Reviving The Balance: The Authority of the Qur’an and the Status of the Sunnah

International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
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 This work studies the position of the Sunnah in Islam and its fundamental relationship to the Qur’an. The author carefully examines the sensitive issue of the development of the oral and written traditions, the problems scholars faced despite painstaking work verifying the authenticity of reports, the character of narrators, etc. and the ever growing complexity of a body of narratives that were making the simplicity and clarity of the Prophet’s life, words, and actions, a burgeoning maze of information. Taking the praiseworthy intention and effort to emulate the Prophet into account, the author nevertheless makes the case that once the Sunnah had been collected, the Muslim community began to neglect the Qur’an in favor of narrations of what the Prophet had done and said on the pretext that such narratives “contained” the Qur’an. Eventually they then abandoned the Sunnah narratives in favor of Islamic jurisprudence on the pretext that Islamic juristic texts tacitly included both the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is with the aim of restoring the relationship between the two that this work has been written, that is, the Prophetic Sunnah must be tied inextricably to the Qur’an in a way that allows for no contradiction or conflict between the two, to avoid misapplication and abuse of hadith, and to meet the requirements and challenges of a new age.
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About the author

Dr. Taha Jabir Alalwani (1935– 2016) was a graduate of Al-Azhar University and an internationally renowned scholar and expert in the fields of Islamic legal theory, jurisprudence (fiqh), and usul al-fiqh. He authored numerous works and was a member of the OIC Islamic Fiqh Academy, and President of Cordoba University in Ashburn, Virginia, United States. 

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Additional Information

International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT)
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Published on
Jan 1, 2017
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 It is an established fact that the Prophet never, in his entire life, put an apostate to

death. Yet, the issue remains one of the most controversial to have afflicted the

Muslim world down the centuries. It is also the source of much damaging media

coverage today as Islamic jurisprudence stands accused of a flagrant disregard for

human rights and freedom of expression.

The subject of this book is a highly sensitive and important one. The author rightly

concentrates on evidence, to examine the historical origins of the debate in rigorous

detail, as well as the many moral and contextual issues surrounding it. Disputing

arguments put forward by proponents of the death penalty he contends that both

the Qur’an and the Sunnah promote freedom of belief including the act of exiting

the Faith and do not support capital punishment for the sin of al-riddah. Note that

attention is on the word sin, for there is qualification: as long as one’s apostasy has

not been accompanied by anything else that would be deemed a criminal act,

particularly in terms of national security, then according to the author, it remains a

matter strictly between God and the individual. Of interest is the fact that the Qur’an

significantly refers to individuals repeatedly returning to unbelief after having believed,

but does not mention that they should be killed or punished. This work has been

written at a time of great complexity and vulnerability when a true understanding of

the higher intents and values of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, maqasid al-shariah, is

sorely needed. The author employs a strong evidence-based approach examining in

detail the Qur’an and authentic Hadith, taking into consideration traditional

approaches to the study of the Islamic textual sciences and other fields of knowledge,

as well as analyzing scholastic interpretation.

Taking the life of a person without just cause is according to the Qur’an equivalent

to the killing of the whole of mankind. It is vital therefore, that in the interests of

compassion and justice, as well as freedom of belief, this subject is clearly addressed

once and for all.

 The Ethics of Disagreement may be perceived

as an explanation of the etiquette envisioned

by Islam for all those engaged in discourse and

intellectual dialogue. To a great extent, the

book is an exposition of the higher principles

and purposes of the Shari'ah which provide

Muslims with perspectives far vaster than those

afforded by pedantic debate over points of law

and procedure, or fine distinctions between

conflicting theological arguments. In fact,

experience has shown that long immersion in

such futile debate often renders the mind

incapable of comprehending real situations

and making value judgements on changing


Since the book was originally intended to address opposing Islamic political

parties in one particular part of the Muslim world, the author went to great

lengths to give examples from classical Muslim historical experience. In

particular, he analyzes instances of judicial disagreement between the early

fuqaha’, differences that were not allowed to go beyond the academic or

to cause hard feelings among the debaters and dissenters alike. Certainly,

the differences between those early scholars never led them to lose sight

of the higher purposes of the Shari'ah or their responsibilities.

Although this book may more appropriately be titled The Ethics of

Disagreement between the Classical Jurists, it nonetheless serves as a useful

introduction to the subject of disagreement in general. It also lays down

for contemporary Muslims many commendable examples of forbearance

and understanding on the part of some of the greatest personalities and

scholars in Muslim history. In this lies the utility of this book.

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