Could you please define the characteristics of the interpretation methodology of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? What are the characteristics, content and activities on the subject of interpretation of His ummah (Community of Muslim Believers)?

The Details of the Question
Could you please define the characteristics of the interpretation methodology of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)? What are the characteristics, content and activities on the subject of interpretation of His ummah (Community of Muslim Believers)?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The religion of Islam is based on revelation. It has the capacity to solve all kinds of problems and make judgments about them. It is capable of solving the problems that were not present in the first resources and that can arise as the human conditions change, in different periods and places, and as the technology and equipment change. Islam has brought the general principles (methodology) that can be used to solve those problems. Each problem that is dealt with that methodology, which is based on the Quran and the Sunnah in essence, has the divine and heavenly qualities. However, the solutions that are found without referring to those principles are worldly and humanly not divine or humanly.1

The Quran, the First Fundamental Source of the Religion

There are two fundamental sources that are used in understanding and interpreting Islam, the last religion sent by Allah: the Quran and the Sunnah. The Quran is the guide for our life. Everything that is related to our material and spiritual life exists in the Quran in the form of rules, quintessence and nuclei that can be understood by specialists. Allah states that He has not omitted anything in the Quran (al-An’am, 38). It is like the fundamental principles laid by a constitution regarding the individual, social and international issues. There exists a constitution in a country but separate rules, legislations and laws are enacted for each issue; similarly, the fundamental principles of the Quran are certain but branches like fiqh, kalam and tafsir (interpretation) explain and interpret those principles.  

On the other hand, every issue that man is interested in might not be mentioned clearly because the Quran is a book that arranges the relationships of servitude between Allah and His servant.  An issue is mentioned in the Quran depending on whether it deals with the relationship between Allah and His servant and based on the degree of importance.    

The Interpretation of the Quran at First Hand: The Sunnah

The Sunnah is the way of the Prophet. It becomes known through the narrations that reach us. His words, deeds and states are the Sunnah.

To refer to the Sunnah is the order of the Quran. There are many verses regarding the issue. In those verses, obeying the Prophet is regarded the same as obeying Allah, and sincerely acting in accordance with the judgment given by the Prophet is regarded as a sign of belief.3 The sound sunnah is based on revelation as it is expressed by the Quran: “Nor does he say (aught) of (his own) Desire. It is no less than inspiration sent down to him.”4 Some parts of the Sunnah explains the Quran and some parts introduce new judgments. Worshipping like prayer (salah) and hajj have been explained by the Sunnah. It is not possible to understand and to apply most of the religious judgments without taking the Sunnah into consideration. All of the scholars of ahl as-Sunnah from the Companions to the present day point out that excluding the Sunnah originates from a secret intention that aims to rock Islam to its foundations. In order to interpret the Quran in the way that they want, they aim to eliminate the Sunnah, which is the primary interpretation of the Quran.   

Today, they call it as, “the pure Islam in the Quran, Islam of the Quran” or “Reading the translation of the Quran”.  The ultimate goal of those currents, which seem to be reflecting the truth, is to abolish the trust in Salaf, which consists of the Companions, Tabiun and Atbauttabiin, by subjecting the Quran, which is the first source of the religion, to humanly and worldly interpretation; thus, making it a secular religion. In fact, in a mutawatir hadith, the people of the Companions and Tabiin, who lived after the Prophet and whom the ummah regarded as a great reference, were defined as “the best generation”, and the Quran praised the Companions. 6

The other references for understanding the Quran and Islam are also defined as “mental resources”. They are ijma (consensus), qiyas (comparison; analogy) and ijtihad (deducing).

Ijma: the Opinion that All Believers Agree on

As religious evidence, after the Quran and the Sunnah comes ijma. As a religious term, ijma means the consensus of the mujtahids of Islam on the religious judgment of an issue regarding the deeds at a period after Hazrat Prophet. Islamic scholars have agreed that consensus is evidence.  

