Divergence in the Interpretations:

Another question which troubles the minds is that of divergence in the interpretation of the Qur’an. People say that on the one hand, Qur’an condemns very severely those who create differences in the Book of Allah and cause division in their religion; on the other hand, so many different interpretations of the injunctions of the Qur’an have been made that there is hardly to be found any command with an agreed interpretation. And it is not that the people of the later periods alone who differ with one another but even the great scholars of the early period, including the companions of the Holy Prophet and their followers, all did not agree in every detail in regard to Commands and Prohibitions.

1)     Do all these people then deserve the condemnation pronounced in the Qur’an for making different interpretations?

2)     If this is not so, then what kind of differences of opinion have been condemned in the Qur’an?

The issue is too big, requiring in-depth exclusive deliberations. Suffice it to say here that the Qur’an is not against healthy difference of opinion in the interpretation of its injunctions provided that:-

1)     There is agreement on the basic principles of Islam among those who differ and that they remain united within the ambit of the Muslim Community.

2)     The Qur’an condemns that kind of divergence which is against the unity of God, involving glorification of individuals leading to worship, polytheism, crookedness resulting in to disputes and sectarianism.

As the two kinds of divergence are neither alike in their nature nor in their results, they should not be placed in one and the same category. The first kind of divergence is essential for the progress and is the very soul of life and every community of intelligent and thinking people must encourage it, Its existence is a sign of life and only that community can afford to repress it which desires to have only blockheads in it. The second kind of divergence as everyone knows, disintegrates the community which nourishes it: therefore its appearance in a community is not a sign of health but a symptom of disease and it can never produce good results.

These kinds of ‘Divergence of Opinion’ may further be illustrated by the following:

Supposing there are two scholars or two judges, who agree, on principle, that Allah and His Messenger alone are entitled to obedience and that the Qur’an and the Sunnah are the final authority to determine all laws and regulations. They may then differ in the details or in the decision of a case, provided that neither of them makes his opinion as the criterion of Islam or un-Islam nor declares the other to be outside its fold on account of such a difference of opinion. They may put forward to the public or to the highest court, if it is some judicial matter, or to the legislative body of the community, if it concerns them. Then either one of the two different opinions will prevail or both will be accepted.

But it should be noted particularly that no difference can be allowed in the basic principles of Islam nor in such matters as may lead to the scholar or a jurist or a saint or a leader should form an opinion about some matter (which Allah and His Messenger do not consider to be basic) and declare it to be the basic principle of  Islam and then denounce all those who differ from him to be outside its fold, and then on this basis, proceed to form a community of his own followers saying;

“This is the real Muslim Community and all outside it are doomed to Hell. Therefore, if you are a Muslim, come and join it, otherwise you are not one.”

It is this kind of difference of opinion which the Qur’an condemns. As regards the first kind of difference, several instances of it occurred during the time of the Holy Prophet himself. He not only permitted it but also spoke well of it, for it was a healthy sign, which showed that intelligent people of the Community were busy thinking and making research. This also showed that the intelligent people of the Community were taking interest in Islam and its teachings and were trying to find solution; for the problems of life within Islam and not outside it. It also provided a proof of the golden rule that while the Community should remain united on principles, it should at the same time, grant freedom of research to its thinkers within due limits so that the doors of progress should remain open.


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