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Books Section > The Promised Messiah [The Second Coming of Jesus] by Maulana Muhammad Ali Sahib > Chapter I : The Way to Resolve Differences

Chapter I : The Way to Resolve Differences:

And hold fast to the covenant of Allah all together and be not disunited. And remember Allah's favour to you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts so by His favour you became brethren. And you were on the brink of a pit of fire, then He saved you from it. Thus Allah makes clear to you His messages that you may be guided. 1

1. The Quran is the covenant of Allah:

In the above verses, Muslims have been told that the secret of protecting themselves from disunity and discord is to hold fast together to the covenant of Allah. The Arabic word for covenant is habl, which primarily means a rope or a cord, but its significance is very wide. Every means by which a desired object can be attained is habl. It is stated in the Mufradat of Imam Raghib:

"Symbolically habl means to join, and everything which makes one join with another is called habl."

Habl al-Allah means that by which one can reach God. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said, on the authority of Ibn Mas'ud, that "the Quran is the covenant (or rope) of Allah" 2 and according to another report by Abu Sa'id Khudri, it is the Book of Allah which is the rope of Allah extending from heaven to earth.3 Some have taken it to mean obedience to Allah and others have said that it means Islam, Jama'at, etc. 

But all these explanations tend to support the first report. There is no doubt that the way which God has shown to Muslims for protecting themselves from disunity is that they should hold fast to the Quran.

2. The spirit of unity infused by the Quran:

The Quran does not make a claim without furnishing proof. When it says that by holding fast to the Quran one will be saved from disunity, it also gives proof to establish this claim by pointing towards the condition of Arabia before the revelation of the Quran. In the whole country, tribe against tribe and family against family were at war day and night, as though they were standing on the brink of an abyss of fire and their differences and skirmishes were threatening to reduce them to ashes, when suddenly, God, in His Grace, came to their rescue and bestowed His favours on them. That is, He started reforming them by means of the Quranic teachings, and the fire which was going to destroy them entirely, was extinguished and Muslims were united in brotherhood. This was not just peace on the surface, but God created in their hearts real love for one another. Thus, the Quran, which has shown such a great and unprecedented miracle that brought age-long enemies into close fraternity, can still come to the rescue of Muslims.

3. Authority of the Quran accepted by the companions of the Prophet:

The companions of the Holy Prophet understood this principle well. They would immediately give up their own opinion if it did not conform to the teachings of the Quran. A person like Hazrat `Umar, who was educated in the company of the Holy Prophet, and whose opinion on several occasions corresponded with Divine revelation (testified to by many reliable ahadith), changed his opinion in public when a verse of the Quran contradicting his view was recited. His statement (near the time of death of the Holy Prophet), hasbuna kitab al-Allah (the Book of Allah is sufficient for us), 4 should be inscribed in gold letters, and his attachment to the covenant of Allah (i.e. the Quran) serves as a pattern which should be followed by every Muslim. This is, in fact, the distinguishing feature of the companions of the Holy Prophet, that whatever they uttered with their lips they translated into actions. If mountains of hardships and misfortunes stood in their way, they were able to overcome them. In the language of the Quran, the work done by their opponents was rendered as scattered motes (25:23). What a heart-rending event for his companions was the death of the Holy Prophet, for whom they would gladly have shed their blood for every drop of his sweat when he was separated from them and had joined his Companion on High. Hassan ibn Thabit has expressed the intensity of his grief in the following verses:

Thou (O Prophet) wert the pupil of my eyes!
After thy death my eyes became blind.
After thee let anybody die.
I was afraid only that thou wouldst die.

4. Argument from a verse of the Quran at the death of the Holy Prophet:

At the time of great sorrow when men of great firmness and resolution lost their senses, we found the companions of the Holy Prophet bowing their heads before the Quran. When news spread about the death of the Holy Prophet, Hazrat `Umar unsheathed his sword and went to the mosque where the companions of the Holy Prophet had gathered and shouted aloud:

"If anyone says that the Messenger of Allah has died, I will cut off his head."

After a short while, Hazrat Abu Bakr arrived and went to the Holy Prophet's chamber where his body lay. He realised that the Holy Prophet had died. He then returned to the mosque, ascended the pulpit and recited this verse of the Quran:

Muhammad is but a messenger - messengers have already passed away before him. If then he dies or is killed, will you turn back upon your heels? 5

The reading of this verse had a magical effect on the audience. Hazrat `Umar and the other companions immediately cooled down and after hearing this verse they were convinced that since the previous prophets had passed away, it was natural that the Holy Prophet should also pass away. This incident shows the great confidence that Hazrat Abu Bakr had in the power of the Quran. Hazrat `Umar's sword fell from his hand after he heard the Quran and the perturbed minds of other companions were also put at rest. Hazrat Abu Bakr neither cared for the unsheathed sword of Hazrat `Umar nor for the agitated mood of the great assembly, who were not willing for a moment to ascribe the word death to the Holy Prophet; he thought it sufficient merely to recite the verse of the Quran. The mood of the whole assembly was instantly changed. Was this verse not known to the other companions besides Hazrat Abu Bakr? Were they not aware of the Arabic language? Yes, they knew everything, but had forgotten these words of the Quran. The moment this verse was read to them, they bowed their heads before the authority of the Quran.

