Chapter 5: Islamic Rules And The Holy Quran Need The Interpretation By Infallibles

The Islamic legal system always needs to be explained however vivid and obvious it may seem. In the same way that laws of countries require interpretation by qualified experts. The Holy Book and its commands need clarification, even if they had been spelled out by the Prophet himself. Tens and hundreds of cases have been witnessed where there have been disputes over the meaning of the verses of the Holy Quran and over Islamic narrations.

Is the Islamic religion, which is eternal, not in need of a prominent leader who is well aware of the Prophetic knowledge and whose judgment could be used as a base?

Was the presence of such a leader not necessary for putting an end to disputes and the realization of the Islamic unity?

In Omar’s time, a man came to the Islamic court saying that it had been only six months since he had married his wife, but that she had given birth to a healthy child.

The judge ordered the woman to be stoned. On the way, the woman saw Ali (as) and asked for help, saying she was innocent and had not slept with any one else except for her husband. Ali (as) became aware of the error of the judge. He ordered the man in charge of stoning to return to the mosque. Addressing the Caliph and reproaching him, Ali (as) said: what kind of judgment is this? The Caliph answered: six months ago the two got married and now his wife has given birth to a child. Ali (as) said: don’t you know, that the Holy Quran says:

﴿ وَ حَمْلُهُ وَ فِصالُهُ ثَلاثُونَ شَهْراً ﴾

“and bearing him and weaning him was thirty months”1.

The Caliph replied: Yes. Then Ali (as) said: Hasn't the Quran regulated two whole years for breast feeding the child when it says

﴿ وَ الْوالِداتُ يُرْضِعْنَ أَوْلادَهُنَّ حَوْلَيْنِ كامِلَيْنِ ﴾

“And the mothers should suckle their children for two whole years”2

The Caliph replied: Yes. Imam Ali (as) then replied: When we subtract 24 months, required for breast-feeding, from thirty months, six months will remain and during this time a woman might give birth to a healthy child.

Imam Ali (as), by using two verses of the Holy Quran, came to the conclusion that no man could arrive at. Can we then claim that the Prophet of Islam did not have any plan for this Divine book which is an eternal light for humanity?

It might be claimed that such a rare occasion would not hurt Islamic unity. Then we could reply that the cases of dispute and disagreements were not among the rarest things; rather, the disagreements might arise concerning most of Muslims’ everyday affairs. However, these disagreements and disputes could not be neglected.

In one of its surahs the Holy Quran3 has explained how ablution must be performed. What's more, Muslims used to see how the Prophet did his ablution everyday. However, after the Prophet’s death, the Quran was published in many far away lands which resulted in different interpretations of the verses by various scholars. Verses related to jurisprudential issues were also discussed. Consequently, there were complete disagreements on the verse which dealt with the performance of ablution – this disagreement exists today: the Shiites and Sunnites perform it quite differently.

If there had existed among Muslims an innocent and infallible Islamic leader, who knew the Islamic principles well, such a dispute, which later divided the Muslims into two fractions, would have never arisen and Islamic unity would have been secured.

Disagreements over the interpretation of the Quran

One of the Islamic penal laws is the cutting of the thief's hand under special conditions which are stipulated in jurisprudential books. Until a few years ago, when Islam was in its glory days and the Islamic governments adopted their penal systems based on the Quran and the western penal systems had not found their way into the Islamic countries, the only punishment for a thief was the cutting of his hand. But this case too, unfortunately is one over which Islamic scholars do not completely agree, even after fourteen centuries of Islam.

At the time of Mo’tasim Abbasi, when Islam was two centuries old, the Islamic scholars disagreed on the interpretation of the verse which dealt with the cutting of a thief's hand, for it was unclear which part of the hand should be cut. The Caliph then had to resort to Imam Jawad (as). He said a thief's four fingers should be cut. When he was asked for the reason the Imam (as) replied: God says in the Holy Quran


وَ أَنَّ الْمَساجِدَ لِلَّهِ

Places of prostration belong to God”

He added “one of those places is the palm of the hand which should touch the ground at the time of prostration which should not be cut because it belongs to God”.

Were there such a great scholar among the Ummah, who could decide on such delicate issues, many of the Muslims’ problems would not exist, the Ummah would go its straight path and they would not waste their time over absurd issues.

