What Is Quranism?
Quranism (القرآنية; al-Qur’āniyya) comprises views that Islamic law and guidance should only be based on the Qur’an, thus opposing the religious authority, reliability, and/or authenticity of hadith literature. Quranists believe that God’s message in the Quran is clear and complete as it is, and that it can therefore be fully understood without referencing the Hadith. Quranists affirm that the Hadith literature which exists today is apocryphal, as it had been written three centuries after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad; thus, it cannot have the same status as the Quran.
In matters of faith, jurisprudence, and legislation, Quranists differ from ahl al-Hadith, which today comprises the Sunnis, Ibadis, and Shias, and which first emerged during the 2nd/3rd Islamic centuries of the Islamic era (late 8th and 9th century CE) as a movement of Hadith scholars who considered the Quran and Hadith to be the only legislative authority in matters of law and creed.
Quran alone-Islam is similar to movements in Abrahamic religions such as the Karaite movement in Judaism and the Sola scriptura view of Protestant Christianity.
Adherents of Quranic Islam are referred to as Quranists (قرآنيّون, Qurāniyyūn), or People of the Quran (أهل القرآن,’Ahl al-Qur’ān). This should not be confused with Ahle-e-Quran, which is an organisation formed by Abdullah Chakralawi. Quranists may also refer to themselves simply as Muslims, Submitters, or reformists.
تِلْكَ ءَايَٰتُ ٱللَّهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِٱلْحَقِّ ۖ فَبِأَىِّ حَدِيثٍۭ
These are the verses of God which We recite to you in truth. Then in what statement [Hadith] after (rejecting) God and His verses will they believe?
|—Quran (Surah Al-Jathiya, 45:6)|
Quranists believe that the Quran is the sole source of religious law and guidance in Islam and reject the authority of sources outside of the Quran like Hadith and Sunnah. And, citing Quranic verses like 6:38–39 and 6:114–115, they believe that the Quran is clear, complete, and that it can be fully understood without recourse to the hadith and sunna. Therefore, they use the Quran itself to interpret the Quran:
“. . . .a literal and holistic analysis of the text from a contemporary perspective and applying the exegetical principle of tafsir al-qur’an bi al-qur’an (explaining the Qur’an with the Qur’an) and the jurisprudential principle al-asl fi al-kalam al-haqiqah (the fundamental rule of speech is literalness), without refracting that Qur’anic usage through the lens of history and tradition.”
This method of interpreting the Quran is different from the method favored by most Sunni and Shia exegetes, known as tafsir bi-al-ma’thur (interpreting the Quran with narrations, i.e., hadiths). In contrast to Quranists, Sunnis do not believe that the Quran is detailed. They believe that, “the Qur’an needs the Sunnah more than the Sunnah needs the Qur’an (inna l-Quran ahwaju ila l-sunna mina l-sunna ila l-Quran)”. This methodological difference has led to considerable divergence between Quranists and Sunnis and Shia in matters of theology and law.
The extent to which Quranists reject the authenticity of the Hadith and Sunnah varies, but the more established groups have thoroughly criticised the authenticity of the Hadith and reject it for many reasons. The most common view being the Quranists who say that Hadith is not mentioned in the Quran as a source of Islamic theology and practice, was not recorded in written form until a century after the death of Muhammad, and contain internal errors and contradictions.
History and in contemporary times
The Quranist ideology dates back to the time of Muhammad, who prohibited the writing of hadiths. One of Muhammad’s companions and successor Umar, also prohibited the writing of hadith and destroyed existing collections during his rule as Caliph. When Umar appointed a governor to Kufa, he told him: “You will be coming to the people of a town for whom the buzzing of the Qur’an is as the buzzing of bees. Therefore, do not distract them with the Hadiths, and thus engage them. Bare the Qur’an and spare the narration from God’s messenger (peace and blessing be upon him)!”.
The centrality of the Quran in the religious life of the Kufans that Umar described was quickly changing, however. A few decades later, a letter was sent to the Ummayad caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan regarding the Kufans: “They abandoned the judgement of their Lord and took hadiths for their religion; and they claim that they have obtained knowledge other than from the Koran . . . They believed in a book which was not from God, written by the hands of men; they then attributed it to the Messenger of God.”
In the following years, the taboo against the writing and following of hadiths had receded to such an extent that the Ummayad leader Umar II ordered the first official collection of Hadith. Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn Hazm and Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, were among those who wrote Hadiths at Umar II’s behest.
