By Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi (1391 AH)
- The Primary Reason: Varying Commands For Different People And Circumstances
- Reason 2: A Special Case Is Taken As A General Order
- Reason 3: A General Order Is Taken As A Special Case
- Reason 4: A Difference Of Perception
- Reason 5: Intentional Action Vs Coincidence
- Reason 6: Underlying Causes
- Reason 7: Words Have Multiple Meanings
- Reason 8: Different Types Of Injunctions
- Reason 9: An Injunction To Sharpen The Mind
- Reason 10: Affectionate Injunctions Vs Cautionary Injunctions
- Compelling Interpretations
- Two Categories Of Laws
- Fundamental And Subsidiary Differences
- Differences: A Source Of Mercy
- Prejudice Toward Any School
All praise is due to Allah and peace and salutations upon the Messenger Muhammad (pbuh). For some time now people have been occupied with the question that, since the Imams (of various schools) have established everything from the sayings and practices of the Messenger of Allah , why are there differences of opinion among them? The numerous sessions of debates and the excessive number of publications on the issues of controversy have rendered the problem even more menacing. The issue has reached such dire proportions that those who object (to why she Imams have differed) have split into two groups. The first group is haplessly trapped in their evil thoughts of the Imams, so much so that even if they wish to disentangle themselves from this vicious web just out of good thought for the Imams, they are unable to free themselves from this trap because they are further ensnared by the apparent disparity between the sayings of the Imams and some of the clear source texts. The second group, on the other hand, has gone even further and, let alone the Imams, they have started harboring insolent thoughts about the Messenger of Allah himself; simply because of the apparently contradictory hadiths transmitted from him. However, the fault lies in referring to (English or) Urdu translations of the hadiths, because in order to get a clear picture of the meaning, one has to posses the intellectual capacity to comprehend the hadiths together with a proper understanding of the background and the prelude of the hadiths. In the absence of these prerequisites, the mere translation of the hadiths is bound to lead to objections and misgivings.
The repercussions of these differences have reached such proportions that people have split up into various sects grappling and contending with one another. The wudu’ of one group is considered invalid by the other while the salat of one group is considered void by the other, and so forth. In zakat, sawm, hajj and virtually every other act of worship [‘ibada] as well, there is inevitably some difference or other which has led to people debating with one another. Therefore, It has become necessary to expose the basis of the differences (of opinion) found among the Imams. The reasons for these differences, dating back to the first epoch of Islam, will be expounded upon to demonstrate that the apparently contradictory texts of the hadiths leave no scope for doubting the Messenger of Allah, nor do they give anyone the right to cast aspersions on the Companions [sahaba], the Followers [tabi’in] or the Imams (may Allah have mercy on them). The fact is that all the Imams [mujtahidin] were leaders of the correct path and they encouraged and guided the masses toward the correct path as well. Any slanderous remark cast against them is a sure sign of the deprivation of Allah’s mercy [hirman]. May Allah protect us. Amin. There is obviously no doubt about the importance of this issue. I would have preferred to see the topic addressed by someone much more capable than myself. I pray that my writing does not merely add to the confusion rather than clarifying the master.
Nevertheless, I had excused myself from this mammoth task, but the insistence of the people of Mazahir ‘Ulüm compelled me to put pen to paper. While acknowledging my incompetence, I present my disordered work. The differences among the Imams are divided into three stages. The first involves contradictory narrations [riwayat]; in other words, the apparent contradictions between the words and deeds of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). The second stage deals with the contradictions found in the athar, meaning the apparent contradictions between the words and actions of the Companions [sahaba] and Followers [tabi’in]. The third stage encompasses the differences found among the schools of thought [madhahib] in other words; the apparent contradictions between the recognized opinions of the various Imams, which later became the established views of their followers. Since these differences have occurred at three stages, I consider it necessary to write briefly on each of these stages. Also, since the second and third stages of these differences are actually an offshoot of the first stage. I will base my writings according to the same order as well. And from Allah do we seek divine guidance.
The Primary Reason
Varying Commands For Different People And Circumstances
During the time of the Messenger of Allah, the present-day system of imparting Islamic law was not in operation. There were no comprehensive books of Islamic jurisprudence [fiqh] available and in-depth compilations on specialized subjects. The fundamentals, etiquette, conditions and interdictions of the laws [ahkam] and rulings [masa’iI] were not recorded separately. The only method of imparting Islamic rulings was that whenever a command was revealed, the Messenger of Allah used to inform the people verbally and demonstrate it practically Once the verses of wudu’ [ablution] were revealed he showed his community how to perform wudu’. When the verses of salat were revealed, the Angel Jibra’il actually demonstrated the correct procedure of salat before the Messenger of Allah and he in turn taught the Umma how to perform salat. There were no distinctions whatsoever between a certain act being fard or wajib, or a certain posture being a sunna or integral [rukn], etc. The Messenger’s demonstration left no complexities or uncertainties. Even the Companions refrained from digressing into possibilities and rationalities. If someone had to finely examine or challenge laws, it was considered rude and such a person would be admonished for his impudence.
Abdullah ibn ‘Umar once narrated that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, ‘A person should not prevent his wife attending the masjid if she wishes to perform bsalat therein.” One of Ibn ‘Umar’s sons, considering the prevalent conditions (of his time), declared “We will not allow them to attend salat at the masjid.” Since this statement was in apparent contrast to the hadith of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , Ibn ‘Umar found it extremely offensive and not only did he admonish his son,1 but according to the narration of Musnad Ahmad, he refrained from speaking to him right until his death. Similarly, Ibn ‘Umar was once asked if witr salat was wajib or sunna. He responded: “‘The Messenger of Allah as well as the Companions [sahaba] always performed the witr salat. “The questioner continued asking the same question repeatedly and Ibn ‘Umar continued to provide the same answer.2
The reason for his unwavering answer was simply to draw attention to the fact that those who sincerely wish to practice Islam will not delve into any intricacies. If Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and his Companions consistently carried out a certain action, its obligation [wujub] is self-evident. In short, the laws of Islam used to be taught in a practical manner according to the need of the occasion. The Companions used to detest questions based on mere assumption: questions such as, if a certain act is omitted in wudu’ or something additional is done, what is the ruling?”
