Islamic Studies Short Courses: What is Sources of Guidance in Islam

September 11, 2022 Ust. Asad Khan
Quran Studies Islamic Guidance Prophetic Commentary

Returning to the ultimate source of guidance

These are uniquely difficult times for those seeking to navigate Islamic studies short courses and islamic studies summer programs. Our communities are being confronted with ideas that appear to challenge Islam: atheism, feminism, liberalism, and ideologies that separate Islam from its spiritual essence. This can lead Muslims to rethink their worldview, asking: How should Muslims orient themselves in the world? How should Muslims determine the moral principles that will govern their actions?


How should Muslims determine the moral principles that will govern their actions?

Due to the perpetuation of non-Islamic worldviews, for many Muslims, answering these questions can be difficult. It can even lead to abandoning certain Islamic teachings.

The answer to these problems lies in returning to the ultimate source of guidance: revelation. Guidance cannot be derived from perpetually changing man-made philosophies, or the experiences of one’s short life. Exploring the best weekend Islamic studies graduate programs and islamic studies summer programs may offer a profound opportunity to delve deeper into this source of timeless wisdom and guidance.


As Muslims, we know that our religion has answers to all of our questions.

Mankind received guidance from the All-Knowing Creator ﷻ in the form of Qur’ān and the Sunnah of Allāh’s Messenger, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. These two are the only standards for our religion that are binding and must be followed until the end of time. All that aligns with them is sound, and all that contradicts them must be avoided.

Knowing this raises a series of questions: How do we know that these sources are preserved and have not been corrupted? Has all of the Qur’an and Sunnah been preserved perfectly and accurately? If not, then how do we distinguish between what has and what has not?

Are these sources open to multiple interpretations? If so, how should we correctly understand these sources? If the sources are open to multiple interpretations, how can they be binding?

This article will examine the questions above–providing a basic framework to answer questions about: the authority of the Qur’ān and Sunnah, the process of preserving them, and their binding nature.


The Authority of the Qur’ān and Sunnah

As Muslims, we believe in only One Creator ﷻ, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers ﷺ, and the Day of Judgment. Encompassed within the belief in His book is that we affirm that He revealed His final book, the Qur’ān, as a means of guidance to mankind. Additionally, for those seeking to deepen their understanding, exploring Islamic short courses online and accredited online islamic studies can offer valuable insights. Although the Qur’ān possesses the ultimate authority to the believer, its message has been conveyed through the medium of the Arabic language.

This leads to the hermeneutical problem of how the language of the Qur’ān should be understood. There are various possible interpretations of the text that can be adopted, including within Islamic studies courses online and Female Islamic Courses, each leading to a different understanding of the message. This may render the message of the Qur’ān subjective, rather than objective, giving validity to various contradictory interpretations. This problem is solved by the Qur’ān itself.

Allāh ﷻ states:

“He is the One who has revealed to you the Book (the Qur’ān). Out of it there are verses that are Muḥkamāt (of established meaning), which are the principal verses of the Book, and some others are Mutashābihāt (whose definite meanings are unknown). Now those who have perversity in their hearts go after such part of it as is mutashābih, seeking (to create) discord, and searching for its interpretation (that meets their desires), while no one knows its interpretation except Allah ﷻ ; and those well-grounded in knowledge say: “We believe therein; all is from our Lord.” Only the men of understanding observe the advice.”  Qur’ān 3:7

This verse clarifies that there are two types of verses in the Qur’ān: Muḥkam verses which are unequivocally clear, and Mutashābih verses which are unclear.

The Muḥkam verses only accept one meaning per the Arabic language. Therefore, they present a message that is obtained objectively and cannot be denied. The Muḥkam verses have been classified by scholars as unequivocally clear (Qaṭ‘ī al-Dilālah).

The role of the Arabic language and its rules of conveying meaning is imperative in this.

