The Essential Sources in Islam

In order to understand the Muslim intellectual contribution to al-Andalus, and to the peaceful coexistence that prevailed there among the three Abrahamic traditions, one must understand the continuity of Muslim intellectual and religious experience from the time of the Prophet (PBUH)

a) The Qur’an as a Major Source

Muslims accept the Qur’an and the Traditions (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) as the primary source of knowledge and guidance in Islam. There is no doubt that these two sources inspired and will continue to inspire the day to day lives and experiences of Muslims across the globe. A framework based on the Qur’an and the Tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) should be articulated in order to measure Islamic knowledge and the scientific world-view of Islam, as non-Muslims particularly have sought to understand these contributions without deeply considering the impact of the two primary sources. Shariff refers to these major sources as the “internal sources”[1]. The Qur’an shifts Muslims’ attention to the signs that they can find within themselves or in the universe: “We will show them Our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth.” (Qur’an 41: 53)

Islam is a religion based upon knowledge, for it is the knowledge of the Oneness of God combined with faith and complete commitment to Him that saves humanity. Daud states: “The most important aspect of God in the Qur’an is His Oneness, the affirmation of which became the most fundamental aspect of Islamic teachings, that is, Tawhid. The spiritual, intellectual, and socio-moral implications of this concept can be obtained both from the Qur’an itself as well as through logical deduction.”[2] The Qur’an is replete with verses inviting man to use his intellect, to ponder, as the goal of human life is to discover the Truth— worshipping God in His Oneness.

The Qur’an persistently emphasizes the significance of knowledge, and encourages Muslims to learn and to acquire knowledge not only of God’s laws and religious injunctions, but also on the importance of seeing, contemplating, and reasoning about the world’s creation and its diverse phenomena. It places the act of gaining knowledge among the highest religious activities and one that is most pleasing in God’s eyes. It is due to this reason that during the Medieval period in Spain, when the message of the Qur’an was understood and accepted, the quest for knowledge flourished, as it had in the Muslim east before.

The Qur’an is not only a book of law or science, but a book that encourages Muslims to explore and relate to the universe empirically. The verses of the Qur’an call upon mankind to observe the physical world that surrounds them, to appreciate it, and understand their role in the universe:

“Behold! in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and the day; in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the benefit of mankind; in the rain which Allah Sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the change of the winds, and the clouds which they trail like their slaves between the sky and the earth— (Here) indeed are Signs for a people that are wise.”(Qur’an 2:164)[3]

The statements in the Qur’an related to science were accepted by Muslims throughout history. Today, majority of these statements have been scientifically tested and accepted by all. Daud states:

“It can be maintained that the Qur’an considers several avenues to guidance, to understanding of the higher purpose and laws of life and existence. On one hand, there is the verbal-scriptural guidance revealed in a specific language addressed to the immediate situation of a people, and through them to the whole mankind. On the other hand, there is the universal guidance in natural phenomena, history and human psychology from which mankind should be able to derive benefits.”[4]

History is witness to the many well-educated Muslim scholars that held steadfastly to two sides of the Qur’an as guidance.

A salient feature of the concept of knowledge in the Qur’an is the infinite nature of knowledge. Such an understanding of knowledge widens Muslims’ perspectives about existence.  Knowledge here is not limited to the human capacity, but comprises of the divine knowledge that is taken from the Qur’an: “Say (O Muhammad (PBUH) to mankind). If the sea were ink for (writing) the Words of my Lord, surely, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished, even if we brought (another sea) like it for its aid.” (Qur’an 18:109)


b) The Tradition of the Prophet (PBUH) As a Second Major Source

The practices and traditions (Sunnah) of the Prophet, including his sayings (Hadith),became the guide for Muslims in understanding the Qur’an and the practice of their religion. The Qur’an asserts that God has chosen in the Prophet an example for Muslims to follow throughout their lives, not just in religious practices. Besides this emulation of the Prophet in all aspects of life and thought, his sayings were assembled by various scholars. They were then codified in books of Hadith where the authentic were separated from other historical material.

