Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds, and the most honorable prayer and peace be upon the master of the first and the last, our master, Muhammad, the chosen, the trustworthy, and upon his pious and pure family, his faithful companions, and those who followed them in goodness until the Day of Judgment, may Allah Almighty be pleased with them all.
The Quran was revealed to prophet Muhammed peace be upon him to be a guide to the worlds, as it says: “Surely, it is a reminder to the worlds”, (surah 6, ayah 90). Muhammed peace be upon him declared that he was sent as a messenger for all mankind, as the Quran says: “Say: ‘O mankind, I am the Messenger of Allah to you all. His is the kingdom in the heavens and the earth. There is no God except He” (surah 7, ayah 158). The Quran included “It is He who has sent down to you the Book. Some of its verses are precise in meaning they are the foundation of the Book and others obscure. Those whose hearts are swerving with disbelief, follow the obscure desiring sedition and desiring its interpretation, but no one knows its interpretation except Allah. Those who are well-grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord’. And none remember except those who are possessed of minds.”
As the Quran explains, there are clear ayahs as well as obscure ayahs. The category of clear ayahs contains those which have one interpretation only. The obscure contains those ayahs which might have one or more interpretations. The methodology of interpretation is that which utilizes Arabic language. Some obscure ayahs might be interpreted in many ways, and it is, as Muslim scholars say, a mercy of Allah, for He is the Creator of mankind and revealed these ayahs to prophet Muhammed peace be upon him fully knowing that they carry more than one meaning, as an act of kindness. The Hadith of the prophet peace be upon him carries the same characteristics, some of them are vividly clear and deliver a clear meaning, and some are obscure.
Nowadays, we may find many interpretations of the Quran; each interpretation has its methodology to deal with the ayahs and the outcomes might diverge. A good example might be: “Believers, do not come close to prayer when you are drunk, until you know what you are saying, nor when you are in a state of impurity, unless you are crossing through the way (prayer area) until you have bathed yourselves. If you are ill or on a journey, or if any of you comes from the toilet or you have touched women, and you cannot find water, so touch pure dust and wipe your faces and your hands. Allah is the Pardoner, the Forgiver” (surah 4, ayah 43). Scholars interpreted the phrase (or you have touched women) in two different ways in accordance with their methodology. The first group interpreted the phrase literally; thus, their outcome was that if a man touched a woman (which he can marry) after making ablution, then he has to make ablution again if he wants to pray. The other group dealt with the same phrase differently. They interpreted it figuratively and said it is a metaphor indicating sexual intercourse; thus, the outcome was different from the first group and they said that if a man touched a woman (which he can marry) after making ablution, then he does not have to make ablution again if he wants to pray. This interpretation diversity is sound and eligible, as it depends on language and has rules which were granted the scholars’ consensus. This diversity is an act of mercy from Allah, who has granted the luxury of analyzing the sacred text and gave rewards to those who have the capacity to derive judgements out of these texts. These rewards are granted to those who made the right and wrong derivation, as our prophet peace be upon him said: “When a judge gives a ruling, having tried his best to decide correctly, and is right (in his decision), he will have a double reward; and when he gives a ruling having tried his best to decide correctly, and is wrong (in his decision), he will have a single reward.” [Agreed upon by Bukhari and Muslim].
As this becomes clear, the question is: is all diversity of interpretation considered acceptable in Islam? Are the understandings which extremists like al Qaeda and ISIS have derived, as they say, from the Quran and Sunna acceptable?
The answer is not related to the person, or the group, deriving the understanding. It is mainly related to the methodology followed by that person or group. If the methodology is sound, then the result must be sound as well. So, when we analyze any opinion or outcome, we must analyze its methodology. The methodology which our scholars made the consensus upon has tools and procedures. The tools are the sciences of the Arabic language such as grammar, morphology, rhetoric, etc.; jurisprudence principles; the basics of hermeneutics and exegesis; theology; and logic. Jurisprudence principles tools are the main utility which enables the scholar to deal with the sacred text. I will analyze here just one example to clarify the point. Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him said: “Water is pure and nothing can make it impure, except what changes its color, taste or odor”. [Abu Dawood, Nasaii, Tirmithi and Ahmad who graded it Sahih]. In another Hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him said: [If the amount of water is two qullahs (about 160 liters) it cannot carry impurity]. There is a clear conflict between the two hadiths, and the methodology which our scholars have put in the books is that we take the indication of the first hadith and find that it is dealing with water and the characteristics that make it impure, without any indication to the amount. We can say that this hadith is generic in the amount and special in the characteristics. The other hadith is generic in the characteristics and special in the amount. Scholars say that when such a conflict occur, we have to specify the generic indication of the first text by the special significance of the second text. Thus, we will have two outcomes:
- If the amount is less than 160 liters and an impurity (like feces and urine) was thrown into that water, then it becomes impure, whether its characteristics changed or not.
- If the amount is 160 liters or more and an impurity was thrown into that water it is still pure unless one of its characteristics change.
This is a practical example of the methodology by which we deal with the sacred texts. I hope it gives the reader an understanding of the efforts exerted by our scholars to deliver easy and applicable outcomes to the society.
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds