The Approach to Resolve Contradictory Prophetic Traditions

 Hafiz Firdaus Abdullah.

 

PART ONE:

 

Contradictory tradition: Definition

From the discussion’s point of view, contradictory traditions are teachings, doings, or words of the Prophet (PBUH) containing rulings, commands, or guidances that are in conflict with one another. An obvious example is that of two traditions, one of which forbids an affair, while the other propagates its lawfulness. In other cases one hadith encourages a matter, while the other discourages it; or one admonishes a deed, when it is the Prophet’s (PBUH) own practice in another.

 

Are some of the Prophet’s (PBUH) traditions contradictory?

Majority of the scholars[1], accorded that these contradictions are non-existent. The apparent inconsistencies result only from a person’s lack of understanding in this field.

Ibn Qudamah affirmed[2]: Contradictions happen when two (or more things) are antagonistic. However this is impossible for two juridistic evidences, since the words of Allah and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) are never incompatible (from one another).[3]

Any one person might be prone to conclude two traditions as contradictory when he (or she) is shortfall of the ways to calibrate, straighten out and dismiss the illusory repugnance. Among other causes is his (or her) ignorance of an isnad’s (tradition’s chain of transmission) authenticity- between authentic and weak, abrogating and abrogated- methods of weighing, and misunderstanding of the real meaning of some ahadith. In other words, these ‘inconsistencies’ are fictive, never are they solid.

To attain the degree “authentic”[4], a hadith has to have with it an unbroken chain of narrators, with each and every narrator ascertained of their integrity, righteousness, trustworthiness, accuracy and precision in memory. On the contrary, the status “weak” is granted to ahadith that badly match the aforementioned competence. The “abrogating” and “abrogated” concern later ahadith that nullifies the earlier. The overruling hadith is the “abrogating”, while the overruled is called “abrogated”; whereas tarjih (weighing) is prioritizing and preferring one hadith over another in conflicting situations, based on factors that consolidate or undermine them. Misunderstanding of any one hadith could be the consequence of not mastering Arabic, not looking into the text as a whole, failure to inspect its bring about, poverty of comparisons with other ahadith, and incomprehension of make ups and objectives of the syari’ah (Islamic jurisprudence).

In the words of Abu Bakar bin Khuzaimah[5]: It is not to my knowledge that any prophetic traditions are contradictory. Should anyone find such instances, bring them to me, and I’ll have them reconciled.[6]

 

Arguments against the existence of contradictory tradition

A deep insight and further studies on the Glorious Qur’an and ahadith will disclose a handful of proofs to negate the false idea of having any two inconsistent traditions. Now let’s refer and expand on them:

 

One:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala said:

By the star when it goes down, (or vanishes). Your companion (Muhammad PBUH)

has neither gone astray nor has erred. Nor does he speak of (his own) desire.

It is only an Inspiration that is inspired. [al-Najm 53:1-4]

 

These verses affirm the Prophet’s (PBUH) messages, Qur’an or ahadith, as revelations from the Almighty. By no means will Allah send down contradictory revelations to His Prophet (PBUH). Allah has also said:

Do they not then consider the Quran carefully? Had it been from other than Allah, they would surely have found therein many contradictions. [al-Nisaa’ 4:82]

 

Two:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala affirmed:

Allah has sent down to you the Book (The Quran), and Al-Hikmah (Islamic laws,

knowledge of legal and illegal things i.e. the Prophets Sunnah - legal ways)

[al-Nisaa’ 4:113]

 

Indeed Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger

(Muhammad PBUH) from among themselves, reciting unto them His Verses (the Quran),

and purifying them (from sins by their following him), and instructing them (in) the Book (the Quran)

and Al-Hikmah (the wisdom and the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH

(i.e. his legal ways, statements, acts of worship, etc.))

[‘‘Ali Imran 3:164]

 

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was blessed by Allah with two major gifts, i.e. al-Qur’an and al-Hikmah (al-Nisaa’ 4:113). These gifts are to be taught and ‘distributed’ to the people of his nation, the Muslims (‘Ali Imran 3:164). Al-Hikmah is adequately defined by religious knowledge that complements and explains the Qur’an; i.e. his (PBUH) traditions.[7]

The two aforementioned verses attest ahadith’s authority and legitimacy as revelations from the infallible God, being taught to mankind- a task ordained to the Prophet (PBUH). It is incomprehensible that anything from Allah, to be propagated among His believing slaves, can be found inconsistent.