The Sunnah has always remained, after the Quran, the second source of everything Islamic. The Hadith literature is also full of references on the importance of knowledge. However, the Prophet was commanded to pray for the continuous development of his knowledge: “And say: ‘My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.’” (20:114)

In several occasions the Prophet (PBUH) strongly stressed on the significance of seeking knowledge: “Seek knowledge even in China”; “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”; and “Verily the men of knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets”, which have echoed throughout the history of Islam, and inspired many Muslims to seek knowledge wherever it could be found. The Hadith Literature also deals with the relationship between humanity and knowledge just as the Qur’an deals with it. In fact, the Hadith perspective about knowledge is more direct than the Qur’an:

Abdullah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As reported Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) as saying: “Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people but He takes away knowledge by taking away the scholars, so that when He leaves no learned person, people turn to the ignorant as their leaders; then they are asked to deliver religious verdicts and they deliver them without knowledge, they go astray, and lead others astray.”[5]

In the above hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) warns believers that the quantity of knowledge may decrease or be lost altogether through the death of scholars or through their failure to transmit their experiences and knowledge to the next generation. There is no doubt that the concept of  Islamic knowledge is not only for individual interest, but also to promote a sense of responsibility among Muslims to teach and transmit this heritage to the next generation. The Prophet (PBUH) perpetually orders Muslims on this point saying: “Do not wish to be like anyone except in two cases. (The first is) A person whom Allah has given wealth and he spends it righteously; (the second is) the one whom Allah has given wisdom (the Holy Qur’an) and he acts according to it and teaches it to others.”[6] Therefore, this prophetic heritage does not belong to individuals, for the gift of knowledge comes from God by the prophets, and it should be transferred to future generations. The Muslim community as a whole is responsible in providing a suitable environment to foster scholars as the loss of knowledge and scholars is considered to be one of the signs of the proximity of Judgment Day. Allah’s Messenger warns: “From among the portents of the Hour (Judgment Day) are (the following):  Religious knowledge will be taken away (by the death of religious learned men) and (religious) ignorance will prevail.[7]

The concept of Islamic knowledge that is stressed in the Qur’an and the Hadith literature seems to be supported by early Muslims through their knowledge and experience. From the beginning of Islam, the Muslim community has deepened its value for knowledge, and from the beginning of the 7th century the influences of Islamic knowledge spread rapidly from the Arabian Peninsula to the Iberian Peninsula. Shariff wrote:

Education spread in the Muslim world with electric speed. There was no village without a Mosque, and elementary and secondary schools sprang up as adjunct to Mosques, their curriculum being the teaching of the Qur’an, stories about the life of the Prophet (PBUH), reading and writing, a little poetry and the elements of arithmetic and grammar.[8]

In order to seek knowledge of the natural world, one must live life as a Muslim. This is according to the Qur’an and Hadith. Therefore, one cannot separate the Muslim community’s pursuit of knowledge from its own religiosity. They are inseparable. In order to understand the Muslim intellectual contribution to al-Andalus, and to the peaceful coexistence that prevailed there among the three Abrahamic traditions, one must understand the continuity of Muslim intellectual and religious experience from the time of the Prophet (PBUH).



  1. What are the 2 major sources of Islam?
  2. What is the significance of knowledge in Islam?
  3. What does the Prophet (PBUH) warn Muslims about (in relation to knowledge)?
  4. What is the responsibility of the Muslim Scholars and the community as a whole?


[1] M.M Shariff, Muslim Thought: Its Origin and Achievements (Lahore: Kashmiri Bazar, 1959), 20.

[2] W.M.N. W. Daud, The Concept of Knowledge in Islam: And Its Implication for Education in a Developing Country (New York: Mansell Publishing Limited, (1989), 11.

[3] A. Yusuf Ali, The Meaning of the Glorious of the Qur’an(Istanbul: Asir Media, 2002)

[4] W.M.N. W. Daud, The Concept of Knowledge in Islam: And Its Implication for Education in a Developing Country  (New York: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1989), 21.

[5] Quseyri, Sahih el-Muslim(Riyad: Darusselam, 2000), 34:64:62.

[6] Bukhari,  Sahih el-Bukhari  3:73.

[7] Ibid, 3:90.

[8] M.M Shariff, Muslim Thought: Its Origin and Achievements  (Lahore: Kashmiri Bazar, 1959), 20.

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