o When we consider the issue of the Shia’s claims for their ‘Infallible Imaams’, we Sunnis would consider the matter as follows: If all of the issues (and we mean all, from beginning until the end) really go back to the ‘Infallible Imaam’, then this is something that would elicit more investigation. But if at any point the ‘critical path’ is broken, it is clear that the Imaamah theory is not sound to begin with.
o And one very simple consideration would show the unsoundness of this doctrine: We are told by the Shias that the Holy Qur’an can only be properly understood and explained by recourse to the interpretation of the ‘Infallible Imaam’. We understand the issue up to here. But when the narrations of the Imaams are in conflict with one another, or whenever there seems to be something contradictory to the Qur’an, we are told that the purported narration is to be thrown away and the Qur’an is to be taken up.
o Now, there are many problems with this explanation. The first one is that it leads to clear circular reasoning. How would we know that the supposed narration from the Imaam, which seems to be in contradiction to the text of the Qur’an, is actually not an interpretation that is setting out a linguistic context contrary to what would reach the mind at a first reading of the Qur’an. For example, there are certain Verses of the Qur’an, where we see that certain particles have been altogether elided, but it is very much understood that they are present in the meaning itself – one well-known example being the (part of the Verse): قَالُواْ تَٱللَّهِ تَفْتَأُ تَذْكُرُ يُوسُفَ حَتَّىٰ تَكُونَ حَرَضاً أَوْ تَكُونَ مِنَ ٱلْهَـٰلِكِينَ. Here we see that the particle of negation is implicit even though it is not in the text.
o So in an analogous manner, simply saying that whatever goes against the Qur’an is to be rejected is a very simplistic way of handling the manner, and it seems to be a connection that the Twelver Shias had with the Mu’tazila sect with regards to their handling of Ahadeeth, the only issue being that the Twelvers were ill-prepared to graft this Mu’tazilite method onto their own consideration of Hadeeth literature.
o A number of people say that they feel sad and bitter when they notice that their children have mastered ways to deceive their parents, and have learned to lie as if it was second nature to them. But the way I see it at least, is that there is no reason for sadness and bitterness from the parents at this very late stage of their child’s life, when today’s schools are truly breeding grounds for many evils.
o I am not making any definitive comments about specific persons, but it seems like many parents are even internally pleased that their children are picking up these habits, for how many times do we notice that the ‘real world’ is characterized by outright lying, various types of deception, backstabbing, lack of concern for others, an other negative personal qualities? So we cannot be so shocked or unpleasantly surprised at this turn of events, when many of us participate in a system that rewards such lying and deception, and we (at least subliminally) pass on these qualities to the next generation. So we have to be careful about this, and see what do we really wish for ourselves and our children.
o The science of Tassawwuf, just like the science of Fiqh or the like, does need occasional recalibration, since it is something connected to the hearts of the people, and it is clear that the hearts of the people today are very different from the hearts of people of earlier generations. But one important point is that we should be careful not to blindly attack the person of Tassawwuf without first seeing what is the method he is using – it would never occur to anyone to blindly attack a Shaykh or Mufti that gives a wrong Fatwa, simply because he gave the wrong Fatwa, but the way of the Muslims between themselves specially is the way of giving good Naseeha and to avoid vituperations as much as possible.
o When discussing with deviants (and by extension, certain of the non-Muslims who are open to discussion), one has to have enough knowledge of the texts of Islam plus the texts (or sciences) that are held in esteem by the opponent, so much so that by his knowledge of all these different texts and nuances within the sciences, he will be able to derive a particular, personal ‘initial method’, plus he will be able to modify it as needed for the particular person he is speaking with. It is very important in here to mention that this is something not apt for everyone, since not everyone has the time or mentality to engage with texts on various levels, and to deduce that the opponent is using a certain strand of argumentation whenever he brings up a point – but this is the simplest way to explain the matter; that is spite of the zeal many of us Da’wah workers have in presenting Islam and trying to bring people into the fold of Islam, the harsh truth is that many of us may overstep the boundaries of our expertise at times, or we may not even have any expertise to begin with. So this is a call for all of us to step back, stop arguing so much with this group and that group, with this person and that person, and start being students of the religion first and foremost, and then see where to go from there.