The Holy Quran is the basic source for any correct Islamic interpretation and nothing in the world is equal to it. If we ever received two contradictory explanations from the Prophet, we would accept the one which was in harmony with the Quran.

But are all the Quranic verses on the same footings regarding clarity? Isn't there a verse in the Quran which will need the interpretation of an infallible?

Such a claim would be issued by one whose contact with the Quran is superstitious and whose heart is not linked with the Quran. It is a fact that most of the Quranic verses are clear and that some of the ambiguous verses are made clear with the help of other clear verses .4However, there are some verses in the Quran which were ambiguous since they were revealed or have become so because of the distance in time from the revelation. What could be done regarding such verses? Should there not be a scholar who can decode such ambiguous verses?

When Imam Ali (as) dispatched Ibn Abbas to reason with the Khawarej, he ordered him not to use Quranic verses. His rationale was that if he were to use a verse for a reason they would use another verse to contradict what he might say5. The Imam certainly did not mean the whole of the Quran; rather, he was referring to the ambiguous verses.

For these reasons it is urgent that there be an innocent Imam among the Ummah, who is well-aware of the Islamic principles and who could be a final judge in disputes.

If there were not such an authority available, some portions of the Quranic verses would be subject to erroneous interpretations, and this would cause Muslims to divide.

A statement from Hisham

Hisham Ibn Hakam, Imam Sadiq's distinguished student, an expert in literary debate and discourse in the second century reasons in the following manner for the necessity of an Imam among the Ummah for judgment in difficult cases.

One day he had a discussion over the issue of having an Imam among the Ummah with Amr Ibn Obayd, head of the Moatazelah sect and the religious leader of Basrah.

Hisham asked him to answer his questions even if they were simple and clear.

Q: Do you have eyes?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: What do you do with them?

A: I see people and colors.

Q: Do you have ears?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: What do you do with them?

A: I hear voices and noises.

Q: Do you have a nose?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: What do you do with it?

A: I smell with it.

Hisham then continued asking questions related to other human sense organs. Then he continued:

Q: Do you have a heart?

A: Yes, I do.

Q: What is its function in human life?

A: I recognize, through it, anything that goes on in my body.

Hisham then added: if any one of the human senses made a mistake, a man would resort to his heart to resolve the doubt.

Hisham then came to the following conclusion: Could God leave the human society with no resort to whom they may refer when He has created human hearts to resolve the errors of the human sense organs?6.

Imam Sadiq (as) describes the characteristics of the Prophet's successor in the following manner:

“After the Prophet, there should be an Imam who could protect the Islamic principles from any damage”7.

One day, in the presence of Imam Sadiq (as), Hisham Ibn Hakam debated with a Syrian scholar asking him: Has God appointed a successor for the Prophet or not? The scholar replied: Yes, He has, and such a successor is the interpreter of the Quran and the Prophet's statements. Then, Hisham asked the Syrian scholar if the Quran and narrations would suffice for settling disputes. He answered: yes. Then Hisham asked: If it is enough, why do you and I disagree on many issues even if we are two branches of the same tree? Why have we selected a different direction? At this time the Syrian scholar had to confess to the truth of Hisham's statements8.

  • 1. . Quran 46:15.
  • 2. . Quran 2: 232.
  • 3. . O you who believe! When you rise up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands as far the elbow, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles; and if you are under an obligation to perform a total ablution, then wash yourselves and if you are sick or on a journey, or one of you come from the toilet or you have touched a woman and you can not find water, betake yourselves to pure earth and wipe your faces and your hands with it. Allah does not desire to put on you any difficulty, but He wants to purify you and that He may complete his favor on you, so that you may be grateful [Quran 5:6].
  • 4. . Regarding the verses, Imam Ali (as) says:
    كتاب الله تبصرون به وتنطقون به وتسمعون به وينطق بعضه ببعض ويشهد بعضه على بعض
  • 5. . Nahj-ul-Balagha Abdoh, vol. 3, p. 150.
  • 6. . Usul Kafi, vol. 1, p. 170.
  • 7. . Usul Kafi, vol. 1, p. 172.
  • 8. . Usul Kafi, vol. 1/ p. 178.