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The Continuous Living Tradition 21 January 2008

Posted by MOZAFFAR in History, Law, MOZAFFAR, Spirituality.

We see a passage: Alif Lam Meem. We know how to pronounce it. Why?

From this simple point, we touch on an often neglected, yet vitally important facet of the Muslim experience: The Continuous Living Tradition. How do we know that the written letters “alif-lam-meem” are to be read as “alif-lam-meem” and not “alima?” It is because of this living tradition. At some point, you learned or heard from someone else that this is how it is pronounced.

Likewise for the formal prayers. Very few people learn their prayers from books, and almost nobody learns the steps in the prayer through books of Hadith. Rather, you learn it from someone else, who learned it from someone else, who learned it from someone else.

In today’s world, books may be involved with the process, but the real force of this transmission of knowledge is in human contact. And, this chain of contact has been continuously running for 1400 years.

And Allah knows best.



1. ABD - 23 January 2008

this is an important reminder that we can’t approach the Qur’an except by participating in a much longer conversation.

i wonder, though, what effect the depersonalization of education has and will have on the development of the continuous living tradition you describe. where everyone once learned only through personal example and instruction, so many of us now come to the religion on our own: working alone on a copy of the Qur’an in translation, searching hadith collections, learning how to recite or pray from a web site. more generally, what happens to teaching in a system of education that makes the teacher dispensable?

2. darvish - 24 January 2008

In the beginning of Islam, the Quran was memorized by all who became Muslims. The tradition of children memorizing the Quran still continues, though with calculators and computers they don’t need to memorize much other wisdom or Holy Books or learning. That is a real shame.

Even if they don’t understand a lot of it til they get older, the act of memorizing has been part of the tradition also, and the Quran works as a guide and teacher and source of blessings and guidance in the head and the heart. That is the real tradition!

Ya Haqq!

3. talib - 27 January 2008

it’s true that an exclusive reliance on texts without the human aspect involved with passing on tradition is doomed to distortion and innovation. but a living tradition without some consistent attachment and approach to the texts will meet a similar fate.

4. talib - 27 January 2008

btw, ABD, have you heard of the hadith about one of the signs of the Day of Judgment being knowledge taken away from the people and how exactly that knowledge will be taken? it won’t be taken away by our libraries burning down or our hadith databases being erased.

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