Q. I've visited your website and find it very interesting. I have some questions and appreciate you taking the time to answer them.

1) What do you think of people who take the Qur’an literally and don’t consider the context? For example, I read a verse about Jews striving to cause corruption on earth.[Q5:64] My mother was born Jewish and her family is Jewish so I have a hard time thinking that most Jews today are striving to cause corruption more than other people. Could it mean that it was talking about the Jews during the Prophet’s time? What do you believe this verse means?

2) What exactly are your beliefs about drinking small amounts of alcohol? I read the post on your website but I didn’t quite understand if you believed drinking alcohol in small amounts is haram or not.

3) What is the strongest argument against accepting all hadiths that scholars say are sahih (authentic). Some hadiths don’t make sense to me but I’m afraid to reject them out of fear of doing something wrong.

4) What do you think about the concept of ijma? Do you believe in it, and if not, why not?

A. 1) The idea of non-contextual readings is popular not only in Islam but in almost all other religions, which is why we find so much intolerance and categorizing of “the others,” resulting in institutional hate in many sermons, even within the same denominations. The verse you refer to can of course be read literally, but logic does not allow for this. For if that were the case, and all Jews are guilty of causing corruption, then there are also verses that show Muslims abandoning the Qur'an, as in Q25:30. Language is understood by idiom and trope, and polemical verses often describe a group as if they are the collective whole. The verse you cited can at its most extreme be understood as there being groups who will seek to cause problems forever, but these groups are not representative of all Jews. Or it may be interpreted as you said, i.e., referring to a specific group during the Prophet’s time. After all, if it were to be taken literally, then the Prophet obviously misunderstood it when he took Safiyya (a Jewess) as a wife.

2) There are different views when it comes to alcohol and these are subject to interpretation. Among those views are that what is forbidden, from a jurisprudential perspective, is intoxication, which by the way is not strictly limited to alcohol. Yet there are traditions that show the element of prevention. This is why my initial post was somewhat problematic and I will not shift from that. While the argument could be made that there is no harm in the casual drink, as you may be well aware, alcohol is very destructive to society, and that is why I also stated in my initial response to eschew even a sip of alcohol unless it is prescribed for medicinal purposes.

3) A sahih hadith does not have to be actually correct: that is not what it means. It simply means that the scholar has to the best of his or her knowledge found the list of tradents to be without blemish. What he or she finds to the best of his or her knowledge, and what actually exists may not be in concord. Also a hadith by definition is speculation, and does not fulfill the criterion of absolute knowledge. Your observation is correct, there are many ahadith that do not make sense and insult our intelligence.

4) Ijma (consensus) is supposedly what the scholars of any age agree upon, when such a matter is not in the scripture or in the hadith, as the normal understanding goes. Obviously the scholars of any age have never been all consulted, so it exists only in terms of a majority view, and not in actuality. Ijma also presupposes that everyone is using the same criterion of adjudging right from wrong. Usul al fiqh (jurisprudence) has clearly shown that this does not exist. Often Muslims claim ijma on a subject that is NOT decided by ijma, such as, for example, that prayer on Friday is by ijma. Yet from a juristic point of view, if I am told something is by ijma, I do check into it before rejecting it, and will acknowledge that if the majority accepts something, that the community has used the term 'ijma.' Since I study these matters, I am not beholden to a viewpoint if I find that it clashes with a deeper understanding of the text. I make this statement about my study because I find many Muslims are now asserting for themselves the right to ijtihad (independent reasoning), forgetting that such requires knowledge and in depth study. The Qur’an asks: "Are those who know equal to those who don't know?" The Qur'an does not deny anyone the right to decision-making, but such a right comes with prerequisites if one is issuing opinions to the community. When one is making personal decisions based upon study, and not making a public issue about such decisions, the matter is obviously different (although in truth, the prerequisites don't change). The Qur'an asks that we obey those in charge, for in any religion, we can question the authorities, etc., but still, we acknowledge that on a general level, leadership is there to ensure conformity and togetherness and prevent chaos. We question not out of laziness or whim, but based on deep study and analysis. That is when, personally, I challenge views.

Posted May 11, 2013