Despite the trend towards hadiths, the questioning of their authority continued during the Abbasid dynasty and existed during the time of Al-Shafi’i, when a group known as “Ahl al-Kalam” argued that the prophetic example of Muhammad “is found in following the Quran alone”, rather than Hadith. Later, a similar group, Ahl al-Tawḥīd wa l-ʿAdl, “people of monotheism and justice”, known as the Mu’tazilites by their opponents, also viewed the transmission of the Hadith as not sufficiently reliable. The Hadith, according to them, was mere guesswork, conjecture, and bidah (innovation), while the Quran was complete and perfect, and did not require the Hadith or any other book to supplement or complement it.
During the Abassid dynasty, the poet, theologian, and jurist, Ibrahim an-Nazzam founded a madhhab called the Nazzamiyya that rejected the authority of Hadiths and relied on the Quran alone. His famous student, Al-Jahiz, was also critical of those who followed Hadith, referring to his Hadithist opponents as al-nabita (“the contemptible”). A contemporary of An-Nazzam, Al-Shafi’i, tried to refute the arguments of the Quranists and establish the authority of Hadiths in his book Kitab Jima’a l-‘Ilm. And Ibn Qutaybah tried to refute An-Nazzam’s arguments against Hadith in his book Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith.
In South Asia during the 19th century, the Ahle Quran movement formed partially in reaction to the Ahle Hadith whom they considered to be placing too much emphasis on Hadith. Many Ahle Quran adherents from South Asia were formerly adherents of Ahle Hadith but found themselves incapable of accepting certain hadiths.
In Egypt during the early 20th century, the ideas of Quranists like Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi grew out of Salafism i.e. a rejection of taqlid. Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi of Egypt “held that nothing of the Hadith was recorded until after enough time had elapsed to allow the infiltration of numerous absurd or corrupt traditions.” Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi wrote an article titled Al-Islam Huwa ul-Qur’an Wahdahu (‘Islam is the Qur’an Alone) that appeared in the Egyptian journal Al-Manar, which argues that the Quran is sufficient as guidance: “what is obligatory for man does not go beyond God’s Book. If anything other than the Qur’an had been necessary for religion,” Sidqi notes, “the Prophet would have commanded its registration in writing, and God would have guaranteed its preservation.”
In the 21st century, Quranist beliefs have spread in various countries. However, in countries that have incorporated some aspects of Sunni law, adherents have faced opposition. For example, a Saudi scholar, Hassan Farhan al-Maliki, was arrested numerous times for promoting political reform and a return to the Quran. Saudi Arabia began its prosecution of the researcher in the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh, which was specially established in January 2009 to handle cases of “terrorism and national security.” In 2019, the public prosecution, which is directly linked to the Saudi king, leveled charges almost entirely related to Maliki’s religious views and has requested that the court sentence him based on “extremist interpretations” of Islam. And in Egypt and Sudan, Quranists have been arrested for their beliefs.
The spread of Quranist beliefs in Russia has provoked the anger of the Sunni establishment. The Russian Council of Muftis issued a fatwa against Quranism and those it said were its leaders in Russia. However, one of the purported Quranist leaders mentioned in the fatwa, the Russian philosopher Taufik Ibrahim, pointed out that his beliefs were more in line with the Jadid tradition, although there is some overlap between the two groups in Russia. In Turkey, Quranists have responded on social media to attacks by the Diyanet on their Quranist beliefs.
In South Africa, an Oxford educated Islamic scholar, Taj Hargey, established the Open Mosque. As the name implies, Hargey intended the mosque to be more open to demographics traditionally shunned by Sunni and Shia mosques, like women. Hargey describes the principles of the mosque as, “Quran-centric, gender equality, non-sectarian, inter-cultural and independent”. Hargey has also criticized what he calls the “toxic trio” of hadith, sharia, and fatwas.
Ahle Quran is an organisation formed by Abdullah Chakralawi, who described the Quran as “ahsan Hadith”, meaning most perfect hadith and consequently claimed it does not need any addition. His movement relies entirely on the chapters and verses of the Quran. Chakralawi’s position was that the Quran itself was the most perfect source of tradition and could be exclusively followed. According to Chakralawi, Muhammad could receive only one form of revelation (wahy), and that was the Quran. He argues that the Quran was the only record of divine wisdom, the only source of Muhammad’s teachings, and that it superseded the entire corpus of hadith, which came later.
Is a Quranist organization in Kazakhstan whose Cyrillic name, “Ізгі амал”, may be transliterated into the Latin script as İzgi amal. It has an estimated 70 to 80 thousand members. Its leader, Aslbek Musin, is the son of the former Speaker of the Majlis, Aslan Musin.