5. Hazrat `Umar's sermon about dowry and his acceptance of his mistake in public:

The history of the companions of the Holy Prophet is full of such instances when someone used a verse of the Holy Quran in support of his argument, and another who held a contrary view immediately dropped his own view, however long it may have remained embedded in his heart and however pleasant it might have looked in some of its aspects. I will quote another incident here from the period of Hazrat `Umar when, after the conquest of Iran and Syria, the wealth of the country had increased immensely and the simple life of Arabia had undergone a radical change. Besides other things, people started bestowing huge dowries on their wives. Hazrat `Umar was not the ruler of Arabia alone, but also had under his control the great kingdoms of Iran, Syria and Egypt; but his way of life remained as simple as ever. He ate the same simple food, wore the same simple dress and lived in the same simple house. When camels owned by the state treasury fell ill, he would nurse them; if lost, he would go in search of them even when the dangerous samum was blowing at noon; and when he saw someone going hungry he would carry a sack of flour on his back to deliver it to the needy. An ordinary employee of his once came back as a courier. Hazrat `Umar went to welcome him and walked on foot while the courier rode his camel. When he was invited to go to Jerusalem to sign an agreement of peace, a slave accompanied him. They both took turns riding the camel and kept watch alternately when they camped at a site. If a guest came to his house, he would simply ask his wife to bring some food. The treasures of the world were lying at his feet, but they were worthless in his eyes. He wished that other people should also lead plain and simple lives like him. He once summoned them, ascended the pulpit and told them not to bestow huge dowries on their wives. No doubt it was good advice. The Khalifah himself conducted his life with great simplicity. Why would his words then not touch the hearts of people? Great companions and scholars of the Quran were among his audience, but they were all silent. Then a woman in that assembly stood up and addressed him:

"O son of al-Khattab (i.e. `Umar), God gives us and you forbid."

In such an august assembly and in the presence of such a mighty ruler, what was it that inspired a woman and made her fearless? She knew that the Khalifah had invited the people for a special purpose and to raise a voice against him was a serious thing. If the other companions of the Holy Prophet kept quiet, she did not. She knew only one thing - that all heads would bow before a verse of the Quran, so she recited:

And if you have given one of them a heap of gold, take nothing from it. 6

When the Quran permitted the offering of a heap of gold, who was `Umar to forbid it? She did not even say "O Amir al-Mu'minin" but addressed `Umar as "O son of al-Khattab" and went straight to the point and cited a verse of the Quran. Did `Umar have no understanding of the Quran? Were all the illustrious companions of the Holy Prophet unaware of this verse of the Quran or its true meaning? In these circumstances, it was a difficult task to admit one's mistake. Even an ordinary preacher today, instead of withdrawing his statement, may bring a hundred and one excuses in his favour. The latter-day commentators of the Quran have given various explanations of this verse, but the one who said, "The Book of Allah is sufficient for us" 7 had such a great regard for the Quran that no power on earth could deter him from accepting its authority. Hazrat `Umar openly withdrew his remark in that very meeting because it was opposed to the Quran. Strangely enough, he did not feel upset or hurt that an ordinary woman understood what he did not, and in a candid manner he admitted that everybody was wiser than he. He is also reported to have said:

"The women of Madinah have better knowledge of the Quran than `Umar."

This was the theologian of great rank about whom the Holy Prophet saw in a vision that his (`Umar's) shirt was so long that it trailed behind and the Holy Prophet interpreted the shirt as symbolising religion. Then, in another vision, he saw that he drank some milk from a cup and the rest he gave to `Umar and said that milk stood for knowledge. Again, sometimes opinions expressed by Hazrat `Umar corresponded with prophetic revelation. Such a great scholar and theologian who spent years in the company of the Holy Prophet did not reprimand that woman by saying:

"Who are you to cite the Quran before me? Do you think that I am ignorant of the Quran?"

No. On the other hand, he bowed his head before the Quranic verse and told her that whatever she understood from the Quran was right. Was that in any way disparaging to the dignity of Hazrat `Umar, or of Hazrat `Abbas and the other great companions of the Holy Prophet, about whom it was mentioned in the traditions that the Quran should be learnt from them? Certainly not. On the other hand, it shows the greatness and the authority of the Quran. From this incident, we perceive the attitude of the early Muslims of the emigrants and the helpers whose example we are commanded to follow. Even if a person of the most common demeanour presented the Quran in his support, they never admonished him sarcastically by saying that such and such great companions of the Holy Prophet did not understand the Quran, and he did; they would immediately accept the truth. They truly acted on the verse: Hold fast to the covenant of Allah. 8 

This is what Muslims need today: to hold fast to the covenant of Allah as this alone can remove the disunity and discord from among them. When the Quran says something quite clearly and explicitly, we should all give up our own prejudices. Unless such a condition is not brought about in our lives, that we are willing to renounce all the age-long erroneous ideas from our minds, our lives will not really be governed by the Quran but only by our own opinions. However, if a true explanation of a verse of the Quran from the tongue of the Holy Prophet reaches us, we should bow our heads before it, because it also springs out of the pure source of revelation (although it may be of the nature of wahy khafiy (minor revelation). 9

