With respect to the perception of truth, disagreement is an ancient phenomenon in the intellectual history of mankind. The belief that there is only "One Truth" does not detract from the possibility of how it is arrived at. This is a matter open to everyone to pursue within his or her social and intellectual means. This pursuit however, should not be to serve a person's self interest.
We must take into consideration the fact that our intellectual life is based on an exchange of opinions and ideas that vary. This often reflects distinct cultural, sociological, psychological and intellectual influences. Diversity leads to differences in perspective and understanding and naturally to some disagreement. Differences of opinion are inevitable wherever people possess intellect and honesty.
When analyzing our history, it appears obvious that advanced and intellectually honest societies were able to profit from disagreement. Diversity fosters variety and thus a myriad of potentials. Civilized individuals respect other people and therefore have the tendency to respect the opinions of others.
Those who are ethically impoverished, emotionally overcharged and intellectually barren, have an inclination to be so dogmatic as to use differences of opinion as a barrier between themselves and others with whom they differ. This often leads to disputes that cause disrespect for others and off others.
It is only gross ignorance and egoism that leads any person to blasphemously believe that there is no room for disputing his or her opinion. It is unfortunate that this inability to accept and respect other people's opinion is so deep rooted in our socio-political environment that it is often considered part of religiosity. Many religious leaders, organizations and institutions have not rid themselves of that destructive and predictable legacy of desiring to be contentious rather than conciliatory.
Balance and moderation are not only supposed to be inherent characteristics of true Believers, they are fundamental landmarks of Islam. Allah says:
"Thus have We made you an Ummah justly balanced,
The lack of moderation often manifests itself through harshness in treatment of people, arrogance in attitude, roughness in manner and crudeness in expression. The communicative method of those who are immoderate tends to be abusive, always criticizing, sermonizing or even berating others well past the point of legitimate communication and disregarding the moral obligation of respect. Their communication transgresses a reasonable attempt to inform or even persuade - it becomes a harangue. It is as if the speaker is engaged in a campaign to beat those, who differ with him into submission rather than simply convey a point of view, pummeling them with repetitive opinion, complaints or demands. If the desired response is not given, the speaker simply restates the point more loudly or aggressively.
Even if it were to be told to one of these ardently opinionated people that their position has been heard, understood and considered this rarely stops the onslaught. The only way such people will believe that their point is understood is if everyone agrees with it. They can become so self-righteous that they truly believe disagreement with them is proof of confusion, ignorance, stupidity, treachery, hypocrisy or even kufr.
It is one thing to assert the primacy of universal virtues like goodness and justice; it is quite another to exclusively claim the cloak of universal truth on opinions dealing with matters on which knowledgeable people disagree.
Differing as Muslims in an un-Islamic manner
"My opinion is correct but the possibility of error exists."
The Qur'an has declared the followers of Prophet Muhammad as Ummatan Waahidah (single global community), as Ikhwa (a fraternity); and has distinctly warned against infighting (8:46 Quran). It is ironic that the present-day Muslim society often manifests the very antithesis of these descriptions and pays no heed to this warning.
The vast majority of our internal battles are a consequence of dogmatism and narrowly defined self interests. We have made Islam which is a simple and universal foundation of good into a source of major conflicts and infighting over insignificant issues. We have turned minor points of jurisprudence into major ideological conflicts. Sadly, all of this is in the holy name of Islam.
Betraying a noble tradition
The Mujtahideen (experts in Islamic Law) differed and disagreed yet maintained a high regard for one another. Imam Abu Hanifah said, "If it were not for the two years that I accompanied Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, I would have perished." These exemplary scholars were neither self-righteous nor dogmatic. When the Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur expressed his intention of attaching Imam Malik's Al-Muwatta (book of hadith) to the Ka'bah and obliging people to follow it, Imam Malik himself opposed the idea. He advocated that people in different parts of the Muslim world may have received differing information. He urged the Caliph al-Mansur to leave people to follow in accordance with the knowledge they had received and not to narrow down or to limit which Allah and His Messenger have left without bounds.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal pleaded, "Do not follow me or Malik or Shafi'i or Awzaai or Thawri, and rather take from the source (Qur'an and Sunnah) from which we have taken." The great jurist Imam Shafi'i is reported to have said: "I never argue with anyone without praying that Allah may put the truth on the tongue of that person." He also said: "My opinion is correct but the possibility of error exists." The differing opinions of great scholars and those well-versed help to illuminate the multi-dimensions of an issue and varying interpretations. This brings about a degree of flexibility that the law requires to meet the needs demanded by the vicissitudes of ever-changing times.
Etiquette and social interest
Problems usually arise due to four main reasons:
People overstate their differences.
They attribute to themselves a degree of infallibility and consider their opinion to be the ultimate view, almost as if God's revelation is merely a substantiation of their perspective.
Vested interests that cause people to undermine others (particularly those who are more successful than themselves or to deflect criticism of their own shortcomings).
When groups become excessively partisan to one opinion over another.
As Muslims we need to realize that differing does not necessarily imply opposing. Within the broad spectrum of shared knowledge and difference of opinion, there is also the uniting factor of mutual respect and the greater interest of the community.
Sadullah Khan completed memorization of the Quran and furthered his studies in Law in South Africa, Journalism in England and Islamic Studies in Egypt. As a motivational speaker he addresses issues of spirituality, empowerment. He is the author of the book "Dimensions of the Qur'an" and translator of "Message For The Seekers Of Guidance". He has served in several roles in Universities and Islamic Centers in Southern California and is currently involved with Impower Development International based in South Africa.
You can watch his lectures on Empowerment at IslamiTV
One that shows maturity, understanding and an open mind. I personally congratulate you for this article. It was articulated with style.
IF YOU CAN ASSIT ME BECAUSE OF ALLAH
AND SEND SOME BOOK OR ARTICLES FOR ME PHYSICALLY I WILL BE GLAD REALLY
BECOUSE I AM A STUDENT OF ENGNEERING, AND I DONT HAVE MONEY TO BROWS EVERY DAY
PLZ ASSIST ME AND ALLAH WILL ASSIT U.
THANKS YOURS IN ISLAM
we understood and acept your coments and i realy wented to join your institution, so tha i will benifet something from islamic noledge from your company. i also beso greatiful if you could kindly help me to come and join your institution. thank you
I really enjoyed this article because i think people, including myself, forget that being a good Muslim is also to be tolerant of other people's opinions. However, i felt a bit dissatisfied with the solution of the details given in this piece. I understand the problem we have but what is a more elaborate "game plan" we can attain to better ourselves next time we are in this inevitable situation.
JezakunAllah khairon for your time and energy.
Mashallah i completely agree with what the brother has written. The thing i've noticed though is that even "progressive" Muslims who think of themselves as "open-minded" etc tend to do exactly what this brother has talked about, and what they themselves are against: i.e. they also seem to think that their opinion is somewhat infallible because (perhaps) they are intellectually advanced or the like.
Allah made a world full of Goodness.