Ibn ‘lJmar says that, ‘Umar invoked the curse of Allah on a person who posed hypothetical questions. The Companions would only ask the Messenger of Allah about issues (masa’il) which occurred in reality. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) would then issue a verdict according to the circumstances and conditions of the questioner. Differences and contradictory narrations are quite obviously destined to follow from this. A few examples are listed below which demonstrate this fact even more explicitly.
Imam Muslim narrates on the authority of ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar that a blind Companion [sahabi] once approached Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and submitted: “I did not have anyone to guide me to the masjid, please excuse my absence from the masjid for the congregational salat and permit me to perform my salat at home.’ The Messenger of Allah granted him permission. However, when he learnt that this Companion lived in close proximity to the masjid and he was able to hear the adhan, the Messenger (PBUH) withdrew his permission and ordered the man to join the congregational salat in the masjid.3 Conversely in the case of ’Itbãn ibn Malik., Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) accepted his excuse of blindness and exempted him from attending the congregational salat. 4
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) had permitted ‘Abdullãh ibn Zayd, who had heard the words of the call to prayer (adhan] in a dream to make the call to commence [iqama] inspite of Bilãl calling out the adhan. 5 However, once on a journey Ziyad ibn Hárith al-Suda’i called out the adhan and Bilal was about to call out the iqama when the Messenger of Allah said, “Whosoever calls out the adhan, has the right to call out the iqama as well.” Saying this, he restrained Bilal from calling out the iqama.6
Once, Abü Bakr gave his entire wealth in charity and Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) accepted it. However, when certain other Companions decided to give their entire wealth in charity Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not accept it. These are not isolated incidents. There are thousands of such incidents, which clearly demonstrate that the Messenger of Allah issued varying orders for different people. Abu Hurayra narrates that a person once asked Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) if he was permitted to hug and kiss his wife while fasting. The Messenger (PBUH) granted him permission. However, when another Companion sought permission to do the same, he was declined permission. Abu Hurayra said, “I immediately understood the reason for the disparity between the two. The one who was permitted was an old man while the other Companion was a young man.”
In cases like the above-mentioned incident, each narrator will narrate what he heard directly from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). The person who was granted permission to kiss his wife while fasting will obviously narrate that hugging and kissing does not nullify the fast. However, the other person will narrate his hadith in direct contrast to this and will vehemently deny the permissibility of kissing and hugging while fasting. This apparent contradiction between the two narrations is not only confined to two isolated narrators. In fact, there were always groups of students, devoted followers, enquirers, visitors, delegates, and others in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) who would have heard these exchanges and related them according to their own understanding.
For this reason, the two groups who heard two conflicting laws would narrate only what they heard from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). Any number of conflicting narrations falling under this fundamental rule will still be considered negligible because every gathering consisted of various people, the exempted [ma’dhur] as well as the healthy, the able-bodied as well as the weak. The Law took into consideration the health of one and the weakness of the other. This is the reason for the apparent contradiction. One of the people in the gathering was so strong-hearted that even if he gave all his wealth in charity, there was no fear of him ever complaining. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was quite confident that no matter what calamity afflicted that particular person, he would become ever more engrossed in turning his attention toward Allah and totally at ease with the fate issued by Him.
On the other hand, there were other personalities in the gathering upon whom he did not have such confidence. In fact, these was a fear of them exceeding even the boundaries of lamentation if they gave away all of their wealth in charity. Hence, he prohibited them from doing so. Similarly, for a traveler who is quite strong and able, it is most appropriate for him to fast in the holy month of Ramadan. He should not postpone the fast when traveling, thereby forfeiting the great virtues of this month. On the other hand, if a person is extremely weak and fasting while traveling will most probably be detrimental to him, he is not permitted to last, Due to such differences, the hadiths narrating laws pertinent to fasting while traveling are sure to differ as well. A Sa’id al-Khudri narrates, “On the sixteenth of Ramadan we set out for a battle in the company of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). Some of our friends observed the fasts of Ramadan, while others decided sane to fast. However, each group had no objection against the other. Those fasting did not accuse chose abstaining nor did the latter challenge the former.”8
Hamza ibn ‘Amr Aslami narrates that he once asked the Messenger of Allah whether, since he was in a habit of fasting excessively it would be permissible for him to fast while traveling. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) replied, “You are at liberty to fast or to abstain from fasting. You may do as you please.”9 However, Jabir narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “There is no good in fasting while traveling”10 In fact, one hadith even refers to those who fast when traveling are sinners. Notwithstanding this, ‘Abd aI-Rahmãn lbn ‘Awf narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The one who fasts while traveling is like a person who breaks his fast while at home.”11 In short, the disparity of narrations stems from the disparity of conditions. As evident from the aforementioned incidents, the Messenger of Allah (sometimes) issued two utterly different orders for different individuals. The group that was present when the first order was given will obviously differ from the group that was present when the second order was issued. As a result, two large groups became narrators of two totally conflicting rulings.
There could have been, in fact there were, some people who were present in both gatherings, and they were most certainly compelled to ponder over the disparity between the rulings and reach a decision whereby both rulings are taken into account. As explained above, Abu Hurayra provided the conflicting narrations about kissing and hugging while fasting. He narrated the reason for the disparity as well. There are thousands of other similar incidents, which cannot be contained here wholly, and it is not our purpose to do so here. Even though the aforementioned fact (regarding she difference of narrations) is quite evident, a few testimonial incidents proving this fact were provided merely to drive the point home. Following such diverging narrations, the responsibility now falls upon the Companions [sahaba], the Followers [tabi’in], and the mujtahid Imams to determine the source, occasion and correct juncture of each narration, and they should interpret each narration according to the demands of the occasion.
A Special Case Is Taken As A General Order
The second reason for contradictory narrations is that at times, the Messenger of Allah issued an exclusive order for a particular person due to some special reason, and the audience [majlis] was led to believe that it was a general order and not a restricted order. Thus, they started narrating it as a general rule.