6. The need for invitation to good:

The secret of the success of Muslims lies in the following injunction of the Quran:

And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. And these are they who are successful.10

These words are placed in the Quran immediately after the injunction to hold fast to the covenant of God all together and be not disunited (3:102), and in the next verse it is stated that from among you there should always remain a group who should invite to good (al-khair) that is, the Quran. Al-khair is, in fact, the name of the Quran because it contains all the principles of good conduct, moral and spiritual. In our times, Muslims have become totally negligent of this duty, and the work of invitation to Islam which, in fact, was the key to their success, has been abandoned. In this land of India where hundreds of Muslim luminaries are buried, respect for them is implanted in the hearts of people only because they made the sacred mission of the invitation to Islam the main object of their lives and thus they became shining stars showing the way of righteousness to thousands of men. But alas, the successors of these pious dignitaries (sajjada nashin) have turned away from this work. Instead, they have made the seats of their spiritual heritage (gaddi nashin) a source of worldly and financial benefits. The `ulama (theologians) are engaged in petty wrangling among themselves. The rich are concerned only with a life of luxury and do not want to spend anything for the sake of the propagation of Islam. On trivial and frivolous things they may spend a fortune, but for the sake of Islam they have nothing to spare, with a few exceptions, of course.

7. The Mujaddid of this century was assigned the task of the propagation of Islam:

When Muslims all over the world had become negligent of this great task, God fulfilled His promise which He had made to the Holy Prophet in the following words:

"Most surely Allah will raise for this ummah at the head of each century one who shall revive for it its faith." 11

At the head of the fourteenth century after Hijrah, He appointed Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian and informed him of matters which were going to make Islam prevail over all the religions of the world. Right from the beginning, great passion and love were found in his writings for the defence of Islam against its opponents, and such arguments were granted to him for the establishment of the truth of Islam that their parallel was not found in the works of other writers. At a time when other Muslims were neglectful of their duty towards propagating Islam, he stood alone to perform this task. Later on, he organised for the propagation of Islam, a group (jama'at) which even today is actively engaged in this work. No other mujaddid had appeared in any country at the head of the century - and the tradition of the advent of a mujaddid was so authentic that many luminaries of the ummah, after receiving divine inspiration (ilham), had established its truth. Therefore, many people welcomed the Founder's claim to being a mujaddid. In fact, in the presence of the authentic hadith, the truth of which was established from other sources, there was no other way out except to admit the truth of the Founder's claim, particularly when there was nobody else who had laid claim to this office. But there were great obstacles in the way of the propagation of Islam. Christianity had spread on a large scale in every country, so much so that many Muslims, too, had become Christians. The reason for all this was that the Christians had built up an edifice on the hypothetical supremacy of Jesus Christ over the Prophet Muhammad and in this way they were able to mislead Muslims. Moreover, some of the views entertained by Muslims themselves supported this assumed concept of Jesus' superiority over the Holy Prophet, although they believed that the Holy Prophet was the best of men. One of the points which went towards supporting the Christian view was the belief that Jesus Christ was physically alive in heaven. Sometimes an issue remains dormant and people do not pay much attention to it unless it is God's Will to clarify the point. As Christianity had not become such a dominant force before, Muslims, therefore, never took much notice of it as a religion. The time was not yet right for the misconception about Jesus being physically alive to be eradicated forever. When this concept became a formidable obstacle in the way of the progress of Islam and many Muslims had become converts to Christianity, it was time then that the facts be brought to light. It was destined that the sun of Islam, in its full splendour, should rise in the West, the home of Christianity, as it had risen in the eastern countries before. Therefore, He manifested the truth to the Imam of this age that Jesus had, in fact, died a natural death. (It is the Divine practice that God appoints a mujaddid specially to cure the disease which is prevalent during that time). Jesus had died and the prophecy of his second advent in this ummah was fulfilled in the person of the mujaddid of this century. From the Quran and the Hadith he advanced such clear arguments about the death of Jesus Christ that many fair-minded people were forced to accept the truth, but the disclosure of the true interpretation of this doctrine and the fulfilment of the prophecy of Jesus' return in the person of a mujaddid became a source of great obstruction in his mission. The spreading of truth, according to divine practice, is always faced with a storm of opposition. He was denounced and different kinds of verdicts were issued against him by the Indian `ulama. This was nothing new, however, because pronouncements (fatwas) of heresy were passed against many eminent servants of Islam before. The unfortunate thing was that the work of the propagation of Islam, which was the real mission of his advent, suffered heavily on this account. In most cases, the common people, instead of carrying out their own enquiries about the issues involved, followed their `ulama. This caused a big misunderstanding among Muslims about the Ahmadiyya Movement. To remove this misunderstanding and dissension, I put forward my point of view before the readers of this book and request them, that, like `Umar the Great, they should follow in his footsteps and bow before the verdict of the Quran. That great man did not express surprise at the knowledge of an elderly woman about the Quran exceeding his knowledge and that of many other great companions of the Holy Prophet. Instead, when he heard a verse of the Quran from the elderly woman, Hazrat `Umar, in spite of his high position, admitted his mistake. Thus, we should not make the excuse that people before us did not know about those verses. It is up to God - from His infinite knowledge - He passes on a portion of knowledge to whom He wills. Thus, if the clear indication and application of the Quranic verse is different from, or even opposed to, our own views, we should immediately renounce our own views and accept what the Quran says.

