Q: Please provide a brief explanation of the context and application of the following verse:

"It is not befitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Apostle, to have any option about their decision, and if anyone disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he/she is clearly on the wrong path." [Q33:36]

The reason I ask for your opinion and explanation is that most of the traditional scholars, including Jamal Badawi, use this verse to cut off debate. They set up a firewall that no one can penetrate, or offer a personal opinion on ambiguous / controversial items that are not clear in the scripture or the Prophetic tradition.

A: You have asked a profound question. If you take a thematic reading of the Qur'an and then apply the understanding of hadith, you will find a situation in which we can come to only one conclusion: that before the hadith, the people viewed the verses differently. The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w) is no doubt setup as an example, but the Prophet cannot make any judgments on his own. When he came with rulings in the Qur'an, the people accused him of being a soothsayer, magician, etc. So Allah here is telling the people simply: "The Qur'an which this man, Muhammad delivers to you, by his words, not in the written form of the Torah I gave to Moses, is authoritative. Cut out your bickering. It is obligatory, for whoever listens to Muhammad listens to me."

Now we have a quandary: "What speech of Muhammad is understood?" From the hadith, which may or may not be true, we know of the problem regarding the date trees (the grafting). We know too that in battle, he listened to his companions' views. So obviously, his every speech was not to be obeyed. What is Allah (s.w.t) referring to then? Only the Qur'an. This is why, in a saying attributed to Ibn Abbas (r.a), he claims: "They only asked about 13 things." Add to that the rulings on the Qur'an, and you have little law.

Now why can we not take the hadith here as being part of the guidance? Because the first verses of Sura Al-Baqara tell us: "This is the book wherein there is no doubt." And the Fuqaha made the law, in light of other Qur'anic verses: "What is clear is not effaced by that which is doubtful." Now we all agree that the Qur'an is 100 percent true. The hadith on the other hand, as shown by the terminology in its sciences, is not to be accepted as guidance. In fact, the ruling is: "The basic assumption regarding the Qur'an is truth, the basic assumption regarding the hadith is rejection -- Al asl fi al Qur'an al qabool, al asl fi al hadith al rad."

We cannot take rulings based on hearsay and dubious evidence. When the Qur'anic ruling is given, it is to be followed. But there is another question. Are the rulings of the Qur'an ubiquitous? The fact that this in not so is revealed by the clear sign that the scholars -- the earliest ones -- sought to find reasons for revelation. The Qur'an leaves us no room for doubt, for it gives a "ratio legis," a reason for almost every single ruling. When it does not, the fact that we have brains and perception is an obvious presupposition.

Therefore, the ruling for the requisite situation applies, and is to be followed as long as it is from the Qur'an, which was given to us by Allah (s.w.t), the source being Muhammad (s.a.a.w), the deliverer of that message. No mere mortal has any right to share in the making of divine law. As far as the mufassirs are concerned, they are bewitched for the most part by hadith and Greek philosophy. Read the first few pages of Muhammad Iqbal's "Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam."

As far as the hadith regarding not interpreting the Qur'an by one's own mind, it is a polemic hadith created against Mutazilite tendencies. This hadith is against the Qur'an, which asks us to think. Since we do not have a hadith for every verse, that certainly puts us in a bind, does it not? Are some of Allah's words meaningless? Certainly it would be ridiculous for Allah (s.w.t) to address us as: "O humankind" and then leave the explanation of the Qur'an on the tongue of one mortal Prophet, who, like all other mortals, could forget and err in mundane matters.

We see in the Qur'an that Allah (s.w.t) is chiding the Prophet for being shy about telling the people about His orders. How can we assume then that a Prophet, who was even shy to tell the people Allah's orders, will order them on his own? Every single order must be in the Qur'an, for Allah (s.w.t) has promised to protect that book, whereas the sunnah is not protected, according to the ijma of the scholars. Again we do not, as far as rulings are concerned, resort to that which is doubtful. The rule: "Al asl baraa'at al zimma -- the basic rule is freedom from responsibility." We are not commanded to do anything unless ordered. And orders must be indubitably from Allah (s.w.t).