Kala Kato is a Quranist movement whose adherents reside mostly northern Nigeria, with some adherents residing in Niger. Kala Kato means a “man says” in the Hausa language, in reference to the sayings, or hadiths, posthumously attributed to Muhammad. Kala Kato accept only the Quran as authoritative and believe that anything that is not Kala Allah, which means what “God says” in the Hausa language, is Kala Kato.
Malaysian Quranic Society
The Malaysian Quranic Society was founded by Kassim Ahmad. The movement holds several positions distinguishing it from Sunnis and Shias such as a rejection of the status of hair as being part of the awrah; therefore exhibiting a relaxation on the observance of the hijab, which according to Quranists is not in the Quran.
Quran Sunnat Society
The Quran Sunnat Society is a Quranist movement in India. The movement was behind the first ever woman to lead mixed-gender congregational prayers in India. It maintains an office and headquarters within Kerala. There is a large community of Quranists in Kerala. One of its leaders, Jamida Beevi, has also spoken out against India’s triple talaq law which is mostly based on the Sunni inspired Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.
In the United States it was associated with Rashad Khalifa, founder of the United Submitters International. The group popularized the phrase: The Quran, the whole Quran, and nothing but the Quran. After Khalifa declared himself the Messenger of the Covenant, he was rejected by other Muslim scholars as an apostate of Islam. Later, he was assassinated in 1990 by a terrorist group. Those interested in his work believe that there is a mathematical structure in the Quran, based on the number 19. A group of Submitters in Nigeria was popularised by high court judge Isa Othman.
The movement was initiated by Ghulam Ahmed Pervez. Ghulam Ahmed Pervez did not reject all hadiths; however, he only accepted hadiths which “are in accordance with the Quran or do not stain the character of the Prophet or his companions”. The organization publishes and distributes books, pamphlets, and recordings of Pervez’s teachings. Tolu-e-Islam does not belong to any political party, nor does it belong to any religious group or sect.
Zumratul Jamiu Mumin
Zumratul Jamiu Mumin is a Quranist movement in Ogun State, Nigeria. The movement regards the Hadiths as idolatry and un-Islamic. The group believes in refuting Hadithist dogma, conveying the message of the Quran alone to non-Muslims and inviting them to it, to make efforts to integrate new converts into the Muslim community, and to recruit manpower and provide training for da’wah workers.
- Kassim Ahmad (1933–2017) a Malaysian intellectual, writer, poet and an educator known for his rejection of the authority of hadiths. He was the founder of the Quranic Society of Malaysia. At the time of his death, he was working on a Malay translation of the Quran.
- Rashad Khalifa (1935–1990), an Egyptian-American biochemist and Islamic reformer. In his book Quran, Hadith and Islam and his English translation of the Quran, Khalifa argued that the Quran alone is the sole source of Islamic belief and practice. However, he also claimed that parts of the Quran were fabricated, precluding him from being a strict Quranist. He further declared that the Hadith and Sunna were ‘Satanic inventions’ under ‘Satan’s schemes’. In the face of widespread anger and hostility by the Muslim world, Khalifa was stabbed to death on 31 January 1990 by Glen Cusford Francis, a member of the terrorist organization, Jamaat ul-Fuqra.
- Ahmed Subhy Mansour (born 1949), an Egyptian American Islamic scholar. He founded a small group of Quranists, but was exiled from Egypt and is now living in the United States as a political refugee.
- Chekannur Maulavi (born 1936; disappeared 29 July 1993), a progressive Islamic cleric who lived in Edappal in Malappuram district of Kerala, India. He was noted for his controversial and unconventional interpretation of Islam based on Quran alone. He disappeared on 29 July 1993 under mysterious circumstances and is now widely believed to be dead.
- Ahmad Rashad (born 1949) an American sportscaster (mostly with NBC Sports) and former professional football player. Ahmad Rashad studied the Arabic language and the Quran with his mentor, the late Rashad Khalifa.
- Mohamed Talbi (1921–2017), a Tunisian historian and professor. He was the founder of the Association Internationale des Musulmans Coraniques (AIMC), or International Association of Quranic Muslims.
- Edip Yüksel (born 1957), a Kurdish American philosopher, lawyer, Quranist advocate, author of Nineteen: God’s Signature in Nature and Scripture, Manifesto for Islamic Reform and a co-author of Quran: A Reformist Translation. He taught philosophy and logic at Pima Community College and medical ethics and criminal law courses at Brown Mackie College.
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