The Qur'an, Hadith, and the Prophet Muhammad

Table of Contents

The Qur'an,
Tafsir, commentary on the Qur'an
Hadith, sayings and accounts of the Prophet
Hadith Criticism
Sirah, hagiographies of the Prophet
Downloadable Arabic Research Library


Muslims believe that the Qur'an consists of the word of God revealed in Arabic by God to the Prophet Muhammad over a twenty-two year period. He received the first revelation in the year 610 CE while engaging in a contemplative retreat in the Cave of Hira located on the Mountain of Light (Jabal al-nur)(also known as Mt. Hira), which is in the outskirts of Mecca. The Qur'an is distinct from hadith, which are the sayings of Muhammad. It is agreed that Muhammad clearly distinguished between his own utterances (hadith) and God's words, the Qur'an. Muslims and most Western scholars believe that the Arabic Qur'an that exists today contains the same Arabic that was transmitted by Muhammad. Hence anyone who knows Arabic can rest assured that they are reading the exact words of revelation received by Muhammad. Those who do not know Arabic can nevertheless benefit from hearing the evocative quality of the original Arabic.

The traditional Muslim understanding of the history of the Qur'an is found at the History of Qur'an Site and The Preservation and Transmission of Qur'an (link fixed, Sept. 4, 2000). The major events in traditional accounts of the process that lead up to the production of the Qur'an as we know it are noted at the site A brief History of the Compilation of the Qur'an. For a detailed recounting of the traditional Muslim view of the early transmission of the Qur'an see Transmission of the Qur'anic Revelation, which is chapter two in Ahmad von Denffer's book 'Ulum al-Qur'an. See also chapter three in the same work, The Qur'an in Manuscript and Print, for a discussion of early Qur'an manuscripts. A recent online article that discusses early Qur'an manuscripts and includes numerous images of these is titled The Qur'an Manuscripts and was compiled by the Muslim scholars of Islamic-Awareness.Org, which is a website designed to educate Muslims about the issues often raised by Christian missionaries.

A minority of Western scholars (often called orientalists) assert that Muslim accounts of the compilation of the Qur'an are pious fictions and that the Qur'an substantially evolved after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE. This viewpoint is presented in a recent article (on-line and in print) written for a popular audience in Atlantic Monthly, What is the Koran? (Link fixed February 7, 1999) Nevertheless, concerning the completeness of the Qur'an and the final arrangement of the surahs (chapters), it must be stressed --as Professor A. Jones of Oxford asserts-- that "the varying views of orientalists [on the the completeness and order of the Qur'an] are a mixture of prejudice and speculation" and consequently have not been generally accepted as being true (Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period p. 240). For a rebuttal of the Atlantic Monthlyarticle's main contentions see a A Response to the article "What is the Koran?" written by a Jeffrey Lang, a Muslim professor of Mathematics at the University of Kansas. (Fixed 2 December 1999 and offline on Nov. 28, 2001) In addition, see the critique written by Azizah al-Hibri, professor of Law at the University of Richmond. (Fixed 2 December 1999 and 24 November 2001.) And note as well, the comments on the Atlantic Monthly article derived from a statement by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (link fixed 24 November 2001) a highly esteemed scholar of Islam and religion in general.

A wide variety of criticisms of Muslim beliefs in the Qur'an are explained and refuted in a generally scholarly manner at the many pages of the site Issues Concerning the Qur'an. See especially the subpages Textual Integrity of the Qur'an and The Sources of the Qur'an.

An excellent introduction to the Qur'an is the article titled The Koran, by Professors Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick of State University of New York, Stonybrook. This is an excerpt from their book The Vision of Islam ( which is largely based on the Qur'an itself. This article will help readers to understand and get beyond certain problems inherent in any translation of the Qur'an.

Translations--however inspired they may be--are only shadows of the original. They should always be read with a healthy dose of skepticism concerning the degree to which they reflect the original. The gulf between the original and the translation is an important reason why Muslims must recite the Qur'an only in Arabic for the required daily prayers. A translation of the Qur'an is not the Qur'an; it is simply one person's interpretation of the Qur'an. To a limited extent, however, translations can shed light on the meaning of the Qur'an.

