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Apparent contradictions between the texts

Published: 27/08/2011 08:36:00 PM GMT
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Can a verse of the Qur’ân contradict another and can an authentic hadîth contradict a verse of the Qur’ân?


Answered by

Sheikh Ahmad al-Rashîd

Allah says: “Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy.”

In the light of this verse we say that the sacred texts, the Qur’ân and Sunnah, always confirm and complement each other. It is impossible to conceive of any real discrepancy existing between these sources. In other words, it is not possible that one text will support a ruling while another text will support an opposing ruling. There will always be some way to reconcile between the texts.

Someone might object, saying: How can this be the case while we know the scholars have discussed contradictions between texts and that is why they set jurisprudential rules to deal with such contradictions?

We will reply to this by saying that there is no real contradiction between any of the authentic legal texts. It all came as revelation from our Creator and there can never be any contradictions. However, apparent contradiction exists in our minds due to our limited understanding of the texts. This is why you see that one person will see a contradiction between two texts while another person looking at the same texts will not see any contradiction at all.

Whenever someone comes across what seems to be a contradiction between two authentic texts, he should apply the following procedure:

First, we should try to reconcile between the meanings of the two texts.

Al-Khatîb al-Baghdâdî said: “Every two supposedly contradictory authentic texts can be reconciled with each other” [al-Faqîh wa al-Mutafaqqih (2/222-223)]. In fact, this is the right thing for us to do if we can, because by effecting such a reconciliation, we act in accordance with both pieces of evidence. Let us look at an illustrative example of this:

Allah says: “As for the thief, male or female, cut off his hands”. And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “A hand cannot be cut off except for an amount of a quarter Dinar or more.” [Sahîh Muslim (4401)]

In this example, the Qur’an tells us the ruling for cutting off the hand of the thief, without making any distinction between a minor theft and a substantial theft. By contrast, the hadîth limits this punishment to the theft of property valued above a specific amount. Such a “contradiction” is not a real one. The method of reconciliation used in this case is to dismiss any notion of a contradiction and act upon both pieces of evidence. We do this by applying the general ruling of the verse to the specific case mentioned in the hadîth. In other words, the general meaning given by the verse can be restricted to the qualified ruling given by the hadîth. We cut off the hand of whoever steals a quarter Dinar or more, and we do not cut off the hand of someone who steals less than that. In this way, we have applied both texts at the same time.

If this is not possible we move on to the second approach:

We may say that one ruling abrogates the other.

In this case, we apply the ruling that was revealed later in time. This step cannot be followed without knowing the chronology of revelation for both texts.

For example: Allah says: “If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, take the evidence of four (reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death claims them or Allah ordains for them some (other) way.”

This verse tells us that a woman who is guilty of lewdness has to be confined in her home until she dies or until Allah offers her another means. This verse is abrogated by the hadîth in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do as I am telling you, do as I am telling you: Allah has made them a way out; if unmarried, he receives one hundred lashes and exile for one year. If he is married, he is entitled to one hundred lashes and stoning.” [Sahîh Muslim (4414)].

We have another good example of this in the verse that declares bequests obligatory. Allah says: “It is prescribed, when death approaches any of you if he leaves any goods, that be make a bequest to parents and next of kin according to reasonable usage; this is due from the God-fearing.”

This verse is abrogated by the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah has given everyone what is his right. A bequest is unlawful for one of the prescribed inheritors.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd and Sunan al-Tirmidhî Al-Tirmidhî declared it an authentic hadîth]

Again, if it is not possible for us to determine which ruling abrogates the other, we move on to the third step:

Giving preference to one text over another.

We resort to this approach only when we are unable to apply one of the first two options. There is a method to doing so that the scholars have elaborated in painstaking detail. This approach was applied even by the Companions and the Successors, who would often give preference to the strongest piece of evidence.

In cases where we find it impossible to distinguish between the two pieces of evidence in order to give preference to one over the other, the rulings implied by both must be disregarded. We must then seekout another piece of evidence to give us a ruling on the matter.

This procedure applies to all cases of apparent and irreconcilable contradiction between pieces of evidence, no matter whether these are both from Qur’an, both from Sunnah, or one from each.

This is only a short summary of what scholars say on this matter. These issues are discussed in far greater detail in the books of jurisprudence (usûl al-fiqh).

Source: Islam Today




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