Should Qur’an Be Interpreted Through Hadith?: Fifty Common Misconceptions about Islam - Part 2
By Dr. Shehzad Saleem
27 August 2015
II. Sunnah and Hadith
1. Sunnah and Hadith are Synonymous
The word Hadith is often understood to be a synonym for the word Sunnah. This is not correct. There is a great difference between the two not only regarding the extent of their authenticity, but also their content.
A narrative of the words, deeds or tacit approvals of the Prophet (sws) is called Hadith. It does not add anything to the content of Islam stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah, the two original sources of Islam. Ahadith (plural of Hadith) only explain and elucidate what is contained in these two sources and also describe the exemplary way in which the Prophet (sws) followed Islam. The scholars of Hadith employ the term, Khabr for Hadith. A Khabr bears the possibility of being either right or wrong. In other words, the scholars of Hadith believe that aKhabr may be true or it may be false. For this very reason, Ahadith are also called Dhanni (presumptive or indefinite).
On the other hand, the word Sunnah literally means “busy path”, “trodden path”, “beaten path”. As a term, it means the practices of the Prophet Abraham (sws) to which the Prophet Muhammad (sws) gave religious sanction among his followers after reviving and reforming them and after making certain additions to them. The Qur’an has directed the Prophet (sws) to obey these Abrahamic practices in the following words:
ثُمَّ أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ أَنِ اتَّبِعْ مِلَّةَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ حَنِيفًا وَمَا كَانَ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (١٢٣:١٦)
Then We revealed to you to follow the ways of Abraham, who was true in faith and was not among the polytheists. (16:123)
The following three aspects further bring out the difference between Hadith and Sunnah.
Firstly, while Ahadith can be inauthentic or spurious, the Sunnah cannot be so. The Sunnah is in fact as authentic as the Qur’an. This is because the difference in the nature of transmission. Ahadith have been transmitted by a few individuals and therefore become dependent on their character, memory and intellect – all of which can falter even if the person in question is very pious. On the other hand, the Sunnah has been transmitted by whole generations to the next. Such is the vast number of people who have adhered to certain practices that there is no possibility of any error. The memory, intellect and character of a few persons can falter but when thousands of people deliver the same thing, any faulty transmission is ruled out. Furthermore, not only have a large number of people transmitted these practices, but also there is a consensus in the Ummah regarding the authenticity of these practices. In other words, people not adhering to these practices also vouch for their veracity.
Secondly, Sunnah is purely related to the practical aspects of Islam such as the prayer, Hajj, Nikah Wudu Tayammum. Issues that pertain to belief, history, and occasion of revelation and explanation of Qur’anic verses lie outside its domain. On the other hand, Ahadith are not confined to a certain sphere of Islam. Their content ranges from the practical issues of religion to intellectual ones and from historical episodes to explanation of the Qur’an and of the Sunnah itself.
Thirdly, the Sunnah is not based on Ahadith. For instance, we have not adopted the prayer, pilgrimage, etc in all their details because a few narrators explained them to us; on the contrary, we have adopted them because every person in our surroundings is either adhering to it or vouching for its veracity. In other words, Sunnah is an entirely independent source of Islam. However some Ahadith may contain a record of the Sunnah just as they may contain the record and explanation of certain verses of the Qur’an. But just as having a record of the Qur’an does not make Ahadith the same as the Qur’an, having a record of the Sunnah does not make Ahadith equivalent to the Sunnah.
2. Every Act of the Prophet (sws) is a Sunnah23
Some people are of the opinion every act and every deed done by the Prophet (sws) is a Sunnah. This view is not correct.
