They were the best of generations of this nation. They learned the Quran directly from the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). And yet they differed in explaining meanings of the verses.
Ibn Taymiyyah argues that there is little difference between the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) regarding exegesis of the Quran.
“Whenever they do differ in the exegesis of the Qur’an it is more a difference of variation than contradiction.”
What appear to be differences can be mostly reconciled in either of two ways.
1- Explaining the same concept from different points of view such as using synonyms or different attributes of the same thing.
And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind. (Quran, 20:124)
The remembrance mentioned in this verse can be:
- The Quran
- The Divinely revealed Books
- Saying subhanAllah, alhamdulillah, la ilaha illallah and Allahu Akbar
“… what is intended by the remembrance is His revealed speech or the remembrance of that speech by the servant. Therefore, whether it is said: ‘My remembrance’ means ‘My Book’ or ‘My speech’ or ‘My guidance’, the intended meaning is one and the same.” (Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Muqaddimah)
Similarly, the Straight Path can be explained as:
- The Quran
- Al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah
- The path of worship
- The path of obedience to Allah
If one looks closely, all these things amount to one and the same thing.
2- Explaining something using an example
Sometimes in order to explain a concept, the companions (and even the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself) would put forth an illustration, which didn’t necessarily encompass its entirety.
Allah mentions three groups of people in the following verse:
Then we caused to inherit the Book those We have chosen of Our servants; and among them is he who wrongs himself, and among them is he who is moderate, and among them is he who is foremost in good deeds by permission of Allah. That [inheritance] is what is the great bounty. (Quran, 35:32)
One can explain this verse by saying that one of the groups of people disobey Allah and thus wrong themselves. The second group fulfills the obligations set by Allah, and leaves it at that. The people of the third group fulfill the obligations and on top of that they do more – they strive to do as much good deeds as they can, including the optional, recommended deeds.
One can also illustrate the distinctions between these three groups using examples. So if one says that the first group doesn’t pray, the second prays the five daily obligatory prayers, and the third prays obligatory and Sunnah prayers, then one will not be wrong.
And if another person says that the first group doesn’t pay zakah, the second pays the minimum zakah required for them, and the third also gives charity on top of the zakah, then these two explanations are not contradictory.
They are simply taking different examples to illustrate the same concept.
An Introduction to the Principles of Tafsir, Al Hidaayah Publishing.