For example; according to ‘A’isha, lbn ‘lJmar narrates that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said; ‘The deceased is punished due to the crying of his house folk.” ‘A’isha rejected this interpretation. According to her, Allah’s
Messenger (PBUH) made this statement in regard to a Jewish woman whose household was crying over her.12
Apparent Contradictions in the Hadiths
Allow me to point out at this juncture that we do not wish to elaborate on the category of this hadith, nor do we wish to comment on it, nor do we wish to ascertain whether ‘A’isha’s hadith or lbn Umar’s hadith is given preference. All we wish to clarify here is that such degrees of disparity and contradiction exist in the field of hadith study.
For example, according to the Hanafi school of thought, the salat for greeting the masjid [tahiyyat al-masjid] is prohibited while the Friday sermon [khutba] is in progress. However, one hadith makes mention of a very poor Companion named Sulayk al-Ghatafani who entered the masjid while the khutba was in progress. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered the Companion to perform tahiyyat al-masjid so that the people could witness his poverty and constrained circumstances.13 Together with this, they also witnessed this special concession awarded to this particular Companion in that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to perform supererogatory [nafl] salat while the sermon was in progress. According certain narrations, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) brought the sermon to a halt and remained standing to enable this Companion to complete his salat.
On the basis of this narration, many people considered this action as a general ruling, and as an all-encompassing principle they narrate that a person who enters the masjid while the Friday sermon is in progress should perform two rak’ats [units] of tahiyyat al-masjid. The story of suckling Salim, the slave of Abu Hudhayfa is also a similar nature. ‘A’isha narrates that Sahla bint Suhayl came to Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) and submitted, “O Messenger of Allah, I perceive a feeling of displeasure on (my husband) Abu Hudhayfa’s face whenever Sãlim, our freed slave, comes before me.” Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) advised: “Breastfeed him.” She replied, “He is a bearded adult.” He said, “Go ahead and breastfeed him. You will not perceive any displeasure on. Abu Hudhayfas face thereafter.”14 On the basis of this narration, ‘A’isha, considered this a general rule while the other wives of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) rejected this opinion. Umm Salama, the wife of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , comments on this: “We are not aware of the actual reason for this command. However, we are confident that this rule was specifically confined to Sãlim only.”15
Ibn Qutayba narrates in his book Ta’wil mukhtalaf al-hadith that ‘Imran ibn Husayn says, “By Allah, I know so many Hadiths that I can narrate rather extensively if I want to, but the practice of certain Companions impede me from doing So. They (i.e. those Companions) heard many hadiths from Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) like I did, and they remained in his service like I did, but some of them have committed many inaccuracies while narrating. I fear that if I had to narrate, then the narration of the hadiths would bewilder me just as they were left bewildered. However, let me draw your attention to the fact that this was only an oversight on their part and they had no intention of committing these blunders.”16
It was for the same reason that ‘Umar prohibited the people from excessive narration during his caliphate [khilafa]. In fact; he even prevented some of the very senior Companions from excessive narrations of the hadiths. Abu Salama asked Abu Hurayra if he used to narrate as abundantly during the time of ‘Umar as he did in later times. Abu Hurayra replied, “If I were narrating (then) like I am doing now, ‘Umar would have cautioned me with his whip.” In short, the second reason for the apparent contradictions in the narrations is that at times, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued a special command confined to one person only, but a narrator narrated it as a general rule. The examples have been explained above.
A General Order Is Taken As A Special Case
The third reason for the apparent contradictions between narrations is the opposite of the second reason. In other words, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) mentioned something as an all-encompassing rule, but the narrator confined it to specific individuals only.
One example is the narration of Ibn ‘Umar regarding the punishment of the deceased. Ibn ‘Umar narrated this as general rule. However, ‘A’isha said that this applied only to a particular incident of a Jewish woman who was being mourned by her family. Hence, for the revision of such narrations, a great need is felt for the mujtahids who are aware of all the various types of narrations. From these narrations they are able to deduce which rules are of general applications, which are special, and what the reasons for rendering something permissible for one and impermissible for the other.
A Difference Of Perception
Quite often, there are apparent contradictions in the narrations simply various people saw Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) doing a certain thing and they all narrated according to their own understanding of things. The beholders of any deed are obviously of diverse perception. Some of the witnesses were very discerning. They were able to understand every incident according, to the occasion. On the other hand, some of them were not as discerning, but they had very retentive memories. They narrated certain events according to the way they understood them. Many examples of this can be found in the hadiths dealing with the pilgrimage (hajj). For example, one of the narrators says that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) made an ifrad hajj because he heard the Messenger (PBUH) saying “Labbayk bi hajjatin” or “I have presented -myself in Your service to perform the hajj.” The narration itself is authentic and the narrator is not guilty of any deficiency. However, other people narrate that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) performed a qiran hajj. This narration apparently seems contradictory to the first, because the qiran hajj is very different from the ifrad hajj. In actual fact though, there is no contradiction between the narrations since it’s permissible for one performing qiran hajj to say “Labbayk bi hajjatin” (as Allah’s Messenger had uttered). Only a mujtahid is able to bring about some harmony between the apparently contradictory narrations and avoid undue confusion.