The Qur’an is absolutely clear that the prophets of Allah were sent to deliver His religion. In their prophetic capacity, the ambit of their thoughts and deeds was only that of religion. Everything besides this was primarily of no concern to them. No doubt besides their prophetic capacity they were also Ibrahim Ibn Azar, Musa Ibn ‘Imran. ‘Isa Ibn Maryam and Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdullah in their human capacity; however, in this human capacity, they never asked obedience from their followers. All their demands were confined to their prophetic capacity, and what was given to them in this capacity was religion, and thus it was only religion whose propagation they were liable to:
شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّى بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَى وَعِيسَى أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ (١٣:٤٢)
He has enjoined on you the same religion which He enjoined on Noah, and which We have now revealed to you, which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, with the assertion: “Adhere to this religion [in your lives] and do not create any divisions in it.” (42:13)
Consequently, it is known history that the Prophet (sws) used weapons like swords and arrows in wars, travelled on camels, constructed a mosque whose roof was made of palm trees, ate some foods which were customary in the Arab society and showed his like or dislike for them, wore a certain dress which was in vogue in Arabia and whose selection also had much to do with his personal taste – however, none of these things can be termed Sunnah and neither can any man of learning regard them to be Sunnah. At one instance, the Prophet (sws) himself is reported to have said:
إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ إِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشِيءٍ مِنْ دِيْنِكُمْ فَخُذُوْا بِهِ وَإِذَا أَمَرْتُكُمْ بِشِيءٍ مِنْ رَأيِ فَإِنمَّاَ أَنَا بَشَرٌ …إِنمَّاَ ظَنَنْتُ ظَناًّ فَلاَ تُؤَاخِذُونِي باِلظَّنِّ وَلَكِنْ إِذاَ حَدَّثْتُكُمْ عَنِ اللهِ شَيْئاً فَخُذُوْا بِهِ فَإِنِّي لَنْ اُكَذِّبَ عَلىَ اللهِ … أَنْتُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِأَمْرِ دُنْيَاكُمْ (مسلم ، رقم : ٢٢٦٣ ، ٢٣٦١ ، ٣٢٦٢)
I am also a human being. When I direct you about something which relates to your religion, take it from me and when I express my own opinion [about something which is outside this sphere] then my status in this regard is nothing more than that of a human being … I had conjectured about something.24 Do not hold me accountable for such things which are based on opinion and conjecture. However, if I say something on behalf of God, take it because I will never forge a lie on God … You very well know about your worldly affairs. (Muslim, Nos: 2263, 2361, 3262)
3. The Qur’an Should Be Interpreted Through Hadith25
There is a group of scholars who believes that the Qur’an should be interpreted through the Hadith. However, the status occupied by the Qur’an as the Mizanand the Furqan entails that everything should be interpreted in light of the guidance it provides. The Qur’an says about itself:
اللَّهُ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ وَالْمِيزَانَ (١٧:٤٢)
It is God who has revealed with truth the Book which is this scale [of justice]. (42:17)
The verse means that the Almighty has revealed the Qur’an which is a scale of justice meant to distinguish good from evil. It is the only scale that weighs everything else, and there is no scale in which it can be weighed:
تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي نَزَّلَ الْفُرْقَانَ عَلَى عَبْدِهِ لِيَكُونَ لِلْعَالَمِينَ نَذِيرًا (١:٢٥)
Blessed be He who has revealed al-Furqan to His servant that it may warn the whole world. (25:1)
The Qur’an is also a Furqan in the same sense, ie a book which has the final and absolute verdict to distinguish truth from falsehood. This word also connotes the fact that this Book is the standard on which everything needs to be judged and is a decisive word on matters which relate to religion. Everyone must turn to it only to resolve differences of opinion. Nothing can be a judge on it; it shall reign supreme in the dominion of religion and every person is bound not to make it subservient to any other thing.
The Qur’an is the most definite and authentic record of whatever Muhmmad (sws) did in his status of a prophet and a messenger. Consequently, most topics covered in the Hadith are related to the Qur’an the way a branch is related to a stem or the way an explanation is related to the text it explains. Without a recourse to the original text, it is obvious that its corollaries and explanations cannot be understood. If all the mistakes in interpreting the Hadith are minutely analyzed, this situation becomes abundantly clear. The incidents of stoning to death in the times of the Prophet (sws), the assassination of Ka‘b Ibn Ashraf, punishment meted out in the graves, narratives such as مَنْ بَدَّلَ دِينَهُ فَاقْتُلُوهُ (Execute the person who changes his faith)26 have become issues which have caused a lot of confusion and have been subjected to misinterpretation because they have not been understood by relating them to their basis in the Qur’an.
4. Hadith are as Authentic as the Qur’an27
There are scholars who believe that the Hadith are as authentic as the Qur’an.
Here, it needs to be appreciated that besides investigating the chain of narration of a Hadith, the second thing which requires investigation is the text of a Hadith. Although scholars of Hadith have left no stone unturned in investigating the characters and biographies of the narrators and have spent a greater part of their lives in this research, yet like every human endeavour, the natural flaws which still exist in the narration of a Hadith28 requires that the following two things must always remain in consideration while investigating the text of a Hadith:
1. Nothing in It Should Be Against the Qur’an And Sunnah
2. Nothing in it should be against established facts derived from knowledge and reason
The Qur’an, it has been alluded to earlier, is the Mizan (the scale of truth) and the Furqan (the distinguisher between truth and falsehood). It is like a guardian of every religious concept and it has been revealed as a barometer to judge between what is right and what is wrong. Thus no further explanation is required of the fact that if anything is against the Qur’an, and then it must stand rejected.
