To start with, we’d like to cite a sound hadith reported in Al-Bukhari. Narrated Marwan Al-Asghar: A man from the companions of Allah’s Messenger, who, I think, was Ibn `Umar said, “The verse ‘Whether you show what is in your minds or conceal it…‘ (2: 284) was abrogated by the verse following it.”
The eminent scholar, Dr. `Abdul-Fattah `Ashoor, Professor of the Exegesis of the Qur’an at Al-Azhar University, states: “Contemplating the reaction of the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) when the verse in question (2: 284) was revealed, we will realize how merciful Allah Almighty is to His servants. According to Imam Ahmad, Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said that when that verse was revealed, the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) got extremely sad and fearful that they would be accounted by Almighty Allah for everything including their inner thoughts.
They went to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), got down on their knees and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Allah Almighty has so far prescribed for us things that we can bear doing, such as prayer, fasting, jihad, and zakah. But with regard to this verse, we would not be able to abide by the teaching it denotes.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Do you want to follow in the footsteps of the People of the Scriptures before you, when they said (to their Prophets), ‘We hear, but we rebel’? You should, rather, say, ‘We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying.’”
Upon that, the companions submitted humbly to what Allah ordains in that verse. Following this, Allah Almighty revealed: (The Messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Lord and (so do) the believers. Each one believeth in Allah and His angels and His scriptures and His messengers. We make no distinction between any of His messengers and they say: We hear, and we obey. (Grant us) Thy forgiveness, our Lord. Unto Thee is the journeying.) (Al-Baqarah: 285)
Then, Allah Almighty abrogated the verse in question (Al-Baqarah 284) and revealed, ( Allah tasketh not a soul beyond its scope. For it (is only) that which it hath earned, and against it (only) that which it hath deserved. Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget, or miss the mark! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as Thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Impose not on us that which we have not the strength to bear! Pardon us, absolve us and have mercy on us, Thou, our Protector, and give us victory over the disbelieving folk.) (Al-Baqarah: 286)
According to the two authentic books of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:
Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah Almighty says (in a qudsi [divine] hadith), ‘Whenever My servant intends to do a bad deed then (O Angels) do not write it unless he does it; if he does it, then write it as one bad deed. (On the other hand) if he intends to do a good deed but does not do it, then write it as a good deed (in his account), and if he does it, then write it for him (in his account) as ten good deeds.‘ “
It is also reported by Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah Almighty says (in a qudsi hadith), ‘Whenever my bondsman intends to do good but does not do it, it is written as one good act for him; but if he puts it into practice, it is written from ten to seven hundred good deeds in favor of him. When he intends to commit a bad deed but does not actually do it, it is not recorded against him. But if he does it, it is written as only one bad deed.’ “
There are many hadiths reported in that regard. This indicates that Allah Almighty revealed the verse in question as a trial to test the faith and submission of the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all), and they proved to be up to Almighty Allah’s trust in them. Hence, He Almighty, out of His Graciousness and Mercy, alleviated their worry and decreed that they would not be accountable for what they harbored in their hearts.”
Have stated the above, we can see that there is no contradiction between the verse and the hadith in question. Rather, the verse was abrogated by the verse following it, the content of which agrees with the meaning of the hadith.
Moreover, Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, elaborates on man’s accountability for his thoughts:
“Our thoughts can be divided into different categories:
1) the constant self-talk or idle thoughts that assail our minds and over which we have no control
2) Thoughts that we dwell on
3) Intentions that we formulate based on those thoughts.
We are not accountable for the first stage, namely the self-talk, since we have no control over it, unless we dwell on the thoughts and nurture them in our minds. We are accountable if we dwell on them. We are also accountable for the deliberate intentions that we formulate based on these thoughts.”
In addition, Sheikh `Atiyyah Saqr, former head of Al-Azhar Fatwa Committee, states: “Allah Almighty does not account a person for his thoughts except in two cases:
First, if a person has firm determination to put into practice the thought in his mind. The evidence for this is the Prophet’s hadith: “If two Muslims meet each other with their swords, then (both) the killer and the killed one are in the (Hell) Fire.” I [the narrator] said, “O Allah’s Messenger! It is all right for the killer, but what about the killed one?” He said, “The killed one was eager to kill his opponent.” (Reported in Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Second, once the person applies what he thinks of. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Allah has forgiven my followers the evil thoughts that occur to their minds, as long as such thoughts are not put into action or uttered.” (Reported in the six authentic books of Hadith, and explained by Imam Ibn Kathir). A person is accountable for his intention to do an evil deed that he couldn’t do due to inability or fear of authorities. But if he couldn’t do it due to piety and fear of Allah, then Allah would not account him for it. Instead, he may attain the reward of jihad an-nafs (striving against inner whims). This settles any assumed contradiction between textual evidence.”