Similarly the hadith dealing with the Messenger’s commencement of his ihram or “pilgrim sanctity,” There are conflicting narrations as to exactly when Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) started his ihram. Due to this, the Imams have also differed as so when it is most virtuous for one to initiate one’s ihram. Prompted by these very same contradictory narrations, Sa’id ibn Jubayr , an outstanding Follower [tabi’in], asked ‘Abdullah bin Abbas to explain these contradictions. Imam Abu Dawud (may Allah have mercy on him) transmits this narration in complete detail as follows:
Sa’id ibn Jubayr said: I said to Abdullah ibn Abbas: Abul Abbas, I am surprised to see the difference of opinion amongst the companions of the Messenger (PBUH) about the wearing of ihram by the Messenger of Allah when he made it obligatory. He replied: I am aware of it more than the people. The Messenger of Allah performed only one hajj. Hence the people differed among themselves. The Messenger of Allah came out (from Medina) with the intention of performing hajj. When he offered two rak’ats of prayer in the mosque at Dhu al-Hulayfah, he made it obligatory by wearing it. At the same meeting, he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ for hajj, when he finished his two rak’ats. Some people heard it and I retained it from him. He then rode (on the she-camel), and when it (the she-camel) stood up, with him on its back, he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ and some people heard it at that moment. This is because the people were coming in groups, so they heard him raising his voice calling saying ‘labbayk’ when his she-camel stood up with him on its back, and they thought that the Messenger of Allah had raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ when his she-camel stood up with him on its back. The Messenger of Allah proceeded further; when he ascended the height of al-Bayda’ he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’. Some people heard it at that moment. They thought that he had raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ when he ascended the height of al-Bayda’. I swear by Allah, he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ at the place where he prayed, and he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ when his she-camel stood up with him on its back, and he raised his voice saying ‘labbayk’ when he ascended the height of al-Bayda’.17
Since Sa’id ibn Jubayr heard various contradictory accounts of this hajj he felt he should delve deeper into the true account of what exactly took place. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbbs was fully aware of what transpired, so he confidently explained exactly what happened. Since he was a jurist [faqih] as well as a mujtahid, he also explained the reasons for the differences of narrations and at the same time he brought about harmony between all the narrations, In contrast, if an ordinary layman is confronted with all these apparently contradictory narrations, the unfortunate person will be left perturbed and dumbfounded. Objections and various complications are thereafter bound to follow. At the end of it all, even the people who do not adhere to any madhhab [ghayr muqallidin], in spite of their vehemence and prejudice, have no retreat but to make taqlid (i.e. resort to a school of thought [madhhab]).
In his book, Sabil al Rashad, Mawlãna (Rashid Ahmad) Gangohi (may Allah be pleased with him) quotes an extract from the Isha’at al-sunna by Mawlana Muhammad Husayn Batãlwi, a leader of those who do not follow a traditional school in jurisprudence, who writes that a non-mujtahid has no retreat or option but to follow a mujtahid (Isha’at al-sunna II:2II). Mawlana Batalwi further writes: ‘After twenty-five years of experience, we have become aware of the fact that those who, out of ignorance, totally relinquish following a school altogether [taqlid] eventually relinquish Islam altogether. Some of them convert to Christianity while some of them become atheists. The most insignificant outcome of this freedom is flagrant violation of Islamic law (ibid II:53).
Intentional Action Vs Coincidence
At times many groups of people witnessed the Messenger of Allah doing something. Some of them considered it coincidental and treated it as a natural and habitual activity of his. Others considered it intentional and willful, thereby narrating it as a sunna or mustahab (preferred) action. There are many examples of this nature in the books of hadith. For example, on the occasion of the farewell pilgrimage, it is an accepted fact that the Messenger of Allah camped at a place called Abtah. According to Abu Hurayra and ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar, this lodging was included in the devotions of hajj and it is sunna for a pilgrim to camp at Abtah.18
However, according to ‘A’isha and ‘Abbas, this stay over at Abtah was coincidental and it had nothing to do with the devotions of hajj. The servants pitched his tent at that spot: that is why he camped there. Plus, it facilitated easy departure toward Madina Munawwara.19
This is where the services of a mujtahid or a jurist [faqih] are required to sift through the various narrations and views of the Companions and award preference to one opinion over the other. The Imams have done accordingly on the basis of the following hadith: “We will camp at Khayf Bani Kinana where the polytheists had vowed to oppose Islam.”20 The Imams are of the view that this lodging was not coincidental but intentional. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) intended to demonstrate the magnificence of Islam at the very spot where the disbelievers displayed their rejection [kufr] of Islam. Together with this objective, if other reasons are found—for example, he camped there to facilitate easy departure this does not mean that his stay at Abtah was not intentional.
At times, contradictions appear due to the contradictory underlying reasons found in the hadiths. For example, it is mentioned in a hadith that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was once seated when the bier [janaza] of a disbeliever passed by. He immediately stood up. 21 According to some narrations, he got up in honor of the angels accompanying the bier.22 If this is the case, there is even more reason for the people to stand for the passing of a Muslim bier. The narrators who consider this to be the underlying principle of the hadith do not even mention the word ‘disbeliever’ in their narrations. They do not consider it necessary because it is immaterial whether the bier is that or a disbeliever, due to the presence of the angels.
However if we learn from other narrations that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) stoop up so that the bier would not pass above the heads of the Muslims, as this is a form of humiliation to them. If this is the reason for his standing up, then the practice of standing up for janaza will be restricted to the bier of a disbeliever only. Hence, in this case, the word “disbeliever” must be mentioned in the hadith by the narrator. Similar is the case of another hadith. Rifi’ ibn Khadij says, “We used to hire out our lands on the basis of temporary sharecropping [muzara’a]. This was very beneficial to us but Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited us from it. Obedience to Allah and His Messenger precedes all benefits.”23 ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar says, “We used to hire our plots on a temporary sharecropping basis and regarded his beneficial and permissible. However, since Rifi’ ibn Khadij informed us that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited it, we abandoned this practice.24
In another narration, Rafi’ ibn Khadij says, ‘My uncle and other family members used to hire out their lands on a temporary sharecropping basis. The land owner and the farmer would agree that the crop which will grow around the water supply drains or any other pre-specified area will belong to the land owner while the remainder will belong to the farmer. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) prohibited them from this.” Rafi’ ibn Khadij was then asked, if the land owner lets his land on a specified rental?” He replied, “That is quite in order.”25 In contrast to these narrations, ‘Amr ibn Dinar relates, “I told Tawüs to desist from hiring out his land on the basis of sharecropping because the Companions prohibited people from doing this. Upon this Tawus replied, ‘The most learned of the Companions, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas informed me that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not actually prohibit this practice altogether What he actually meant was that it is better for a person to lend his plot of land to his Muslim brother for purposes of cultivation instead of letting it to him in exchange of something.”26
So, according to Ibn ‘Abbas; the underlying cause for the prohibition was merely to ensure that people maintain good conduct with their fellow Muslim brothers. This prohibition was not a juridical injunction. However, according to Rafi’ ibn Khadij, the underlying cause of this ban was to demonstrate its prohibition and nothing else. There are many other examples of this nature in the books of hadith. We do not wish to encompass them all, nor is it our objective to do so. In short, the narrators differ in the underlying cause for the injunction expressed in a particular hadith. Each narrator will narrate the hadith according to his own understanding of it. Hence, we consequently have two apparently conflicting hadiths.
