The Different Facets of the Formal Aspect of Religion

The Different Facets of the Formal Aspect of Religion

It has become clear from what has been said thus far that the Holy Quran, which is the principal source of religious thought in Islam, has given full authority to the external meanings of its words for those who give ear to its message. The same external meaning of the Quranic verses has made the sayings of the Prophet complementary to the words of the Quran and has declared them to be authoritative like the Quran. For as the Quran says:" And We have revealed unto thee the Remembrance that thou mayst explain to mankind that which hath been revealed for them". (1)And," He it is who hath sent among the unlettered ones a messenger of their own, to recite unto them His revelations and to make them grow, and to teach them the scripture and Wisdom".(2) And," And whatsoever the messenger giveth you, take it. And whatsoever he forbiddeth, abstain) from it (".(3) And," Verily in the messenger of Allah ye have a good example".(4)

It is quite evident that such verses would not have any real meaning if the words and deeds of the Prophet and even his silence and approval were not authority for us just as the Quran itself is. Thus the words of the Prophet are authoritative and must be accepted by those who have heard them orally or received them through reliable transmission. Moreover, through such a completely authentic chain of transmission it is known that the Holy Prophet said," I leave two things of value amidst you in trust which if you hold on to you will never go astray: the Quran and the members of my household. These will never be separated until the Day of Judgment." According to this and other definitely established hadiths the words of the Family of the Household of the Prophet form a corpus that is complementary to the Prophetic religious sciences and are inerrant in the explanation of the teachings and injunctions of Islam. Their sayings, received orally or through reliable transmission, are reliable and authoritative.

Therefore, it is clear that the traditional source from which the formal and external aspect of religion is derived, which is an authoritative document and which is also the basic source for the religious thought of Islam, consists of two parts: The Book (the Quran( and the Sunnah. By the Book is meant the external aspect of the verses of the Holy Quran; and by the Sunnah, hadith received from the Prophet and his revered Household.

Traditions of the Companions

In Shi'ism hadiths transmitted through the companions are dealt with according to this principle: if they deal with the words and actions of the Prophet and do not contradict the hadiths of the Household of the Prophet, they are acceptable. If they contain only the views or opinions of the companions themselves and not those of the Prophet, they are not authoritative as sources for religious injunctions.

In this respect, the ruling of the companions is like the ruling of any other Muslim. In the same way, the companions themselves dealt with other companions in questions of Islamic law as they would with any Muslim, not as someone special.

The Book and Tradition

The Book of God, the Holy Quran, is the principal source of every form of Islamic thought. It is the Quran which gives religious validity and authority to every other religious source in Islam. Therefore, it must be comprehensible to all. Moreover, the Quran describes itself as the light which illuminates all things. Also it challenges men and requests them to ponder over its verses and observe that there are no disparities or contradictions in them. It invites them to compose similar work, if they can, to replace it.

It is clear that if the Holy Quran were not comprehensible to all there would be no place for such assertions. To say that the Quran is in itself comprehensible to all is not in any way contradictory to the previous assertion that the Prophet and his Household are religious authorities in the Islamic sciences, which sciences in reality are only elaborations of the content of the Quran. For instance, in the part of the Islamic sciences which comprises the injunctions and laws of the Shari'ah, the Quran contains only the general principles. The clarification and elaboration of their details, such as the manner of accomplishing the daily prayers, fasting, exchanging merchandise, and in fact all acts of worship) 'ibadat (and transactions (mu'amalat), can be achieved only by referring to the traditions of the Holy Prophet and his Household.

As for the other part of the Islamic sciences dealing with doctrines and ethical methods and practices, although their content and details can be comprehended by all, the understanding of their full meaning depends on accepting the method of the Household of the Prophet. In addition, each verse of the Quran must be explained and interpreted by means of other Quranic verses, not by views which have become acceptable and familiar to us only through habit and custom. Ali has said:" Some parts of the Quran speak with other parts of it revealing to us their meaning and some parts attest to the meaning of others." And the Prophet has said," Parts of the Quran verify other parts."

And also:" Whosoever interprets the Quran according to his own opinion has made a place for himself in the fire." As a simple example of the Quran through the Quran may be cited the story of the torture of the people of Lot about whom in one place God says," And we rained on them a rain," and in another place He has changed this phrase to," Lo! We sent a storm of stones upon them (all)." By relating the second verse to the first it becomes clear that by" rain" is meant" stones" from heaven. Whoever has studied with care the hadiths of the Household of the Prophet, and the outstanding companions who were the followers of the Prophet, will have no doubt that the commentary of the Quran through the Quran is the sole method of Quranic commentary taught by the Household of the Prophet.



1. (The Holy Quran, XVI, 44).

2. (The Holy Quran, LXII, 2).

3. (The Holy Quran, LIX, 7).

4. (The Holy Quran, XXXIII, 12).