Misconceptions Raising Doubt about Islamic Fundamentals.
We mentioned at the outset that the ‘fundamentals’ refer to rulings and texts that the Sunni Muslims have agreed to uphold, not the ones on which they differ. Many of the current questions about such fundamentals are concerned with five headings: the sunnah, scholars’ unanimity, the methodology of understanding texts, the Prophet’s companions, and mandatory punishments.
Misconceptions about the sunnah are the most frequently-circulated doubts raised about the fundamentals of Islam. Indeed, many other misconceptions are based on these. Hence, in most cases, you will find that a person who has some problems with the sunnah also has problems relating to several other areas, such as mandatory punishments, information related to the realm beyond our perception, miracles, torment in the grave, etc.
On the other hand, a person who has studied the validity of the sunnah, accepted the answers to the problems raised about the sunnah, and understood the relationship between logical and textual evidence, as well as the relationship between experimental science and religious texts knows the main answers to the great majority of the misconceptions raised about the fundamentals of Islam. The problems raised about the sunnah and its status as a basis for religious rulings come under six headings:
One: Its status and the sufficiency of the Qur’an
Those who raise doubts about the status of the sunnah and advocate that the Qur’an is
sufficient cite several Qur’anic
verses in support of their claim. One such verse says:
‘No single thing have We left out
the Book’. (6: 38)
They ask: ‘Do you want anything clearer than this verse to tell you that, as we have the Qur’an available, there is no need for the sunnah?’
The answer is that ‘the Book’ in this verse does not mean the Qur’an, but refers to the Imperishable Tablet which is with God. This is evidenced by the general context of the same verse whose full text is as follows: ‘There is not an animal that walks on earth and no bird that flies on its wings but are communities like your own. No single thing have We left out of the Book. Then to their Lord shall they all be gathered’. (6: 38)
This is similar to the verse that says:
‘There is no living creature on earth depends for
its sustenance on God; and
He knows its habitation and its resting-place. All this is in a clear record’. (11:
means of sustenance, the habitations and resting places of every living creature are recorded in the Imperishable Tablet, not in the Qur’an.
For argument’s sake, we may accept that the ‘Book’ means the Qur’an in the verse that
‘No single thing have We
left out of the Book’. (6: 38)
Still, this does not mean that the verse negates the status of the sunnah as evidence in support of rulings. This will be clearly seen in the comment on their second piece of evidence.
The second evidence:
The Qur’anic verse that says:
‘We have bestowed from on high upon you the Book to make
clear’. (16: 89)
They say that since the Qur’an clarifies everything, what need is there for the sunnah? The answer to citing this verse is that one aspect of how the Qur’an makes everything clear is that it orders us to follow the Prophet and warns against disobeying him. This is stated in scores of places in the Qur’an, and they are stated in general terms which cannot be taken as limited to what he delivered of the Qur’an. Therefore, to disobey the Prophet is to disobey the Qur’an.
In his commentary on the Qur’an, al-Baydawi gives the following explanation to this verse: ‘The word “everything” in this verse refers to all religious things, as it makes them clear, either in detail or in general, referring them to the sunnah or to analogy’. Al-Baydawi, Anwar al-Tanzil,
In Ruh al-Maani, al-Alusi explains the meaning of this Qur’anic statement. He says: ‘That the Qur’an “makes everything clear” is seen in the fact that it states some and refers others to the sunnah, since it commands us to follow the Prophet and says of him: “He does not speak out of his own fancy”. (53: 3)
It also urges us to follow the unanimous views of scholars, as God says: “But as for him who, after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him… follows a path other than that of the believers – him shall We leave to that which he himself has chosen”.’ (4: 115) In Fath al-Qadir, al-Shawkani says: ‘That the Qur’an makes everything clear means that it states many rulings and refers us to the sunnah for the rest’. Al-Shawkani, Fath al-Qadir
The third evidence:
They cite the verse that says:
‘Am I to seek for judge anyone other than God’?
