُهُمَا فَقَالَ سَعِيدٌ أَنَا أُحَرِّكُهُمَا كَمَا كَانَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ يُحَرِّكُهُمَا فَحَرَّكَ شَفَتَيْهِ – فَأَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ ( لاَ تُحَرِّكْ بِهِ لِسَانَكَ لِتَعْجَلَ بِهِ * إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا جَمْعَهُ وَقُرْآنَهُ ) قَالَ جَمْعُهُ فِى صَدْرِكَ ثُمَّ تَقْرَؤُهُ . ( فَإِذَا قَرَأْنَاهُ فَاتَّبِعْ قُرْآنَهُ ) قَالَ فَاسْتَمِعْ لَهُ وَأَنْصِتْ ثُمَّ إِنَّ عَلَيْنَا أَنْ تَقْرَأَهُ . قَالَ فَكَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – إِذَا أَتَاهُ جِبْرِيلُ – عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ – اسْتَمَعَ فَإِذَا انْطَلَقَ جِبْرِيلُ قَرَأَهُ النَّبِىُّ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – كَمَا أَقْرَأَهُ .

20 Particularly B66, 17 (5020).

21 B66, 36 (5059).  حَدَّثَنَا مُسَدَّدٌ حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى عَنْ شُعْبَةَ عَنْ قَتَادَةَ عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ عَنْ أَبِى مُوسَى عَنِ النَّبِىِّ – صلى الله عليه وسلم – قَالَ « الْمُؤْمِنُ الَّذِى يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ وَيَعْمَلُ بِهِ كَالأُتْرُجَّةِ ، طَعْمُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَرِيحُهَا طَيِّبٌ ، وَالْمُؤْمِنُ الَّذِى لاَ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ وَيَعْمَلُ بِهِ كَالتَّمْرَةِ ، طَعْمُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَلاَ رِيحَ لَهَا ، وَمَثَلُ الْمُنَافِقِ الَّذِى يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَالرَّيْحَانَةِ ، رِيحُهَا طَيِّبٌ وَطَعْمُهَا مُرٌّ ، وَمَثَلُ الْمُنَافِقِ الَّذِى لاَ يَقْرَأُ الْقُرْآنَ كَالْحَنْظَلَةِ ، طَعْمُهَا مُرٌّ – أَوْ خَبِيثٌ – وَرِيحُهَا مُرٌّ » .

22 See, for instance, the works of Rudoph T. Ware: “Qur’ân Schooling, Society, and State in Senegambia, c.1600-2000”; “Comment (ne pas) lire le Coran : Logiques de l’enseignement religieux au Sénégal et en Côte d’Ivoire.”