The following hadiths of Hazrat Prophet: “What Muslims regard as nice is nice in the eye of Allah, too.” and “My ummah will not agree on something wrong.” 8 and the following verse: “If anyone contends with the Messenger even after guidance has been plainly conveyed to him, and follows a path other than that becoming to men to Faith, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and land him in Hell,-what an evil refuge!”9  are used as evidence for the legitimacy of ijma. In the verse above, ” following a path other than that becoming to men to Faith” is defined as “contending with the Messenger”. Since it is haram to follow a path other than the path of the believers, it is wajib to follow the path of the believers.10

The views of the Companions have the priority in understanding and interpreting Islam. The scholars accept the fatwas of the Companions as religious evidence in the third place after the Quran and the Sunnah. There is rational (aqli) and reported (naqli) evidence about it. As reported evidence, the Quran states that Allah is pleased with the Companions. “The vanguard (of Islam)― the first of those who forsook (their homes) and of those who gave them aid, and (also) those who follow them in (all) good deeds― well― pleased is Allah with them, as are they with Him.”11 In that verse, Allah praises the Companions. Following their way will bring about praise. Accepting their views is regarded as following them.  

The Companions were the closest people to the Prophet (pbuh), to whom the revelation of Allah was sent. It is impossible to reach their level of sincerity, loyalty and understanding the aims of the religion because they saw the circumstances under which the verses were sent down. It is possible that the words of the Companions are also the Sunnah of the Prophet. When they narrated the judgments that the Prophet explained, they did not refer to him. Even if their views are based on qiyas and ijtihad, they deserve to be followed more than others. The Messenger of Allah said, “The best of my ummah are those who lived in the same age as me.”12

Qiyas as a Rational Method

One of the religious evidences that is used in explaining the judgments of the Quran and interpreting Islam is qiyas. As a religious term, qiyas means to explain the judgment regarding an issue about which there is not a verse or hadith based on an issue that is known by verses and hadiths. In other words, qiyas is to make a judgment regarding an issue about which there is not a verse or hadith comparing and attributing it to an issue about which there are verses and/or hadiths due to a common relation or reason between them.

Accordingly, the judgments made by mujtahids through ijtihad are based on the Book and the Sunnah because the religious judgments are attributed to the Book and the Sunnah either directly or indirectly. Qiyas in the law of Islam is a reality that the human mind accepts naturally. The law of the equality of the mind is carried out in the best way in the Quran. It is stated that similar things are given similar judgments and different things are given different judgments.13 The following verses are two examples regarding the issue:

“Do they not travel through the earth, and see what was the End of those before them (who did evil)? Allah brought utter destruction on them and similar (fates await) those who reject Allah.”

“What! Do those who seek after evil ways think that We shall hold them equal with those who believe and do righteous deeds― that equal will be their Life and their death? Ill is the judgment that they make!”14

The reason why Hazrat Prophet married Zaynab, who was divorced by Zayd bin Haritha, whom he had adopted, is explained as follows in the Quran: “Then when Zayd had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary (formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage with the wives of their adopted sons”15 God Almighty also explained that the wisdom behind why the booty needed to be distributed to the poor, the orphans and the wayfarers was to prevent wealth from being a capital that makes a circuit between the rich, and the wisdom behind why certain halal food was made haram for them was the wrong-doing of the Jews, and the wisdom behind why alcohol and gambling were prohibited was the fact that they caused enmity among believers.16 The fact that the reasons for the judgments are stated in those verses indicates the necessity of qiyas. Then, judgments regarding the issues about which there is no verse or hadith can be made by comparing them to similar verses or hadiths.  The scholars who gave examples from the life of Hazrat Prophet explained the fact that qiyas is a religious evidence in detail.

There are some exceptions about qiyas, which is regarded as a legitimate and reasonable method in making religious judgments. The first one of them is the judgments that are taabbudi (whose reasons are not known); for instance, the fact that the evening prayer has three rakat, the form of hajj, etc.

Ijtihad: a Term that is Misunderstood

As a matter of fact, ijtihad comes before ijma and qiyas. Ijtihad, which is often on the agenda of the public, is confused with reform. Reform means to repair or restore something whose originality was distorted or destroyed. Islam does not have a problem like that. We have its original sources. The problem lies in understanding them and applying them in the daily life as time changes. 

To establish a relationship between ijtihad and reform is a different analogy. It is like bringing the opposites together in imagination. Unfortunately, some people who have no knowledge about the compilation and parts of the Islamic sciences present some interpretations, fatwas and ijtihads made about some issues that are not related to the principles of the religion as “reform in religion” due to their ignorance. To attribute a role like that especially to ijtihad means to be unaware of the principles of fiqh, which came into being in order to understand the secondary judgments related to the practical and legal aspects of Islam and to apply them.