o A number of things to be seen from the Hadeeth (which is normally translated as): ‘The best generation is my generation…’. It does not mean that every single person or statement of this generation is better that every single person or stamen of the following generations [i.e. it is not so specific down to the person]. And more importantly, it does not imply either that every thing that has been said in the latter generations is to be summarily dismissed, since the rule in Islam is that the truth is something that remains within the Muslim community across the ages and across the generations, and if someone of the latter times gives the truth a formulation/articulation that is good, proper, and necessary for the times, then benefit may be derived from this, since it is only an enunciation of the truth that is already within the Ummah, not a totally new set of doctrines or practices contradicting what was known in the era of the Salaf.
o Thus, this is why even the modern-day ‘Salafis’ say that they have taken their Ahaadeeth from the books of Imaams Bukhari and Muslim, even though these Imaams came some time after the first generation of Muslims, and their method for authenticating Ahaadeeth may have been unknown in the first generation of Muslims in that exact shape and form.
o And again, we must consider that if there is something that was said in the first generation of Islam [as a ‘Madhab’ so as to say], but it did not reach the level of an Ijmaa’, then it is not something that must necessarily be adhered to by the latter-day scholars. In such cases, there is some leeway in what may be adhered to by the experts in Islamic fundamentals and law, and it is not something detestable to reach another conclusion. However, what is detestable is for someone to say that one necessarily has to follow this saying or ruling only because it was said by one of the Salaf, even though there is no consensus upon the necessity of this saying in and of itself.
o It is indeed very strange that we have certain people amongst our Ummah today who say that since Kalaam is itself not allowed, they will not even consider the obvious fact that two mutually contradictory propositions cannot be simultaneously true. For how can such a person even have the temerity to say that this ‘rule’ of his is part of the ‘Islam of the Salaf’, when the joining of contradictions is something that even animals do not accept in their day-to-day lives, let alone human beings – so how far removed is the time and environment of the Prophet (SAW) and the Companions from this saying. And this shows that always, we should step back and not consider that we are arguing with an opponent of ours, but rather see what is he actually saying: We are trying to reach the truth in our discussions, not blindly say something in retaliation to our opponent. To Allah is our plea in this and in all cases.
o The Salaf never said that Allah is constrained to a certain place to the exclusion of others, they never said that Allah has events occur in His ‘Dhat’, so it is indeed strange that some people say that the modern-day ‘Salafis’ have snatched away this term for themselves, since one can snatch or rob that which the other party has, and it is clear that the true early Salaf never had these sorts of beliefs.
o It is obvious that there are two roads to take in seeing the correctness of any narration, one of them is with respect to the chain of narrators, and the second one is with respect to the content of the narration itself. Whenever we find that the authenticity of the chain is agreed upon, then there is no way to deny its correctness from this angle, but we must remember that if there is some scholarly difference of opinion, there is some leeway in this regard, and it is not correct for one side to force or coerce the other side into accepting his own conclusions, since each side (or each scholar) has his own rules for determining this matter.
o And the same goes for the consideration of the text of the Ahadeeth, for when the Mujtahid ‘Ulamaa can give a proper and acceptable meaning to a narration that seems, on the outside, to be against the principles of Islam, then no one can force the person to reject that Hadeeth when understood with that particular interpretation. Again, it is very important to keep in mind that this is something left to the study and conclusion of the scholars, not to any bumbling semi-student of the religion.
o There is some analogy in here between the Saheeh Ahaadeth that seem on the outside to be conveying an incorrect meaning, and the Verses of the Qur’an that mention ‘Yad’, ‘Wajh’, ‘Maji’’ and so forth, except that the need to interpret the Verses of the Qur’an in a way that is concomitant to the Exalted status of Allah is higher, since the Qur’an is Mutaawaatir in its text, while many of the Saheeh Ahaadeeth under discussion are solitary reports and are not taken as conclusive proofs in the religion. Obviously, passing over the text as it appears is the way of the Salaf and a portion of the Khalaf, but we are talking about the case when necessity forces one to move the lay Muslims away from interpretations that attribute to Allah that which does not befit Him. So we have to keep in mind the intention and situation in which the scholars say what they say, not just make our own assumptions without any background information. Anyway, the bigger point in this is that one should put the interpretation above the urge to simply reject the narration, since this latter option is not proper for the rank of the texts under consideration.
