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To start with, it should be clear that the definitive texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah cannot contradict each other. Any contradiction assumed to be found between such definitive texts is real if well looked at. Therefore, the only possible contradiction that could be found is the individually perceived contradiction which is in real sense not so. The Glorious Qur'an on its own is the direct words of Allah the Almighty, while the hadith or sunnah is that of our prophet Muhammad (PBUH) who Allah said speaks nothing out of personal whims but all he says are revelation from Allah.

Nonetheless, there are two possible contradiction that can be assumed. They are:

·        Outward contradiction: This is a situation where by the outward depict of text looks contradictory but in the real case they are not. When most of the assumed contradictictory texts are looked at carefully, they are found not to contradict one another. This is what is found in most of the authentic hadiths.

·        Real Contradiction: This is the case where contradiction is found in the real sense between different texts. In this case, the messages in the texts are themselves contradicting one another. Most cases of this are found between authentic and fabricated hadith.

However, when such contradictions are perceived, our role is to dispel the assumed contradiction. That can be done in different ways as stated by scholars. They are:

1-   By reconciling the texts. In this case, we accept them all but without abusing or twisting them and finding for them a meeting point which gives no room for contradiction. One could be elaborate and the other concise, or one explanatory to the other; or one specific and the other non specific and so on.

2-   Abrogation. A text that came to light in the later time may be abrogating that which existed before it. The time of each occurrence will thus be looked into aside the situations of occurrence to determine if abrogation is the issue or not.

3-   By giving preference (tarjih). When reconciliation and abrogation are not possible, then preference is given to some over others. In this situation, some texts are given upper hand and preference over others. However, attempts to reconcile should take priority over abrogation and then preferring.

4-   A halt. This is the last step when all the above mentioned prove abortive. In this stage, the scholar has to hold on from working with any of the evidences until he is cleared as to which is which and the real condition of the texts before he acts on any of them.

Al-Hafiz Al-Baihaqi cited from Ash-Shafi`i, using his own chain of transmission in his book Ma`rifat As-Sunan Wal Aathar:

  • If two hadiths are apparently contradicting, then we should apply them both if they can be reconciled. However, if the attempt to bring them together is impossible, then the situation can be one of the following:
  • It maybe that one of the two hadiths is abrogating and the other one is abrogated. In this case, we should apply the abrogating hadith and leave the abrogated one aside.
  • It maybe that the two hadiths are apparently contradicting each other while there is no evidence stating that one of them abrogates the other. In this case, we treat both hadiths as completely equal in their status as evidence unless one of them is more authentic, closer to the spirit of the Qur'an or the Sunnah, in more agreement with the rules known to the scholars or to the sound analogical deduction, or closer to the opinion of the majority of the Prophet's Companions. The hadith with the above characteristics definitely precedes the other hadith.

This rule is necessary for understanding the Prophetic Sunnah in the best way because the reconciling approach puts each authentic hadith in its proper context and applies it to relevant situations. This, in turn, reveals the consistency among authentic hadiths and rules out any assumption of contradiction.

The reconciling approach is limited to authentic hadiths only. We are not required to attempt to reconcile authentic hadiths with weak ones unless we choose to do so. As for fabricated hadiths and those that have no chain of transmission, there should be no attempt to reconcile them with authentic ones. Rather, the falsehood of those "hadiths" and their contradiction to the Qur'an and the Sunnah should be exposed.

A few examples to these cases are as follows:

1-   The hadith of Umm Salamah which says: "I was with the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) and his wife Maimunah (may Allah be pleased with her) was present after the verse ordering Muslim women to wear the hijab was revealed. Thereupon, came Ibn Umm Maktum (Abdullah ibn Umm Maktum). The Prophet (PBUH) addressed us saying, "Screen yourselves from him." We asked, "Messenger of Allah, is he not blind? He can neither see us nor recognize us." Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, "Are both of you blind? Don't you see him?" (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi) 

Although the above hadith is authenticated by Imam Tirmidhi, it is weak because its chain of transmitters includes Nabhan, who is not known to the authoritative scholars of Hadith except Ibn Hibban, who accredited him. The hadith prohibits women from gazing at men.