They tell us that as we follow the sunnah, then we are actually taking someone other than God as a judge and this falls under associating partners with God. Hence, many of them label Sunni Muslims as unbelievers and idolaters because they follow the Prophet’s sunnah. Nothing of this is mere imagination or legend. I am speaking of what is very real and most amazing. By the
way, those who reject the entire sunnah and everything other than the Qur’an are some of the strangest and most narrow-minded of people. I do not like to use such a description of people with whom I differ, but I have nonetheless encountered the strangest attitude from these people. They demonstrate an obstinate conviction of their false idea. One of them, who exhibited a great degree of ignorance, challenged me for a mubahalah. Anyway, the answer to their argument based on this verse is as follows:
In the Qur’an, God gives us clear instructions to appoint judges who rule among people on the basis of justice. One such verse says: ‘If you have reason to fear that a breach may occur between a [married] couple, appoint an arbiter from among his people and an arbiter from among her people’. (4: 35)
It should be noted that the Arabic text of this verse uses for ‘arbiter’ the word hakam which is the same word used for ‘judge’ in the verse used as the basis of their argument, ‘Am I to seek for judge anyone other than God’ (6: 114)
The Qur’an calls for appointing judges and arbiters to rule on matters in different cases, as in: ‘adjudged by two persons of probity among you’. (5: 95)
‘God commands you… whenever you judge between people, to judge with justice’. (4: 58)
How can they reconcile these verses with their understanding of the verse that says: ‘Am I to seek for judge anyone other than God’? (6: 114)
If God requires people to appoint an ordinary Muslim man who follows the Prophet as an arbiter in a situation of family discord, can following the Prophet and obeying his orders be considered an act of idolatry? How ill they judge!
- To obey the Prophet is to obey God, as He says in the Qur’an:
‘He who obeys the
Messenger obeys God thereby’. (4: 80)
God gives express and clear instructions to refer disputes to the Prophet for judgement. He says: ‘If you are in dispute over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you truly believe in God and the Last Day’. (4: 59)
‘But no, by your Lord! They do not really believe unless they make you judge in all disputes between them’. (4: 65)
- According to Ibn Kathir and other Qur’anic commentators, this verse which says, ‘am I to seek for judge anyone other than God’, means someone to judge between you and me. Ibn Ashur said: ‘The meaning of this verse is: I do not seek anyone to judge between you and me other than God who has judged you as hostile enemies’. Other commentators express the same meaning.
So far, we have answered their main arguments. Now we need to establish the validity of the sunnah as a source of legislation. Here we have plenty of evidence from the Qur’an, the sunnah, the unanimity of scholars and the continuous and consistent practice of Muslims over successive generations. I will refer only to the most important evidence and in brief. I have explained these more fully in my book, Afi al-Sunnah Shakk? [i.e. Any doubt about the sunnah?]
Many verses in the Qur’an give the order to obey the Prophet and to refer disputes to him. They make clear that it is forbidden to disobey the Prophet. The point here is that we are addressed by the Qur’an in the same way as the Prophet’s companions were, and this includes the verses that state the commandment to obey the Prophet. We cannot implement these verses except through following the authentic reports that state what he ordered and confirmed. In his book, Jima‘ al-‘Ilm, Imam al-Shafi‘i says: ‘Can you find a way, for yourself or anyone who lived before or after you and did not see the Prophet, to fulfil what God has commanded of obeying the orders of His Messenger, except through what is reported of him?’
Confirmation of the validity of the sunnah as basis for rulings is also stated in the
‘If you are in
dispute over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you truly believe
and the Last Day’. (4: 59)
As God, Mighty and Exalted, says: ‘If you are in dispute over anything’, this includes everything. In this case, ‘refer it to God and the Messenger’. What is meant by referring it to God is to refer it to God’s Book. This is understood by everyone. Referring it ‘to the Messenger’ means putting it to him during his lifetime, and referring to his sunnah after he has passed away. This is unanimously agreed upon by all scholars.
Imam Ibn Hazm said: ‘The proof that this reference means reference to the Qur’an and to what is reported to us from His Messenger is that the Muslim community unanimously agrees that this statement is addressed to us and to everyone who is created and given body and soul, of jinns and humans, until the Day of Judgement’.
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said: ‘People are unanimous that reference to God means reference to His Book, and that reference to the Messenger is to refer to him personally during his lifetime and to his sunnah after he had passed away’.
Evidence from the sunnah
This sort of evidence is useful for those who accept some of the sunnah and reject some. They have a hesitating attitude towards it. Others who reject the sunnah completely do not benefit by this evidence, except in debate. If such a person cites a hadith to support his argument that the sunnah has no validity, we reject his argument. We tell him that we accept all the sunnah and if he accepts a part of it, he must accept the rest.
Authentic texts confirming its validity are numerous. One such evidence quotes the Prophet: ‘Let me not find any of you reclining on his couch: he is informed of some order of mine, either requiring something or prohibiting another, but he says: “We do not know. We will follow what we find in God’s Book”.’ This hadith has an authentic chain of transmission and it relates to the question in hand. It makes clear that we must accept and implement what is reported from God’s Messenger other than the Qur’an.
