Information Verification in Blockchain – An Islamic Perspective

Nida Khan

 

Islam is one of the major religions of the world with 1.8 billion followers constituting 24% of the world’s population. The message that was formerly brought by the Prophets Moses and Jesus (peace be Upon them) was given a final form to be adhered to, till the Day of Judgement by Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). When an earlier Prophet left the earth, the original message brought by him was altered over time. There was no means of maintaining an immutable record as we see in blockchain today.

 

Blockchain is one of the most disruptive technological innovations spearheading the fourth industrial revolution, with the potential to revamp the entire existing economic system. It consists of a distributed database of transactions which are entered into the distributed database or the decentralized ledger with no middleman to authenticate the data. Data authentication and verification is done by anybody who wishes to do so and is rewarded with a certain economic incentive for his work. As a result of this, a blockchain has hundreds of users working to verify the data and who carry a copy of the dynamic distributed database.

 

Updating the data on all the existing copies of blockchain as well as synchronization between the users is achieved by means of computer protocols. Each round of recording of new transaction data is done in a ‘block’. A block is thus a collection of transactions and some relevant information required to maintain the integrity and verifiability of the block. Each block carries a reference to the previous block in the blockchain and any modification to any block can be known easily as it is presently computationally infeasible in real time to alter the data on all the existing copies of the blockchain without being discovered. A blockchain, thus consisting of a chain of blocks, is said to be immutable, where the different blocks are linked to each other by means of cryptography.

 

Cryptography is utilized for generating the identifier of each block as well as the reference carried by one block to the previous block. The same predicament could have been faced by Islam too except that the message sent through the Prophet Mohammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) brought with it a promise by God that He would preserve it. The following verse from the Quran is sufficient for believing Muslims to know that the Quran is immutable:

 

“Verily, We, it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e. the Qur’aan) and surely, We will guard it (from corruption)” [al-Hijr 15:9]

 

The people who believe in God need no other proof for this. However man has been given the power of reasoning by God to use it and not to indulge in blind belief or follow a religion just because his forefathers did. A sound Muslim would try to search for reasons for the belief except in matters, which have been declared as ghayb (the hidden matters whose knowledge is only with God). However the hidden matters are so few that their not knowing will not affect the life of man. An example of a hidden matter is that a man does not know which place he would die as its knowledge is only with God. Man can reasonably guess and most probably in many cases the guess would turn out to be correct but the probability of the guess being true is not one. This implies that there is a certain level of ambiguity associated with the event occurrence and lacks certainty. The knowledge of such matters is with God and comes under ghayb. Now comes the natural question for all those who seek to reason out things -how could it be ascertained that the Quran was not altered?

 

The Quran was not stored in the memory of one person but multiple companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had memorized the Quran. It was written on the trunks of trees and thin white stones till the time of the first caliph of Islam. Thereafter it was compiled referencing the multiple sources available into a mushaf (book). The fact that the information source was not one but many led to its correct preservation. At present there are millions of copies of the Quran in the world in possibly all known human languages.

 

An analogy can be drawn here with blockchain technology. It is a distributed database, where all the participants who are responsible for adding data to the blockchain maintain a local copy of the entire blockchain. If any tampering is done on the local copy of one chain, multiple other copies will negate that copy so that only the correct and verified blockchain is always available.

 

It is imperative to understand the word ‘dhikr’ in the Quran. Allah has promised that He would protect the Quran from alteration. The Quran was sent as a message to mankind to serve as a guide to leading our lives on earth. It is not a book,that is just to be recited and kept reverently on the bookshelf. Rather, the Quran is a guidance, a means to correct action. In order to act on the Quran, we need to know many things that might remain ambiguous without further elaboration. There can be multiple interpretations of many verses of the Quran based on the understanding of the reader. To avoid these ambiguities, God revealed to the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) other commandments, not mentioned in the Quran. These form the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

 

An example illustrating why Sunnah is important is that the Quran enjoins the believers to read the obligatory prayers but does not go into detail in the manner of offering those prayers. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had said:

“Pray as you have seen me pray” (Al-Bukhari)

 

The prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was not merely a medium to send the Quran to mankind but also to explain and guide on the Quran’s correct interpretation and following. If we believe in the Quran, we need the secondary source of information called Sunnah to complete our worship and adherence to Islam. We get all such information from the Sunnah, preserved in Hadiths. When we talk of Hadiths, the same problem of false reporting of data, altering of data and absence of the information source can exist. To resolve these issues and accept only verified content unchanged from the original text, hadith terminology (Mustalahat al Hadith) came into being. A Hadith records the sayings, acts, approval/ disapproval of the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him) either done explicitly or implicitly. The Hadith, forming the Sunnah, with the Quran being the primary source completes the religion of Islam. As per the terminology Hadith is classified into:

 

1. Sahih (Sound)

2. Hasan (Good)

3. Daif (Weak)

 

A hadith is Sahih if it has a credible chain of narrators, who were of upright character and reliable in their recording and transmission of information. A hadith is considered to be Hasan if it has a reliable chain of narrators like Sahih but they lack in exactness as compared to the narrators in Sahih. However the narration is free from any irregularities and flaws. A daif hadith is the one which is not backed by a similar chain of narrators.

 

As seen above, a hadith is only accepted as sound if it has a chain of reliable narrators. Similarly, in blockchain we accept only the longest chain of verified record of transactions. The power of the blockchain lies in the community. There is no third person ensuring the correctness. But we believe in the information as it has been verified by hundreds of people using the blockchain. Corruption of this data implies corrupting not just one copy, but hundreds of copies existing in different parts of the world. We reject short chains in blockchain, developed as forks as the chain is smaller indicating being backed by a smaller group of people.

 

The analogy shared above clearly demonstrates that blockchain follows a structure that is in sync with the tenets of the Shariah. Blockchain is not just the most powerful and disruptive technology we are facing today but it also provides us with an opportunity to follow the way of the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in the way we structure our information sources.

 

Blockchain might be the precursor to the Golden Age of science in Islam, which was witnessed with the likes of abir ibn Haiyan, al-Kindi, al-Khwarizmi, al-Fargani, al-Razi, Thabit ibn Qurra, al-Battani, Hunain ibn Ishaq, al-Farabi, Ibrahim ibn Sinan, al-Masudi, al-Tabari, Abul Wafa, ‘Ali ibn Abbas, Abul Qasim, Ibn al-Jazzar, al-Biruni, Ibn Sina, Ibn Yunus, al-Kashi, Ibn al-Haitham, ‘Ali Ibn ‘Isa al-Ghazali, al-zarqab, and Omar Khayyam. It was under these Arabs and Moorish revival of culture that the real renaissance took place in Europe, where Spain was the origin and not Italy, as noted by the French surgeon Robert Briffault in the book “Making of Humanity”.

Similar views were shared by John William Draper, an English-born noted American scientist and historian, George Sarton, a Belgian-born American chemist and historian and many other renowned historians. Perhaps we will see a new dawn as blockchain gains a strong foothold after overcoming the present shortcomings.

 

As such, it is imperative for us to make efforts in this new technology to not just keep abreast with the technological innovations but also to ensure a just economic system for the masses structured in the way, that was followed by the guiding lamps of Islam as seen in the companions of the Prophet Mohammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

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