The Errors of Modernists Regarding the Quran & their Answers, By Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi

Translated By: Professor Muhammad Hasan Askari & Karrar Husain
Compiled By: Mufti Umar Anwar Badakhshani

Answer To Modernism

Intimation 4: Regarding the Holy Qur’an, as one of the four sources of the Shariah

It is an established fact that there are four sources of the Shariah:

(1) The Holy Qur’an.

(2) The Hadith, or the Traditions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ.

(3) Ijmaul Ummah, or the consensus of opinion on the part of the authentic scholars of the Islamic sciences, and

(4) Qayasul Mujtahid, or the inference made by a recognized master of Islamic law, who should fulfill certain definite conditions in order to enjoy such an authority. But nowadays people are committing grave errors with regard to each of these four sources in one way or another.

The errors of modernists regarding the Qur’an and their answers

With regard to the Holy Qur’an, two errors have become quite common:

Asking for evidence only from Qur’an

  • (1) Firstly, the injunctions of the Shariah are supposed to be contained exclusively in the Qur’an. The upshot of this error is the denial and rejection of the other three sources.

Proving modern science from the Qur’an

  • (2) Secondly, an attempt is make to bring the verses of the Holy Qur’an into conformity with the theories of modern science through fanciful interpretations, and also to prove that the Holy Qur’an propounds and confirms these very theories.

The first of these errors is clearly refuted by those verses of the Holy Qur’an and those traditions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ which prove that the other three sources too must be accepted as valid and binding. This point has been discussed with all possible elaborations by the scholars of Islamic jurisprudence.

Demand for proof of every ruling from Qur’an

A corollary of the same error is that when a man desires to commit a certain sin and an attempt is made to keep him back from it, he at once demands that a clear prohibition for this particular sin should be shown in the Holy Qur’an.

For example, one daily finds such demands being made in the newspapers with regard to the injunction about keeping a beard. This practice has become almost second nature for modernized Muslims, so much so that whenever a detractor of Islam demands that the proof of a certain thing should be produced from the Holy Qur’an, they accede to this demand unquestioningly, and, taking their burden of proof upon themselves, go about in search of it. And when they cannot find it for themselves, they insist that the Ulema should somehow provide a proof from the Holy Qur’an.

But we have already established that the very basis of these corollaries is wrong. So, it is quite evident that a proposition based on a false premise must also be false, and should not require a separate refutation.

Moreover, opening the door to this kind of argumentation would be an act of extreme recklessness, and betray a lack of foresight. The only thing it can ultimately lead to is that one shall be forced to concede that the five “pillars” of Islam (that is, the principal forms of worship) themselves cannot be proved to have any basis in the Shariah. Can anyone establish the prescribed number of Rak’ats (sets of movement during the ritual prayer) for the five daily prayers on the basis of the Holy Qur’an, or determine as to who is required to pay the Zakah (the ritual alms-giving)and how much?

It is illogical to demand an argument only from Qur’an

A concrete example would make the absurdity of this demand all the more clear. Supposing that a plaintiff produces a witness in a court of law in support of his claim, the dependent would certainly have the legal right to cross-examine him. But if the witness comes out clean after such a cross-examination, the dependent would not have the further right of submitting before the court that, in spite of this witness being unblemished and trustworthy, he would not accept the claim until and unless such a dignitary or prominent person gives his evidence in its support instead of this man. If he were to make such a demand, would the court listen to him?

Principles of the art of argumentation

This is the real point behind the well-established rule of the art of polemics that one may justifiably demand an argument as such from one who makes an assertion, but not a particular kind of argument.

It has also been clarified that the negation of the argument does not necessarily involve the negation of the subject matter of the argument (or of what is sought to be proved). Because an argument is a subsidiary while a subject is a principal, and the negation of what is subsidiary does not necessarily involve the negation of what is principal.

Therefore, a man who makes the claim that such an injunction has been established based on the Shariah, has the right to prove his contention of the basis of any argument that he chooses from the Shariah. No one does have a justifiable right to challenge him, and to demand a particular kind of argument–for example, an argument based on the Holy Qur’an alone.

The difference between the four sources in terms of power of reasoning

Of course, one must admit that the four kinds of arguments, drawn respectively from the four sources of the Shariah, vary in force of validity, even as the respective subjects of these arguments, or the injunctions that are sought to be proved, vary. Thus the injunctions are of four kinds:

  • (1) Those which have been established based on a definitive and conclusive argument, and also have a definite signification.
  • (2) Those which have been established based on an approximative argument, and have an approximative signification.
  • (3) Those which have been established based on a definitive argument, but have an approximative signification.
  • (4) Those which have been established based on an approximative argument, but have a definite signification.

A doubt and it’s clarification

But, Inspite of these variations in the degree of validity, no one has the authority to reject even approximative injunctions. Do we not see many a judge, against whose judgment no appeal can lie, often pronouncing his judgment on the mere ground that he has thought fit to apply to a case brought before him a certain section of the legal code, and though the section of the come is definitive, his decision that the particular case falls under that section is approximative? The substance of such a judgment would be that the particular section of the code has been established definitively, but its application is approximative–in other words, it reset on a definitive argument, but its signification is approximative. But everyone can see for himself what the consequences would be if one were to question that judgment. So much about the first error that is being committed with regard to the Holy Qur’an.

(2) Trying to prove that Qur’an is based on modern science

The second error is the attempt, make out as if the Holy Qur’an comprises the theories of modern science. Thus, one too often finds in newspapers and journals nowadays that as soon as people come across a scientific discovery made in the West, they try as best as they can to discover an indication of this theory in some verse of the Holy Qur’an. This is supposed to be a great service to Islam, a matter of commendation for the Holy Qur’an, and proof of one’s own intelligence. What is worse, even some religious scholars have been found to be guilty of this error.