8. The Quran is the sole arbiter:

The Quran itself explains that one of the objects of its revelation is to remove differences. The Quran is not only called muhaimin 12, a guardian over all the truths, but also qaul al-fasl, 13 a decisive word that separates truth from falsehood. It is also called the Book explaining all things, 14 and the Book that resolves all differences. Says the Quran:

We have not revealed to thee the Book except that thou mayest make clear to them that wherein they differ, and (as) a guidance and a mercy for a people who believe. 15

This verse of the Quran clearly indicates that one of the objects of the revelation of the Quran was to root out all differences from the minds of people. If this means that the removal of these differences is confined to the differences among the followers of previous religions, and that the Quran does not help to remove the internal differences in Islam, then we are faced with two difficulties. Firstly, was God, the Knower of the unseen, Who knew the differences of the followers of previous religions, unaware of the future differences among Muslims? The Holy Prophet had not made a study of the differences found in the earlier scriptures and religions; it was God Who knew these differences and helped to root them out. Similarly, He knew the differences of the Muslims and it is He Alone Who can help to eradicate them. Thus, the Quran is the Book which resolves the differences of the previous, as well as of the future generations, and this is the true meaning of the verse quoted above (16:64). If we do not accept this meaning, the second difficulty in our way would be that if a book of God was needed to remove the differences of the previous faiths and if this book cannot help Muslims to resolve their own disputes, then another book would be needed. It is not at all possible for another book to be revealed after the Quran. Thus it shows that the Quran itself presents the solution to the internal problems of Muslims. If Muslims firmly hold fast to the covenant of Allah 16 they may be able to solve their disputes in no time.

9. The principle of arbitration:

The Quran claims not only that it can solve all disputes, but it has also laid down a principle, by following which, we ourselves can help in solving these disputes. Says the Quran:

He it is Who has revealed the Book to thee; some of its verses are decisive - they are the basis of the Book - and others are allegorical. Then those in whose hearts is perversity follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead, and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. And none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those firmly rooted in knowledge. They say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord. 17

This verse shows that the Quran is such a comprehensive book that it cannot be the word of man, for it is not possible for a man to lay down principles of eternal value. The summary and essence of this verse is that there are two kinds of statements in the Quran, viz. muhkam (firmly constructed, unambiguous) and mutashabih (dissimilar, less clear or allegorical). Mukham means a statement for the interpretation of which one does not have to look elsewhere for its interpretation. Mutashabih is that which is verified by other verses and the full meaning cannot be comprehended without reference to them. Here, a principle has been laid down that, following and interpreting the allegorical (mutashabih) verses on their own without any reference to the clear and decisive verses, is the work of those in whose hearts there is perversity (zaigh) which leads them to deviate from the right way of belief and conduct. Thus, to single out one statement of the Quran and cling to it in spite of what is positively and definitely mentioned elsewhere in the text, causes mischief. In this way, some verses would contradict other verses of the Quran. This is what is meant by the expression ibtigha al-fitnah, that is, seeking to draw men away from the religion of God by suggesting doubts and difficulties and making the allegorical verses contradict the decisive ones. The words none knows its interpretation except God are absolutely true. It does not, however, mean that God does not pass on that knowledge to anybody else. If this were really the true meaning of this verse, then what was the need of revealing such verses for the guidance of mankind? The Quran has repeatedly made a definite claim that all of it is a guidance, a blessing, a mercy and a light. If the meaning of a thing is not known, how can it be a light and guidance for men? That is why after saying, None knows its interpretation except God, the words, and those firmly rooted in knowledge. They say: We believe in it, it is all from our Lord, were added.

Thus, there can be no contradiction in two verses of the Quran. Verses which are less clear should be interpreted according to the verses which are unambiguous and free from all obscurity. It is the principle of interpretation enunciated by the Quran itself that allegorical verses should be interpreted in the light of decisive verses: a verse should not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict other verses.

10. Furu' (branches) should be subjected to usul (principles):

Sometimes we are faced with the difficulty that one word may have different meanings and some selfish people may regard a verse as being allegorical (mutashabih) and will subject it to another verse for the sake of interpreting it according to their own fancy. Again, another person may regard that very verse as being decisive (muhkam) and interpret other verses in its light. To resolve this problem, the Quran has itself enunciated a firm principle in relation to verses which are firmly constructed and decisive. These verses are the basis (umm) of the Book. 18

This principle holds good in all worldly laws as well. Umm (mother) means the source, origin, foundation or basis of a thing, or stay, support or cause of its subsistence. Thus, muhkam means that which is free of all obscurity, admitting of only one interpretation, and relates to the basic tenets of the Book. According to this clear indication, whatever verses are open to various interpretations, and whose significance is not clear, must be interpreted according to the verses which are distinct and decisive. Furu' (branches) are like offshoots and usul like roots. The furu' must therefore be interpreted according to the usul. This is a very firm criterion which can easily resolve many religious disputes. In common law also, the same standard is followed. The Quran has also established this principle of interpreting its verses, that in matters of dispute, if there is an ambiguity, we should first decide on the principle, then solve the dispute in the light of that principle.

