Answers to Alleged Contradictions in the Qur'an (Part Four)

CLAIM: Sibling share suddenly doubled
Katz claims that 4:12 contradicts 4:176. According to 4:12 when there is no direct heir a brother or a sister would receive 1/6 each; thus 1/3 altogether. But "4:176 says in the same situation that ?they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves? [double of what 4:12 says]."

REPLY: Read Carefully
Contrary to what Katz claims, there is a key difference in the two situations. The pronoun "they" in 4:176 refers to two sisters whereas 4:12 refers to a brother and a sister. Since a brother and a sister is not the same thing, a brother plus a sister is not the same as two sisters.

The Arabic text clearly says, "in kanataa ithnatayn" which literally means "if they are two--females." Hence Yusuf Ali renders it: "if there are two sisters." Even Arberry?s translation renders the passage: "if there be two sisters they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves (4:176)." So the translation also made the matter clear. But in order to press home his claim of contradiction, Katz wrenched a phrase out of its context hence giving it a different meaning. He skipped the conditional "if there be two sisters" and quoted only "they shall receive two-thirds of what he leaves." Then Katz went on to argue as though the pronoun "they" refers to a brother and a sister. A quick review of the text, however, reveals that Katz?s point is based on a misrepresentation of the Qur?an.

Lest You go Astray
I am struck by Allah?s mention in the same verse: "Allah makes clear to you, lest you go astray." I wonder now, by Katz?s muddying the verse how many internet browsers may have gone astray. I pray that my humble effort here may become the means by which Allah may guide many.

To be sure, 4:176 then goes on to prescribe for the case of more than two siblings including brothers and sisters. But then the verse does not prescribe the specific shares to be allotted them except to reiterate a general principle that the males get twice what their sisters receive. Since the specific shares are not allotted they cannot be said to be different from the allotted shares elsewhere. Either way you look at it, Katz is very wrong.

The Commentators
Katz goes on to report the commentary of Razi to show how Razi got around the perceived problem with the assumption that the two verses speak of two different sets of brothers and sisters. Whereas 4:12 refers to a brother or a sister from the mother, 4:176 refers to full siblings or siblings from the same father. If Razi is right, then of course there is no problem. Katz thinks that Muslim commentators simply invented this explanation to get around the problem.

But even if Razi is wrong, there is still no problem. My clarification above does not depend on any commentary. I have just simply shown that if we took the verse literally as Katz wants to do then it speaks of two different things. Whether we take the verse literally or we take Razi?s commentary as correct, either way Katz is wrong.

CLAIM: One year?s maintenance not same as 1/8
Katz claims a contradiction between 4:11 and 2:240. A man leaves an eight of his estate to his widow if he also leaves a child. But 2:240 prescribes "one year?s maintenance for her." And this, except for some remarkable coincidence, will always be different from a 1/8 share.

REPLY: Why should they be the same?
Katz failed to distinguish between the inheritance shares and a bequest. In 2:240 the maintenance for one year is prescribed as a bequest (Arabic: wasiyyah). On the other hand 4:11 prescribes the 1/8 share to be given only after debts and bequests (wasiyyah) are settled. Even Arberry?s translation on which Katz depends says that men leave to their widows "an eight after any bequest they may bequeath, or any debt (4:11)."

Selective Recall
It is sad to notice again that the problem is not Katz?s lack of knowledge of the terms. Elsewhere he acknowledged "the rule that at most 1/3 can be given as a bequest to a person which is usually not an heir." Then he even goes on to provide links to sites which deal with Islamic inheritance law. So the problem is not that Katz does not know. The problem is that while he is concentrating on establishing one contradiction at a time he forgets anything he knows that could possible demolish the very claimed contradiction.

CLAIM: See Yusuf Ali?s footnote
Katz claims that since many commentators recognized that they cannot in practice make a year?s maintenance for a widow equal to a 1/8 share of inheritance, they saw here a contradiction between 2:240 and 4:12. To support this claim, he writes: "According to Yusuf Ali?s footnote on 2:240, many commentators for this reason consider 2:240 abrogated by 4:12."