In his al-Musnad anthology, Imam Ahmad relates a hadith in which al-Miqdam quotes the Prophet who says: ‘I have been given the Book and a similar volume with it. I have been given the Book and a similar volulme with it. There may soon be someone who goes to his couch having had his meal, and he says: “Stick to the Qur’an: whatever you find permissible in it, do it; and whatever you find prohibited in it, refrain from it”.’ The chain of transmission of this hadith is acceptable. [Needless to say: ‘a similar volume’ refers to the sunnah, which means all authentic hadiths]
Evidence of unanimity
There are plenty of cases of unanimity on this question. Practical unanimity, which means scholars’ continuous reference to the sunnah for issuing rulings on all types of questions and for implementing the sunnah, is very clear. I will only add two of the numerous statements by scholars on this point:
- Commenting on the Qur’anic verse that says:
‘If you are in dispute over anything,
it to God and the Messenger, if
you truly believe in God and the Last Day’, (4:59)
Imam Abd al-Aziz al-Kinani said: ‘There is no disagreement on this between scholars or believers: if we refer something to God, it is to His Book, and if we refer it to His Messenger, after he passed away, then it is a reference to his sunnah. Only unbelievers have doubts about this’.
- Ibn Abd al-Barr al-Qurtubi of the Maliki School of Fiqh said in the Introduction to his book, al-Tamhid: ‘Scholars of Fiqh and Hadith in all regions are, to the best of my knowledge, in complete agreement that a report by a reliable single person is acceptable and must be implemented once it is confirmed and not abrogated by a different hadith or unanimous agreement. This is the view of all scholars of Fiqh in every generation, from the time of the Prophet’s companions up to our present day. The only exceptions are al-Khawarij and some deviant groups: these are a mere handful that does not constitute disagreement’. Ibn Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid,
This unanimity is to accept and implement the sunnah when reported by single reporters, let alone the mutawatir hadiths. The mutawatir grade means ‘a hadith reported at every stage of transmission by a number of people who cannot be imagined to agree to a lie’.
Two: Doubts about the acceptability of ahad hadiths
Linguistically speaking, ahad means ‘by single persons’, but according to Hadith terminology it refers to all hadiths that do not attain the mutawatir grade. This means that the term ahad refers to a hadith that may be narrated by one or two or three reporters at every stage. The most important questions raised about this type of hadith are two objections, with the second based on the first:
- It is generally stated that ahad reports only indicate supposition, and
- The claim that acting on the basis of supposition is criticised.
When they put their argument forward, they say: The ahad reports indicate supposition and all action based on supposition is condemned in the Qur’an. Therefore, acting on the basis of ahad reports is condemned by the Qur’an.
This argument is based on two preliminaries, and proving either one to be invalid is sufficient to make the whole argument collapse. If all the foregoing has not yet convinced you that both preliminaries are invalid, proving that either one is invalid is sufficient. This is what I propose to do here.
The first point suggests that all ahad reports only indicate supposition is incorrect, from both the legal and the practical points of view. Legally, the Prophet used to call on all communities to accept Islam, proving its truth, delivering his message to them by individuals from among his companions. Such a conclusion allows no possibility of doubt or leaving the matter in any status other than complete certainty.
From the practical point of view, all of us, including those who agree or disagree on the point in question, arrive at certainty in numerous situations on the basis of reports by single persons and without any measure of tawatur [i.e. several reporting]. Examples are countless, including news of marriages, deaths, births, success, failure, making profit, incurring a loss, sustaining an injury, etc. Our acknowledgement that we gain certainty by such single reporting is sufficient to negate the statement that all ahad reports only indicate supposition.
The authentic ahad hadiths that transmit the sunnah imply either certainty or a strong probability, according to the status of different narrators, the chains of transmission and various other indications that relate to each hadith.