o And this sometimes went all the way to the point where some of the ‘Ulamaa gave a probable interpretation to some of the narrations that were in fact less that authentic, and the reason for this was to ward off any possible doubt that might creep into the minds of the readers.
o One issue that seems strange, at least for me, is that certain quarters say that one must necessarily take the literal meaning of the Verses and Ahaadeeth that seem to be propounding Tajseem (on the ‘Dhaahir’, that is), or the meaning that was given to these texts by the translators of the books they have in their hands. And this is something strange, since a translation is by default a type of interpretation of what that word means within a context, and especially in Arabic, where one word can easily have tens of meanings, all of them still being ‘truly literal’. Even when they say ‘truly literal’, even in Arabic, they are still making an interpretation of this word and making Ta’weel of it, even though they may not be realizing this reality
o As an example in English of this, we see that one can say that ‘this table is long’ or ‘this night is long’, but it is obvious that the parameters of each length are quite different one from the other. This is why if someone uses hours as the unit for the table and centimeters as the unit for the night, he will be termed a simple fool who does not understand how the world works at all. If this is the case with a simple table and a simple night or day, then how do people just talk left and right about what the Qur’an means when it uses certain words about Allah the Exalted? And that too in many cases, only by reading the translation, while those who have a right to say what some of these Verses might signify should have knowledge in the Arabic language, and in the principles related to the fundamentals and the ancillaries of the religion.
o And it seems to me that this dimwittedness that we see from certain people in something that our enemies from among the non-Muslim cannot gloat enough about, since they always hope for the Muslim nation to become more downtrodden and more backward; there is nothing more backward than a people holding inappropriate thoughts about Allah the Exalted, and attributing to Him that which is impossible.
o Thus, in the case of the phrase ‘Ya’tiyahimu Allah’ in the Hadeeth of Suura (lit. ‘Form’) (this phrase translated literally as: ‘Allah will come to them’), it may be a figurative indication of the people seeing Allah, as it is customary for those who do not come not to be been; or it could be one of the actions of Allah which He has termed ‘I’tiyaan’; or it could be an indication to the coming of His angels, and this is something preferred by some of the ‘Ulamaa, taking into consideration the mentioning of forms, etc.
o So the important thing from the interpretation of this narration is that one should not be quick to judge the narration as false, especially when its chain is correct, but rather leave the matter to those who are mindful and aware of the Hadeeth in question and how it relates with the rules and fundamentals of Islam.
o Of course, one important thing to mention in here is that the reason why we put so much emphasis on interpreting that which is correctly reported from the Prophet (SAW) is due to our total conviction of his inerrancy in his reporting of the Qur’an and the Ahadeeth – even though solitary reports are in their own selves only probabilistic sources of knowledge.
o This fact is important when we consider how to interpret sayings of those who are not infallible (i.e. the Muslim community at large, and what we see of the arguments about wht certain ‘Ulaamaa or ‘Awliyaa may have said); for some of the Muhaqeeqeen said that one should stick to the ‘Thaahir’ (apparent literality) of what is reported from them, since they are not divinely protected from making mistakes, while others said that we should have the best supposition concerning scholars and those close to Allah, since they would not wish to utter anything that leads to problems in their Imaan. Whichever of these two roads is taken, they may lead to a different result at times, but this is not an issue, since we are talking about a practical matter. (One last point in here is that the context of the Muslim’s words is important to keep in mind, so we should never forget or dismiss this point at all).
o Coming back to the issue of Imaams Bukhaari and Muslim (RA), we know that there were some personalities from among the Muhadetheen who did not agree with them, but this is within a known and closed boundary, so whoever wishes to go against any authentic narration collected by these Imaams has to keep this in mind, for otherwise the issue is not only that the person is going against Bukhari and Muslim, but also against the majority of the scholars who did accept their methods and did accept their conclusions.