By comparing a few Qur'an translations verse by verse, one can often get a fuller sense of the Arabic original. The following Translations of the Qur'an site uses side by side translations of Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, and Shakir. You can search these Qur'an translations as well.

Qur'an Translation Search Engine Developed at Brown University, this can search the Pickthall, Yusufali, Shakir, and Sher Ali translations of the Qur'an. This engine is more powerful than the previous engines, but in order to see all of the translations side by side, first search for a word, phrase, or particular verse in one of the translations (eg. Pickthall, which is the default). Then click on one of results in the "passage list" and beneath the full passage, among the various options click on "all."

The M. H. Shakir translation can be searched by this powerful search engine at the University of Michigan. It can perform three types of searches: a simple search for a word or phrase throughout the Qur'an; a search for two or three words or phrases in close proximity to one another; a Boolean search for the occurence of two or three words in any verse. One of the virtues of this engine is that the results are displayed in the context of the aya (s) in which the word or words are found.

Subject Index of the Qur'an This subject index is hyperlinked with the Qur'an, so that after choosing a particular subject, the reader can simply click on the various Qur'anic verse (ayah)numbers, which will then lead to the text of that verse in which the chosen subject is found.

Introductions to Each Qur'anic Sura, by Mawdudi

The Qur'an: Arabic text and recitation The recitation is by Shaykh Khalil al-Husari (one of the finest Qur'an reciters) and is considered to be ideal for learning the proper pronunciation of the Qur'an. Real Audio is needed in order to hear this. If you do not have it, you can download it for free by clicking on this Real Audio link. (Changed to free audio links Sept. 24, 2003.)

The Qur'an: Arabic recitation by Shaykh al-Minshawi (one of the finest Qur'an reciters). (Changed to free audio link, Sept. 24, 2003.)

Hear the entirety of the Qur'an, sura by sura (chapter by chapter), recited by different reciters. You will need Real Audio 3.0 for this. (Offline, Sept. 3, 2000.)

Surat al-Fatiha, the opening surah of the Qur'an, is recited here by Shaykh Khalil al-Husari. (Real Audio)

A Free Qur'an can be obtained from the Islamic Affairs Division of the Saudi Arabian embassy. In the box that says select the requested items, click on and hold down the arrowhead on the right and choose Qur'an -- With English translation: Yousef Ali.

Free Qur'an either send Free Qur' your address by email or simply call toll free 1-800-747-8726 (1-800-74QURAN).

A Free Qur'an is offered as a service at this website.

Obtain A Free Qu'ran The Online Islamic Bookstore offers free Qur'ans to any interested non-Muslim who is willing to pay the $3.00 shipping cost. (No longer offered, Oct. 26, 2002.)


Muslims regard the most reliable Qur'anic commentary as being contained in the Qur'an itself. In other words, the ways in which certain ayat clarify other ayat are regarded as being the most significant form of commentary. A second form of Qur'anic commentary is how the Prophet interpreted the Qur'an. And his comments on the Qur'an (as well as everything he ever said or did) are recorded in the hadith collections. After these two forms of commentary, knowledgeable companions and later generations of pious and learned Muslims expressed their view of the meaning of various ayat. It was on this foundation that the science of Qur'anic commentary was built.
  • Foundations of the Science of Qur'an Interpretation (tafsir) written by Shaykh Muhammad Zakariya Kandhalvi. (Link fixed, Sept. 3, 2000)

  • 'Ulum al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an Written by the Muslim scholar, Ahmad Von Denffer, this on-line version of the first six chapters of his book expresses a Sunni perspective on the various fields of scholarship related to the Qur'an.
  • 'Ulum al-Qur'an: An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur'an is another online version of Ahmad Von Denffer's work.

  • Tafsir of Selected Surahs The Muslim woman scholar A'isha Bewley has translated and compiled from traditional sources useful commentaries on Surat al-Tawbah, selected ayahs from Surat al-Nur, and Surat al-Mulk.

  • In the Shade of the Qur'an (Fi Zilal al-Qur'an) is the well-known 20th Century tafsir written by Syed Qutb, the Egyptian Muslim activist and major figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. This online section consists of the commentary from Surah 78 until the end of the Qur'an.