The second preliminary, which says that ‘acting on the basis of supposition is criticised in the Qur’an’ makes an incorrect generalisation. The Arabic word used in the Qur’an to indicate ‘supposition’ is zann, and it is used in different senses. The Qur’an condemns one type of it and praises another. In the first case, we have the verse that says of unbelievers: ‘They follow nothing but surmise, but surmise can never take the place of truth’. (53: 28)
‘who know that they shall meet their Lord and to Him they shall
return’. (2: 46)
In both these verses, the word zann is used, but in the first one it is used in the sense of ‘surmise’ while in the other ‘certainty’ is intended. Hence, the different translation. That the second verse means certainty is absolutely true. Had they had any doubt about their ultimate meeting with their Lord, their zann or supposition would be of no use to them. Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse: ‘According to the majority of scholars, zann in this verse means certainty. The same applies to other verses in the Qur’an where zann is used, such as:
‘I certainly knew that one day I would have to face
my account’. (69: 20)
‘And when those who were lost in sin will see the fire, they will realize that they are bound to fall in it, and will find no way to escape from it’. (18: 53)
In both these verses, the word zann is used for ‘I certainly knew’ and ‘they realize’. Imam al-Shanqiti mentions several Qur’anic verses where zann is used to indicate certainty, and then he comments: ‘The word zann, as used in all these verses, indicates certainty. Arabs use this word to indicate either certainty or doubt’.
To equate the knowledge or the strong probability that may be gathered from authentic
with the surmise of the
unbelievers – which the Qur’anic verse censures – is undoubtedly wrong. Shaykh Ibn
discusses the verse that
‘They follow nothing but surmise, but surmise can never take the place of truth’.
says: ‘The term “surmise”, or zann in the Arabic text, means a false supposition. It does not mean the stronger of two probabilities. We should be clear on this, for the word zann may be used to mean an unconfirmed thought, a stronger probability or a certainty’.
Moreover, in the Qur’an, God requires us to accept witnesses’ testimonies, and witnesses are single reporters. Those who reject the sunnah either consider their testimony to provide certainty, and in this case they contradict the first of the two above-stated preliminaries, or they consider the testimony to provide uncertainty but which is nevertheless acceptable, and this contradicts the second preliminary. What is certain to have been legislated by God cannot be censurable in any way.
Ibn Hazm said: ‘The entire Muslim community is unanimous that a report by a reliable single person, narrating from the Prophet (peace be upon him), is acceptable. Moreover, all Muslims have accepted reports by a single person’. Ibn Hazm, al-Ihkam
include other arguments in response to those who raise doubts about the acceptability of the ahad hadiths in my book, Afi al-Sunnah Shakk? [i.e. Any doubt about the sunnah?]
Some of those who deny that the unanimity of scholars, i.e. ijma‘, is a valid basis for arriving at rulings concerning matters to which no Qur’anic or hadith text applies go as far as to conclude that the Muslim community has approved what is wrong over a period of fourteen centuries. This conclusion contradicts what God clearly stated describing the Muslim community as the best of all nations, and that it is the middle community which is qualified to be the witness against all other communities. It earns this status because of its truthfulness and pursuit of justice. How can this be consistent with the passage of century after century and the Muslim community continuing to agree to what is false? How can it remain unaware of what is right and the upholding of it?
Even from the purely logical point of view, this is practically impossible. All religious rulings are based on the Qur’an and the sunnah. All cases of unanimity among scholars are based on some express or implied evidence in the Qur’an or the sunnah. Those who exercise scholarly discretion, i.e. ijtihad, to arrive at rulings use the same ways of deduction and construction from the Qur’an and the sunnah, albeit with personal differences in the perfection of these ways and methods. However, the total body of such scholars include all these ways at all their different levels. Therefore, when they agree to some conclusion, it must be the right conclusion. Can anyone imagine that all eminent scholars who are qualified to exercise reasoning and deduction [i.e. ijtihad] misunderstand a text? Is it possible that the right understanding became clear only after fourteen centuries of the Islamic calendar?
We have to bear in mind that the early scholars were closer to perfection in their mastery of the means of reasoning, particularly because their command of Arabic was better and clearer, as Arabic was still pure, unaffected by foreign influences. Moreover, the first generation of such scholars, i.e. the generation of the Prophet’s companions, had an important factor of distinction that was unavailable to all others, namely, the Prophet’s companionship and living at the time the Qur’an was revealed. Therefore, they were more qualified to understand the Qur’anic and sunnah texts. However, ijtihad and scholarly discretion has always been open to others. How can they all agree to a misunderstanding of a text, considering that no external factors have occurred to influence the understanding of texts relating to most issues where contemporary researchers differ with old unanimity?
These are purely theoretical cases of Islamic law, such as the punishment by stoning, the punishment for apostasy, etc. What were early scholars missing which is now available to some contemporary researchers that enables us to consider that those early eminent scholars were wrong and that the contemporary ones are right in their understanding of Qur’anic verses and the Prophet’s statements?