Had Allah (s.w.t) not ordered us to pray, we would not have to. So we have the rule: "al asl fi'il ibadah al man." The basic principle in worship is prohibition, which is a strongly worded rule. I quote all these rules / maxims to demonstrate that the early fuqaha were quite clear on the issue. For this reason too, we have the difference in definition between sunna and wajib, according to the early schools. The hanafiyya, who were the earliest researchers in this area, defined sunna as being optional.

We do not base rules on option, as is clear from the ayah. To those who counter that sunna in fiqh is different to its meaning in hadith, I rebutt: That is true. However, the understanding is based on a clear lexical understanding, and the fiqh understanding is older than the hadith one, as is evident from the dates of the hadith scholars (Muslim d.204) and Abu Hanifa (d.150). In Malik's Muwatta too, you find that he talks about the sunna of the people of Madina, which gives credence and invincible power to Fazlur Rahman's argument, that sunna meant the practice not only of the Prophet, but of the companions. Certainly we respect them, but not to the point of making their decisions binding without Qur'anic text. A sunna or hadith can, at best, only expound on something in the Qur'an; it cannot come with an incipient ruling.

No, I do not deny hadith. However, as is clear from the preceding paragraph, I make a condition for the hadith. In addition to the hadith being early and having a good sanad, it must explain, and have provenance from the Qur'an. If it does not, then it is to be left alone, at best with no ruling on its viability. It is possible that the hadith may have been mentioned by the Prophet indeed. But in the matter of legislation, it cannot be accepted.

Allah (s.w.t) tells the Prophet in the Qur'an that: "Were he to hide any of the message, he would not have delivered it." And the scholars have the rule: "Laa yajuuz kitmaan ma taumo bihi al balwaa" -- It is not allowable to keep quiet regarding that which the public necessarily need to know." Now you will agree that the hadith are, among the many classifications, ahad, as opposed to mutawatir. How can an ahad hadith, which the majority of ahadith fall into, follow the Qur'anic verse?

The scholars, once they followed Awzai, who said that the Qur'an needs the sunna more than the sunna needs the Qur'an, fell into a trap, from which they could never escape. They created that trap in order to give authority to their words, then ascribed them to the Prophet. It was intellectual suicide, which, as far as Islamic thought is concerned, takes the life of not only the perpetrator, but also all those with whom he comes into contact with and influences, no matter how little.

The fact that a matter is controversial or has no clear ruling in the Qur'an, is enough to show that the verse mentioned cannot be used. The verse can only be used when a ruling from the Qur'an is (apparently clear). On the hadith, one may resort to Abu Yusuf's (the Hanafite scholar) law which states that a hadith can only be tenable when in concord with the Qur'an and Sunnah.

Now the verse in question has some considerations to be taken into account in terms of its grammar. The statement "Allah and his Prophet have judged" shows that the situation being adjudged has already occurred. A matter that recurs in all the functional essentials must, like the original matter, follow the ruling of Allah and His prophet, e.g., in the case of a man marrying the divorced partner of his ward. The finer aspects of that situation are ones that can never change, for the matter in consideration is the lack of blood relationship between the man and his ward.

On other matters, however, what happens when the conditions do not parallel the ones that necessitated the ruling? Obviously the same ruling cannot apply. The jilbab, for instance, is an item of clothing that many people now insist as being an essential part of the female dress. However, it is legislated in the Qur'an for a particular reason: "So that they (women) may be known and not molested." In today's American society, wearing a jilbab does not mean that the woman will be known and not molested; in fact, the very opposite can result. Why? In the society of the Prophet, a woman wearing a jilbab identified herself as a monotheistic practitioner, as well as a free woman, and therefore did not follow the polytheist practice of loose sexual behavior.

In today's society, a jilbab does not do this; in some parts of America, it may be seen as an invitation to assault. The verse in question cannot be applied here, since the conditions have changed. For this reason, only properly qualified jurists must make rulings, and you will find that it was a jurist who made the maxim that rulings change with time and place.

Posted September 28, 1998