  • Al-Mizan is the voluminous Qur'an commentary of the 'Alamah Taba'taba'i, the highly regarded 20th century Shi'ite scholar. Here is the translation of his commentary on the Fatihah (the opening surah of the Qur'an), part of the second surah (Baqarah), and part of the third surah, (Al 'Imran).

  • is the most comprehensive Qur'anic resource on the web. A project of the Aal al-Bayt Foundation for Islamic Thought, has put online the Qur'an in Arabic recited by six of the most highly regarded Qur'anic reciters, numerous Qur'anic commentaries in Arabic, as well as translations of the Qur'an into 16 languages and many important texts in Arabic of the traditional Qur'anic sciences ('ulum). In the works are translations into English of some of the commentaries along with a new translation of the Qur'an.


    A hadith is a saying of Muhammad or a report about something he did. Over time, during the first few centuries of Islam, it became obvious that many so-called hadith were in fact spurious sayings that had been fabricated for various motives, at best to encourage believers to act righteously and at worse to corrupt believers' understanding of Islam and to lead them astray. Since Islamic legal scholars were utilizing hadith as an adjunct to the Qur'an in their development of the Islamic legal system, it became critically important to have reliable collections of hadith. While the early collections of hadith often contained hadith that were of questionable origin, gradually collections of authenticated hadith called sahih (lit. true, correct) were compiled. Such collections were made possible by the development of the science of hadith criticism, a science at the basis of which was a critical analysis of the chain of (oral) transmission (isnad) of the hadith going all the way back to Muhammad. The two most highly respected collections of hadith are the authenticated collections the Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. In addition to these, four other collections came to be well-respected, although not to the degree of Bukhari and Muslim's sahih collections. These four other collections are the Sunan of Tirmidhi, Nasa'i, Ibn Majah, and Abu Da'ud. Together these four and the two sahih collections are called the "six books" (al-kutub al-sitta). Two other important collections, in particular, are the Muwatta of Ibn Malik, the founder of the Maliki school of law, and the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the founder of the Hanbali school of law.

    Translations of the entirety of the hadith collections of Bukhari (Sahih) and Malik (Muwatta) and part of the collections of Muslim (Sahih) and Abu Dawud (Sunan) are on-line and searchable at the MSA-USC Hadith Database.

    Imam Nawawi's Forty Hadith This selection of the sayings of the Prophet compiled by Nawawi, a very important medieval Islamic scholar, has been a favorite of Muslims since its compilation in the 13th century CE. (Back on line 1/18/98.)

    Imam al-Nawawi's Forty Hadith recited and explained in both Arabic and English. This is especially useful for intermediate and advanced level students of Arabic Islamic texts.

    A selection of hadith by Sir Abdullah Suhrawardy entitled Sayings of the Prophet. This has a useful topic index.

    Forty Hadith Qudsi Hadith in which the Prophet reports non-Qur'anic words of God are called hadith qudsi.

    Mishkat al-masabih, an online book by a Muslim scholar Moulana Yunus Osman, deals with hadith in general but focuses on a popular collection of hadith that has been translated into English by James Robson.

    The Sunna Project of the International Hadith Study Association Network (IHSAN)contains online their Hadith Encyclopedia database containing a searchable version of the Arabic text and indices of the Seven Canonical Hadith Collections: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Daud, Sunan al-Tirmidhi,Sunan al-Nasa’i, Sunan Ibn Majh and the Muwatta’ lik, as well as comments and footnotes. Until February 2003, this service will be in beta testing and be free of charge.

    The Critical Study of Hadith

    The traditional Islamic study of hadith is outlined in The Science of Hadith page.

    A more detailed discussion is given in An Introduction to the Science of Hadith. by Suhaib Hassan.

    A well-done annotated bibliography of hadith collections and scholarly studies on hadith is B. Sadeghi's Hadith Bibliography.