This hadith of Umm Salamah contradicts another  narrated by Aisha where she said: "I have seen the Prophet (PBUH) covering me with his upper garment while I was looking at the Abyssinians playing in the mosque" (Bukhari and Muslim). This hadith is narrated with a number of versions but their general meaning is the same.   

The other authentic hadith quoted in this regard is the one of Fatimah bint Qais, in which the Prophet (PBUH) addressed her after learning that she was irrevocably divorced:

"Spend your waiting period (`iddah) in the house of Ibn Umm Maktum, for he is a blind man and you can take off your garments without him seeing you."

 He said this after he had previously told Fatimah to spend her waiting period in the house of Umm Shuraik: "That is a woman whom my Companions visit."

Thus, the weak hadith of Umm Salamah cannot stand against the above authentic hadiths.

 

About Women Visiting Graves

An example of apparent contradiction between hadiths is seen in the hadiths related to women's visiting graves. Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) is reported to have stated, "The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) has cursed women who visit graves (excessively)." Other hadiths prohibit women from following funerals, which clearly implies prohibiting women from visiting graves as well.

On the other hand, we see other Prophetic hadiths indicating that it is permissible for women to visit graves. For example the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "I had forbidden you from visiting the graves, now visit them." (Ahmad and Al-Hakim; authenticated by Al-Albani) In another hadith, he (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Visit the graves. Verily, they remind you of death." (Muslim)

The general permissibility indicated by these two hadiths is applicable to women.

Other hadiths allowing women to visit graves are the following:

  • `A'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) is reported to have asked the Prophet about what to say upon visiting the graves. He replied,

"Say: peace be upon you, O people of the dwellings, believers and Muslims. May Allah show mercy towards the dead and the alive from us, and in sha' Allah we will join you." (Musim, An-Nasa'i and Ahmad)

  • Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) once passed by a woman crying at a grave. He said to her, "Fear Allah and be patient." She said, "Leave me alone, for you have not had a calamity like mine."

She did not know that she is speaking to the Prophet. Subsequently, she was told that she was talking to the Prophet. She went to him at his place where she found no door-keepers. She said, "I did not know you." He said, "Real patience is that shown at the first shock." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Thus, what the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) disapproved was the woman's failure to be patient, not her visit to the grave. It is also reported that Fatimah, the daughter of the Prophet (may Allah be pleased with her), used to visit the grave of her uncle Hamzah (may Allah be pleased with him) every Friday supplicating for him and crying there (Al-Hakim, cited by Ash-Shawkani in his Nail Al-Awtar).

Although the above hadiths allowing women to visit graves are more authentic and larger in number than the hadiths prohibiting the same, reconciling the two types of hadiths is possible. Imam Al-Qurtubi stated the following:

The "curse" referred to in the hadith [narrated by Abu Hurairah] is limited to those women who visit graves excessively. This is clearly indicated by the use of the Arabic word zawwarat (a hyperbolic form that denotes excessive visiting) in the hadith.

The reason for this curse may be that such excessive and frequent visits can lead a woman to abandon her marital duties, or cause her to dress improperly, or make her wail at the grave, etc. It can be said that if all the above violations are avoided, then women are permitted to visit graves, as remembering death is something both men and women need.

Commenting on Al-Qurtubi's opinion, Imam Ash-Shawkani stated that this is the approach to be followed concerning the apparently contradictory hadiths narrated on the question at hand.

If it is impossible to reconcile hadiths with apparent contradiction, then preferring one hadith over others with the tools mentioned by the authoritative scholars of Hadith is to be resorted to. Imam As-Suyuti mentioned more than one hundred tools of tarjih in his book Tadreeb Ar-Rawi `Ala Taqreeb An-Nawawi.

Apparent contradiction (ta`arud) and methods of preference (tarjih) are among the important issues dealt with in the sciences of principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh), the sciences of Hadith, and the sciences of the Qur'an as well.

 

In brief, only authentic hadiths are to be accepted, in the same way only reliable witnesses are accepted. [1]  



[1] ) This is an abridged and translated piece from the book Kaifa Nata`amal ma`a As-Sunnah An-Nabawiyah and English work on the hadiths cited was generally taken from http://www.onislam.net

 

 

 

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