o One important point that has to be reiterated about the difference between Taqleed in Fiqh, and Taqleed in ‘Aqeedah: There is a well-known phrase which says that ‘Every Mujtahid is correct’, but this is connected only to the probabilistic matters in the science of Fiqh, so as to give the laity the peace of mind that they will not be held accountable if the Mujtahid they have followed makes an error in his Fiqhi conclusions. And this is also said because Allah has veiled the absolute conclusion about certain things from us, and he will not call us into question for not having deduced the correct answer [whether directly when referring to the Mujtahid, or indirectly when referring to the follower].
o But, those who exercise themselves in concluding matters of Tawheed, or of the Usool of the religion and they do not hit the mark, then they are not excused; and the laity is definitely not allowed to follow them – the Ahl us Sunnah has expressed that such people are guilty of Bid’ah at the very least, if not more [of course, this ‘more’ depends on the level of misguidance, and differs from sect to sect and person to person]. And one point we need to mention is that if the lay person is not allowed to follow this ‘wrong Mujtahid’ in Fiqh, then the disallowance is even greater when it comes to Aqeedah and the Usool of Islam.
o The next point is with regards to those sayings within the Ahl us Sunnah, but which are in the minority. The proper approach is to teach the students the saying that is in the majority; but if the teacher has through his own study reached the minority opinion, and is able to independently defend it, then there is no problem in teaching others this minority opinion, and providing evidences as the situation demands it.
o Next is the issue surrounding one of the famous books of Imaam al-Ash’ari (RA), by means of which certain people say that he left his initial position and ‘joined the Madhab of the Salaf’; this has made certain people say that perhaps the books of al-Ash’ari (RA) have been widely tampered, and this is why we see a number of things in it that seem to be in accordance with modern-day ‘Salafi’ beliefs.
o Now, keeping in mind that we do not accept their characterization of the Salaf, we need to first say that there are no grounds for saying that the books of Imam al-Ash’ari (RA) have been completely tampered, but we also need to make clear that in these very books of the Imam (RA) there are exact quotes that clearly refute the position of anthropomorphism, so there is really nothing for the opponents to truly stand on if the works of al-Ash’ari (RA) are taken as a whole. It is simply that sometimes, a reader may imagine a certain meaning from their own understanding, while this is not the true meaning intended by the original author.
o In this regard, we have to keep in mind two types of ‘Tahreef’: One of them is that which takes place in the books themselves, and another is the one that is the result of malicious tongues and pens attributing things to the ‘Ulamaa, but which the ‘Ulamaa never said in the first place. And it is from this last group that we have to be even more careful many a times, since there were and are individuals from among the Shias, the Dhaahiris (Ibn Hazm being the famous example), or the so-called ‘Salafis’ who have taken liberties in attributing to al-Ash’ari (RA) and to the Asharites in general that which does not really belong to them – such as the claim of sophistry, the rejection of the fundamental principles of knowledge, or the attribution of the saying of severance of Prophethood, and other similar things.
o One of the things personally think, and I may be corrected if I am wrong, is that the enmity that Ibn Hazm had against certain of the traditional Sunni Ulamaa’ is something that we need to consider in more detail (and perhaps should be a separate subject for research), since in many of today’s works, articles, etc., we see Ibn Hazm being quoted as a traditional Sunni reference, even though his dislike of the Ash’ari way and of its interlocutors is known and recorded.
o And another point we must keep in mind is that if the opponent of the Ash’aris comes forth and spreads out an accusation, it is not that we summarily dismiss him without considering the evidence. Rather, we see how his text or other evidence compares with the well-established works of the Imam in question, and also how it compares with the books written by his students, those who directly learnt this Aqeedah in a formal setting, etc. Of course, it is very much possible that the claim of the opponent has some portion of truth in it after all, but it needs proper investigation for us to reach this end.
o And this is something that we traditional Sunnis must consider when it comes to the discussions we have with deviants or with people of other religions. For we should be as certain as we can possibly be that whatever quote or statement we bring forth as part of the discussion is something truly said by the opponent, and we also need to be sure as to how this fits within the religious framework of our opponent.
o This is one of the reasons why I am not a big fan of public Daa’es rolling out one biblical Verse after another in presenting their points, since the context of the biblical tracts within the Christian understanding must be considered; only then can we say whether this biblical Verse is actually useful for our purposes or not. And if it is not, then there is no problem in this, as one gains experience in seeing which arguments are more valid and acceptable, an which ones should be put aside or radically modified before being presented.