Similar is the case of the Sunnah. Whatever religion has been received through it is as certain and authentic as the Qur’an, as has already been explained earlier. There is no difference between the levels of authenticity of the two. Just as the Qur’an is validated thought the consensus of the Ummah, the Sunnah is also determined from its consensus. Since this fact is an absolute reality about the Sunnah, thus if a Hadith is against the Sunnah and if there is no way out to resolve a conflict between the two, the Hadith in consideration must necessarily be rejected.
Established facts derived from knowledge and reason also have the same status in this regard. The Qur’an is absolutely clear that its message is based on these established facts. Its arguments on such basic issues as Tawhid and the Hereafter are primarily based on these facts. It is the requirements and demands of these facts which the Qur’an highlights through its teachings. Every student of the Qur’an is aware that it presents these facts as deciding factors for the message it puts forth. It presented them as the final word both before the Idolaters of Arabia and the People of the Book. Those who oppose these are regarded by it as people who follow their base desires. Thus intuitive realities, historical truths, results of experience and observation – all are discussed in the Qur’an in this very capacity. Hence how can a Hadith which is against these facts regarded by the Qur’an as ones which distinguish between the truth and untruth be accepted? It is obvious that it shall stand rejected. All leading scholars of Hadith also hold this view. Khatib writes:
ولا يقبل خبر الواحد في منافاة حكم العقل وحكم القرآن الثابت المحكم والسنة المعلومة والفعل الجاري مجرى السنة كل دليل مقطوع به
A Khabr-I Wahid cannot be accepted which is against sense and intellect, is against an established and explicit directive of the Qur’an, is against a known Sunnah or is against a practice which is observed like the Sunnah or its conflict with some conclusive argument becomes absolutely evident.29
5. Ahadith Can Be Interpreted Independently30
A general practice in interpreting Ahadith is that each narrative is interpreted independently even if its variant texts exist. As a result, the complete picture in which a directive was given is sacrificed and one often ends up deducing a directive from incomplete data.
It needs to be appreciated that all the variant texts of a Hadith must be studied in order to form an opinion about it. Many a time a person may form an opinion about a Hadith by not studying its variants; however, once he deliberates on all the variants his overall interpretation changes. One glaring example of this are the Ahadith which mention the prohibition of pictures and portraits. If some of the narratives are studied only, one can easily conclude that this prohibition is absolute and every picture and portrait is prohibited in Islam. However, if all the variants are collected and analyzed, it becomes evident that the prohibition is regarding only those pictures which have been made for worshipping. Many similar examples can be cited from the corpus of the Hadith literature. Thus it is essential that if one is not satisfied from the apparent words of a Hadith, one must gather and collate all its variants to form an opinion.
III. Worship and Worship Rituals
1. Making Vows of Worship is Recommended
Many people are of the opinion that Islam encourages a person to make a vow to offer some worship ritual if his wish is granted. Thus a person pledges before God that he would, for example, keep a certain number of fasts or pray a certain amount of optional prayers if a certain desire of his is fulfilled.
It needs to be appreciated that making vows of worship for the fulfilment of certain wishes was never the way of the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta). It means that a person is imposing a condition to carry out certain virtuous deeds and also burdening himself with something which may ultimately be very difficult to fulfil. Worship done in this manner may also adversely affect a person’s relationship with his Creator. It becomes more of a mechanical act often done in disregard to the spirit of worship. Worship should be done from the willingness of the heart and from the eagerness of the soul; otherwise it will fail to reap the real benefit it carries: purification of the inner-self. In fact, worship done if one’s wish is not granted may at many times be more beneficial in achieving this end.
The correct way in this regard is to pray to the Almighty that a certain wish be granted. If the wish is granted, a person should express his gratitude by letting his feelings take their own course and manifest themselves in whatever form of worship at that particular time. Also, the quantity of worship does not matter in such cases: it is the quality that really counts.
2. Praying after the ‘Asr Prayer is Forbidden
It is generally believed that Muslims have been forbidden to pray or prostrate after the ‘Asr prayer until Maghrib.
It needs to be appreciated that according to the established Sunnah of the Prophet (sws), the only forbidden times for prayer are sunrise and sunset. This precautionary measure is meant to curb polytheism, since many nations of antiquity worshiped the sun at these times. At all other times, prayers can be offered. Consequently, one can pray between ‘Asr and Maghrib.
It seems that the following Hadith has led to the belief that no prayer can be offered between ‘Asr and Maghrib:
لاَ صَلاَةَ بَعْدَ الصُّبْحِ حَتَّى تَرْتَفِعَ الشَّمْسُ وَلاَ صَلاَةَ بَعْدَ العَصْرِ حَتىَّ تَغِيْبَ الشَّمْسُ (بخاري ، رقم : ٥٦١)
The Prophet is reported to have said there is no prayer after dawn until the sun rises and there is no prayer after ‘Asr until the sun sets. (Bukhari, No: 561)
If all the texts of this Hadith are collected, it comes to light that a part of it has been left out in most of its texts. This can be observed from the underlined portion of the following two Ahadith:
لَا تُصَلوُّا بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ اِلاَّ اَنْ تُصَلوُّا وَالشَّمْسُ مُرْتَفِعَةٌ (مسند أحمد ، رقم : ١٠٧٦)
Do not pray after ‘asr except if the sun is high [in the sky]. (Musnad Ahmad, No: 1076)
لَا تُصَلوُّا بَعْدَ الْعَصْرِ اِلاَّ اَنْ تُصَلوُّا وَالشَّمْسُ نَقِيَّةٌ (بيهقي ، رقم : ٤١٩٦)
Do not pray after ‘asr except if the sun is shinning brightly high [in the sky]. (Bayhaqi, No: 4196)
In other words, what the Prophet (sws) actually forbade was praying very near the time of sunset since this might accidentally lead a person to pray in the forbidden period of sunset. Consequently, it is clear from these Ahadith that if one intends to pray after ‘asr, one should make sure that one does so before sunset. One has not been stopped from praying after ‘asr, as has been inferred by some.
3. The Almighty asked for Ishmael’s Sacrifice?
It is generally believed that God asked Abraham (sws) to sacrifice his son. True the sacrifice never took place but the question is: Why was is it asked for?
It needs to be understood that the Almighty never commanded Abraham (sws) to sacrifice his son. It was Abraham (sws) who took this step thinking that the Almighty wanted this to happen. In this regard, the following points must remain in consideration:
1. Abraham (sws) thought that he was directed to sacrifice his son by the Almighty in a dream shown to him. For the Prophets of Allah, such dreams are a source of contact with the Almighty, and in them they are shown certain images by Him for the purpose of their education and instruction. However, as a principle, they are not to be interpreted literally; they contain realities which are depicted in symbolic form. Symbolic representation is a very subtle and powerful way of expression: facts seem veiled, yet for one who pauses to ponder, they are most evident. So what needs to be understood is that dreams of the Prophets of Allah are symbolic too. They portray a fact in figurative form in order to make it more effective to understand. As an example, consider the dream of the Prophet Joseph (sws) mentioned in the Qur’an. It says that he saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. The interpretation of the dream offered by the Qur’an itself at the end of Surah Yusuf shows that this bowing down was a symbolism to show that his eleven brothers and father and mother would submit to his authority as the king (12:100). Similarly, more examples can be given from the Qur’an.
2. The next point which arises is about the symbolism found in “human sacrifice”. In other words: “What does human sacrifice stand for?” A knowledge of the ancient scriptures reveals that human sacrifice offered to God symbolizes consecrating and dedicating a person to the service of Allah:
You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hand on them. Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord. ‘After the Levites lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, use the one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine. After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the Tent of Meeting. They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. Every firstborn male in Israel, whether man or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. (Numbers 8:10-18)
As is evident from the underlined portion, the symbolism found in “human sacrifice” is to set aside and dedicate a person to the service of Allah. In other words, the Almighty actually wanted Abraham (sws) to devote Ishmael (sws) for special tasks assigned by the Almighty.
3. Abraham (sws) in his spirit of submission to the will of God started to follow his dream in the literal sense instead of interpreting the dream; consequently, the Almighty told him that he had “made the dream a reality”, which of course was not required. However, this willingness to submit to a command of Allah as perceived by Abraham (sws) greatly pleased the Almighty since it was based on sincerity and a great readiness to do what he thought was Allah’s desire.
4. Charity Can Be Given Instead Of Animal Sacrifice
Some people think that instead of sacrificing sheep on ‘id, one can donate an equivalent in money to charities. This notion is not true and requires a little elaboration:
For every human being who believes in Allah, there are two distinct spheres of interaction in which relationships come into existence. The first sphere covers a person’s relationship with Allah, while the second one constitutes a person’s relationship with his fellow human beings. Islam and all divinely revealed religions nothing but guide human intellect in these two spheres. A person’s relationship with Allah manifests itself in worship, which in Islam has some distinct forms. Similarly, a person’s relationship with his brethren takes the form of social interaction, which again has many areas. Total or partial negation of any one of these spheres results in an unbalanced life. Extremism in the first sphere breeds monasticism and ascetism while extremism in the second one breeds materialism. Islam wants every person to create a balance in his life by giving each sphere its due. Similarly, it wants a person to undertake the various prescribed forms of interaction in both spheres since each has a definite purpose.
In the first sphere, Islam has prescribed specific forms of worship of which one form cannot replace the other, since each has its own purpose and objective. Animal Sacrifice is one such form of worship. It has an underlying philosophy which must be well be appreciated in order to do it in letter and spirit. Just as Salah cannot replace Zakah and vice versa, animal sacrifice also cannot be replaced by Zakah or charity. What animal sacrifice induces in a person, Zakah or Salah or hajj do not.
The raison d’etre for animal sacrifice on ‘id is to commemorate a great event which depicts an extraordinary expression of submission to the command of Allah -- the essence of Islam. The Prophet Abraham (sws) while obeying the Almighty set a platinum example of this submission. When we offer an animal in sacrifice, we actually symbolize our intention that we are ready to submit ourselves to Allah in any way that may be required by Him, just as His great Prophet Abraham (sws) had once done so with spirit and splendour, glory and grandeur.
5. Zakah Cannot Be Given To Non-Muslims
Some people are of the view that Zakah cannot be spent on Non-Muslims. This view is not correct.
The following Qur’anic verse spells out the heads under which Zakah can be expended:
إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاء وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ (٦٠:٩)
Zakah is only for the poor and the needy, and for those who are ‘Amils over it, and for those whose hearts are to be reconciled [to the truth], and for the emancipation of the slaves and for those who have been inflicted with losses and for the way of Allah and for the wayfarers. (9:60)
It is evident from the verse quoted above that the Qur’an does not discriminate between the recipients of Zakah on the basis of their beliefs or religion. In other words, Zakah money can be given to any needy person whatever his religion is.
IV. Political Issues
1. A Muslim Ruler has the Right to Overrule the Majority
It is generally contended on the basis of the following verse that the ruler of a Muslim state has the power to veto his confidants if he deems so.
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ (١٥٩:٣)
So ignore their faults and ask for God’s forgiveness for them and consult them in the affairs [of state]. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. (3:159)
This is an incorrect inference. It should be appreciated that the Qur’an is an internally coherent Book and each verse has a specific context, which, if disregarded, may lead to gross misinterpretation.
If we take a look at the context of 3:159, it becomes evident that the verse occurs in the group of verses in which the behaviour of the Hypocrites and the events of the battle of Uhud and their aftermath are under discussion. The Hypocrites, we know from the Qur’an, were given a time of respite so that they might reform themselves. However, once the time was over, they were severely dealt with as is evident from many verses of the Qur’an. For example:
يَاأَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدْ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَمَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ (٦٦:٩)
O Prophet! Strive hard against the Disbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed. (66:9)
The battle of Uhud was the time when they were still in the period of respite. So, it was not appropriate to disregard them at that time. Consequently, the Prophet (sws) is told to keep consulting them in various affairs; however, he is not bound by what their majority says. If he decides contrarily, he should repose his trust in Allah and do what he has decided. This is a brief summary of the stress of the verse.
