By Shabina S. Khatri
We don’t all have to be the same. Really.
Muslims are allowed to disagree, and Islam was built on the mercy of disagreement. That’s why our history is replete with not just the record and character of our beloved Prophet (SAW), but also with stories of his closest companions – feisty Aisha, prudent Abu Bakr, intense Omar, unassuming Uthman and valiant Ali, peace be upon them all.
To be sure, these Muslims – the best of all Muslims – differed amongst themselves on both deen and duniya issues, just like we do today. But unlike us, they did it with dignity and always with the purest of intentions. And the disagreements they chose to pursue increased their understanding of faith, while ours usually lead us farther down the path of ignorance.
What is it that the Prophet (SAW) and his companions had that made it ok to disagree?
Despite their differences, these people shared several key personality traits – qualities we should work to acquire and nurture, so that our arguments can also yield ideal results. Here are four of the most important characteristics, and how/why we should exude them.
Alhumdulillah, many of us have been blessed with tons of knowledge about our deen. But without wisdom, knowledge can be as much a curse as it is a blessing. It’s not enough to stay abreast of the latest fatwas and memorize each intricate detail of fiqh; we must also understand how to apply that knowledge. The Prophet (SAW) said, “When Allah (SWT) wishes good for someone, He bestows upon him the understanding of Deen.”
Wisdom is also helpful when it comes to arguing with stubborn people. Sometimes, disagreement can morph into pointless debate, in which all opinions are proven clearly but nobody expresses a willingness to change his/her point of view. Recognizing when an argument has reached this point is a sign of wisdom. So is walking away or changing the subject once the conversation has devolved in such a way.
This is what I like to call the pre-emptive strike of all traits, because exercising sincerity would probably prevent 90% of our disagreements from getting out of control. How? By forcing ourselves to evaluate our intentions before (and during) an argument we can really affect what comes out of our mouths.
Are we wielding our knowledge like a weapon so as to beat our opponent, or are we applying our knowledge as a tool to help us understand one another and bring us closer to faith?
Many of the disagreements we have today have more to do with ego trips than with a sincere desire to arrive at some sort of useful conclusion. Taking the time to evaluate our intentions before things get heated is a great way to prevent unnecessary divisions among friends, family and community members.
Listening is a very difficult skill to hone, especially when we talk to people who disagree with us. During these conversations, we are usually too busy waiting until it’s our turn to speak to really comprehend the points made by the other person. This disregard can cause misunderstandings to occur, so that even a benign conversation can escalate into an unproductive shouting match.
Exercising restraint and patience during such times is essential. Think twice, speak once is usually a good rule of thumb. The Prophet (SAW) was a master of this technique, which served him especially well while conducting da’wah.
Consider his reaction to the Bedouin who urinated in the masjid. Rather than punish him, the Prophet (SAW) ordered that water be poured over the spot and reminded his companions, “your mission is to facilitate matters, not complicate them (Bukhari).”
A popular joke on the convert circuit is, “I’m glad I found Islam before I met the Muslims.” That’s because we have a tendency to give people who don’t know as much as we think we do a hard time – especially if we see them making a mistake in their practice.
Back in the day, the Prophet (SAW) sneezed in prayer. A man who didn’t know not to speak during salat blessed him, saying ’Yarhamuk Allah (may Allah (SWT) have mercy on you). People starting glaring at him, so he asked what was wrong. Then the congregation began to slap their thighs with their hands until the man fell silent. When the Prophet (SAW) finished the prayer, he did not scold the man or shame him. He just said, “This prayer should contain nothing of the speech of men; it is only tasbeeh and takbeer and recitation of the Quran (Muslim).”
SubhanAllah. Such a simple reaction, yet one that is so difficult for us to emulate!
If it seems like all of this advice sound like common sense, it’s because it is. Like the Prophet (SAW) said, Islam was not sent to complicate life, but to simplify it. Asking ourselves whether a subject is worth debate; whether we are debating it for the right reasons; and whether there is a better way to facilitate understanding about the topic in question are great ways to bridge divides in our community.
In addition to wisdom, sincerity, patience and mercy, humility was also a hallmark characteristic of the Prophet (SAW) and his companions. That’s why the best Muslim scholars always conclude their rulings in the same way – saying that there is a chance that others could be correct and they could be wrong.
In seeking to emulate this tradition, I will conclude by saying that all of this advice I give is to myself first and foremost, and Inshallah it will be useful to you as well.