Note One: Reason and Religion
I believe that this question merits careful attention but not in the context of personal merit or available resources. I am not speaking here about deducing new rulings, or about a more profound understanding of the meaning of Qur’anic verses. I am not speaking about adding to what the earlier scholars arrived at. I am rather concerned with the issue of judging all past scholars as wrong.
The question is further proven by the fact that those who deny the unanimity of scholars
claim that a number of the
cases they reject and discard contradict some clear Qur’anic statements. They say, for
example, that the punishment for
apostasy clearly contradicts the Qur’anic statement:
‘There shall be no compulsion in
religion’. (2: 256)
Could the matter be so superficial?
From a different point of view, some people abandon this claim and agree that the Muslim community cannot unanimously agree upon what is wrong. However, they dispute that unanimity ever occurred. This is a question of legal theory and methodology which has further details and different views on what constitute unanimity and its occurrence and acceptability. They do not claim that unanimity itself is invalid. The recorded cases of unanimity are of different degrees of definiteness and validity. Some others maintain that unanimity cannot take place, and they cite Imam Ahmad’s statement:
‘Whoever claims unanimity is a liar’. I am quoting hereunder a summary of what I wrote in my book Kamil al-Surah, Vol. 2, about this quote from Imam Ahmad:
To take this statement of Imam Ahmad and discard his other statements about the same
issue is an exercise of
non-objective selectivity. Or at least it betrays ignorance. Imam Abu Dawud said: ‘I
heard Ahmad when someone said to
him that “Reciting the Fatihah when one is praying with the imam is excepted from the
‘When the Qur’an is
recited, listen attentively to it’.” (7: 204)
He said: “On whose authority did he say this? People are unanimous that this verse refers to what takes place in prayer”.
This is a clear text, authentically reported from Imam Ahmad, claiming unanimity to a religious ruling. Do we apply to him his own statement: ‘Whoever claims unanimity is a liar’? Or should we try to understand it according to the meaning that is consistent with his own application? Then again, why should we rely on one statement and discard other statements? Since the matter is selective someone may say that it is better to select the statement that approves of unanimity and discard the one that says that any claim of unanimity is a lie.
There is no doubt that the acceptable approach followed by scholars in dealing with his statement labelling claims of unanimity as lies is to try to understand it in the light of his other statements as well as its own conditions. It must not be taken as a basis to invalidate unanimity. Scholars have said that Imam Ahmad said it, expressing what some Mu‘tazilah scholars said.
In his book, al-Tahbir, al-Mardawi said: ‘Ibn Rajab said towards the end of his commentary on al-Tirmidhi’s book: As for what is reported that Imam Ahmad said: “Whoever claims unanimity is a liar”, it should be known that he said it in disapproval of what the Mu‘tazilah scholars used to claim of unanimous agreement of what they used to say. They were least aware of the views of the Prophet’s companions and their successors, the tabi‘in’.
This understanding is endorsed by the continuation of Ahmad’s statement. According to the version narrated by his son, Abdullah, he said: ‘Whoever claims unanimity is a liar. The people might have differed. This is the claim of Bishr al-Marisi and al-Asamm’.
A similar statement is given by Ibn al-Qayyim who said: ‘It is not his – meaning Imam Ahmad’s – intention to exclude the possibility of unanimity. Ahmad and other eminent scholars of Hadith faced the problem that some people used to reject the sunnah claiming that all people do the opposite. Al-Shafi‘i and Ahmad made clear that such claims were lies and that a sunnah may not be discarded on such basis’.
Another understanding of Ahmad’s statement suggests that it is a case of being cautious in what one claims. A claim of unanimity is difficult to prove. There may be some disagreement of which the claimant of unanimity might be unaware. Therefore, Imam Ahmad suggested that scholars should say:
‘I do not know of any different view on this question’, and similar expressions. They are closer to the truth. However, this does not preclude that a scholar who is well aware of other scholarly views should confirm unanimity if he is certain of it, as Ahmad himself did. Justice Abu Ya‘la said in his book, al-‘Uddah: ‘The apparent meaning of his words is that Ahmad precluded the possibility of unanimity, but the matter is not according to such apparent meaning. He said this as precaution, as there may be some disagreement of which he was unaware. Or he might have said this in reference to people who are not well aware of differences among early scholars’.
This second explanation is certainly valid, because a scholar may be unaware of some different views. However, this possibility becomes a very remote one if scholars of different areas and countries confirm unanimity.