Allāh ﷻ states: “We have sent it down, as an Arabic Qur’ān, so that you may understand.”Qur’ān 12:2

The believer must believe and act upon the explicit meaning of unequivocally clear texts, as they are not open to subjective interpretations. An example of this is the verse of the Qur’ān: “Say, He is Allāh, the One”.Qur’ān 112:1 This verse cannot possibly be understood as implying that there is more than one God, or that Allāh ﷻ  has partners. Such a reading of the text in that manner would be absurd. Islamic Studies Programs in Islamic studies courses often delve into such critical interpretations of sacred texts.

The Mutashābih verses, on the other hand, either accept multiple possible interpretations, or are entirely beyond our comprehension. An example of a verse that is beyond our comprehension is: “Alif, Lām, Mīm”Qur’ān 2:1. The scholars of exegesis disagree on whether these verses can be understood or not. Those who posit that the meanings of these verses can be known differ on what they mean. Some argue that they refer to the names of Allāh ﷻ , while others believed they referred to names of the Qur’ān. However, the reality is that the true meanings of these verses are only known to Allāh..

An example of a verse that can be understood plainly, but is also open to multiple interpretations, is Allāh’s ﷻ  commandment: “Establish Ṣalāh and give Zakāh.”Qur’ān 2:43  The linguistic definitions of Ṣalāh and Zakāh are supplication and purity, respectively.

Hence, the meaning of the verse as a commandment to establish the prayer, with all that it entails, and to give a percentage of one’s wealth to charity, cannot be understood from the apparent construction of the verse alone. As such, the Messenger ﷺ (peace be upon him and his family) was tasked with conveying, clarifying, and explaining the Qur’ān to the people. This is reflected in the verse of the Qur’ān:

“And we have revealed the Reminder to you so you may clarify for people what has been revealed to them.” Qur’ān 16:44, in meaning.


And we have revealed the Reminder to you so you may clarify for people what has been revealed to them.

Therefore, without the practice and teachings of the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ, the Qur’ān cannot be properly practiced, rendering the religion incomplete. As mentioned in the example above, the intended meaning of Ṣalāh and Zakāh would not be known, if not for the Messenger’s ﷺ clarification and demonstration.

This is why Allāh ﷻ  has made obedience of the Messenger ﷺ obligatory upon the believers when He states: “Say, obey Allāh and His Messenger,”Qur’ān 3:31, in meaning and “And whatever the Messenger gives to you, take it. And whatever he forbids you from, leave it.”Qur’ān 59:7 provides a framework in the example of the Messenger ﷺ for understanding such verses while closing the door on unintended interpretations of the text.


without the practice and teachings of the Messenger ﷺ of Allāh, the Qur’ān cannot be properly practiced, rendering the religion incomplete.

From these verses, it is established that the Messenger’s ﷺ Sunnah, or practice, is a source of Islamic legislation. His statements, actions, and tacit approvals are elaborations of the Qur’ān. Therefore, they must be followed.

The general commandment, “take whatever he gives you,” also implies that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ is free from error. If it was possible for him to commit a mistake, Allāh ﷻ would not have given a general commandment to follow him without an exception. This infallibility is more clearly expressed in the verse of the Qur’ān

“And nor does he speak from desire. It is not but a revelation, revealed.”Qur’ān 53:3-4

However, this infallibility is only limited to the Messenger ﷺ himself. There is no text that exists that indicates that this infallibility is shared by anyone else from his ummah.

Although we deeply revere the Messenger’s ﷺ  family, his companions, and the great scholars from the early or later eras of Islam, this infallibility was not bestowed upon them.

Furthermore, they are subject to committing errors in their independent reasoning (Ijtihād), despite their tremendously sincere intentions. Accordingly, the statements of anyone other than the Messenger ﷺ do not constitute binding proof in and of itself. This does not negate or diminish the work of scholars, which will be discussed later.

The Preservation of the Qur’ān

In the time of the Messenger ﷺ, when verses of the Qur’ān were revealed to him, he would recite them to his companions who would memorize the verses and write them down. Several of the companions, such as Zayd bin Thābit and Ubay bin Ka’bBukhārī, Book 65, Ḥadīth 4679
, were specifically commissioned with the task of recording the Qur’ān as it was revealed.