REPLY: It does not say what you say
The support for that claim is based on a false allegation. I have checked more than one editions of Yusuf Ali?s translation for the opinion which Katz attributes to Yusuf Ali. And I could not find it. Katz?s claim is that according to Yusuf Ali many commentators deemed the two verses to be mutually contradictory, and that "for this reason" they consider 2:240 to be abrogated by 4:12. On the contrary, Yusuf Ali?s footnote on 2:240 reads:

"Opinions differ whether the provision ( of a year?s maintenance, with residence) for a widow is abrogated by the share which the widow gets (one eighth or one-fourth) as an heir (Q. iv. 12). I do not think it is. The bequest (where made) takes effect as a charge on the property, but the widow can leave the house before the year is out, and presumably the maintenance then ceases."

That is the full extent of Yusuf Ali?s note #273 on 2:240 (American Trust Publications, 1977). Notice that the quoted words from Yusuf Ali do not imply anything about contradiction, only about abrogation. Yusuf Ali does not say that the commentators recognized here a contradiction and that "for this reason" they consider 2:240 to be abrogated. Here Katz?s enthusiasm overshadowed his caution, and he attributed to Yusuf Ali an opinion which Yusuf Ali did not hold.

Katz harbours the idea that abrogation means contradiction. But abrogation is not the same as contradiction. The difference is explained under the next head.

Katz claims that 4:7 contradicts 4:11. In 4:7 daughters are given an equal share with their brothers whereas in 4:11 they are given only half what their brothers get. This is clear from the parallel construction in 4:7 which says "to the men a share . . . and to the women a share."

It seems that Katz is willing to go to desperate lengths to keep making more claims. Why does he think that 4:7 awards an equal share to daughters? He thinks "the parallel construction makes that obvious." On the contrary, the only thing it makes obvious is that sons and daughters each get a share. Where does it say that the shares are equal?

On the other hand, it is reasonable to see that both statements are correct. One says that the son and daughter will each get a share. Another says that the share which the son gets will be double what the daughter gets. Putting the two statements together, we have this final instruction: Both the son and the daughter will have a share, the son?s share being twice that of the daughter. Where is the contradiction?

Katz supports his finding of a contradiction here by referring to Muslim commentators. He noted that all commentators recognized 4:7 to be abrogated by 4:11. This pair of verses is listed as pair #20 in the book Itqan. According to Katz, then, 4:7 was recognized by all commentators as an abrogated verse. This to him means that its content is contradicted by another verse, in this case 4:11. Hence he can claim the following: "That this was a contradiction was recognized by all commentators . . . ."

But surely here Katz misunderstands what an abrogation is in the view of Muslim commentators. Many used the term abrogation in the sense of specification. Hence if one verse gave a general instruction and a later verse gave a more specific instruction the latter is called an abrogating verse and the former is called an abrogated verse. However, this does not mean that the commentators recognized here a contradiction as Katz alleges. It only means that they recognized the later verse as being more specific where the former was more general. We have already seen that this is the case with the verses being discussed. Whereas the former verse 4:7 said in general that the son and daughter both inherit, the latter verse 4:11 specified that the share of the male would be twice that of the female. There is hence no contradiction between the two verses.

Moreover, even if commentators think that there is a contradiction that does not help Katz. His method was, as he stated, to ignore the commentators and take the Qur?anic statements in their most literal sense. If he cannot show a contradiction using this method, it is pointless to appeal to the commentators in desperation.

Furthermore, all commentators are not agreed that this is a case of abrogation. According to Shah Waliullah of Delhi, there are only five pairs of abrogated and abrogating verses, and this pair is not one of the five (Ahmad Von Denver, Uloom al-Qur?an, UK: Islamic Foundation, 1994; p. 108). So what does that prove? The crux of the matter here is not what the commentators said but what the verses actually say. Since the verses themselves do not contradict each other, Katz?s claim is ruined.