Nevertheless, one who is confronted with both hadiths and is cognizant of the principles of hadith, etc., is bound to grant preference to one of the narrations only and attempt to reinterpret the other. This can only be carried out by a person who knows many hadiths on a given subject and who also knows the actual texts of the various hadiths. On the other hand, a person who only knows the translation of one hadith on a particular topic, has no knowledge of a contrary hadith, and is not aware of the principles of awarding preference to some hadiths over others: will he ever be able to understand which is awarded preference over the other and why?
Words Have Multiple Meanings
One of other reasons for the apparent contradictions in the hadiths is that there are many words that are sometimes used in the literal sense and at other times in the technical or figurative sense. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) used to say something using a particular word in one context, while some of the Companions considered the usage in a different context. There are not a few, but thousands of instances of this nature. To give one example, the word wudu’ is quite common in its technical sense (of ablution before prayer). However, literally, the word wudu’ means cleanliness, purity, and washing of the hands. In a narration of the Shama’il of Imam Tirmidhi, Salman once told Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) that according to the Torah, wudu’ after meals brings about blessings [baraka] in one’s food. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) added, ‘Wudu’ before as well as after the meal is a source of blessing in ones food.” In Salman’s statement as well as the statement Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , the word wudü’ unanimously refers to the washing of the hands.
In addition, there is a lengthy hadith narrated by ‘Ikräsh in Sunan al-Tirmidhi. At the end of the hadith he says, “After partaking of this meal, water was brought before Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). He washed his hands and thereafter rubbed them over his face and arms. He thereafter addressed me, ‘O ‘Ikrãsh, the injunction of making wudu’ after partaking of something cooked over the fire refers to this (form of) wudu’.”27 In spite of this narration being somewhat disputed [mutakallam fih], we can still establish that the word wudu’ is not used in its technical sense but in its literal sense.
Similarly, it is narrated in Jam’ al-Fawa’id on the authority of Bazzar that Mu’adh was asked, “Do you perform wudu’ after partaking of something cooked over the fire?” He replied, “We wash our hands and mouth after meals and interpret it as wudu”28 For this reason, all four of the Imams have unanimously agreed that the narrations which mention (the obligation of performing) wudu’ after eating something cooked over the fire refers to wudu’ in its literal sense (i.e. just washing the hands and mouth). Otherwise such an injunction could have been abrogated. Likewise, on one occasion, ‘Ali washed a few parts (of those normally washed during wudü’) of his body. Thereafter, he commenced, “‘This is the wudu’ of one whose wudu’ is still intact.” Therefore, washing only a few parts of the body is not referred to as wudu’ in the technical sense.
These are just a few examples where the word “wudu’” is not used in its technical sense. My aim in presenting these examples is to show that the word “wudu’” and other words have been utilized in their literal as well as their technical sense. From this, one can understand the principle cause of differences as well. Quite frequently, certain narrators will consider the word wudu’ in a certain hadith in its technical sense, and they will most probably add an explanation like “wudü’ such as wudü’ for salat.”29 This is to ensure that no doubt remains and those listening are not left in any confusion. On the other hand, if the word wudu’ is not intended in its technical sense but in its literal sense, a narrator will most probably explain that it refers to the washing of the mouth and hands, etc. This is explained in order to avoid confusion. It is now clear that differences among the narrations are bound to occur. Differences among the Companions [sahaba] and Followers [tabi’in] will consequently bring about differences among the jurists [fuqaha] as well. This is why, initially, there were differences over whether or not the consumption of anything cooked over the fire nullifies the ablution [wudu’]. However, since there were relatively very few narrations supporting its nullification in the latter times, all four Imams unanimously agreed that the ablution would not be nullified by eating something cooked over a fire.
There are many other issues on which the Imams [‘ulama’] and their followers disagree. One example is, the issue of whether touching private parts nullifies the wudü’ or not. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, ‘whosoever touches his private parts should perform wudu’”. The Companions, Followers, and the Imams have all differed as to the type of wudu’ required. According to some of them, the hadith is referring to wudu’ in its technical sense, while some of them assert that it refers to the literal meaning of the word. Similarly, they have differed the meaning of the word “touch” in the aforementioned hadith. Some of them say that the word “touch” refers to its literal meaning. Others say that the word “touch” refers to passing urine, because one normally touches one’s private part to cleanse it after urinating. Similarly they have differed on the status of the wudu’ demanded by this hadith. According to some of the jurists, wudu’ is compulsory [wajib], while others regard this wudu’ as preferable [mustahab].This will be explained in further detail in the next chapter.
Of similar nature is a hadith in which Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) says, “The salat is broken if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of a person performing salat” Some jurists take this hadith literally. According to them, the salat is technically nullified if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of one who is praying. However, according to other Companions and jurists, there is no relationship between the breaking of the salat and the passing of one of these three. Therefore, it cannot be in taken in its literal sense. To them, the breaking of the salat refers to the breaking of one’s concentration in the salat. There are not one or two, but scores of facts that affirm this second meaning. They are explained in their respective places (i.e. in books of hadith commentary). We have omitted them here for the sake of brevity.
Different Types Of Injunctions
The eighth reason for contradictory narrations is closely related to the seventh, and some aspects of it have already been alluded to in the previous chapter. In every language we find that there are various types of injunctions. Thus, when Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued a certain command, some people considered it so be compulsory i.e. they believed in its compulsion [wujub] A second group considered it a preferable and virtuous action, while a third group regarded the injunction as merely giving permission (to perform that action).
An example of this is the hadith which commands us to put water into the nostrils while performing wudu’. Taking the obvious and apparent meaning into account, some people regard this as compulsory [wajib], whereas another group consider it preferable, judging from other factors. Similar in nature is another hadith which makes mention of washing the hands after waking up, before making wudu’ According to some people, the apparent meaning of the hadith is taken, and it is compulsory to wash the hands at that time. However, another group asserts that this is preferable [sunna] to wash them. In actual fact, the reason for the differences of narrations is a long issue indeed. ‘This matter can only be reconciled by a jurist [faqih] or mujtahid because wherever there is a single command, every individual is compelled to view other commands and injunctions as well. This is necessary to enable him to ascertain rise status of that individual command.
If one hadith makes mention of reciting the “tashahhud” [prayer recited in the sitting posture of salat] while sitting, another hadith says, “Kill the snake and scorpion (if they appear before you) while performing salat”. Obviously both hadiths can not be of the same status. This is why even the Imams have differed over whether this injunction is compulsory, preferable, or merely a meritorious act. Similarly the Imams have differed as to whether the injunctions pertaining to the takbir of salat or the injunction regarding the tasbih of ruku’ and sujud, etc., are compulsory or merely preferable. With diligence and perseverance, all the Imams have differentiated between all of these apparently contradictory narrations, keeping in the hadiths, the actions of the Companions, and the principles of jurisprudence [fiqh]. Thereafter, they applied every injunction to the correct occasion. This is a clear indication of the indispensability of mujtahid and the necessity of adhering to a particular school thought.
Mere recitation of a translation of Sahih al-Bukhari will not enable one to determine whether a certain injunction is compulsory, optional or permissible. This is why the scholars of hadith have instituted the study of the principles of Qur’an, hadith, and jurisprudence [fiqh] as a prerequisite to the actual science of Qur’an and hadith. This will enable the mujtahid to become conscious of the various categories of Qur’anic verses such as the general [‘amm], specified [khass], ambivalent [majmal], unequivocal [mufassar], perspicuous [muhkam], interpreted [mu’awwal], abrogator [nashikh], abrogated [mansukh] etc. In addition, he should be aware of the various categories of hadith such as the continuously recurrent [mutawatir], non-continuously recurrent [ghayr mutawatir], those attributed directly to the Messenger (PBUH) by a Follower without mention of the Companion in between [mursal] continuous [mutassil], rigorously authenticated [sahih], defective [mu’allal], weak [da’if], etc. He should also be aware of the status of the narrators of the hadiths, and should be well versed in lexicography and grammar. The statements of the Comparisons and the Followers, their differences, and their unanimous decisions should also be studied carefully. Apart from this, the mujtahid should be well acquainted with the types and categories of deduction, analogy, and logical reasoning [qiyas].
An Injunction To Sharpen The Mind
On some occasions, the Messenger of Allah issued certain injunctions merely to sharpen the minds of his people. In other words, he wanted the people to contemplate over the injunctions he issued to them. For example, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) saw a person performing salat while his lower garment was suspended below his ankles. He instructed the man to repeat not only his salat but his wudu’ as well. 30 On another occasion, a person performed his salat very haphazardly and in extreme haste. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to repeat his salat, saying his salat was not valid. He repeated his salat but once again, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) ordered him to go and repeat his salat. After this happened a third time and his salat was still considered invalid, the person submitted, “Please explain to me. I am unable to comprehend what is required of me.” Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) then explained to him of the repose and tranquility required in his salat.31
Differences are bound to occur over incidents such as these because every individual who was present in such a gathering will reinterpret these commands differently. Although there are very few examples of this nature in the books of hadith, they do form the basis of some of the differences in narrations.
Affectionate Injunctions Vs Cautionary Injunctions
Allah‘s Messenger (PBUH) was not only the Prophet of the entire community, he was also a physical doctor for the masses, a spiritual doctor to his lovers, and a leader to his people. On the one hand, he was more affectionate than parents to a child, though he was also more efficient than an ordinary teacher and mentor in the field of spiritual nurturing and upbringing. Just as it is possible to find injunctions issued by the Messenger in an affectionate tone, one will also come across many injunctions which were issued as stern warnings and reprimands. This is something about which there can not be any shadow of doubt; it is a clear truth exposed to everyone. Many injunctions of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) in spite of being issued in one context are bound to be confused with injunctions issued from the opposite context. These factors are such that each one of them can become an individual reason for the vast differences of narrations, but our discussion is becoming inadvertently lengthy. Owing to the possible frustration of the reader, which is a consequence of lengthy discussions, I have incorporated all those reasons into one. I will terminate this discussion concisely together with a few examples.
Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) instructed a woman suffering from dysfunctional uterine bleeding [mustahada] to take a single bath for Zuhr and ‘Asr prayer, another bath for Maghrib and ‘Isha prayer, and another bath for the Fajr prayer. The Scholars have differed as to whether this type of bathing is a form of religious injunction or whether it is a form of medical treatment to combat the illness.32
Similarly, one hadith mentions the compulsion of wudu’ after touching the private parts, while another hadith says the private parts are merely a piece of the flesh of one’s body. Therefore, according to this hadith, just as wudu’ is not compulsory after touching any other part of the body, it is not compulsory after touching the private parts. ‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) explains this contradiction thus: “The non-compulsion of wudü’ is for the masses only, while its compulsion is confined to the leaders of the Umma.” Likewise, some narrations inform us that touching a woman invalidates the wudu’ while we deduce from other narrations that the wudu’ remains intact. There are conflicting opinions of the scholars in this regard and they obviously, for various conflicting reasons, either awarded preference to one narration over the other, or they established a compromise between she two conflicting narrations. ‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) correlated between these two hadiths in the method demonstrated above. He ruled that the first hadith applies to the leaders while the second is for the general masses. In one battle, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “Whoever kills a non- Muslim on the battlefield is entitled to the goods in the possession of the non-Muslim.” According to some scholars, this injunction is more of a political or diplomatic nature than a religious injunction. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) issued this statement as a king would issue a royal statement. Hence, if the leader of the Muslim army wishes to issue such a statement, he may do so if he feels it is expedient. Conversely, some scholars assert that this was a religious injunction. They argue that it will always be applicable and can not be subjected to the discretion of the leader. There are thousands of hadiths dealing with jihad which are perfect examples of the differences in narrations.
In addition, there are many narrations which prohibit his companions from certain farming arrangements. This prohibition stems from the Messenger of Allah’s affection toward the farm laborers. (This prohibition is not general, since most forms of farming are permitted in the Shari‘a.) In a similar vein, many people were prevented from excessive fasting on grounds of the Messenger of Allah’s affection for them. ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr reports that Allah’s Messenger once told him, “I have been informed that you fast daily and you observe optional [nafl] prayer throughout the night.” He replied, “This is indeed the case.” Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) thereupon said, “Do not do this. You should fast on certain days and refrain on certain days. You should perform salat during a portion of the night and sleep during a portion of it as well. Your body also has a right over you. If you continue doing as I advised you, you will nor get tired Your family also has a right over you. Set aside some time for them during the day and night. Your friends, relatives and visitors also have a right over you. Therefore fasting only three days a month and completing the recitation of the Holy Qur’an only once every month will suffice for you.”
Abdullah replied, “Oh Messenger of Allah! I can massage more than that.” Following repeated requests, the Messenger of Allah finally relented and said, “Fine! I will permit you no more than the fast of Dawud: You may fast every alternate day and no more. Also you are prohibited From completing the Holy Qur’an once every seven days.”33 This hadith has been transmitted with slight variations in its text in the various books of hadith. According to the version mentioned in the Mishkat al-Masabih on the authority of Imam Bukhari, the hadith prohibits perpetual fasting. At the end of the narration, what else save affection for ‘Abdullah had prompted Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) to permit him to fast the fast of Dawud (i.e. to fast every alternate day)? This is why ‘Abdullah used to lament in his old and feeble age, ‘If only I had taken heed of the advice of Allah’s Messenger.”34
There are many other hadiths which were conveyed as threats or admonishments. For example, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “There no fast for one who observes perpetual fasting [sawm al-dahr].”35 According to some scholars, this hadith is more of an admonishment to abstain from perpetual fasting. It does not mean that (one who does this) will not be rewarded for it, or that his fasting is null and void. Likewise, Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) cautions, “A believer [mu’min] does not remain a believer while he is committing adultery nor does he remain a believer while he is stealing” 36 Of a similar nature is the hadith wherein Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) says, “Whosoever consumes alcohol, his salat is not accepted for forty days.”37
The aforementioned reasons for the differences of narrations were merely mentioned as examples. This category (of differences) is not confined to these examples only. All I wish to prove at this juncture is that the basis for which these differences came about is indispensable. All the reasons for the differences cannot be accommodated in this brief assignment nor, due to my helplessness, do I wish to cover them all. The objective of this assignment has been achieved up to a certain degree, in that the apparent contradictions in the statements of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) are all explainable. From among the many reasons for these differences, some have been explained above as examples.
At this point, I would like to discuss other reasons for these differences which surfaced in the era of the Companions, and the consequent differences that appeared. I will also present a few examples from these eras. Before I go further, though, I would like to bring up an unfounded objection (which normally comes up) at this juncture.
Two Categories Of Laws
An objection which normally appears at this juncture is this: since Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) was sent to this world to convey injunctions of Islamic law [Shari ‘a], and this was a primary reason for his advent, why did he not convey all the injunctions of Shari ‘a in complete detail during his lifetime? This would have averted the confusion and anxiety of contradictory narrations and other such issues. On the outside, this objection looks quite clear-cut and sensible, but in reality it is unfounded and baseless. This objection stems from a lack of insight into the laws of Shari ‘a. In actual fact it is due to an intense degree of affection toward this Umma that Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not regulate and gather all of the by-laws of the Shari’a, since this would have caused hardships to the Umma. Instead, he divided the laws of the Shari’a into two categories: a set of laws in which contemplation, deliberation and discussion has been abhorred, and a second set of laws in which differences of opinions have been declared a source of Allah’s mercy. Thus, every action, even if the action is incorrect, can potentially earn the reward of Allah, provided that the error is not due to one’s negligence.
In essence, the Shari’a has divided all the laws into two basic categories: the definitive [qat’i] and the speculative [zanni]. Qat’i is a reference to those laws which are not left to the intellectual capabilities of man. They are all explicit, definitive, and unequivocal, and man has no right to reinterpret or to re-expound these laws. Anyone reinterpreting these laws is in error and would be considered misguided. The second set of laws is such that the Shari’a has placed no constraints upon them. In fact, this set of laws has taken into account the weakness of the Umma and is intended to make things simpler for the people. The one who reinterprets these laws differently and does not practice them will not be considered misguided. The first set of laws is referred to as fundamental beliefs [i’tiqadat], while the second set is referred to as by-laws or derived laws [juz’iyyat or far’iyyat]. Under the category of by-laws, the Shari’a did not place any constraints. If all the fundamentals, compulsions, etc., were explained in complete detail by Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) , everything in this category would have also been incorporated in the first category. This would have consequently placed hardships on the Umma. Plus, even if this was the case, it would still have been extremely difficult to preserve these laws from differences of opinion.
Differences would still have occurred because all statements constituting the by-Laws of Shari’a are issued through the medium of words. Words are multi-facetted and can have multiple interpretations. Hence, the Shari’a has divided the laws into the two categories of fundamentals and by-laws, and made it strictly prohibited to debate on the first category as is evident from the following verse: Allah has established for you the same religion as that which He enjoined upon Nuh, and that which We had revealed to you and that which We have enjoined upon lbrahim, Musa and ‘Isa; namely that you should remain steadier in religion and make no divisions therein. (Surat al-Shura 42,13).
This verse sternly prohibits any debate in religion [din] with regard to the first category of injunctions. However, differences in the second category are considered a source of mercy upon mankind. This is why there has been no prohibition on this type of debate and differences, as evident from the scores of incidents which occurred during the blessed era of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). I will present just two examples of this nature. In one example, Imam Nisai (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates on the authority of Tariq an incident of two Companions who were both in need of a compulsory bath [ghusl]. Due to a lack of water, one of them refrained completely from performing salat while the other performed tayammum [dry ablution]. On their return to Allah’s Messenger, he approved both of their actions.38 Similarly, on another occasion, the Messenger of Allah commanded a group of Companions to perform their ‘Asr prayer at the dwellings of Banü Qurayza. Some of them took the command to perform the ‘Asr prayer at Banü
Qurayza literally and acted accordingly. Even though their salat was delayed from its actual time, they nonetheless executed what they felt was the meaning of the command issued to them by Allah’s Messenger (PBUH). However, another group regarded this as a command to reach Banu Qurayza in haste (i.e. by ‘Asr time). Hence, they performed their Asr salat at its proper time, en-route to Banü Qurayza. Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) did not object to the actions of either of the two groups.39 This incident is mentioned in detail in Sahih al-Bukhari. There are numerous other incidents of this nature.
Fundamental And Subsidiary Differences
In short, there is a vast distinction between fundamental differences and secondary differences. Those who consider these secondary differences equal to the fundamental differences and apply the Qur’anic verses and hadiths about the evil of differences to these secondary differences are either ignorant or fooled into believing otherwise. There is no doubt that the Shari’a has placed great ease and flexibility on these secondary differences. If this was not the case, the Umma would have been encumbered with difficulties beyond their endurance. This was one of the reasons why Imam Milik (may Allah be pleased with him) declined to comply with Caliph Harün al-Rashid’s request for him to hang a copy of his Muwatta’ upon the wall of the Ka’ba and issue a command for everyone to adhere to it, in order to ensure that people did not differ over religious [dini] matters. Imam Malik was requested repeatedly to do this but he emphatically refused each time and declared: The Companions also differed in subsidiary issues and all of them were considered to be correct. Their statements and schools of thought are practiced throughout the world and there is no sense in prohibiting the people from other schools of thought.
Similarly, when Caliph Mansur went for hajj, he requested Imam Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) to give him a copy of all his works so that he (Mansur) could have them published and dispatched to all the parts of the Islamic world. Mansur wanted all the Muslims to adhere to uniform code of Islamic law. Imam Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) replied, O leader of the faithful! Do not ever think of doing this. The people have in their possession the hadiths and the statements of the Companions which they are adhering to. Allow them to continue accordingly.
Differences: A Source Of Mercy
This is a desired objective of the statement of Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) wherein he says, “The differences of my Umma are a source of mercy,” The fact that these differences of opinion area source of mercy is quite obvious.
Every Imam has some difference or another on subsidiary issues of Shari’a. In addition, it is permissible to issue a religious verdict (fatwa) according to the school of thought of another Imam provided there is a legal and juridical (shar’i) need to do so. However if there were no allowances for such differences of opinion, it would not be permissible to sway from one ruling to another even if there was a dire need for it. In short, the differences of opinion found among the Imams are religiously required, and the benefits of them are manifold. Allah willing, if time assists me in my endeavors, I will mention this topic in more detail while discussing the differences of opinion of the third era. It is not my objective of discussion at this point. Those who have some inclination toward jurisprudence [fiqhi] will surely understand the aforementioned benefits of the differences of opinion.
Prejudice toward any School
‘Allama Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him) writes in his book Al-Mizan, ‘If you view it with an impartial eye, you will clearly realize that all the four Imams and their followers are on the path of divine guidance. Once you have studied this carefully, you will not have objections against the followers of any of the Imams. It will be firmly impressed on your mind that all the four schools of thought are part and parcel of the Shari’a, and that the contradictory statements of the various Imams are a source of divine mercy. Allah is All-Knowing and All-Wise and His expediency demanded that things should turn out as they have become, if Allah abhorred this difference of opinion, then He would have forbidden it as He had forbidden debating on the fundamental teachings of the Shan’a. If you regard the subsidiary differences of opinion as the same as fundamental differences in religion [din], you will land yourself in an abyss of destruction because Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) concluded that differences in subsidiary issues of religion are a source of divine mercy. In actual fact, the various opinions of the Imams are all extracted from the hadiths. The only difference between the opinions of the Imams is that, where one Imam considers a certain juridical [shar’i] injunction as compulsory, another would consider the same as optional. By this statement, I am in no way implying that one is at liberty so select the opinion of whichever Imam one fancies—either the compulsory or the optional. Some students were duped into believing that this is what I meant. This is most definitely not what I mean, as it would render the entire religion a plaything. What I am saying is that each of the Imams has selected one of the two options before him.
However, whichever one they select, their followers are bound to adhere to it. Whatever I have mentioned about the Imams I have not said simply because I cherish favorable thoughts about them. On the contrary, I have established good thoughts toward them as a result of extensive research into their opinions, deductions, inferences, and corroborating statements. Whoever does not believe me should study my book, Al-Manhaj al-mubin fi adillat al-mujtahidin [Clear Way in the Proofs of the Mujtahids}. I have assembled all the corroborating statements of the various Imams in that book and, consequently, established that they were all divinely guided.
The fact of the matter is that as long as one does not cross all the stations of the spiritual path (suluk) through the companionship and direction of an accomplished spiritual guide [shaykh kamil], the complete reality of this, as it should be understood, will not be exposed to him. Hence, if you wish to savor its taste, you should also proceed to an accomplished spiritual guide and exert yourself in order to acquire the reality of these metters. This is not a fabrication from myself, but an established reality confirmed by the statements of the learned elders [masha’ikh].’ Shaykhh Muhyi ‘l-Din ibn ‘Arabi writes in his book Futuhat al-Makkiyya, “When a person is bound to a particular school of thought and he also progresses in the field of spirituality at the very summit he reaches a sea (of consciousness) through which all the Imams have passed. At that time a person realizes that all the schools of thought are on the right path. This can be likened to a Prophet who, once he receives divine revelation [wahy], has a good view of all the other religions as well.’
This priceless treatise of Imam Sha’rani (may Allah be pleased with him), which runs into almost a hundred pages, is worth writing in gold. His topic is extremely beneficial in fact; the entire work is worth translating. In short, what I wish to say is that the differences of opinion found among the Imams which appear to be disunity are in actual fact not disunity. Whatever their stages of differences, they are indispensable and their absence would have been a burden on the Umma. Furthermore, since their differences of opinion stem from the differences in narrations, there was a religious [dini] need so have the narrations also revealed with some amount of ambiguity. If these juridical laws were conclusively revealed like the fundamental tenets of faith, there would be no scope for the Imams to have any differences. In that case, any debate of the Imams would have been a source of misguidance and the lack of debate would have caused untold hardship to the community at large. Nonetheless, this does not mean that a person is at liberty to infer and draw conclusions from the texts of the Qur’an or hadiths according to his own understanding, as this would lead him astray. Such a difference of opinion is not sound. The only difference of opinion which is reputable is that which is subjected to judicial [shari’] maxims and principles. For instance, in the incident which dealt with bathing when in a seminally defiled state [janaba], Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) considered the actions of those who had speculated based to their own understanding as ignorance.