Class Three Misconceptions about the Understanding of Religious Texts
One of the major current problems about religious texts is the problem of understanding. You find people who say:
we believe in the Qur’an and in the sunnah, but whose understanding should we apply? Is there a correct and an incorrect understanding? Why should a religious text not be open to different readings and understandings. Everyone may take what they understand of it, with none calling the other wrong or mistaken!
If you contemplate this statement, you will find that it removes from religious texts their function as clarifying what is right and true. It deprives religious text of being the final arbiter on questions of Islam. An unbeliever may find justification for his unbelief in a religious text he understands in his own way.
In the Qur’an, God censures anyone who does not judge according to His revelations. How can people judge according to the Qur’an if different people have their different understandings of it?
Suppose a judge rules that a fornicator is sentenced to receive 100 lashes, as the Qur’an states. The fornicator may say that he understands the text differently, and adds that the punishment applies to a rapist, or to a married adulterer only.
It should be pointed out that some contemporary people make such claims. They say that forbidden adultery means being unfaithful to one’s spouse. An unmarried man and an unmarried woman may have sexual intercourse, provided that they do so by mutual consent and in private.
I heard Muhammad Shahroor, who advocates a deviant understanding of the Qur’an, saying just that. What religion, then, will we end up with? What guidance would the Qur’an provide if every text it includes is interpreted in such a deviant way?
This is merely a brief note on this subject. For further details, reference may be made to the first case of discarding texts in Abdullah al-Ujayri’s book Yanboo‘ al-Ghiwayah al-Fikriyyah.
Class Four Misconceptions about Mandatory Punishments
Most argument in this area centres on the punishment by stoning and the punishment for apostasy.
Some Muslims deny that Islam legislates the punishment of stoning to death for married adulterers, considering it brutal. Their apparent basis is that this punishment is not mentioned in the Qur’an, while the punishment by flogging is mentioned in Surah 24, Light. They also say that stoning is contrary to some Qur’anic verses.
As for brutality, stoning is a punishment, not a reward. Punishments serve as
In the Qur’an, God states a
very severe punishment as a deterrent. This is the punishment of cutting hands and
on alternate sides for ‘those
who make war on God and His Messenger and endeavour to spread corruption on earth’.
Yet many of those who claim that stoning is brutal do not object to this punishment.
The punishments set by God are determined by His wisdom and knowledge. We have not invented this mandatory punishment, but accepted it as authentically reported from God’s Messenger (peace be upon him). What a believer is expected to say is: how vile adultery is! It is so wicked that God attaches to it a very severe punishment, which is stoning to death. This shows how vile it is.
To deny stoning on grounds that it is not mentioned in the Qur’an is inconsistent with following the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is confirmed in authentic sunnah that the Prophet implemented this punishment for married people who committed adultery. That these reports are definitive is due to the fact that they have been mentioned in different ways confirming the knowledge for everyone who knows the evaluation of reports and the conditions of reporters, which is the basis of distinguishing authentic hadiths from those which lack authenticity.
Sunni Muslims unanimously agree that this punishment is mandatory. Ibn Abd al-Barr said: ‘Followers of the deviant ways of the Khawarij and the Mu‘tazilah do not accept stoning as punishment for any adulterer, whether married or unmarried. For them, the punishment for fornication and adultery is flogging. What they say is contrary to the Prophet’s sunnah and to the way approved of by believers. God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and the caliphs who succeeded him enforced the stoning punishment. Muslim scholars in all areas, of both schools of reasoning and Hadith agree on this, and these are the people of the truth’.[ Ibn Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid, Vol. 23, p. 121.] Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi said: ‘Stoning is the required punishment for married adulterers… This is the view of scholars generally… We do not know of any dissenters other than the Khawarij’.
Ibn Battal said: ‘Reports from the Prophet confirm that he ordered stoning and enforced it. Do you not know what Ali said: “We enforced stoning as done by God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and Umar enforced the stoning”. Thus, this punishment is confirmed by the Prophet’s sunnah and the action of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. It is generally agreed by eminent scholars including Malik ibn Anas of Madinah, al-Awza‘i in Syria, al-Thawri and a number of Iraqi scholars, as well as al-Shafi‘i, Ahmad, Ishaq and Abu Thawr. The Khawarij and the Mu‘tazilah reject it, arguing that it is not mentioned in God’s Book, the Qur’an’. Ibn Qudamah, al-Mughni
To deny this punishment claiming that it is contrary to some Qur’anic verses, such as the
one that mentions the
punishment of slave women who commit adultery:
‘If after their marriage, they are guilty
of gross immoral conduct, they
shall be liable to half the penalty to which free women are liable’. (4: 25)
They say that ‘free women’ in this case refers to married women. If you claim that married women who commit adultery incur the stoning punishment, then how can the verse be understood, since the stoning cannot be halved?
