The missionaries have once again made an attempt to generate a so-called “contradiction” in the Qur’an. The gist of their claim is:
The Qur’an states that a person will only be responsible for his/her actions….17:13-15 Sher Ali; S. 53:38-42 Sher Ali. Yet these statements are contradicted by the next set of passages….S. 8:24-25 Sher Ali. Here, even the innocent will suffer the affliction that will smite the wrongdoers.
As it turns out, an appeal to the time-tested methodology of “the Qur’an explaining the Qur’an” would make this generated error “evaporate” into thin air, as we shall soon find out.
Both Qur’an 17:13-15 and Qur’an 53:38-42 are talking about the state of man on the Day of Resurrection, whereby man will face the judgement of God and therefore no one is accountable for his deeds/actions on earth except himself.
Qur’an 8:24-25, however, is warning about internal discord or tumult, and has nothing do do with one suffering the “consequence of sin”.1 This is noted by A. Yusuf Ali in footnote 1198 as:
Fitna’ has many meanings: (1) the root meaning is trial or temptation, as in ii. 102 and viii. 28; (2) an analogous meaning is trial or punishment, as in v. 74; (3) tumult or oppression, as i. 193; and here; and in vii 39; (4) there is here (viii. 25) the further shade of meaning suggested: discord, sedition, civil war.
This warning against internal discord or tumult was very necessary in the Civil Wars of early Islam, and was never more necessary than it is now. For it affects innocent and guilty alike.2
The above is further concured by the renowned Muslim scholar, the late Prof. Dr. HAMKA, in his famous exegesis (written in Indonesian) on the interpretation of Qur’an, 8:24-25. After giving examples of the civil wars in early Islam, he concludes as follows:}}
- Islam masih ada dan hidup. Al-Qur’an pun masih utuh. Kita akan membangkitkan Islam kembali. Maka ayat ini adalah pedoman penting bagi kita, yaitu awasilah bahaya fitnah.
Translation: Islam is still here and alive. The Qur’an has remains as it is. We will therefore be able to restore Islam soon. Therefore this ayah serves as an important reminder for us, which is to be aware of the dangers of fitna’ [internal discord or tumult])
As for where the verses that discuss the worship of the Golden Calf, the Qur’an does not cast blame on the present-day Jews or hold them accountable for the sin of their ancestors. Rather, it warns them of the consequences if they insist on repeating the mistakes of their forefathers. As Qur’an 8:24-25, as we had noted earlier, is totally unrelated to the issue at hand, there is little to add from here.
Hence the missionaries are guilty of proposing a red herring, i.e. going off the tangent by contradicting the understanding of renowned Muslim scholars, and their obvious hatred, paranoia and xenophobia are making them “difficult” to understand such simple passages as the above.
It is clear from the above discussion that the supposed contradiction raised by the missionaries isn’t one when the verses are studied in their context and with a proper understanding of their meanings.
The Qur’an, like any other text, must be read holistically and not in isolated pieces. It emphasizes the principle of individual accountability for actions, but it also speaks of the potential for societal disruption (fitna) that can affect everyone, guilty and innocent. This is not a contradiction; rather, it is an acknowledgement of the complex realities of both individual and collective consequences of actions.
Qur’an, 17:13-15 and Qur’an, 53:38-42 indeed confirm the principle of individual accountability on the Day of Resurrection. At the same time, Quran 8:24-25 warns of societal upheaval that can occur due to discord, and such events inevitably impact everyone in a society, not just the individuals causing the discord. This does not mean the innocent are being held accountable for the guilty’s actions, but rather illustrates the far-reaching consequences of discord within a society.
It is therefore critical to study the Qur’an with appropriate knowledge and respect for its holistic message, rather than selectively choosing verses in an attempt to create perceived contradictions. Such an approach is disingenuous and can lead to misinterpretations of the text.
Finally, as with any religious or philosophical discourse, it is essential to approach the Qur’an and Islam with an open and respectful mind. Any bias or prejudice can cloud understanding and lead to misinterpretations. In discussions of such nature, it is always crucial to prioritize understanding and empathy over discord and conflict.
We have used the traditional method of Qur’anic exegesis, i.e., al-Qur’an yufassiru ba’duhu ba’dan (different parts of the Qur’an explain each other). What is given in a general way in one place is discussed in detail in some other place in the Qur’an. What is dealt with briefly at one place is expanded in some other place. And indeed, only God knows best!
- The word fitna’ here is translated as “affliction and trial” and/or “tumult”, “oppression”. This usage is consistent in A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Kitab Bhavan, India (1996) and Hilali & Khan, Interpretation of The Noble Qur’an in the English Language, Maktaba Dar-us-Salam, Saudi Arabia (1994).
- A. Yusuf Ali, ibid., p. 421
- Prof. Dr. HAMKA, Tafsir Al-Azhar: Juzu’ 7-8-9 (1984), pp. 328-332.