How can we respond to alleged contradictions in the Quran?

The Details of the Question

a) Then (Moses) threw his rod, and behold! It was a serpent, plain (for all to see). (al-Araf, 7/107) He threw it, and behold! It was a snake, active in motion. (Taha, 20/20) (Did his rod (staff) become a serpent (dragon) or a snake?)
b) There is a claim that there is a contradiction between two consecutive verses (12-13) in the chapter of al-Mujadala. It is claimed that a decree given in one verse (offering charity while entering into the presence of the Prophet (pbuh)) was abrogated in the other verse, and it is said to constitute a contradiction.
c) Some decrees regarding the state of a woman whose husband died are reported in the Quran. (al-Baqarah 234, 240) In one of those verses, a period of one year is mentioned and in the other a period of four months and ten days is mentioned. If a woman wants to marry after 4 months and 10 days, how can it be explained since the other verse says that she should stay at home for one year?
d) How many angels did Maryam talk to? (Maryam 19, Aal-i Imran 43)
e) Who takes the soul when man dies? (as-Sajda 11, Muhammad 27)
f) This is due to the translation of the word “Waladun”. “Waladun” means one child. If two children were meant, the word “Waladani-Waladayni” would be used; and if more than two children were meant, the word “Awladun” would be used. The word used in the verse is “Waladun” and it means “one child”. Therefore, there is no problem. (an-Nisa 11:12) Is this explanation really correct?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

a) Question:

Then (Moses) threw his rod, and behold! It was a serpent, plain (for all to see). (al-Araf, 7/107) He threw it, and behold! It was a snake, active in motion. (Taha, 20/20) (Did his rod (staff) become a serpent (dragon) or a snake?)

Answer:

Expressing the same thing with different phrases is an important principle of literature and rhetoric. In the Quran, this aspect of literary art is used very much.

- The issues related to the staff of Moses should also be considered within this framework. Different things are said by Allah about the miracle of the staff, but not all of them are said in one place; different parts of them are mentioned in accordance with the subtlety and relevance of the issue. One of the arts of paraphrasing is to point out the different qualities of the snake. For example:

“Then (Moses) threw his rod, and behold! It was a serpent, plain (for all to see).” (al-A’raf, 7/107)

The word “thu’ban” is used in the verse above to attract attention to the fact that the staff was transformed into a large snake.

“(Allah) said, ‘Throw it, O Moses!’ He threw it, and behold! It was a snake, active in motion. (Allah) said, ‘Seize it, and fear not: We shall return it at once to its former condition’.” (Taha, 20/19-21)

In the verse above, the snake, which was transformed from the staff, is described as “a snake (hayyah) active in motion”.

“‘Now do thou throw thy rod!’ But when he saw it moving (of its own accord) as if it had been a snake, he turned back in retreat, and retraced not his steps: ‘O Moses!’ (It was said), ‘Draw near, and fear not: for thou art of those who are secure.’” (al-Qasas, 28/31)

In the verse above, it is described as “moving (of its own accord) as if it had been a snake”.

As it is seen, there is no contradiction between the expressions of those verses.

In the first verse, the word “thu’ban”, which indicates the size of the snake, is used.

In the second verse, the word “hayyatun”, which is the general name of the snake is used.

And in the third verse, the word “jaannun”, which is a more specific characteristic expressing agility, is used.

So, the staff was transformed into a large, active and fast-moving serpent.

- The use of the word “dragon” in some translations indicates a “great snake (serpent)” and it does not change this fact.

b) Question:

There is a claim that there is a contradiction between two consecutive verses (12-13) in the chapter of al-Mujadala. It is claimed that a decree given in one verse (offering charity while entering into the presence of the Prophet (pbuh)) was abrogated in the other verse, and it is said to constitute a contradiction.

Answer:

In verse 12 of the chapter of al-Mujadala, it is prescribed that those who wish to talk to the Prophet (pbuh) should first give alms (sadaqah) to the poor. Some of the reasons for it are as follows:

1) Reducing the number of the conversations that would disturb the Prophet (pbuh).