However, although the entire Qur’ān was recorded during the time of the Messenger ﷺ, it was not collected and compiled together in a book format.

This task of compiling the Qur’ān together was undertaken by the first Caliph, Abū Bakr, upon the recommendation of ‘Umar. This is recorded in Imām Bukhārī ’s rigorously authentic collection, on the authority of Zayd bin Thābit, who stated:

“Abū Bakr sent for me after the (heavy) casualties among the warriors (of the battle) of Yamāmah (where a great number of Qur’ān memorizers were killed). ‘Umar was present with Abū Bakr who said, ‘Umar has come to me and said’, ‘The people have suffered heavy casualties on the day of (the battle of) Yamāmah, and I am afraid that there will be more casualties among the Qurrā’ (those who know the Qur’ān by heart) at other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur’ān may be lost, unless you collect it. And I am of the opinion that you should collect the Qur’ān.’ Abū Bakr added, ‘I said to ‘Umar, ‘How can I do something which Allāh’s Messenger ﷺ has not done?’ ‘Umar said (to me), ‘By Allāh, it is (really) a good thing.’ So `Umar kept on pressing, trying to persuade me to accept his proposal until Allāh ﷻ opened my bosom for it and I had the same opinion as ‘Umar. […]”Bukhārī, Book 65, Ḥadīth 4679

During the year of the passing of the Messenger ﷺ, the companions immediately realized the importance of collecting the Qur’ān to ensure its preservationThe battle at Yamāma, which ignited the urgency in collecting the Qur’ān, took place in the year 11 AH.. In addition to being preserved in written form, the Qur’ān was also preserved in the hearts of the ṢaḥābahThe companions of the Messenger.. Those who were present at the time of revelation committed verses of the Qur’ān to memory, as indicated in the ḥadīth quoted above. Along with written preservation, a process of orally transmitting the Qur’ān started as well.

This transmission was from such a high number of companions to the subsequent generation, and from that generation to the next, that it is rationally inconceivable for there to be any changes to the Qur’ān. This form of transmission is referred to as tawātur. That is how Allāh ﷻ preserved the Qur’ān, as He promised in this verse: “Indeed We have revealed the Reminder, and indeed We are its Preservers.”Qur’ān 15:9

The scholars have termed such tawātur transmissions as “unequivocally transmitted” (Qaṭ‘ī al-Thubūt). This means any information transmitted in this manner yields epistemological certainty in its authenticity and correct transmission. Since the number of transmitters is so large, it is not possible for all the narrators to make the same mistake, nor for them to have agreed to lie. Such a transmission is safe from tampering, fabrication, and unintentional errors.

When a text is established as unequivocally transmitted, it is necessary for the believer to have certain faith that the text is, without a doubt, accurately transmitted from the Messenger ﷺ. Since the entire Qur’ān is transmitted in this manner, belief in its preservation is necessary for salvation.

If the unequivocally transmitted text (Qaṭ‘ī al-Thubūt) is also unequivocally clear (Qaṭ‘ī al-Dilālah), then believing in the objective message of the text is also essential for salvation. Such texts substantiate necessary beliefs for being a believer and follower of Islām.

Any contradiction in faith with such texts leads one to exit the faith.

An example of an unequivocally transmitted text was presented earlier in the verse of the Qur’ān: “Say, He is Allāh, the One” Qur’ān 112:1. As a verse of the Qur’ān, it is unequivocally transmitted, and it is also unequivocal in its conveyance of an objective message. If people believe in the existence of more than one God, contrary to the text, they would have left the fold of Islām.

The Preservation of the Sunnah

After the passing of the Messenger ﷺ, a formalized effort was not immediately made to collect and gather the Sunnah into a single compilation, as it was done for the Qur’ān. However, similar to the Qur’ān, the actions and teachings of the Messenger ﷺ  were studied by his companions, who aspired to learn and adopt them as best they could.

