WE PREVIOUSLY HAVE looked at related ḥadîth reports that appear to contradict each other due to one conveying a general ruling and the other specifying when rulings do or do not apply (see Taʿâruḍ, Reconciling Contradictory Ḥadîths).
We now turn to the guidelines worked out by Hadith scholars for removing report contradictions that arise based on what is termed al-muṭlaq wa’l-muqayyad—that is, “open and restrictively worded competing reports.”
Take the “open-worded” Zakât-related ḥadîth:
For five camels, one must give a sheep. (Musnad A ḥmad)
as compared to the “restrictive,” or “specifying” Zakât-related ḥadîth:
For five free-ranging (sa’ima) camels, one must give a sheep. (Al-Dâraqutni)
The second ḥadîth is obviously more precise and descriptive than the first by specifying free-range camels. Hence, this augments, rather than contradicts, the first report.
So one who owns five camels raised by grazing, the owner suffering no expense to feed them, is obligated to give a sheep for Zakât. One who owns five camels for which he purchased feed, or that are working camels, has no such obligation.
This example also illustrates the need for formal training when it comes to the application of Texts from the Quran or the Sunnah. One unaware that some a ḥadîth are restricted by others is likely to misapply such a ḥadîth.
General Ahadith Implying Differing Stipulations
The original state of man is intelligence. Thus, after Allah blows life into Adam and teaches him the names of created beings, “all of them,” Adam, at the command of Allah, specifies these “names” before the angels at a demonstration, the angels unknowing of the names of these things (Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:31-33). The point here is that Revelation, that is, the Quran and the Sunnah, assume human intelligence. Thus, the Quran and Sunnah do not insult the listener with over-explanation.
So, as one example, the Quran instructs the faster:
Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes clear to you as distinguished from the black thread of night….
The assumption is that the listener will not understand from this command that he or she is obligated to do so, that is, that he or she must eat and drink until dawn. Rather, he will understand that this command means it is permissible for him or her to do so.
There is never any contradiction between reason and Revelation in Islam. Each has its role. They work in tandem. No believer can view reason and Revelation in mutual opposition, for this is absurd. Our rationality establishes that a certain Text is Revelation, and our rationality (once we know something is from Allah) will not interfere with obedience to these Texts, nor (in the rational course of life) will it permit our whim to impede our obedience to it, provided our belief is intact.
It is this coupling between rationality and Revelation, and this assumption that the listener is intelligent enough to figure things out, that sometimes gives us the solution to contradictory a ḥadîth. Such is the case when it comes to two ḥadîths, both of which are general yet seem to contradict the specifications that each implies. Meaning that we attribute certain designations to one ḥadîth and other designations to the other based upon context, for we have already established that contradiction cannot exist between Texts of Revelation.
The best of my community is my generation….then shall come a people who love getting fat and who give testimony before they are asked to testify (Bukhâri).
Shall I not tell you who is the best of those who give testimony? He is the one who comes forth with his testimony before being asked for it (Muslim).
Previously (see Taʿâruḍ, Reconciling Contradictory Ḥadîths), we established that before one goes about reconciling a ḥadîth, one must first evaluate the authenticity of each ḥadîth. For if one is weak, then there is no call for reconciliation, as the weak ḥadîth cannot oppose the authentic one. Its rating as “weak” (ḍâ’îf) means it is possible that this narration is unreliable in reporting that the Prophet ﷺ said or did what it relates he said or did.
In our example, however, both ḥadîths are authentic since one is in Bukhâri and the other in Muslim, meaning that no further investigation would be necessary. If, however, the ḥadîth were not included in Bukhâri or Muslim, then one would need to investigate the judgment of the scholars on the ḥadîth, that is, on its narrators and its Text.
Still, in order to bring this evaluation of these ḥadîths to its completion, a researcher should not take them from a secondary source. He should go back to reliable editions of Bukhâri and Muslim and take them from there, as the secondary source may have a mistake or lack precision.
The Principles Applied
The first ḥadîth indicates that those who give testimony before being asked are not praiseworthy. The second states that those who give testimony before being asked are the most praiseworthy of those who give testimony.
There is no specification or restriction expressed in either of the two ḥadîths. Both are general. Thus, we infer that the first refers to those who give testimony that has specific attributes. The second refers to others who give testimony that has other particular attributes. We can infer the possible restrictions based on other Texts, their contexts, and reason. This approach to a Text of restricting a phrase to only some of those who fall under that category is known in Ḥanafî fiqh (jurisprudence) as tanwi’ (“varying,” a term that means adding variety to constituents in a homogenous group). In Shâfîʿî fiqh, it is known as tawzi’ (“allotting,” meaning assigning different specifications to members which belong to the same larger group).
Scholars research the Quran and a ḥadîth and other narrations, deriving data and principles. As a result of the application of this research and these principles, developed by the exertion of thought on the part of numerous scholars over generations, we can reconcile the two ḥadîths and others like them, as follows:
These are the lamentable traits of those giving testimony before being asked, and who are thus debased by their action:
- They give testimony even though they know they are not worthy of [reliably] testifying, meaning they lack upright character.
- They give testimony before they are asked, and had they not stepped forward, they would have never been asked, meaning their testimony in the affair at hand was harmful or undesirable.
- They are bold in meddling in affairs that they should not. This is owing to the following kinds of defects (among others):
- Disconnection from the training of, and their respect for, elders
- Lack of care for those that their testimony may harm
- Lack of reverence for justice
- Desire for fame
- Partisanship, that is, the desire to push an agenda
- Obliviousness to the weight and solemnity of testimony
Here are six commendable traits of those who give testimony before being asked and who are praiseworthy for it:
- Upright character and fear of Allah (Thus, they are worthy of giving [reliably acceptable] testimony).
- Their testimony is essential to the doing of justice (Thus, they do not hesitate and are eager to perform this duty).
- They are motivated by their fear of Allah, not by worldly gain.
- They are not afraid of what harm may afflict them in their testimony to the truth.
- They don‘t wait to be asked—[whether] out of eagerness for justice, or to avoid embarrassing—or whether, conversely, to avoid ingratiating themselves with—those who need their testimony.
- Their testimony is urgently needed, the implication being that had they waited they would certainly be asked. Alternatively, the statement may be metaphorical, meaning they are so quick and undeterred by lethargy when it comes to responding to a need that it is as if their response precedes the request.
Thus the situations and attitudes of the two types of testifiers can be understood as opposites. So the apparent contradiction of the two ḥadîth is thus removed. And Allah knows best.
It should be mentioned again that some of the divine guidance that Allah, Transcendent and Resplendent, has given us requires mental and physical exertion, for both our minds and bodies require exertion in order to remain healthy and engaged. This challenge and exertion is, especially, a means of divine reward for the scholars; the effort to reconcile [minimally specific] Texts that—to the untutored—appear contradictory is among their means of labor, labors of love, that Allah has graciously bequeathed to us.