Whatever is mentioned above can be made clear by an illustration. Says the Quran:

And when We wish to destroy a town, We send commandments to its people who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction. 19

Here, people can put forward the view that God Himself commands them to disobey and transgress. To know what the truth is, we should revert to the point of whether it is God's practice to command people to transgress and then punish them. The Quran does not enunciate any principle like that. On the contrary, it is plainly stated:

Allah enjoins not indecency 20


He enjoins justice and the doing of good (to others). 21

If this is the case, how can God enjoin indecency and transgression? According to the above-stated rule, the meaning of the verse (17:16) would be that God commands the affluent people of the community to obey His message but they transgress, and in consequence of their law-breaking, destruction is brought on them.

At another place it is said:

They have forgotten (forsaken) Allah, so He has forgotten (forsaken) them. 22

God cannot forget. Therefore, rendering these words as God has forgotten them cannot be true because at another place it has plainly been said about Him:

Thy Lord is never forgetful. 23

Thus, in the verse 9:67, forsaken is the correct rendering rather than forgotten - they have forsaken God, therefore (as a result of their own action) He has forsaken them.

11. The Quran should hold precedence over the Hadith:

This also shows that the Quran should be given preference over everything else, even the Hadith. If there is a hadith which seems to be against the clear teachings of the Quran, the rule is that the furu' (details) should be subjected to the usul (principles). The Quran says that all the necessary matters relating to the bases of religion have been made perfect in it, but as far as the furu' are concerned, their scope is limitless. The usul have been stated in the Quran in a clear and explicit manner, but only some of the furu', according to the need, have been mentioned. In the Hadith, whatever is mentioned is mostly about the furu' which cannot be given preference over the usul. As a consequence of this, the Hadith should be subjected to the authority of the Quran and any hadith which is against the clear verdict of the Quran cannot be accepted.

The Quran deals with the principles of the Islamic Law while the Hadith deals with its details, and it is just and reasonable that only such details should be accepted as are in consonance with the principles. Again, as the Holy Prophet is plainly represented in the Quran as not following anything except that which is revealed to him 24 and as not disobeying a word of that which was revealed to him, 25 it clearly follows that if there is anything in the Hadith which is not in consonance with the Quran, it could not have proceeded from the Holy Prophet.

12. The various Muslim schools of thought are united on the Quran but differ on the Hadith:

The second reason why the Hadith should be subjected to the authority of the Quran is that the whole of the ummah agrees on the Quran but not on the Hadith. There is one Quran for all of them, but several collections of the Hadith are found in the hands of various Muslim sects. Wherever one goes, in the east or the west, in the north or the south, in the new world or the old, only one version of the Quran, without exception, will be found everywhere; but this cannot be said about the Hadith. Thus, if the ummah of Muhammad is one - and will stay one - our differences can be resolved by something on which we all agree. The Quran has given us a basic principle towards solving the discord among the various religions, that they should:

come to an equitable word between us and you. 26

When the differences with other religions can be resolved amicably by adhering to a common and an equitable word, why can the differences among Muslims not be resolved by following the common factor - which is the Quran, and about which we have been told:

Hold fast to the covenant of God. 27

Thus the covenant of Allah, or the Quran, is a uniting force among Muslims. The Hadith should be given a position next to the Quran - a point which some of our `ulama have sadly neglected - and the Quran should be considered an arbiter over the Hadith. 

13. Promise for the protection of the Quran:

The third reason for giving the Quran precedence over the Hadith is that a promise for the preservation of every word of the Quran has been given by God but such a promise has not been given for the preservation of the Hadith, either in the Hadith or in the Quran itself. It is said about the Quran:

Surely We have revealed the Reminder (i.e. the Quran) and surely We are its Guardian. 28

Surely it is a bounteous Quran, in a book that is protected. 29

Falsehood cannot come at it from before or behind it. 30

For the preservation and protection of the Hadith, God has not made any such promise, nor has He said that falsehood cannot come to it from any side. On the other hand, the Holy Prophet is reported to have said:

"He who intentionally attributes a lie to me shall find a place for himself in the Fire." 31

This shows that the Holy Prophet was informed (by God) that false reports would be attributed to him.

14. Special arrangement for the protection of the Quran:

The fourth reason for giving the Quran preference over the Hadith is the extra care which the Holy Prophet himself took in preserving the revelation of the Quran. Whenever a verse was revealed, he would ask for a scribe to write it down, but no such care was taken about preserving the Hadith. The Holy Prophet had even said:

"Do not write anything from me except the Quran" (Ahmad bin Hanbal, vol.2, p.21) 

Although in exceptional circumstances he did allow the writing of hadith, as long as he was alive his companions generally did not preserve his sayings in writing. The Quran was not only written, but also committed to memory at the same time. If a person made the slightest mistake while reciting it, others would immediately correct him. Although great efforts were made by the companions of the Prophet to preserve the Hadith, in most cases it was the meaning and the spirit of the saying that was preserved. In many of the authentic sayings, minor differences in the wording show that, unlike the Quran, extreme care was not taken to preserve every word of a tradition. There were hundreds of people among the companions of the Holy Prophet who knew the Quran by heart but there were very few of them who devoted their lives to memorising the Hadith, and if they did, the standard of accuracy was not the same as that of the Quran. The Quran was recited day and night and the slightest mistake had not the remotest chance of escaping the notice of its listeners. There was no arrangement for the recitation of the sayings of the Holy Prophet; they were neither recited in prayers nor otherwise. Some people, on their own, had memorised the words uttered by the Holy Prophet. It is not surprising that in the transmission of the Hadith, a word or two may have been misplaced here and there.

15. The Holy Prophet gave preference to the revelation of God over everything else:

The fifth reason for the preference of the Quran over the Hadith is the practice of the Holy Prophet himself. When something was inquired of him, he would first wait for the revelation of God to descend, otherwise he would exercise his own judgement (ijtihad) to give a decision. This ijtihad was the result of inner revelation (wahy khafi) or the companionship of Gabriel with the Holy Prophet. In such cases, the companions of the Holy Prophet would go to the Quran first and if nothing was clearly indicated in it, they would turn to the Hadith. Imam Abu Hanifah always gave preference to the Quran. Other Imams also adopted the same principle. In short, the whole of the Muslim ummah turned to the Quran first and then to the Hadith.

16. Five reasons for the Quran holding precedence over the Hadith:

For the removal of the differences from among us, these are the five reasons why we should give the Quran preference over the Hadith:

1. All the bases (usul) of religion have clearly been enunciated in the Quran, and the Hadith, which mostly deals with furu' (details) should be subjected to the authority of the Quran. Usul should, as a rule, be given preference over furu'.

2. All Muslim schools of thought are perfectly agreed on the authenticity and purity of the text of the Quran but this cannot be said about the Hadith. In case of differences, or for the sake of bringing unity among them, we should fall back on the common factor, which is the Quran.

3. The promise for the preservation and protection of the Quran has been given by God, but there is no such promise for the literal protection of the Hadith.

4. The arrangements which were made for the preservation of the Quran _ the Holy Prophet himself took special care for the accurate transmission of the Quran to the ummah - were not made for the protection of the Hadith. It does not, however, mean that I regard the Hadith as being unreliable and untrustworthy. For the protection and accurate transmission of the Hadith, the companions of the Holy Prophet have made great efforts and contributions - unparalleled in the religious literature of the world. My only objective here is that in case of a dispute between the Quran and the Hadith, we should interpret the Hadith according to the Quran and if there is no way of reconciliation between the two, the Hadith, and not the Quran, should be rejected. In the case of a tradition, there is a possibility of certain words not having been exactly uttered by the Holy Prophet, but we cannot for a moment think the same about the Quran, that its words were not revealed to the Holy Prophet through the agency of Gabriel.

5. The practice of the Holy Prophet was that he either gave judgement by the Quran or waited for the revelation of God to descend on him. In the absence of these, he exercised his own judgement.

17. The Hadith is not untrustworthy:

In addition to all this, I must say that because special arrangements for the protection of the Hadith were not made, as for the Quran, it does not mean that the Hadith is untrustworthy. In the Hadith, a great part of our religion is preserved, and in it are found great prophecies and religious knowledge of a high order. The Hadith is, in fact, the secondary source from which the teachings of Islam are derived. The arrangement which God made for the protection of the text of the Quran never came to the share of any other religious book in the world. The Hadith was also preserved, though not like the Quran, but the collection and the preservation of it were done in a scientific and historical manner. What is knowledge of history, after all? The collection of world events in a biased manner. The Hadith has been preserved more carefully than the history of world events. In fact, it is more authentic than the so-called historical records. 32

Some ahadith are such that have been continuously handed down to us (by way of tawatur), that is to say, by many unbroken and distinct chains of narrators, and no doubts were raised against them. The greater part of the Muslim ummah has accepted their authority. This part of the Hadith is called the Sunnah (literally, a way or rule or manner of acting or mode of life). For instance, the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet concerning worship is so well-known that no intelligent person can raise any doubt whatsoever about it. The five daily prayers which we perform are the same which were performed by the Holy Prophet. The particular form of prayer with various postures are also followed according to the Holy Prophet's Sunnah. Shi'ahs and Sunnis may be diametrically opposed on some points, but in relation to prayers they generally follow the same pattern. If there are variations, it is in minor matters, like whether the hands should be placed over the navel or below it, whether amin should be said aloud or softly, or if rafa' sababah 33 should be done or not. Similarly, fasting, charity, hajj (pilgrimage) and many other matters have been shown by practice and serve as an explanation of the Quranic teachings in action. This is all a unanimously accepted part of Islam in the ummah and the greater part of the Hadith where these matters are mentioned is free from doubt and suspicion. None of these matters is against the clear injunctions of the Quran. 

For instance, the Quran enjoined Muslims to keep up prayer 34 but the details of these prayers were given by the Holy Prophet. The different postures and sections and the way to perform them were shown in practice by the Holy Prophet himself, under the guidance of Gabriel. It is the explanation in practice of the Quranic words of keeping up prayers. No Muslim should hesitate to accept it because it is unanimously accepted by the whole ummah. We should not, by our own fanciful thinking, give a different meaning to the words of the Quran when we know for certain that the Holy Prophet's practice has been kept completely intact. Similarly, explanations of hundreds of Quranic words and terms have been preserved by the Holy Prophet's practical example. Thus, this unfolding of the meanings of the Quran by the Holy Prophet's example is, indeed, also a great part of the Hadith which helps to convey to us the details of Islam, and this part is absolutely free from conjecture (zann) and has reached the status of certainty. If in such matters the practice of the whole or greater part of the ummah is not established, that part, to a certain extent, may be conjectural. What is actually and continually needed by every Muslim on these matters, is agreed on by all.

Furthermore, the chain of narration (riwayah) reaches the Holy Prophet in an unbroken manner. As far as the ahadith which are concerned with story-telling, there is no harm if these are judged by critical historical standards.

18. Stories and prophecies in Traditions:

A part of the Traditions also consists of stories and prophecies. These are not too connected with the practical life of the nation, nor is it important for every Muslim to remember them. Some companions did memorise them and conveyed them to others. That is why the greater part of them did not attain the status of tawatur 35 or mashhur.36 As there was no practical arrangement made for the protection of their words, therefore, too much reliance cannot be placed on the accuracy in comparison with the Traditions of the first category concerning the practical side of the religion, as has been discussed above. Therefore, there was a possibility of alteration or interchanging of words, and at this stage the necessity of giving the Quran precedence over the Hadith becomes more important than before. In particular, those narratives which are not mentioned in the Quran cannot be accepted with the same certainty as the ahadith where details of prayer, fasting, etc. are given because the evidence found in the practice of the ummah in the latter case - which makes them free from all doubts and suspicions - is lacking in the Traditions about narratives. Such stories should be accepted only when they are reported in authentic ahadith, and if they are against the Quran in their contents or details, they should be rejected. I want to point out here, although it does not directly concern my subject, that many stories which are not mentioned in the Quran have been accepted on extremely weak authorities. The greater part of these reports is such that the words of the Quran are interpreted in a tendentious manner and a corresponding story is introduced to conform to its meaning. Sometimes unnecessary reliance has been placed on some of these stories narrated by the Jews. One should take great care in accepting any story which is not mentioned in the Quran. If it is against the general meaning of the Quran, it should be rejected. For example, we accept Al-Bukhari as the most authentic book after the Quran, but it does not mean that, like the Quran, Al-Bukhari is free from error. No Muslim believes that every word of Al-Bukhari - every word that is attributed to the Holy Prophet - has reached us unaltered and untampered with, in the same way that the words of God's revelation have reached us. However, there is no doubt, unless the contrary is proved, that we generally regard the sayings attributed to the Holy Prophet in Al-Bukhari as the Prophet's words. But when we find in Al-Bukhari a hadith that says:

"(The Prophet) Abraham did not speak a lie except three times" 37

we cannot accept it, for the Quran says about him that:

Surely he was a truthful man, a prophet. 38

Generally, what is said of one prophet in the Quran, of his high morals or sublime character or of his being sinless, is true of all. Under these circumstances, we cannot accept such a report about Abraham. If we accept it as true, we have to attribute the telling of lies to a prophet and if we reject the report, we only reject the truthfulness of the reporter of the hadith, in comparison with the statement made by the Quran. Imam Bukhari took great pains in his research about the authenticity of the traditions and the character of their reporters, but he was a human being after all, and if he committed an error, it does not detract in any way from the great research he did towards collecting the traditions.

19. Metaphors found in prophecies:

The same is true for prophecies mentioned in the Traditions. They are not really connected with the practical life of the community. Prophecies which were fulfilled during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet or while his companions were still alive, have also been mentioned in the Traditions. Their fulfilment is evidence of the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet's mission. But the words of a greater part of the prophecies, concerned with events of the future, can only be accepted as true when their spirit and content are in consonance with the Quran. Whatever has been said above about stories mentioned in the Hadith is also applicable to prophecies. In the case of prophecies, we are confronted with a rather greater difficulty because they are full of metaphors and symbols. They are like dreams which need interpretation. In the Quran, Joseph saw in a dream that eleven stars and the sun were making obeisance to him 39 and the interpretation of the dream was that one day Joseph would be raised to a dignified position. 40 Similarly, the dreams of two young prisoners are mentioned in the Quran. One of them saw himself pressing wine and the other saw himself carrying on his head, bread of which birds were eating. 41 Joseph interpreted these dreams by saying:

As for one of you, he will serve wine for his lord to drink; and as for the other, he will be crucified, so that the birds will eat from his head. 42

Another dream of a king is mentioned in the Quran, that he saw seven fat cows which seven lean ones devoured; and seven green ears and (seven) dry ones, 43 which Joseph interpreted to be that there would be seven years of hardship and famine. 44 Ru'ya (vision) is also a kind of news of the future. The same is true of prophecies which contain metaphors and symbols. In the Sahih of Muslim it is mentioned that the Holy Prophet said to his wives:

"The one whose hand is the longest will be the first to meet me" (in the life to come). 45

The Prophet's wives started measuring their hands - because they took the words literally - and Hazrat Sauda's hands were the longest. But the one who died first was Hazrat Zainab, and her hands were not the longest, but she was a generous lady and was known as umm al-masakin (the mother of the needy). Long hand metaphorically applies to a person who possesses a great, charitable nature. Thus prophecies, like ru'ya, contain metaphors and similes and need interpretation. The basic principles of religion need detailed and clear-cut explanations. Prophecies stand in a different category and need not be very explicit. However, since Quranic prophecies are very clear, therefore the prophecies in the Traditions should be interpreted in the light of the Quranic prophecies. If there are prophecies in the Hadith about future events and the Quran deals with those subjects, then the Quran should be given preference over the Hadith.