Everyone learned the essential elements of belief and practiced the necessary rituals of worship that are essential for salvation. The knowledgeable companions studied the nonessential elements of faith.

The companions of the Messenger ﷺ conveyed essential teachings through words and practice to all Muslims entering the faith, and to the entire generation that succeeded them, who transmitted the knowledge to the generation that succeeded them, and so on.


Mass Transmission Narrations: Tawātur

Thus, the teachings of the Messenger ﷺ that are essential for salvation and correct application of the Qur’ān, such as the method and structure of the Ṣalāh, have been transmitted to us through a tawātur transmission—like the Qur’ān.

Such transmission of the Sunnah is also classified as unequivocally transmitted (Qaṭ‘ī al-Thubūt) and is agreed upon by the various Islamic sects. This is how the concept of mutawātir sunnah was understood by the scholars of Uṣūl. They understand mutawātir sunnah as the sunnah that was mass transmitted from generation to generation, from the Messenger until now, in practice and in teaching, even if there are not traceable chains of transmission that amount to the conditions of mutawātir. An indication of this is if the Sunnah is agreed upon by all Islamic sects. Al-Imām al-Shāfi’ī in his Risālah refers to this as “the agreed upon Sunnah” (al-Sunnah al-Mujtama’ ‘alayha). This entails all that is necessary knowledge within the religion (al-Ma’lūm min al-Dīn bi al-Darūrah). This would include the structure of the prayer, the obligation of Hijab, etc.


Single Chained Narrations: Aḥād

Alternatively, a large portion of his Sunnah, which comprises the non-essential aspects of belief, as well as details regarding the practical dimension of the faith, was orally transmitted from those who witnessed it to those who did not through single chained narrations (āḥād), rather than mass-transmission.

Such a narration of the Sunnah of the Messenger ﷺ was termed Ḥadīth. As such, this manner of transmission was not inclusive, because all of the Sunnah of the Messenger ﷺ did not reach all of the Muslim community. Therefore, individuals followed that which reached them and were unable to follow that which did not.


Gathering the Aḥādīth: The Era of Tadwīn

Given this situation, scholars realized the need to gather the Aḥādīth, or narrations of the Messenger ﷺ, to attain a correct and comprehensive understanding of his Sunnah.

Thus, the greatest Muslims from among them took the task of journeying through Islamic lands and gathering the transmitted narrations of his Sunnah. This time period is known as the era of collection (tadwīn).

This process began around ninety years following the passing of the Messenger ﷺ, and continued for approximately three centuries. During this time, the great collections of ḥadīth such as the Sunan of Abī Dāwūd, the Sunan of Ibn Mājah, and the Jāmi‘ of al-Tirmidhī, were compiled.

Moreover, in the era following the passing of the major companions, the Muslims were faced with challenges. Some of these challenges included the emergence of various sects and the rise of corrupt governments. Another challenge that they experienced was the presence of hypocrites who desired to sabotage the religion.

Taking advantage of the absence of a collection of āḥād Sunnah (aḥādīth containing non essential aspects of belief), certain narrators initiated forging narrations, either to benefit themselves, their sect, or to damage the faith and attributed them to the Messenger ﷺ. Some of these narrators later admitted to inventing such narrations.

One such example is that of ‘Umar bin Ṣaḥab. Al-Imām al-Bukhārī narrates in his book, Tārīkh al-Awsat, “Yaḥya bin Yashkury informed me from ‘Ali bin Jarīr who said, ‘I heard ‘Umar bin Ṣaḥab say, ‘I forged the khutbah of the Messenger ﷺ.’ʿAbdur Rahmān al-Mizzy, Yūsuf. Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, First ed. Vol. 21, 398. Beirut: مؤسسة الرسالة, 1996.