 

Three:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala said:

And verily, this (i.e. Allahs Commandments mentioned in the above two Verses 151 and 152)

is my Straight Path, so follow it, and follow not (other) paths, for they will separate you away from His Path. This He has ordained for you that you may become Al-Muttaqoon.

[al-An‘aam 6:153]

 

 “My Straight Path” refers to Islam- the only recognised way of life- which has al-Qur’an and traditions as its unchanging foundation. For these sacred foundations to be anomalous, err, or cause dissensions among the believers is simply far from possible.

 

Four:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala maintains:

And thus We have sent to you (O Muhammad SAW) Ruhan (an Inspiration, and a Mercy) of Our Command. You knew not what is the Book, nor what is Faith? But We have made it (this Quran) a light wherewith We guide whosoever of Our slaves We will. And verily, you (O Muhammad SAW) are indeed guiding (mankind) to the Straight Path (i.e. Allahs religion of Islamic Monotheism). The Path of Allah, to Whom belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Verily, all the matters at the end go to Allah (for decision).

[al-Syura 42:52-53]

 

Allah the Exalted in many places has explained how His messenger, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) guides, leads, and brings mankind to the straight and true path, i.e. Islam, the path of Allah. It is only unthinkable that these guidance, teachings, and leadership have conflicting elements in them, lest that they fit not the quality of Allah’s path, as expounded by the verse above.

 

Five:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala said:

O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger (Muhammad SAW), and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger (SAW), if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination.

[al-Nisaa’ 4:59]

 

In this verse, Allah has commanded, and made obligatory, for all Muslims to return to the Qur’an and prophetic traditions upon any jurisdictional disagreement. If there is any discrepancy at all in his (PBUH) example, Allah’s injunction from this verse is proved to be folly. Nay, this is but a gravely fallacious accusation.

 

Six:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala said:

It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed in a plain error. [al-Ahzab 33:36]

 

Decrees from Allah and His Messenger, as ordered by Allah in this verse, are to be obeyed and preferred. For a Muslim, al-Quran and prophetic traditions make the utmost priority in the make up of his life, leaving no room or any chances for other ‘decrees’ to interfere. This further proves the legitimacy and consistency of them both (al-Quran and prophetic traditions), since any contradicting ahadith will undermine this verse.

 

Seven:

Allah Subhanahu wa Ta‘ala said:

This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. [al-Maidah 5:03]

Truly, the religion with Allah is Islam. [‘‘Ali Imran 3:19]

 

Allah Himself has recognized Islam’s perfection, and is as pleased with this religion. It is only impossible that its foundations- al-Qur’an and prophetic traditions- contain contradictory teachings, for this will but manifest as Allah’s weakness. Verily, we seek Allah’s protection from such baseless surmise!

 

Eight:

Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam has said:

Verily, I have left unto all of you things that are clear- its night and its day- digress not

anyone from them but those who are corroded.

Whosoever from amongst you lives (long), he’ll surely witness much dissension.

Upon all of you, as you have understood it, my way (sunnah) and the ways of the rightly guided Caliphs.

Bite it with the bite of your molar teeth. And upon you is the obedience, even to a Habsyi slave

(if he is made a leader), for a believer is like a camel whose nose is pierced (for the rein),

following wherever he’s directed.[8]

 

The above mentioned hadith attests that the prophetic traditions are unmistakable and distinct- as distinct as the day from the night- that everyone can appreciate them. Moreover, the Prophet (PBUH) himself directed us to hold fast to his teachings, and the teachings of the rightly guided Caliphs, namely Abu Bakar, Umar al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib may Allah be pleased with them all. If the messages he left were inconsistent, it would have wronged his own saying. Furthermore, it’ll be too unfit to be taken as resolutions in cases of disagreements.

 

Nine:

Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam said:

Nothing is left of anything that can bring a person closer to Paradise and keep him away from the Fire, but has been made plain to all of you.[9]

 

The Prophet’s call to Islam was completed. He has explained every single act that is good for us, bringing us closer to Paradise and farther from Hell. It is only incomprehensible that his mission, which was perfected by Allah, can contain anything incompatible that it confuses his followers.

 

Ten:

Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam said:

I have left for all of you two matters, with which never will you astray, so long that you hold fast to them both. They are the Book of Allah (al-Qur’an) and the way of His prophet (PBUH).[10]

 

The Prophet (PBUH) has also advised us to hold fast onto the Qur’an and his traditions. These two sources, which make the most basic foundation of Islam, contain guidance, saving people from error. It is only, again, unthinkable that a perfect releigion is founded on the basis of contradictory sources, which could create unending confusion and resistless dissensions.