The judgments of the Shariah about worshipping and interactions are limited but the incidents and happenings are unlimited. Therefore, it is a definite reality that it is necessary to make ijtihad and qiyas in order to be able to apply those limited principles and judgments for unlimited happenings.  Therefore, ijtihad is fard al-kifayah. It is possible to state something about a scientific and religious issue about which there is no judgment only by making ijtihad. However, ijtihad can be made within the framework of some principles. First of all, ijtihad is not possible for issues about which there is a verse or hadith. No ijtihad is possible about the definite issues, the essentials of the religion like salah, zakah and hajj. The issue is formulated as “there is no place for ijtihad regarding an issue stated by a verse or hadith” in item 14 of Majallah. Therefore, ijtihad can only be made about the issues about which there is not a definite verse or hadith.  

Points of Objection about ijtihad

We have stated that Islam is a religion of evidence. However, today, there is a great neglect regarding the issues of the religion that are necessary to be known. For instance, young people of our country have many doubts and questions about belief in Allah. The percentage of those who have doubts in believing in Allah is not small. (According to survey published in the newspapers, it was stated to be about %40.) Issues of ijtihad are controversial and they are not about the essentials of the religion. Ninety per cent of the Shari'a consists of the incontestable matters and essentials of religion, each of which is a diamond pillar. Only ten per cent are matters open to interpretation, controversial, and secondary, as said Nursi stated. Ninety diamond pillars may not be put in the purse of someone with ten gold coins, nor be made follow him. The source of the diamond pillars is the Qur'an and hadiths.”22 It means we should not ignore the ninety diamonds for the sake of the ten gold coins. People need to learn the essential principles of the religion more than the theoretical and controversial issues because since they do not usually know about the subtleties of the controversial issues, they lose their thoughts about and respect to the holiness and majesty of the religion while thinking about the issues that are opposite each other due their ignorance. Therefore, the issues that are necessary to pay attention to are the essentials of the religion. However, the discussions of ijtihad about the secondary issues of the religion sometimes overshadow the essential issues of the religion that need to known and taught. Moreover, some of the people who appear with the desire of ijtihad are not people who are scholars but are people who dare to talk about the religion although they are unaware of it. For this reason, the ijtihads that aim to change some of the principles of Islam are not ijtihads but acts of treachery. The offers of reading the translations of the Quran in salah, reciting the translations of the adhan, abolishing tasattur are examples to those kinds of ijtihads.  

Noticing that ijtihad, which needs to be a living and active institution as a source of Islamic knowledge due to scientific mentality, was drifted to a channel aiming at decaying the main body of Islam by some vicious people, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states, regarding the issue, in his book, which he wrote in order to show them their place, that the gate of ijtihad is open but today there are some obstacles to entering it. We can summarize some of his views as follows:     

1- Islam is like a citadel. Many evils that are not accepted by the Quran have expanded rapidly among Muslims in our age. During the assault of the evils (all kinds of habits, lifestyles and ideas that are contrary to Islam) that are like a storm, it is necessary to close the windows tightly, let alone leaving the doors open because people who want to destroy Islam are seeking opportunities.

2- To make judgments about some secondary issues in order to satisfy the desires of the soul when the essentials of the religion are ignored is an innovation (bid’ah) and betrayal of Islam because the evidence and support of those who intend to change the Islamic essentials is – as it is the case in every evil thing – to imitate Europe blindly. It is not possible to reach the truth through a wrong method. The ijtihads and ease that those people who do not even fulfill the obligations of Islam want are frivolity in religion. Frivolous people should not be patted tolerantly but should be warned severely! 