A similar example that illustrates the invention of narrations by different sects for their own gain is found in narrations from Ibn Abi Ḥātim. He mentions a narration from a former scholar of the KhawārijThe Khawārij were an extremist group that emerged during the Caliphate of al-Imām ‘Ali. They rejected the Caliphate of al-Imām ‘Ali and abandoned his army, earning them the name Khawārij, “the Dissenters”. They waged a war against al-Imām ‘Ali and were also responsible for his assassination. after he left their sect, who said, “Be wary of whom you take your religion from, for indeed if we used to desire a matter, we would make it into a ḥadīth.”Ibn Abī Ḥātim, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān. al-Jarḥ Wal-Ta‘dīl. Vol. 1. Hyderabad: 1952, دائرة المعارف العثمانية

This made scholars realize the necessity of distinguishing a true statement of the Messenger ﷺ from a forgery. Thus, a way of classifying ḥadīth was deduced.

In order to verify narrations, scholars developed a standard of accuracy in narration and trustworthiness to judge narrators on before accepting their reports.

Then, they would seek out the source that the narrator took the report from and apply the same standard of accuracy and trustworthiness to the previous narrator. That is how they traced the statement back to the Messenger ﷺ—verifying each narrator in the chain of transmitters.

The scholars understood the weight of classifying statements of the Messenger ﷺ, which constituted a large portion of the religion. Hence, they applied strict conditions when accepting narrations. Even if there was a single narrator within a chain of transmission who failed to meet the criteria of the scholars, the scholars would still classify the narration as weak due to a higher margin of error. Only those narrations that were transmitted through an entire chain of accurate and trustworthy narrators were classified as authentic.

Despite the high caliber of the accepted narrators, they were still fallible. Their narrations still entailed a possibility, albeit low, of error. Therefore, the scholars of ḥadīth took further nuanced measures to ensure that the narrations were free from mistakes.

In order to further verify the authenticity of a narration, all the chains transmitting it were compared. Additionally, the chains of the respective versions of that same narration were also compared.

Through this comparison, scholars were able to further filter reports by identifying mistakes and incorrect transmissions. An example of this is the ḥadīth of the Messenger ﷺ teaching the tashahhudThat which is recited during the sitting in the prayer, following every two units and the last unit. One sits and glorifies Allāh, sends peace upon His Prophet ﷺ and recites the two testimonies of faith. of the prayer, narrated by Abu Khaythama through ‘Alqama from ‘Abd Allāh bin Mas‘ūd. The entire chain is as follows: Abu Khaythama from al-Ḥasan bin al-Ḥur from al-Qāsim bin Mukhaymarah from ‘Alqamah from ‘Abd Allāh bin Mas’ūd from the Messenger.

While quoting the ḥadīth, Abu Khaythama narrates the ending of the ḥadīth as such, “ ‘[…] I bear witness that there is no God but Allāh, and I bear witness that Muhammad ﷺ is His messenger.’ So when you have stated this, your salah is completed. If you wish to stand, you may.” Abu Dawūd: 980. Musnad Ahmad: 422 An examination of all the chains through different narrators who transmitted this ḥadīth reveals that the portion of the following ḥadīth: “So when you have stated this, your salah is complete. If you wish to stand, you may,” is not from the Prophet.

That statement is actually the commentary of ‘Abd Allāh bin Mas‘ūd on the ḥadīth. In fact, a further examination of the transmission by other narrators through ‘Alqamah reveals that the mistake was only transmitted by Abū Khaythama, who mistakenly assumed that the entire statement was from the Messenger ﷺ and narrated it as such. Ibn Ṣalāh, ‘Uthmān bin ‘Abdul Rahmān. Muqaddimah, 127. Cairo: 2010, دار الحديث

Through these methods of verifying the narrators, as well as comprehensive comparative analysis, true statements of the Messenger ﷺ were separated from those that were forged, incorrect, or entailed a high possibility of error.

Thus, although the Sunnah of the Messenger is binding, there is something to be said about its verification. While that which is authentic is binding, that which falls short of meeting the standard of authentication is not. Although an inauthentic ḥadīth is not binding, this does not mean that it absolutely cannot be quoted or used. This is because inauthenticity does not necessarily mean a ḥadīth is fabricated and does not contain any possibility of truth. Most scholars are of the opinion that it is permissible to narrate weak ḥadīth that are not related to credal and legal matters. This means they may be narrated if they are related to virtuous actions, prophetic biography, history etc.


although the Sunnah of the Messenger ﷺ is binding, there is something to be said about its verification.