2) Making the rich help the poor in this way.

3) Strengthening people’s respect for the Prophet because giving alms for every meeting is something difficult. The respect to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is strengthened in the hearts of those who endure it.

4) In addition, people’s zeal and enthusiasm for the Prophet, into whose presence they no longer entered randomly, increased. It contributed to their belief.

5) This condition of sadaqah was also a test of the sincerity of the Muslims. The positions of those who loved worldly goods and those who loved the life in the hereafter were tested.

Undoubtedly, the Companions passed that test but the hypocrites who pretended to be Muslims lost it.

- After it continued for a short period of time and the wisdoms mentioned above were realized, the practice was discontinued, especially because of the situation of the poor who did not have the means to do so. In other words, verse 13 abrogated the decree of verse 12. There is no contradiction in it. The issue of “naskh (abrogation)” in the Quran is a well-known fact. (cf. Razi, Qurtubi, Ibn Ashur, Maraghi, the interpretations of the verses in question)

c) Question:

Some decrees regarding the state of a woman whose husband died are reported in the Quran. (al-Baqarah 234, 240) In one of those verses, a period of one year is mentioned and in the other a period of four months and ten days is mentioned. If a woman wants to marry after 4 months and 10 days, how can it be explained since the other verse says that she should stay at home for one year?

Answer:

It is stated in verse 234 of the chapter of al-Baqara “If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait concerning themselves four months and ten days” that “the women whose husbands have died will have to wait for four months and ten days as iddah (to marry another man)”.

In verse 240 of the chapter “Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence; but if they leave (the residence), there is no blame on you for what they do with themselves, provided it is reasonable. And Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise”, it is emphasized that “a woman whose husband has died can live in her husband’s home for a year”.

The waiting period of four months and ten days in verse 234 is set as a period of mourning for the husband and she is obliged to observe it.

In verse 240, the aim is to ensure especially through wills that the wives of deceased husbands are not to be removed from their husbands’ homes by the heirs for up to one year and that they are to be provided for. It is indicated that if the wife leaves her husband’s home (after four months and ten days), there is nothing wrong with that.

- However, according to the majority of scholars, the decree of verse 240 was abrogated by verse 234. (see Tabari, Qurtubi, Razi, the interpretations of the verses in question)

Whatever the case, there is no contradiction between those two verses because the content and purpose of the verses are different.

d) Question:

How many angels did Maryam talk to? (Maryam 19, Aal-i Imran 43)

Answer:

In verse 42 of the chapter of Aal-i Imran “Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations’”, Mary’s (Maryam’s) personal qualities are mentioned. It is possible that those good qualities were mentioned by several angels.

In verse 19 of the chapter of Maryam “He said: ‘Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.’”, Mary was given the good news of a child and this good news was given by only one angel, Gabriel (Jibril).

The word “angels” in the chapter of Aal-i Imran is plural but it is possible that only one angel (Jibril) is meant by it. As a matter of fact, in verse 2 of the chapter of an-Nahl “He doth send down His angels with inspiration of His Command, to such of His servants as He pleaseth, (saying): ‘Warn (Man) that there is no god but I: so do your duty unto Me’”, the word “angels” is used in the plural form for the angel of revelation Jibril. (see Razi, the interpretation of Aal-i Imran 42)

e) Question:

Who takes the soul when man dies? (as-Sajda 11, Muhammad 27)

Answer:

Different expressions are used in the verses of the Quran related to the occurrence of death:

“It is Allah that takes the souls (of men) at death.” (az-Zumar, 39/42)

It is stated in the verse above that it is Allah who takes the souls.

“Say: The Angel of Death, put in charge of you, will (duly) take your souls: then shall ye be brought back to your Lord.” (as-Sajda, 32/11)

It is stated in the verse above that it is an angel (Azrail) who takes the souls.