Here, an issue that can only be noticed by religious prudence is the interest of the people who desire ijtihad in the religion. Do those people who favor ijtihad in any issue try to fulfill the obligatory orders of the religion? Do they act in accordance with taqwa or do they prefer the life in the world to the hereafter or do they try to expand the area of permissibility?  If the answer to the question related to their taqwa, religious perfection, preferring the hereafter and closeness to the consent of Allah is not positive, the ijtihad that they favor means to make a breach in the walls of Islam by someone outside Islam. Badiuzzaman resembles the person trying to do such a thing to a person who tries to grow the trunk of a tree through external forces instead of using the internal force of the tree. Everything has a tendency to develop but it is useful if the tendency comes from inside. If it comes from outside, it causes the destruction of the living being.23

3- At the present time, the goods of politics and securing the life of this world and the demand of philosophy are sought after. And in the age of the mujtahid imams, Tabiin and the Companions, the aim of the people like the scholars was to  learn the order and prohibitions  of the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth from His Word. Since the talks in the society occurred in accordance with those wishes, whoever had the ability for ijtihad made use of the atmosphere very well. At this time, however, due to the domination of European civilization and the supremacy of natural philosophy and the preponderance of the conditions of worldly life, minds and hearts have become scattered. Sufyan ibn Uyayna, who memorized the Qur'an at the age of four, had reached a level that could give fatwas at the age of ten. However, a student of our age needs to study one hundred years to reach the same level because the minds are submerged in philosophy and they plunge in politics, and the hearts are giddy at the life of this world, and have grown distant from ijtihad. The psycho-social factor mentioned above is of great significance. A scholar of today cannot resemble himself to the scholars who lived at a time close to the period of the Prophet and say, "I am intelligent, too; I can make ijtihad like them."24 It is very difficult for scholars who regard themselves capable of making ijtihad to be free from those risks. It is obvious that especially the ijtihads that aim to make use of the worldly bounties and to strengthen political currents will have worldly and humanly qualities , not religious ones.   

In another book, Badiuzzaman states that the ijtihad that an individual makes will bind only that person and that he cannot present it as religious evidence for others. He states that in order to meet the need for ijtihad and to organize and apply the religious orders and to eliminate the spiritual anarchy, it is necessary to establish a committee of investigative scholars who will work with a complete freedom of thought. Such a committee should consist of scholars that are trusted by the ummah and the majority of the scholars. The judgments given by that committee can be regarded as a religious decree by having the power of ijma and it can satisfy everybody.25


1. Canan, İbrahim, Soruşturma 2 - Kur’an ve Sünnet. p. 155-156, İstanbul 1987; Canan, Kütüb-ü Sitte Muhtasarı 2/74 vd., Ankara, 1988.

2. Kılıç, Yusuf, İslam Fıkıh Mezheplerinin Doğuşunu Hazırlayan Sebepler, p. 9, 10, 12, İstanbul 1997.

3. an-Nisa; 59, 64, 65, 80.

4. an-Najm; 3, 4.

5. Soruşturma-2, Canan, ibid. p. 188.

6. Canan, ibid. p. 197; for the verse, see: at-Tawbah; 100.

7. Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Lem’alar, (11. Lem’a) Klt. 1/612.

8. Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, 1/379; Ibn Majah, Sunan, Fitan: 8.

9. an-Nisa, 115.

10. Ebu Zehra, Muhammed, İslam Hukuku Metodolojisi (Fıkıh Usulü), trns. Abdülkadir Şener. Ankara 1981, p. 171-174.

11. at-Tawbah; 100.

12. Muslim, Sahih, Fadailu’s- Sahaba: 213, 215; Abu Dawud, Sunan, Sunnah: 9.

13. Abu Zahra, ibiid., p. 190 -191.

14. Muhammed, (al-Qital), 10; al-Jathiya, 21,

15. al-Ahzab; 37.

16. For the verses, see: al-Hashr; 7; an-Nisa; 160; al-Maida; 91.

17. al-Baqara; 185; for the hadith see: Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, v . 5, p. 32.

18. Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, v. 1, p. 379; the verse, al-Hajj; 78.

19. al-An’am; 108.

20. Karaman, Hayreddin, İslam’ın Işığında Günün Meseleleri-1, p, 171-176, İstanbul 1982.

21. Abu Zahra, ibid. p. 325-332; Kılıç, Yusuf, ibid., p. 175 ff.

22. Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, Lemeat, Klt. 1/322; Sünühat, Klt. 2/2047.

23. Nursi, Hakikat, Çekirdekleri, Klt. 1/574; Sözler, 27. Söz.

24. Nursi, Sözler, 27. Söz.

25. Nursi, Emirdağ Lahikası, Klt. 2/1847.

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