This claim may be refuted by showing the error of interpreting the word muhsanat used in
the verse as meaning ‘married
women’. What it means is ‘free women’. This is very clear when we read the beginning of
the verse, as it urges marriage
with free women:
‘Any of you who, owing to circumstances, is not in a position to marry
a free believing woman may marry
a believing maiden from among those whom your right hands possess’. (4: 25)
punishment of a free, married woman who commits adultery is stoning, and this punishment cannot be halved. If a free unmarried woman commits adultery, her punishment is one hundred lashes. This punishment can be halved, which means that a slave woman who commits adultery is punished by fifty lashes.
I may add that the questions raised about this punishment are more than can be answered in this brief discussion. In the first volume of my work, Kamil al-Surah, I answer some further problems. It should be clear, however, that this punishment is hardly ever enforced except on the basis of free and repeated confession, because the conditions of the other way of proving guilt are extremely hard. The one who makes such a confession does so by choice. No one forces him or her to confess. Indeed, the preferred option is to keep the matter secret and repent, not to hasten to make a confession. Moreover, if someone sees a couple committing adultery, he is advised not to report them, but to keep the matter private. The only situation where reporting is advised is that of people who boast about their evil action. Reporting in this case is to deter them and others like them.
Two: Punishment for apostasy
The main objection to this punishment is that it is in conflict with the Qur’anic verse
in which God says:
be no compulsion in religion’. (2: 256)
This verse was not unknown to any Muslim scholar, and yet Muslim scholars were unanimous that apostasy incurs the death penalty. Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi said: ‘All scholars agree that apostates are punished by death’.
This gives us three possibilities with regard to their attitude to this verse: 1) All of them did not understand its meaning; 2) They understood its meaning and were fully aware of it, but they concealed it and deliberately opposed it; and 3) They knew that its import does not conflict with the hadith that orders killing apostates. There is no doubt that the last alternative is the right one. This is what every Muslim accepts, and this is certainly what is expected of scholars.
Scholars were certainly aware of this issue. Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, the leading commentator on the Qur’an, said: ‘All Muslims reported that their Prophet (peace be upon him) required certain people to believe in Islam, giving them no alternative and ruled that they would face the death penalty if they refused. These included Arab idolaters and the ones who rejected the religion of the truth after having accepted it, and reverted to disbelief, as well as others in similar categories.
On the other hand, the Prophet did not force others to accept Islam, but left them to continue to practise their faith. He required them to pay tribute, or jizyah, and these included the followers of earlier divine religions and similar groups. This makes clear that the verse that says, ‘There shall be no compulsion in religion’, applies to everyone from whom it is lawful to take tribute.
If such people pay tribute and accept to live under Islamic rule, they shall not be compelled to accept Islam’.[ Al-Tabari, Jami al-Bayan, Vol. 4, p. 554.] In his commentary on the Qur’an, Ibn Kathir said: ‘A large number of scholars are of the view that this verse applies to the people of earlier scriptures’.
The punishment for apostasy is one of the most important issues that atheists and unbelievers use in objection to Islam. Moreover, many Muslims raise this issue to defend Islam, believing that it is contrary to the principles of tolerance and coexistence which Islam accepts.
They may cite some events in the Prophet’s lifetime which they consider to support their views. However, in all this they bypass the authentic and clear text quoting the Prophet and defining the punishment for apostasy. Those of them who defend Islam do not deliberately go beyond the Prophet’s guidance. In my view, it is important to deal wisely with such Muslims who find this punishment problematic.
All aspects of this question should be made clear. We should remember that much discussion has centred on this issue, and there are numerous reports and hadiths that touch on it. These need to be carefully considered by scholars who combine thorough understanding with genuine faith and piety so that they can arrive at what is right in this highly problematic issue. Moreover, insisting on using the word ‘mandatory’, or hadd, in connection with this punishment is likely to add some confusion.
The basic problem with regard to the punishment for apostasy is due to the prevalent culture of our time, which makes man the central being in the universe. This punishment was never the subject of such controversy in Islamic history.
Only in recent times has it caused such lengthy debate. Those who reject this punishment do not declare their belief in man’s central position, but they cling to some texts which they believe to lead to the rejection of this punishment. They try to weaken other texts for some very flimsy reasons.