A more detailed look at the context of 3:159 and at the various historical facts shows that the Prophet (sws) had consulted the Muslims on whether they should fight the enemy from within the city or from the outside. The Hypocrites opined that they should fight from within the city while the true believers were of the opposite opinion. The Prophet (sws) it seems also held the latter opinion. So when he and the believers decided to go out and fight, the Hypocrites became angry and expressed their anger in various ways. ‘Abdullah Ibn Ubay for example departed right before the battle with his three hundred men saying that his opinion was ignored. Another group of Hypocrites that stayed with the Muslims started spreading the propaganda once the battle was over that the defeat was due to the wrong strategy adopted. Consequently, verses 3:156-8, while addressing the Hypocrites, mention these details in the following manner:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَقَالُوا لِإِخْوَانِهِمْ إِذَا ضَرَبُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ أَوْ كَانُوا غُزًّى لَوْ كَانُوا عِنْدَنَا مَا مَاتُوا وَمَا قُتِلُوا لِيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ ذَلِكَ حَسْرَةً فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ وَاللَّهُ يُحْيِ وَيُمِيتُ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ وَلَئِنْ قُتِلْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَوْ مُتُّمْ لَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِنْ اللَّهِ وَرَحْمَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا يَجْمَعُونَ وَلَئِنْ مُتُّمْ أَوْ قُتِلْتُمْ لَإِلَى اللَّهِ تُحْشَرُونَ (٣: ١٥٦-٨)
O you who believe! be not like the disbelievers who say of their brethren when they are travelling through the land or fighting: “If they had stayed with us they would not have died or been slain” so that Allah may make a cause of regret in their hearts. It is Allah Who gives life and death. And Allah knows what you do. And if you are killed or die in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they amass [of worldly wealth]. And whether you die or are killed, verily, unto Allah you shall be gathered. (3:156-8)
Consequently, it is clear from these verses that the Prophet (sws) in his capacity of a Prophet (sws) was advised to deal with the Hypocrites of his times in a particular manner, as spelled out in the subsequent verse; in other words, this subsequent verse also like the previous ones refers to the Hypocrites:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ (١٥٩:٣)
So ignore their faults and ask for God’s forgiveness for them and consult them in affairs. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. (3:159)
These verses cannot be related to us in any way today. Technically speaking, the antecedents of the plural accusative pronoun in the imperative verb شَاوِرْهُمْ (consult them) are the Hypocrites of the Prophet’s times. Owing to his position as Prophet, Muhammad (sws) was divinely guided in their affairs and was told to deal with them with latitude until the Almighty signalled to him that the period of respite was over.
Consequently, the verse cannot be extended to anyone beyond the Prophet (sws).
2. Muslims of a Non-Muslim Country should Unite Politically
Some people think that Islam directs all Muslims living in non-Muslim lands to unite under one leadership and present themselves as a single entity.
Nowhere has Islam directed Muslims living in a non-Muslim country to unite under one leadership. This may serve their interest and be very beneficial for them. However, they have not been bound by their religion in this regard. It is up to them if they want to adopt such a policy.
Some people do present the following verse to contend that Islam has directed Muslims to politically unite:
إِنَّ هَذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِي (٢١: ٩٣)
Indeed, this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah, and I am your Lord and Cherisher. (21:93)
If the context of this verse is deliberated upon, it comes to light that the Qur’an is not directing the present Muslim Ummah to remain united; on the contrary the word Ummah here is used for all the Prophets which are mentioned in the preceding verses (78-91). After enlisting most Prophets, the Qur’an says that all these Prophets are one Ummah in the sense that they brought the same religion and it is the people who introduced innovations in it:
وَدَاوُودَ وَسُلَيْمَانَ إِذْ يَحْكُمَانِ فِي الْحَرْثِ إِذْ نَفَشَتْ فِيهِ غَنَمُ الْقَوْمِ وَكُنَّا لِحُكْمِهِمْ شَاهِدِينَ فَفَهَّمْنَاهَا سُلَيْمَانَ وَكُلًّا آتَيْنَا حُكْمًا وَعِلْمًا وَسَخَّرْنَا مَعَ دَاوُودَ الْجِبَالَ يُسَبِّحْنَ وَالطَّيْرَ وَكُنَّا فَاعِلِينَ وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ صَنْعَةَ لَبُوسٍ لَكُمْ لِتُحْصِنَكُمْ مِنْ بَأْسِكُمْ فَهَلْ أَنْتُمْ شَاكِرُونَ وَلِسُلَيْمَانَ الرِّيحَ عَاصِفَةً تَجْرِي بِأَمْرِهِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ الَّتِي بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا وَكُنَّا بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَالِمِينَ وَمِنْ الشَّيَاطِينِ مَنْ يَغُوصُونَ لَهُ وَيَعْمَلُونَ عَمَلًا دُونَ ذَلِكَ وَكُنَّا لَهُمْ حَافِظِينَ وَأَيُّوبَ إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ أَنِّي مَسَّنِي الضُّرُّ وَأَنْتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ فَكَشَفْنَا مَا بِهِ مِنْ ضُرٍّ وَآتَيْنَاهُ أَهْلَهُ وَمِثْلَهُمْ مَعَهُمْ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِنْدِنَا وَذِكْرَى لِلْعَابِدِينَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِدْرِيسَ وَذَا الْكِفْلِ كُلٌّ مِنْ الصَّابِرِينَ وَأَدْخَلْنَاهُمْ فِي رَحْمَتِنَا إِنَّهُمْ مِنْ الصَّالِحِينَ وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَنْ لَنْ نَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَى فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنْ الظَّالِمِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ مِنْ الْغَمِّ وَكَذَلِكَ نُنْجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَزَكَرِيَّا إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ رَبِّ لَا تَذَرْنِي فَرْدًا وَأَنْتَ خَيْرُ الْوَارِثِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ يَحْيَى وَأَصْلَحْنَا لَهُ زَوْجَهُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَيَدْعُونَنَا رَغَبًا وَرَهَبًا وَكَانُوا لَنَا خَاشِعِينَ وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِنْ رُوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ إِنَّ هَذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِي وَتَقَطَّعُوا أَمْرَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ كُلٌّ إِلَيْنَا رَاجِعُونَ (٢١ :٧٨-٩٣)
