The Islamic Etiquette of Disagreement
(Presentation by Mohamed Baianonie, Imam of the Islamic Center of Raleigh NC, given at the CIC's third annual conference held in Columbia, SC on Saturday, June 20, 1998)
Normally, when we are in agreement, it is easy for us to behave properly with each other. However, when we are in disagreement, we don't always behave properly. What makes it worse is when people try to justify their misbehavior by pretending that they are very religious. People who do this pretend that they are very concerned about the Deen of Allah. When in reality, they are just ignorant of the teachings of Islam and Islamic behavior.
Before I talk about the etiquette of disagreement, I should clarify the definition of disagreement, and I shall explain what is acceptable and what is not. Also I will mention some benefits that we can gain from disagreeing in an acceptable manner.
Definition: The definition of disagreement is when two individuals or more have conflicting ideas, positions, or sayings.
What are the acceptable and unacceptable disagreements among Muslims?
Firstly, it is acceptable for Muslim scholars to have disagreement in opinions. It is acceptable because there are many debates where there is no clear-cut evidence to the matter. It is possible that some narrations are not very authentic in the chain of narrators, or some might interpret texts differently than others . In fact, most Islamic texts are like this and very debated. Therefore, it is natural to have disagreement among the Muslim scholars.
This type of disagreement is not only acceptable, but in fact, rewarded by Allah (S.W.T.) at least once, with the possibility of two rewards. Those who qualify for this reward are the scholars who have the greatest knowledge in the matter. Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) confirms this reward in an authentic Hadith reported by Imams Bukhari, Muslim, and Abu-Dawud, which says, “If the Hakim (ruler or judge) made his Ijtihad or the extraction of the verdict from original sources of legislation and he reached the correct verdict he will get two rewards. And if he reached the wrong verdict he will only get one reward.”
Other evidence for this acceptable disagreement in Islam comes from a Hadith reported by Imams Bukhari and Muslim, in which Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) ordered his companions after the battle of Al-Ahzaab saying, “No one of you should pray Asr until you reach the village of Bani-Qurayzah (A Jewish tribe) .” While they were on their way, the time of Asr came. Some companions said we should not pray until we reach Bani-Qurayzah. Others said we should pray Asr now because the Prophet (S.A.W.) did not mean for us to leave the Asr prayer, but he wanted us to be in a hurry. So some of the companions prayed Asr , while others continued on until they reached Bani-Qurayzah after sunset. When they went back to the Prophet, they mentioned to him the story and he did not blame either one of them." This Hadith clearly shows us that the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) accepted both opinions, because if one of them were wrong then the Prophet would have expressed it at that time.
The Mujtahideen are a group of Muslims scholars who extract verdicts based on the Qur'an and the Sunnah , yet do not follow others opinions such as Imams Abu-Hanifah, Malik, Shfi'i and Ahmad Ibn-Hanbal may Allah be pleased with all of them . The disagreements among the Mujtahideen are also acceptable in Islam and will be rewarded. They will be rewarded because they derive their verdicts from the Islamic legislative sources.
Acceptable disagreements do not only include matters of Shariah (Islamic Law), but also include matters of Aqeedah (belief) where there is no clear-cut evidence. This type of disagreement in the matters of Aqeedah or belief used to be practiced among the companions of the prophet. For example,
Imam Muslim reported on a situation that happened between Ibn-Abbas and Aisha', may Allah be pleased with both of them . They disagreed in the matter referring to Prophet Muhammad's (S.A.W.) sighting of Allah with his naked eye during the night of Mi'raj . Ibn-Abbas (R.A.) used to tell people that he believed that the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) saw Allah with his naked eye during the night of Mi'raj . He supported his opinion with verses (12 &13) from Surat An-Najim, what can be translated as, “Will you then dispute with him (Muhammad) about what he saw. And indeed he saw him at a second descent (another time). ” When Aisha' heard about his opinion she said, “The hair on my head stood up” meaning that she was shocked. Then she said, “Whoever claims that Muhammad (S.A.W.) saw his Lord in the night of Mi'raj , brought a big lie on Allah (S.W.T.).” She supported her opinion by verse (103) in Surat Al-Ana'm, what can be translated as, “No vision can grasp Him (Allah) , but His Grasp is over all vision. He is the Most Subtle and Courteous, Well-Acquainted with all things. ” In this case the disagreement is between Ibn-Abbas and Aisha' may Allah be pleased with both of them in a matter of Aqeedah (belief). This disagreement resulted from different interpretations of the text, not because of its authenticity.
Secondly, an unacceptable disagreement is every disagreement in the matters of Deen where there is clear-cut evidence. There are some issues in Islam that cannot be argued. There are many texts where the narration is highly authentic or the matter can be understood in only one way. Also, it is unacceptable for people who are unqualified in Islamic law to dispute about any matters of Deen . Those who get involved in such disputes are committing a sinful act motivated by desire and by Satan.
Here are some of the benefits that come from acceptable disagreements:
- Acceptable disagreement gives people a chance to hear all possible opinions that are backed by evidence.
- Acceptable disagreement also gives people more flexibility in implementing Islam in their lives because they will have more options to choose from.
Now I will list some of the Islamic etiquettes of disagreement:
- Muslims should avoid disagreement as much as possible. However, we have every right to disagree when there is a valid reason to do so, yet under normal conditions we should find agreement.
- Muslims are only allowed to have acceptable disagreements among themselves based on what has been mentioned today.
- Muslims should refer to the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) in the case of a dispute about an Islamic matter. However in any matters of the worldly life, we should refer to those who specialize in these matters like doctors and engineers, etc.
- Muslims must be ready to accept the verdict from Allah (S.W.T.) and His Messenger with complete submission after the truth becomes clear to them. In this case they should follow the truth, no matter what.
- Muslims should have the pure intention of pleasing Allah (S.W.T.) in any of their disagreements, and should not argue just for satisfying one's desires or for arrogance.
- Everyone in disagreement should believe that there is a chance that the others could be correct and that he could be wrong.
- Those who disagree should behave with the best of etiquette in their debate. Those in debate should focus on the subject, while choosing the most accurate words, clarifying the meaning of certain terminology that will be used, using the best words and avoiding the bad ones, listening to other opinions carefully with an open mind, avoiding interrupting others while they speak, and finally, giving others enough time to express their opinions.
- People in disagreement should not continue their pointless debate after all the opinions are proven clearly or after discovering that some people are just stubborn and will never change their opinion.
- Muslims in disagreement should restrain themselves from accusing others of deviation, corruption, or other accusations, and should instead believe that people are good and sincere in their opinions.
- The objective of the discussion should be to reach the truth. It does not matter who or how the truth comes about, just as long as the truth is revealed.
- If no agreement is reached, then all parties should respect each other's opinions and give each other an excuse. Do not attack the person by calling them hardheaded or saying that they have bad intentions. Some people just have different views, and will not change their opinions no matter what. You should work together and build upon the ideas that you do agree upon. By doing this, we are following the ways of the people of the Sunnah and Jama'ah.
- Finally, Muslims should always supplicate to Allah (S.W.T.) to open our hearts and minds to the truth. “O' Allah show us the truth clearly and help us to follow it and love it. O' Allah show us the false clearly and help us to stay away from it and to hate it.”