  • (1) What is basically wrong with this approach is that it is supposed to be a mark of the highest perfection for the Holy Qur’an to contain scientific theories. The reason for this misconception is that no regard has been paid as to what the essential subject matter of the Holy Qur’an is.

The real subject of the Holy Qur’an

The Holy Qur’an, in fact, is not a book of physical science, nor history, nor of geography. It is a book which deals with the cure of souls, just as books on medicine deal with the cure of bodies. It would not be a defect or deficiency in a book on medicine if it does not discuss the problems of shoe-making or cloth-wearing. Indeed, a slight reflection will show that in a way it would be a defect and imperfection for this book if it were to discuss such problems unnecessarily because it would only produce confusion. On the other hand, not to discuss such things would be a merit of this book.

Similarly, it is not at all a defect or deficiency in the Holy Qur’an, which is essentially a book on spiritual medicine, that it does not discuss the problems of physical science. In fact, it is a merit of a kind.

However, if spiritual treatment should sometimes require that a problem of physical science too be discussed, such a discussion would be no more than a concession to this need. But, according to the established rule that what is necessary is determined by the extent of necessity, this discussion would not exceed the extent of necessity. For example, the affirmation of the unity of God is the most fundamental principle in the science of curing souls. The easiest and simplest way of establishing this principle is to argue based on the different forms of the creation while doing this, the Holy Qur’an has now and then dealt, very briefly, with themes like the creation of the heavens and the earth, of men and beasts, etc. Since the occasion did not require any details, they have been left out.

In short, it is not one of the main objects of the Holy Qur’an to deal with the problems of physical science. If any such problems have been touched upon, it is only by way of an argument or illustration in support of some of its basic themes. In so far as the Holy Qur’an has made an explicit and definite statement on a scientific problem, that statement is certain and finally true, and it is not permissible to believe in its opposite based on some other argument. If there is an argument which seems to contradict the statement in the Holy Qur’an, one would, on careful examination, find that either the argument itself was defective, or the contradiction was not real but merely apparent. Of course, it is quite possible that the verse in question does not have definitively explicit meaning, and that a valid argument can be found to prove the opposite of the apparent meaning. In such a case, the verse would not be taken in the literal sense but given a secondary interpretation (as we have shown under Principle No. 7).

Let us now turn to another misunderstanding:

  • (2) We have shown above that it is not one of the basic objects of the Holy Qur’an to deal with scientific problems. Such problems find a mention merely as premises for proving the main proposition. And it is clear enough that when one is arguing to establish a certain proposition, the premises must be such as are, even before the proposition is affirmed, already acceptable to the audience, or are of the nature of axioms, or have been made acceptable through proper argument; otherwise, it would not be possible to employ them as valid arguments in favor of the proposition.

With this basic rule in mind, let us now try to realize that if the theories of modern science are what the verses of the Holy Qur’an are meant to indicate and to connote, and, as we know, the Arabs, who formed the earliest audience for the Holy Qur’an, were totally ignorant of these modern theories, then the only and the necessary conclusion would be that the Holy Qur’an has been arguing with them based on certain premises which were neither universally acceptable, nor axiomatic, nor had yet been established through proof, and were ipso facto worthless as a basis for any valid argument. If one were to accept this situation, what a great blemish would it be on the word of God and its mode of the argument!

  • (3) The third great defect in this approach is that scientific theories are sometimes proved to be wrong. Now supposing that these theories are accepted to be the purport of the Holy Qur’an, and Muslims come to believe, according to this interpretation, that the Holy Qur’an has made such and such affirmations in such and such verses. If anyone of these scientific theories is someday proved to be wrong, how easy would it be for the meanest detractor of Islam to deny the Holy Qur’an itself? For, he would say that such a statement in the Holy Qur’an is wrong, and since the demolition of a part necessarily implies the demolition of the whole, he would go on the assert that the Holy Qur’an itself is not true. How difficult would it then be to defend the Holy Qur’an?

A doubt and it’s clarification

One may possibly raise an objection here, and claim, as some have actually done, that it is a peculiar perfection of the Holy Qur’an that its words are found to be in consonance with whatever scientific theories happen to enjoy currency in any age. If this is so, then it necessarily means that no connotation of the verses of the Holy Qur’an should at all be trustworthy, for every connotation would leave sufficient room for the possibility of its opposite being equally true. This strange claim reminds us of the well-known story of a clever astrologer. When a man came to ask him if he was going to have a son or a daughter, he would say in a flat tone –“No son no daughter”. Later on, he would fit his words to the actual situation just by repeating them in different tones, and saying, “No son, no! … Daughter”, or, “No, Son! ….no Daughter”. Would it be just to can such a book a source of guidance for mankind?

  • (4) The fourth defect in this approach is that it totally goes against our self-respect, for if we make the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an dependent upon scientific upon scientific discoveries, would not the European scholars point out that although the Qur’an was revealed such a long time ago, yet no Muslim, not even the Holy Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم himself, has ever understood it, and that the Muslims should be grateful to the West for having made it possible for them to understand and interpret the Qur’an correctly? Were they to say so, what reply could we have?

So far we have dealt with the errors that are being committed with regard to the Holy Qur’an. Now, we turn to the other sources of the Shariah and to the errors that are committed regarding them.

To read the Fifth Intimation about law of nature, Click on the link below:


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