And remember David and Solomon, when they gave judgement in the matter of the field into which the sheep of certain people had strayed by night: we did witness their judgement. To Solomon We inspired the [right] understanding of the matter: to each [of them] we gave judgement and knowledge; it was Our power that made the hills and the birds celebrate Our praises, with David: it was We who did [all these things]. It was We Who taught him the making of metal coats of mail for your benefit to guard you from each other’s violence. Will you then be grateful? [It was our power that made] the violent wind flow [tamely] for Solomon to his order to the land which We had blessed: for We do know all things. And of the evil ones, were some who dived for him, and did other work besides; and it was We who guarded them. And [remember] Job, when he cried to his Lord: “Truly distress has seized me, but You are the Most Merciful of those that are Merciful.” So We listened to him: We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his people to him, and doubled their number, as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration for all who serve Us. And [remember] Isma‘IL, Idris, and Dhu al-Kifl, all [men] of constancy and patience. We admitted them to our mercy, for they were of the righteous ones. And remember Dhu al-Nun, when he departed in wrath. He imagined that We would not call him to account! But he cried through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but You; glory to You. I was indeed wrong!” So We listened to Him and delivered him from distress and thus do We deliver those who have faith. And [remember] Zakariyyah, when he cried to his Lord: “O my Lord! Leave me not without offspring, though You are the best of inheritors.” So We listened to him and We granted him Yahya. We cured his wife’s [barrenness] for him. These were ever quick in emulation in good works; they used to call on Us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before Us. And [remember] her who guarded her chastity: we breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples. Indeed, this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me [and no other]. But [the later generations] cut off their matter [of unity], one from another: [yet] will they all return to Us. (21:78-93)
In other words, the words “Indeed, this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah” if interpreted keeping in view the context refers to the collectivity of the Prophets that came before Muhammad (sws). They have nothing to do with the Muslim Ummah.
3. Defiance of anti-Islamic Laws of a Non-Muslim Country
Some people are of the opinion that Muslims should defy the directives of the non-Muslim country where they are living if they are asked by the government to do something which is against Islam.
It must be kept in consideration that Muslims who have settled in non-Muslim countries are bound in a contract of citizenship. They must always honour this contract while living in such areas. They should respect the laws and live peacefully. They are bound by Islam to abide by the terms and conditions of any contract they make and they must never violate them in the slightest way. Such violations according to Islam are totally forbidden and, in fact, amount to a grave transgression. The Qur’an says:
وَأَوْفُوا بِالْعَهْدِ إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ كَانَ مَسْئُولًا(٣٤:١٧)
And keep [your] covenants; because indeed [on the Day of Judgement] you will be held accountable for them. (17:34)
Consequently, Muslims must never break the laws of the country they live in and if a situation comes when, owing to some law, they are not able to follow a directive of their religion that seems imperative to them, they should first of all bring the matter in the notice of the authorities. If it is not resolved, then instead of violating the law or creating nuisance they should migrate from that country.
This, of course, does not mean that this stance of a Non-Muslim country is being endorsed. It amounts to denying a minority its basic rights and, at times, is tantamount to persecution.
4. Muslims Are Duty-Bound To Establish An Islamic State
There are some Muslim scholars who think that each and every Muslim has been asked by Islam to strive to establish an Islamic state in case Islam does not reign supreme in the country he is living in.
It needs to be appreciated that Muslims are not required by their religion to fulfill any such obligation. Some religious scholars do present the example of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and say that since he had established an Islamic state in Arabia, Muslims, wherever they are, should follow his example. In this regard, it is submitted that neither did the Prophet (sws) ever undertake the task of establishing an Islamic state nor was he ever directed by the Almighty to do so. The truth of the matter is that it is the Almighty Who according to His established practice regarding His Messengers took matters in His own hand in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and bestowed him and his nation the supremacy of Arabia.