Katz complains that the Qur?an often does not provide for the estate to be exhaustively distributed. When the allotted shares are added they amount to less than 100%. His persistent question, therefore, is "Who gets the rest?" Since the Qur?an claims to be a complete guidance, it should provide instructions on such details.

The Bible is a much larger book than the Qur?an. Yet it contains less on inheritance than the Qur?an. And it too claims to be a complete guidance. How does Katz regard this?

The Qur?an is said to be about 4/5 the length of the New Testament. The Old Testament is much longer than the New Testament. And the Bible is made up of both testaments. Why is it that a book of such size include so little on a subject that Katz considers so important?

Katz feels that the allowance in Islamic Law for a person to bequeath up to 1/3 of his property "can lead to gross injustices." One can theoretically bequeath away his property thus leaving his elderly parents with no support. He further complains that the limit of 1/3 is not prescribed in the Qur?an.

Katz would be on better ground here if he took into consideration the entire Qur?an. The Qur?an does in fact prescribe that charity is first to one?s parents, then to one?s near relatives, then to others. If anyone disinherits his parents he would be going against this important directive.

Moreover, Katz should be able to demonstrate that the Bible is better at ensuring justice. On the contrary, the Bible in the Gospel of Luke shows that when a matter of injustice involving inheritance was brought to Jesus, on whom be peace, he refused to settle the matter (Luke 12:13). Muslims of course believe that Jesus stood for justice. Muslims would question any detail of the gospels which contradict this noble portrait of Jesus. But how does Katz feel about this gospel report?

Katz devoted an entire page complaining about how it is "very unjust" to allot a man twice the share of his sister as Islamic law does. His complaining may lead a reader to expect that his Bible teaches differently.

On the contrary, according to the Bible if there are sons they should take everything and the daughters should get nothing. Only if there are no sons can the daughters inherit (Numbers 27:8-11). However, such a daughter is required to marry into a family of her father?s tribe (Numbers 36:6, 11).

Katz complains of injustice because the Qur?an gives the woman only half of what her brother gets. How does he react to the Biblical prescription that the woman gets nothing if she has a brother?

Moreover, the Qur?an prescribes for a woman to inherit as a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, and as a wife. The Bible offers no such prescription. Rather, the Bible allots the entire inheritance to male relatives where such exist, leaving nothing for wife or mother. So why do Bible believers complain about the Qur?an?

In his reply to Randy Desmond, Katz comments on an interpretation of a hadith which directs us to give the allotted shares as designated and then to give the undistributed remainder to the nearest male relative. Katz stretches this to mean possibly a male cousin of an uncle. Then he concludes that if he dies leaving a daughter as his only child his daughter would get half the estate and such a remote male relative would get the other half. Then comes his expression of incredulity:

". . . this remote male relative would get half the inheritance? As much as my daughter? That is what the hadith would suggest."

Aside from his misunderstanding of the said hadith and of Islamic inheritance law, Katz should be advised that if he follows the Bible on this matter his daughter may get nothing and the male relative would take all if the daughter marries outside her father?s tribe. Katz may think this law no longer applies today, but that does not help his position. Since Katz believes that this prescription came from God in the first place, and Katz thinks it incredible, then by implication he thinks that God?s prescription in the Bible is incredible.

Based on his misunderstanding of the hadith and of Islamic law, Katz is able to remark:

"According to my taste, this is not justified. [Neither do I know of any country?s civil or religious law where things are dealt with that way.] But then, maybe I am not the one to define what is justice."

Neither is it done that way in Islamic law. On the other hand, has Katz read his Bible lately? According to the Bible, if a man has no kids his property goes to his brothers, or to his father?s brothers (Numbers 27:8-11). How does Katz feel about this? Wife and mother are not mentioned in the list of inheritors. According to this list we should pass over a man?s wife and mother and give his entire property to his father?s brother. Perhaps Katz will explain to us how this fits his taste of what is justified.

Anything Left Unanswered?
I have in the foregoing discussion answered every significant point raised by Katz regarding the matter of inheritance. If there is anything left unanswered I would like to know. Then I can get to work on it right away.