Thus, an objective observer may feel that they are motivated by some other reason which they may not realise, namely, the pressure surrounding the culture of man’s centrality. In past generations when an opposite culture prevailed, giving the central position to God, rather than man, this punishment caused no problem.
Anyway, it is not my purpose to respond to all their arguments that lead to the rejection of this punishment. In the first volume of Kamil al-Surah, I mention ten objections to the punishment of apostasy and respond to them.
Class Five Misconceptions about the Prophet’s Companions
All Sunni Muslims agree that all the Prophet’s companions were without blemish. They cite detailed evidence from the Qur’an, the sunnah and the practices and history of the Prophet’s companions. This area is one where the unanimity of the Sunni Muslims is most frequently cited. To cite all relevant expressions of unanimity will take too long; therefore, I am citing only a few.
Ibn Abd al-Barr said: ‘We have been spared the need to research the conditions of the Prophet’s companions because the Muslim people of the truth, who are the Sunni Muslims, unanimously agree that all the Prophet’s companions are unblemished in their characters’. Ibn Abd al-Barr
Al-Juwayni said: ‘The Muslim community is unanimous in its opinion that it is not proper to refrain from giving a verdict of ‘unblemished’ on the character of all of the Prophet’s companions… Perhaps the reason for God’s approval of the status of unanimity is that the Prophet’s companions are the ones who transmitted Islam and its Shariah. Had there been a disruption of the continuity of their reports, Islamic Shariah would have been confined to the Prophet’s time and would not have applied to later generations’. Al-Juwayni, al-Burhan,
Al-Ghazali said: ‘The early generations of the Muslim community and the overwhelming majority of the later generations agree that they were ‘unblemished’ is well known, as God Himself praises them in His Book. As such, this is what we believe about them…
What description of character is more accurate than that of the One who knows all secrets, and that of His Messenger? Had there been no such praise of character, the well-known and numerous reports of their situation and attitudes in migration, jihad, readiness to sacrifice their lives and property, unwavering support of the Prophet,
even against their own parents and families, would have been more than enough to give a clear ruling of their unblemished integrity’. Al-‘Alla’i said: ‘This view, that all the Prophet’s companions are unblemished in their integrity, is the one to which all Sunni Muslims subscribe. No heed is to be given to the views of those who follow deviant groups’. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘All Sunni Muslims agree that the Prophet’s companions were of the highest character’.As we said earlier, unanimity on this point is frequently expressed.
Misconceptions in this area are frequently due to citing some of the errors some of the Prophet’s companions committed so as to malign and vilify them. People cite in particular what happened at the time of the Battles of the Camel and Siffin. Response to these misconceptions is as follows:
One: We do not claim that the Prophet’s companions were infallible, but we say that they were the best of people and were people of great integrity. They could make mistakes. Therefore, if any of them is reported to have made a mistake or committed a sin, he is human. This, thus, sorts out many of the errors doubters claim and answers the questions they raise.
Two: Most of what the doubters of the characters of the Prophet’s companions report claiming that the Prophet criticised some of them, or what happened between them at the time of the Battles of the Camel and Siffin is inaccurate. The great majority of such reports lack authentic chains of transmission.
Therefore, according to the rules of dealing with misconceptions, anyone who cites such reports should first of all prove the correctness of what they report before asking us to respond and clarify. This is an important rule. Anyone who examines what those who circulate of misconceptions about the Prophet’s companions will find is that most of what they rely on collapses when subjected to the conditions of accuracy set by scholars of Hadith. In this respect, it is not surprising that deviant people who malign the Prophet’s companions on the basis of unconfirmed reports should also raise doubts about the Prophet’s authentic hadiths.
Three: Many of the sinful actions some of the Prophet’s companions committed prove their good characters. The fact that they hastened to express regret, repent and seek God’s forgiveness, or request the Prophet to enforce the mandatory punishment on them proves beyond any doubt their firm belief in God and that they were God-fearing. Of the Juhani woman who committed adultery, the Prophet said: ‘She has expressed repentance in a way that would have been sufficient for seventy of the people of Madinah. Could there be any more sincere repentance than that she offered her life for God’s sake?’
Four: Sunni Muslims are unanimous that all the Prophet’s companions were of the highest degree of integrity and good character. All their reports are acceptable. We have cited some expressions of such unanimity, which is confirmed and based on the texts of the Qur’an and the sunnah, as well as the numerous reports of their excellent characters. Other than the unanimity of the Sunni people there is nothing except the disunity of deviant groups.