Scholars who are of the opinion that Muhammad (sws) strove to establish an Islamic state in Arabia typically present the following verse in support of their view:
هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَى وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ(٩:٦١)
It is He Who has sent his Messenger [–Muhammad–] with Guidance and the Religion of Truth that he may proclaim it over all religions, even though the Idolaters may detest [this]. (61:9)
On the basis of the phrase “all religions”, it is understood that the followers of Islam must struggle for its dominance in their respective countries and territories.
An analysis of the context of this verse shows that it belongs to the class of directives that relate to the established practice of the Almighty regarding His Messengers (rusul) according to which a Messenger (Rasul) always triumphs over his nation:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُحَادُّونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ أُوْلَئِكَ فِي الأَذَلِّينَ كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَأَغْلِبَنَّ أَنَا وَرُسُلِي إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ(٥٨: ٢٠-١)
Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: “I and My Messengers shall always prevail.” Indeed, Allah is Mighty and Powerful. (58:20-1)
Muhammad (sws) was also informed that he would triumph over his nation. He and his Companions (rta) were told that they would have to fight the Idolaters of Arabia until the supremacy of Islam was achieved therein and that these Idolaters should be informed that if they did not desist from their evil ways they too would meet a fate no different from those of the other nations who denied their Messengers:
قُلْ لِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ يَنتَهُوا يُغْفَرْ لَهُمْ مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ وَإِنْ يَعُودُوا فَقَدْ مَضَتْ سُنَّةُ الْأَوَّلِينَ وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلَّهِ (٨: ٣٨-٤٠)
Say to the Disbelievers that if they now desist [from disbelief] their past would be forgiven; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already [a warning for them]. And fight against them until there is no more persecution and prevails there the religion of God. (8:38-40)
Consequently, it is to be noted that the word al-mushrikun (the Idolaters) is used in 61:9 quoted above. The Qur’an uses this word specifically for the Idolaters of Arabia of the Prophet’s times. As a result, “all the religions” in the conjugate clause can only mean all the religions of Arabia at that time. So, the verse has no bearing on Muslims after the times of the Prophet (sws).
Therefore, striving to achieve the political supremacy of Islam is not any religious obligation of a Muslim, let alone waging jihad to achieve this supremacy. The verses from which this obligation has been construed specifically relate to the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
5. Muslim Rulers Shall Always Belong To the Quraysh
On the basis of the following narrative attributed to the Prophet (sws), it is generally believed that a Muslim ruler must belong to the Quraysh, which is the tribe of the Prophet (sws).
َلْأَئِمَّةُ مِنْ قُرَيْش (نسائ ، رقم : ٥٩٤٢)
The rulers shall be from the Quraysh. (Nasa’i, No: 5942)
If this is correct, then it would mean that there is no difference between Islam and Brahmanism in which only a specific tribe has the prerogative to rule.
It needs to be appreciated that each narrative must be interpreted in the light of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’anic verse (٤٢: ٣٨) أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (their system is based on their consultation, (42:38)) in the absence of a consensus, the majority opinion should decide affairs of the Muslims. Thus in the light of this directive a tradition was established from the time of the Prophet (sws) that the tribe who held the confidence of the majority would be granted the reigns of power. Since in the time of the Prophet (sws), this status was occupied by the Quraysh, the Prophet (sws) merely following this Qur’anic injunction and fearing that leaders of the minority groups might stake a claim to power clarified that the rulers shall be from the Quraysh. While citing the reason for this, he is reported to have said:
النَّاسُ تَبَعٌ لِقُرَيْشٍ فِي هَذَا الشَّأْنِ مُسْلِمُهُمْ لِمُسْلِمِهِمْ وَكَافِرُهُمْ لِكَافِرِهِمْ (مسلم، رقم : ١٨١٨)
People in this matter follow the Quraysh. The believers of Arabia are the followers of their believers and the disbelievers of Arabia are the followers of their disbelievers. (Muslim, No: 1818)
In other words, the Prophet (sws) made it very clear that since the majority of the Arabian Muslims professed confidence in the Quraysh, they were solely entitled to take charge as the rulers of Arabia in the light of the Qur’anic directive أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (Their system is based on their consultation), and that they would be passed on the political authority not because of any racial precedence or superiority, but only by virtue of this position.
It follows from this that Quraysh were entitled to rule after the Prophet (sws) as long as they enjoyed the confidence of the majority and once they lost this confidence they were not entitled to rule.