“But how (will it be) when the angels take their souls at death, and smite their faces and their backs?” (Muhammad, 47/27),

“When death approaches one of you, Our angels take his soul.” (al-Anam, 6/ 61)

It is stated in the verses above that more than one angel take the souls.

- Accordingly, Allah, the angel of death and the angels whom Allah appointed to take the souls take the souls. In order to remove the seeming contradiction among those verses, scholars referred to the hadiths and made the following explanation:

Allah is the real doer of death. He appointed the angel of death (Azrail) to take the souls due to His wisdom, and there are other angels who are the assistants of the angel of death.

Accordingly, the angel of death’s assistants do the deed of bringing the soul from the feet to the throat, which is the beginning of death, and Azrail, the “Angel of Death”, takes the soul that has reached the throat. The real doer and creator of death is Allah. Thus, the four verses mentioned above support one another and declare those who play a role in the act of death. There is no contradiction among them. (Hasan al-Idwi, al-Hamzawi, Mashariqul-Anwar, p. 23)

The assistants of the angel of death are the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment. When a person dies, the angels of mercy and punishment are present with the angel of death. There are narrations stating that their number is four or six, three angels of mercy and three angels of punishment. (see Hasan al-Idwi, pp. 25-26)

There are also those who say that the number of the angels of mercy is seven and the angels of torment is also seven. (see Qurtubi, the interpretation of al-Anam, verse 61)

- Tafsir scholars have also pointed out that the verses sometimes use the word “angel” and sometimes “angels” for the death attendants and pointed out that it is necessary to understand from these expressions that the main angel in charge is “Azrail” and the others are his assistants. (see Tabari, Mawardi, Razi, Qurtubi, the interpretation of al-Anam verse 61)

It will be useful to include the views of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi regarding the issue:

“Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) is the supervisor of the angels who are charged with taking possession of the spirits of the dying. Does Azra’il (UWP) himself take possession of them, or do his helpers do this?

There are three “ways” in this matter:

The First Way: Azra’il (Upon whom be peace) takes possession of every dying person’s spirit. Nothing is an obstacle to another, for he is luminous. Something luminous can be present in innumerable places by means innumerable mirrors and appear in them. The similitudes of luminous beings possess their characteristics; they may be deemed the same as them and not other than them. The sun’s image in mirrors displays it’s light and heat. Similarly, the images of such spirit beings as the angels in the various mirrors of the World of Similitudes are the same as them; they display their characteristics. But they are represented in accordance with the capacities of the mirrors. The same instant Gabriel (Upon whom be peace) appeared before the Companions in the form of Dihya, he appeared in different forms in thousands of places and was prostrating with his magnificent wings, which stretch from east to west, before the divine throne. His similitude was everywhere in accordance with the place’s capacity; at the same instant he was present in thousands of places....”

The Second Way: The archangels Gabriel, Michael, and Azra’il are like general supervisors. They have helpers that are similar to them in kind and resemble them, but are lesser than them. The assistants differ according to the sorts of creatures; those who take possession of the spirits of the righteous1 are of one sort, while those who take possession of the spirits of the wicked are of another....”

The Third Way: As is explained in the Fourth Principle in the Twenty-Ninth Word and is indicated by some Hadiths, there are some angels who have forty thousand heads, and in each of their heads are forty thousand tongues, (which means that they also have eighty thousand eyes), and with each of those tongues they utter forty thousand divine glorifications....” (see Mektubat, pp. 351-353)

f) Question:

This is due to the translation of the word “Waladun”. “Waladun” means one child. If two children were meant, the word “Waladani-Waladayni” would be used; and if more than two children were meant, the word “Awladun” would be used. The word used in the verse is “Waladun” and it means “one child”. Therefore, there is no problem. (an-Nisa 11:12) Is this explanation really correct? 

Answer:

- The word “walad” is a common noun. Common nouns are used for one as well as for more than one thing. This rule holds true in all languages. For example, in Turkish, instead of “Hasan has children”, one can also say “he has child”, which can refer to one or five children...

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