 

 

Why do some traditions appear to be contradictory?

Having gone through the section above, which refutes any such existence of inconsistent or contradictiory traditions, one should by now be crystal clear- without even a speck of doubt- that they are all consistent and in agreement with each other. Naturally one will ask: if it is so (that the sources are harmonious), why would some hadith appear contradictory?

One’s insufficient knowledge is the leading factor that made the prophetic traditions to appear inconsistent. On top of his shallow understanding of the text itself, a person can jump into such unfounded conclusion if he is unaware of the various categories, methods, and status of these traditions.

Abu Bakar al-Shairafi[11] mentioned Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi‘i[12] saying:

No two authentic traditions will wrong one another- from the angle of their generality, specificity, or exegesis- except that they are the ‘abrogated’ and the ‘abrogating’, when the dates of their origin are disclosed.[13]

 

Ibn Hazm has said[14]:

Contradictions, to the slightest measure, is forbidden for the Qur’an and ahadith. ‘Contradictions’ are only there due to our limited knowledge.[15]

 

Abu Ishaq al-Syatibi[16] maintained:

Such contradictions (between jurisdictional arguments) occur only due to their weaknesses in understanding Allah’s meaning and intent, which are enclosed within the texts. They are never the result of contradictions in the sources themselves.[17]

 

Ibn al-Qayyim remarked[18]:

Some people wrongly speculated that some prophetic traditions are contradictory, abrogating and opposing each other. We are in the opinion that no two authentic traditions will ever contradict one other.

When discrepancies happen, it could be that one of the two traditions does not genuinely originate from the Prophet (PBUH) himself, for it is not uncommon for some narrators to err. If the traditions are both reliable (credible chain- Author), one hadith could be abrogating the other, in situations where abrogation is possible. If there’s nothing else, the seeming contradiction is only due to various understandings of the narrators (who heard the traditions- Author), never has it risen from the Prophet (PBUH) himself.

These are the three possibilities that could happen. If there are two traditions that absolutely oppose one another, one of which abrogating the other, there is no need for a resolution (it has been resolved).

He (the Prophet PBUH) spoke not but of truth. Mistakes and errors happen due to our weaknesses in understanding certain statements, or in giving distinction to the authenticity of those ahadith, or that we lack the capacity to comprehend his purpose, or that our comprehension is not in line with his intent.[19]

 

Muhammad Wafaa[20] wrote:

It is crystal clear to us that absolute contradictions are impossible between the arguments in our sources, considering that they are from Allah, the Wise. Nothing that comes from Allah contains anything contradictory in dealing with the same time, matter, and cause. This is purely contradictive, which only signifies fatuity and imperfection- attributes that are far from befitting God. The only true conclusion is that no contradictions exist, not between the clear and ambiguous proofs nor between Allah’s and the Prophet’s (PBUH) words, for the latter is also an inspiration from Allah.

Some two statements are inconsistent only from the mujtahids’ perspective and opinion. Mujtahids have different findings and their capacities to understand vary. This imaginary problem is a consequence of them lacking in knowledge in the dates of the ahadith, or in the interpretation, or in the ways to weigh and resolve these ‘contradictory’ ahadith.[21]

  

 

contents

 

[1]               Muhammad Wafaa – Metode Tarjih, ms 52.

[2]               He is Imam ‘Abd Allah bin Muhammad bin Qudamah al-Jama‘ily al-Maqdisi, a great mujtahid of Hanbali School. Born in Jamaily, a district in Nablus, Palestine. Wrote many works that make hundreds of volumes, most famous being al-Mughni, 15 volume thick, a recognised fiqh book in Hanbali School. Died in Damascus in 620H.

[3]               Raudhat al-Nadhir wa Jannat al-Manadhir, jld 2, ms 457, taken from Metode Tarjih, ms 56.

[4]               Equivalent to ‘sound’, as we use in this book – Translator’s note

[5]               He is Imam Muhammad bin Ishaq bin Khuzaimah al-Salmi, an expert in hadith and fiqh in Naisabur. Produced over 140 books, he died in the year 311H.

[6]               Presented by Taqiyuddin al-Subki in al-Ibhaj fi Syarh al-Minhaj, vol 3, pg 233, quoted from Metode Tarjih, pg 53.

[7]               Al-Hikmah’s definition has been extensively discussed in our book; 20 Hujah Golongan Anti Hadis dan Jawapannya, Chapter “10 Dalil al-Qur‘an tentang tugas Rasulullah”, Task 7 (Jahabersa 2002). Feel free to refer to it.