20. Sayings of the companions (of the Holy Prophet) and other Imams:

As the Quran holds precedence over the Hadith, similarly the Quran and the Hadith hold precedence over the sayings of the companions of the Prophet, or other Imams. If any saying of the companions or Imams is against the Quran or an authentic tradition, then we should first try to interpret it so that it may conform to the teachings of the Quran and Hadith, otherwise we should reject it. This point does not need much elaboration because the Quran declares in a clear and explicit manner:

Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger. 46

In this verse, although obedience to those in authority is coupled with obedience to Allah and the Messenger, yet at the time of dispute (with the authority) it would be necessary to refer the matter only to Allah and His Messenger; in other words, the final authority will be the Quran and the Hadith, however great the ulul `amr (those in authority who) may be found in the ummah at that time. The point has been further clarified a little later in the Holy Quran: But no, by thy Lord, they believe not until they make thee a judge of what is in dispute between them. 47

What greater clarification is needed than that those who do not consider the Holy Prophet as a final authority in a dispute between them, are not believers? During his life, the Holy Prophet would judge what was in dispute either in the light of the revelation of God - in case a clear guidance was given there - or according to the intrinsic light or inner revelation granted to him by God. After his death, the words revealed to the Holy Prophet should serve as a guiding light for us. The Quran comes first and then the Hadith. This is what is meant by his being hakam (judge) and this is what his companions followed. The companions, according to the divine promise, were purified 48 by the Holy Prophet and were called hizbullah (the party of God). 49 Allah was well-pleased with them and they were well pleased with Him. 50 God said about them:

Into whose heart He has impressed faith, and strengthened them with a Spirit from Himself. 46

These companions also followed the same principle, that is, the Quran and the Hadith were given preference over their own opinion. If by mistake they expressed some views against the Quran and the sayings of the Holy Prophet, the moment their mistake was pointed out to them, they would immediately withdraw their remark. If they had submitted to the authority of the Quran and the Hadith, who else is there in the ummah who could be free of this submission? Thus, the Quran and the Hadith should remain the main guides for all of us. The sayings and efforts of other elders and dignitaries may also guide us, but as they were human beings after all, and liable to commit mistakes, therefore, the Quran - which is free from all errors or the authentic Hadith (those not incompatible with the Quran) will be the final authority and judge. And if in the sayings of these Imams we discover anything against the Quran and the Hadith, we are not bound to accept it because the Quran and the Hadith hold precedence over everything else. When a person of the calibre of Hazrat `Umar openly submits to the authority of the Quran - when told about his mistake - we should also follow in his footsteps.

Footnotes on Chapter 1:

1 3:102.

2 Bahr al-Muhit (Commentary) by Imam Abu Hayyan al-Undlusy.

3 Ibid.

4 Al-Bukhari, kitab al-I`tisam, ch. kirahiyat al-khilafa

5 3:143.

6 4:20.

7 Al-Bukhari, kitab al-I`tisam, ch. kirahiyat al-khilafa

8 3:102.

9 3:103.

10 For explanation of this kind of revelation, see The Religion of Islam, Ch. 1, p. 20. (SMT)

11 Abu Da'ud, kitab al-Malahim, ch.1, p.241.

12 5:48.

13 86:13.

14 16:89.

15 16:64.

16 3:102.

17 3:6.

18 3:6.

19 17:16.

20 7:28.

21 16:90.

22 9:67.

23 19:64.

24 6:50; 7:203; 46:9.

25 6:15; 10:109.

26 3:63.

27 3:102.

28 15:9.

29 56:77-78.

30 41:42.

31 Al-Bukhari, kitab al-`Ilm, ch. ism man kazaba `alan Nabi.

32 For a detailed discussion on this point, see Maulana Muhammad `Ali's The Religion of Islam, Ch. II (SMT).

33 Raising the first finger of the right hand, in the sitting posture, while reciting the Tashahhud. (SMT).

34 2:43; 4:103; 6:72; etc.

35 One which is handed down by many distinct chains of narrators and is continuously considered authentic and genuine.

36 A well-known tradition which has been handed down by at least three distinct lines of narrators.

37 Al-Bukhari, kitab al-Anbiya, ch. Ittakhaza Ibrahima khalila (4:125)

38 19:41.

39 12:4; Genesis 37:9.

40 12:100.

41 12:36.

42 12:41.

43 12:43.

44 12:47-49; Genesis 41:1-31.

45 Muslim, kitab Fadail al-Sahabah, ch. Excellence of Zainab (ch. mix: 6007), vol. iv. Al-Bukhari, kitab al-Zakat, ch. Ayyuna asra`u- bika.

46 4:59.

47 4:65.

48 62:2.

49 58:22.

50 9:100; 58:22.

51 58:22.


Books Section > The Promised Messiah [The Second Coming of Jesus] by Maulana Muhammad Ali Sahib > Chapter I : The Way to Resolve Differences


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