Some of the scholars who took on the task of compiling aḥādīth were selective in admitting only authentic narrations into their collections.

Examples of such authentic collections were compiled by al-Imām al-Bukhārī and al-Imām Muslim. It is important to note that this principle was not necessarily applied by all the scholars who gathered aḥadīth. It is a common misconception that the six canonical books Famously known as Kutub al-Sittah, these six include Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, Jāmi’ al-Tirmidhī, Sunan Ibn Mājah, Sunan al-Nasāī, and Sunan Abi Dawūd. only contain authentic narrations.

Other than al-Imām al-Bukhārī and al-Imām Muslim, the remaining authors of the six canonical books did not stipulate that they would only incorporate narrations from a verified chain of transmitters within their ḥadīth collections. As a result, their books include narrations that are authentic and narrations that are not.


A Word on the Fuqahā’

As the scholars of Ḥadīth were developing their methodology and gathering the statements of the Messenger ﷺ, there was another group of scholars who developed their own methodology (Usūl) to filter out fabricated narrations and decide which narrations can be acted upon. They were the jurists or Fuqahā’.

There are four schools of thought that emerged from them and still remain: the Ḥanafī, Mālikī, Shāfi’ī, and Ḥanbalī schools. Each school has its own principles of ḥadīth verification that were developed by the pious predecessors belonging to the first three generations of Muslims. The schools’ principles became further developed and refined through the centuries to determine which narrations of the Prophet should be acted upon. In some cases, the principles developed by these schools to determine a ḥadīth as acceptable differ from the principles laid out by the scholars of ḥadīth.


There are four schools of thought that emerged from them and still remain: the Ḥanafī, Mālikī, Shāfi’ī, and Ḥanbalī schools.

For this reason, it may appear as though some rulings of a school of jurisprudence contradict the authentication of the scholars of ḥadīth. This difference, however, is simply a matter of a difference in scholarly reasoning.

This is because the principles used by each school of thought are not all supported by an established text from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Rather, they were developed by the scholars in an attempt to construct a methodology that would best filter for weakness in transmission. In this developmental process, the various groups of scholars came to different conclusions on which principles to employ. An example of this is that the scholars of ḥadīth declared Mursal narrations, reports that are attributed to the Messenger where the companion who narrates the report is missing from the chain, as inauthentic. On the contrary the Ḥanafī and Mālikī schools both consider Mursal narrations as authentic. An example of a principle used by jurists and not used by Ḥadīth scholars is the Ḥanafī principle of general necessity (‘Umum al-balwa). If a ḥadīth carries information that is necessary for the masses to know yet is only narrated by a single narrator, the Ḥanafī scholars would question the reliability of the report even if the chain was authentic. The Ḥadīth scholars did not apply this principle and would accept the ḥadīth if the chain was sound.

Therefore, the principles used by each school of thought are not supported by an established text, as they are simply a matter of scholarly reason. Such differences, therefore, should not be used to negate the validity of the four jurisprudential schools.



Allāh ﷻ willed to preserve the Messenger’s ﷺ Sunnah, which was necessary for the religion to be complete. He willed to dispel the attempts to sabotage the religion through the effort of scholars, as they separated authentic narrations from the weak and forged ones.

During the drastic changes in times and emergence of radical social philosophies, it is through the Qur’ān, the Authentic Sunnah, and relevant Islamic studies short courses that Muslims must strive to orient themselves. That which coincides with them is taken, while that which contradicts them is abandoned. It is within them that we find the path to felicity in this life and the next. Thus, it is incumbent upon all Muslims to turn to the Qur’ān, the Authentic Sunnah, and Islamic studies short courses as our sources of guidance.

And Allāh ﷻ knows best.