Oral Traditions of Islam
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Islam is a religion based on oral tradition. It is very important because many of what we know of Islam in the present is based on orally transmitted information. Even when it comes to the authorities of the religion it can be traced to oral tradition. In this essay the emphasis would be put on how oral tradition sets up authority in the religion, in both sunni and and shi’ ite sects.
Why is oral tradition so important in Islam? During the time when Muhammad was alive, unfortunately nothing was ever recorded. In the pre-Islamic times, there were Arab tribes. These tribes were heavily into poetry. Many believe that this may have helped in the recollection and transmission of oral history in Islam. The Quran is the central religious text of Islam. It is said to be the literal words of Allah recited to Muhammad. This is the first of oral authority in Islam. The Quran at first was not compiled. Several years after Muhammad passed away, in the Uthmanic period around 650, they gathered the sayings of Allah and created the Uthmanic Codex. At that time this was the most important authority on judging what is right and what is wrong in the religion. The idea of Quran being the utmost important in authority is generally accepted in the Muslim religion. All though there are some controversies between the two sects about the Quran, neither would deny the importance and the authority of the Quran. Unfortunately, although the Quran, states what we should do in order to be on the right path, but it never tells us how. This is the part where oral history becomes very important. Most of what and how we practice in this religion has been transmitted orally.
There is no other superior authority in the Sunni sect. of Islam then that of the Quran and the Hadith. What is the Hadith? It is a compilation “of statement[s] made or description of an act performed by the Prophet Muhammad” (Islam p.13). They legitimate the hadiths through isnad, which is a list of narrators reaching back to the original narrator, being the prophet. Without the Isnad the Hadith has no valid authority. Many of those who are involved in law in Islam, believed that those Hadiths that can be seen as 100 percent factual should be seen second in authority to the Quran (Islam p. 19). The idea of authority and oral transmission is key when it comes to the hadith. It is stated that hearing a Hadith from some the is more authoritative than one readint the hadith themselves, keeping in mind that the person reciting the hadith had heard it personally from someone earlier (Islam p. 15). The Hadith is a living example of a righteous Muslim. It allows everyday Muslims to understand how to pray and how to live on a day to day basis.
In the shi’ite sect of Islam they do believe in the hadith, accept they omitted parts of it. The word sunna in the shi’ite sect of Islam holds the meaning of the way or deeds of Muhammad and the twelve Imams in Shia Islam. The twelve Imams were believed by Shi’a Muslims as Imams chosen by Allah to succeed the prophet and to lead mankind in every aspect of life. The word sunna at times can be interchangeable with hadith, the word exists also in the sunni tradition except it omits from the definition the part of the twelve Imams. It is found that the early Imams never wrote anything down (Scripture