[8]               Sound (Sahih): Hadith from ‘Irbadh bin Sariyah radiallahu ‘anhu, narrated by Ahmad, Ibn Majah, Hakim, al-Thabarani and others, quoted and rated sound by al-Suyuti in al-Jami’ al-Sagheir – no: 6096 and agreed by Nasr al-Din al-Albani in Sahih al-Jami’ al-Sagheir – no: 4369.

[9]               Sound Chain: Abbreviation of the hadith from Abi Darda radiallahu ‘anhu, narrated by al-Thabarani in al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, used by al-Haithami in Majma’ al-Zawa‘id – no: 13971 and al-Hindi in Kanz al-Ummal – no: 35473. The chain is judged sound by ‘Ali Hasan al-Halabi al-Athari in al-Itmam li Takhrij Ahadith al-Musnad al-Imam – no: 21399 as noted in his book, Membedah Akar Bid‘ah, pg 5.

[10]             Sound: Mutawatir (famous and undoubted) Hadith narrated by Malik in al-Muwattha’ - no: 1619 (Kitab al-Jami’, Bab Larangan memastikan Takdir). Further explanations on its status and chain will be made in Example 13, so God had willed.

[11]             He was Imam Muhammad ibn Abdillah al-Shairafi, an eminent figure with greatest knowledge in ‘usul’ after al-Shafi‘i. Among his best works are al-Bayan fi Dalail al I’lam ‘ala Usul al-Ahkam fi Usul al-Fiqh and Syarh al-Risalah li al-Shafi‘i. Died in 330H.  

[12]             Best known as Imam al-Shafi‘i, to him was ascribed Shafi‘i School. Born in Gizza, Palestine and traveled to Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Yemen, Egypt and many other places for learning and teaching. Died in Egypt in 204H.

[13]             Noted by al-Syaukani in Irsyad al-Fuhul, pg 275; presented by M. Wafaa in Metode Tarjih, pg 53.

[14]             He is Imam ‘Ali bin Ahmad bin Said bin Hazm, a prominent figure in Islamic world from Cordova, Spain. His works was used as materials for research and collation by other Muslim scholars unti now, from various School of Thoughts (Mazahib). Died in 456H.

[15]             al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, vol 2, pg 204-205; used by M. Wafaa in Metode Tarjih, pg 55-56.

[16]             He was Imam Ibrahim bin Musa bin Muhammad al-Lakhmi al-Gharmati, a celebrated figure in Islamic world from Cordova, Spain. Among his famous work is al-Muwafaqat fi Usul al-Syari‘ah where he discussed the syari‘ah from its meaning, purpose, and objektives. His idea now is widely accepted by the mujthid, scholars and thinkers of Islam to solve the contemporary fiqh. Unfortunately, some people are still rejecting his ideas only because he is from Maliki School, when they are not. May Allah diminish their obsolete stand and the walls of obsession (taksub) that has seperated truth and error among this group of people. al-Syatibi died in 790H.

[17]             al-Muwafaqat fi Usul al-Syari‘ah, vol 4, pg 123-131; used by M. Wafaa in Metode Tarjih, pg 62.

[18]             He is Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad bin Abu Bakar bin Ayub al-Dimisqi, a great Muslim Scholar in the 8th century after Hijrah, student of Ibn Taimiyah (728H), author of many works. Born in Damascus, and died there in 751H.

[19]             Zaad al-Ma‘ad , vol 3, pg 112; mentioned by M. Wafaa in Metode Tarjih, pg 53.

[20]             He is a lecturer in Asyouth University, Cairo, Egypt in Faculty of Syari‘ah. Being among the best scholars of fiqh nowadays, he wrote books on fiqh 4 volumes thick, the first especially for the bases of syari‘ah, i.e. al-Qur‘an and al-Sunnah (Dilalat al-Awamir wa al-Nawahi fi al-Kitab wa al-Sunnah), second book on the bases of the injunctions derived from shari’ah (Dilalat al-Kitab al-Syar‘i ‘ala al-Hukmi: al-Manthuq wa al-Mafhum), third on Nasikh and Mansukh (Ahkam al-Naskhi fi al-Syari‘at al-Islamiyah) and fourth on ways to resolve contradictory statements (Ta‘arudh al-‘Adillati al-Syari‘at min al-Kitab wa al-Sunnah wa al-Tarjih Bainaha). The fourth book has been translated into Metode Tarjih atas Kontradiksi Dalil-dalil Syara’.

[21]             Metode Tarjih, pg 66-67.