Choice to Forgive, Logic of Faith, Ikhtilaf and Consensus

Issue 917 » October 21, 2016 - Muharram 20, 1438

Living The Quran

Choice to Forgive
Al-Araf (The Heights) - Chapter 7: Verse 199

"Hold to forgiveness; command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant."

In this verse love and forgiveness are shown to be infinitely better than justice through vengeance. Even while the Quran allows for the "law of equality" (i.e., the grim and literal justice of exacting an eye for an eye), with the reminder that this primitive form of justice restrains people from perpetrating violence against each other so acts as a positive force in human affairs, it emphasizes that God has opened another, better path for dealing with situations of injury and loss, and this is the path of remission, compensation, and reconciliation. Stating undeniable preference for this second way, the Quran explains that God offers it as a concession and token of Divine mercy.

It is crucial to understand that the Quran gives a choice to the one who has suffered injury and/or loss: to seek justice or to seek reconciliation and transformation. In other words, the injured party is empowered to choose, with a strong word of encouragement to think seriously about God's preferred option. Forgiveness and reconciliation are thus not mandated or forced upon the injured; rather, both paths are left open. When a person's power has been taken from her or him through violence, she or he must regain a sense of wholeness and personal empowerment before the option of forgiveness has any meaning. In the case of Joseph, he forgave from a place of power and healing, and we see an almost identical dynamic in the life of the prophet Muhammad.

Compiled From:
"In the Light of a Blessed Tree" - Timothy J. Gianotti, pp. 108, 109

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Logic of Faith

Some schools of thought and Islamic sects surely went to extremes, for example, Mutazilis, in rejecting some of the sahih hadiths that seemed far-fetched to their reason. We have seen this in the attitude of some of them with regards to the following hadith:

"In the Garden there is assuredly a tree in whose shade a rider may travel for a hundred years without crossing through it." [Bukhari, Muslim]

Ibn Kathir said in his Tafsir, "This hadith from God's Messenger is well-established, indeed definitively mutawatir in being sahih according to the leaders of hadith scholarship."

The outward sense of this hadith is that the hundred years are the years of this world. None knows except God the kind of anything between the time of this world and the time of the world that is with God. When a hadith has been authenticated there is no scope for us except to say we are content: we believe and we affirm the truth of it, being certain that the particular norms in the hereafter are different from the norms of this world. Ibn Abbas said: "There is nothing from the world in the Garden except the names!"

Compiled From:
"Approaching the Sunnah: Comprehension & Controversy" - Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, pp. 176, 177


Ikhtilaf and Consensus

In the formative stages of Islamic jurisprudence during the first three centuries the scholars tend to excel in the degree of latitude and acceptance of ijtihad-oriented disagreement. The Companions have disagreed on matters of interpretation and it is even said that they had reached a consensus on this: the agreement to disagree. Their example also finds support among the leading authorities and ulama of the era of ijtihad. To accept the plurality of the schools of law is indicative of healthy ikhtilaf. Hence, for a scholar/imitator to claim total superiority of his school and take an over-critical and dismissive view of other schools is decidedly unsound and contrary to the original spirit of ikhtilaf.

Ikhtilaf has played an evidently important role in the development of the rich legacy of fiqh and Shariah that will continue to provide a lasting source of influence. One can hardly overestimate the inspiring spirit of sound and principled disagreement in our own generation. Yet disagreement has a place in the legal and intellectual heritage of Muslims which should not be exaggerated. A legal order in society can simply not proceed on the basis of never-ending ikhtilaf. The value of ikhtilaf is therefore relative and not independent of conformity and consensus that must clearly be accepted as the stronger influences which demarcate the limits of acceptable ikhtilaf.

Yet we also need to be cautious about over-indulgence in ikhtilaf. Muslim individuals and scholars could perhaps afford to encourage ikhtilaf more widely in certain periods of their history when they enjoyed the confidence that was generated by the superiority of their political power and then a rigorously productive scholarship. There is a great need today for Muslims to appreciate the value of unity and consensus while recognizing in the meantime that unity and consensus which emerge out of open deliberation and principled ikhtilaf are what deserve our best attention. Ikhtilaf and consensus are often inseparable even if they appear to be the opposite.

To say that the Muslim community can totally eliminate disagreement and ikhtilaf over all questions is plainly unrealistic and has no historical precedent. The reality of living in a world where disagreements must inevitably exist is one which has dominated the greater part of Muslim history and it is no longer a matter of choice for the contemporary ummah. It must remain, by the same token, the responsibility of every generation of Muslims to seize the opportunities they may be endowed with, or which they have at their disposal, to pursue the quest for resolving disagreement within the ranks of the ummah, or else to find better ways of coming to terms with it.

Compiled From:
"Shariah Law - An Introduction" - Mohammad Hashim Kamali, pp. 117-121