    Sirah, Hagiographical Literature on the Prophet

    The Prophet's life-story was transmitted by story tellers and then compiled in books called sirah (pronounced as seera.) In the works of this genre, the Prophet Muhammad's virtuous character is made clear. Even before receiving the revelation of the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad was well-known for his good character. One example of his character can be seen in the well-attested hadith transmitted by Umm al-'Ala', an Ansari woman [of Madina] who made the pledge to the Prophet. She narrated the following hadith: At the death of Abu Sa'ib 'Uthman ibn Maz'un, she said, "O Abu Sa'ib, I testify that God has enobled you." The prophet said, "How do you know that God has enobled him?" So I [Umm al-'Ala'] said, "May my father be sacrificed for you, O Messenger of God! Whom does God enoble?" Then the Prophet said, "As for him, [the] certainty [of death] has indeed come to him, and by God, I hope the best for him. By God, I do not know--even though I am the messenger of God--what will be done with me." She said, "By God, I never attested to anyone's piety after that." (Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, vol. 1, p. 419-20; M. M. Khan, v. 2, p. 189-90 Jana'iz, bab 3, #2 (#334); Ibn Hajar, Irshad al-sari, vol. 2, p. 376-77).

    A well-written on-line Biography of the Prophet Muhammad is that of the contemporary Muslim scholar Muhammad Hamidullah.

    A useful on-line translation of the first chapter of a widely read medieval Islamic text by the well-known Qadi Iyad deals with God's praise of and high regard for the Prophet Muhammad. The title, Kitab al-Shifa', means "The Book of Healing."

    A prominent Christian scholar of Islam, W. Montgomery Watt, has written the following--generally positive--assessment of Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman.

    One of the many critical events in the life of the Prophet Muhammad is the "Night Journey," when, while in a state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep, he was taken from the Ka'ba (link fixed, Sept. 3, 2000) in Mecca to what the Qur'an (17:1) refers to as "Furthest Mosque" --in Jerusalem-- where the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque stand today. From there he was transported through the heavens and then back to this world during what is called his mi'raj (ascension).

  • The Wives of the Prophet, written by Muslims affiliated with the Alharamain Islamic Foundation, consists of short but useful biographies of all of Muhammad's wives. One of the difficulties that non-Muslims encounter when reading about Muhammad is that unlike Jesus, who lived a celibate life, Muhammad was married. Furthermore, after the death of Khadija (his first wife) in 619 CE until the time of his death in 632 CE, Muhammad married a total of 11 more wives. Muslims, however, are not alarmed by his numerous marriages, since they know the following: 1)that it was not unusual for a powerful Middle Eastern chieftan to marry a number of wives, and 2) that almost all of these 11 other wives were widows when he married them, and 3)for the most part these marriages were contracted in order to cement political ties with the tribes of the wives.

  • The Wives of the Prophet Muhammad, is the English translation of a medieval Arabic work by the highly regarded Muslim scholar, Ibn Kathir. Note that when you reach the bottom of the first page at this site, choose "next" in order to see the remainder of the site.

  • Why Did the Prophet Muhammad Marry Young 'A'isha? This is a response written by a Muslim scholar, Sabeel Ahmed, to the contemporary polemical accusation that the Prophet in marrying 'A'isha (while she was young) was committing paedophilia and child abuse.

    The Prophet Muhammad lived next to main mosque that he established in Madina. When he died he was buried in his house. Today, the mosque encompasses his tomb. Muslim often make a pilgrimage to the Prophet's Mosque and tomb after they perform the Hajj in Mecca. From here you can make a virtual pilgrimage to the Prophet's Mosque.

    Comprehensive Downloadable Arabic Library for Research in Primary Islamic Sources

    This invaluable free service includes all the major hadith texts (and many of the minor ones) as well as works of hadith criticism, some important tafsirs, dictionaries, and works of fiqh. These can be downloaded --not read online-- from the Al-Muhaddith Islamic Library and Search Program. They are essential for university libraries as well as for scholars who wish to pursue original research in Islamic primary sources.

    In addition to the hadith collections, one can also download various Arabic tafsirs such as Tafsir Jalalayn,Suyuti's al-Durr al-manthur (which uses hadith to clarify and expand on the meaning of the Qur'an), and an abridged version of the Tafsir al-Qurtubi.

    The library includes as well a number of important general dictionaries such as Ibn Manzur's Lisan al-'Arab and Fayruzabadi's al-Qamus al-muhit; Ibn al-Athir's dictionary of rare words used in hadith, al-Nihayah fi gharib al-hadith; Asfahani's dictionary of the Qur'an, Mufradat alfaz al-Qur'an; and even an Arabic-English and English-Arabic dictionary.

    A PC running Arabic Windows95 is necessary in order to read the texts, although Arabic Windows98 is recommended.

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