In these days following the height of election fever and what seems like years of debate and difference on everything from Brexit, immigration, the NHS, Liverpool or Barcelona, Ruiz or Joshua and so much more. I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on the ethics of disagreement in Islam, specifically reflecting on one of the stand-out surahs of the Qur’an for its illustration of the way we should interact with Allah(SWT), with the Messenger (SAW) and society as a whole. For this reason, some of the scholars would refer to this Surah as usool-ul adab (the principles of manners and ethics). Regarding social relations, Allah(SWT) mentions in 6 aayaat within Surah al Hujuraat addressing a range of etiquette.
1. Verify news
Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:6]
We live in a world filled with fake news and this first advice is to verify both the reporter and the report just in case you act or inform others based on incorrect information. In fact, its better to be cautious and not spread information unless certain as the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “It is sufficient for a person to be a liar that they speak of everything he hears.” kafaa bil mar’i kadhiban an-yuhadditha bikulli maa sami’ [Saheeh Muslim: 5]
This is especially the case with the spread of social media. It’s easy to forward a message online as we feel brave when we’re distant and possibly anonymous but remember Allah(SWT) knows every thought and action and it’s all being recorded. Sadly, this is the backdrop behind new-age torture – cyberbullying, trolling, harassment and blackmail.
In the context of someone disagreeing with you, one of my teachers would say that you should be grateful as a difference of opinion indicates interest and commitment, not stupidity and ignorance. Only the interested and committed disagree. So if you want to disagree, first appreciate the other person’s interest and commitment.
It was Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA) who said “Whoever shows you your faults is your friend. Those that pay you lip service in praise are your executioners.” Humility is the safety net that saves us from arrogance and the anger Allah.
Always remember that in matters of opinion, which are not clearly defined in the Qur’an or Sunnah, stating an opinion as the only correct way, is incorrect. Neither you nor the other person is getting Wahi (revelation) so don’t talk as if you are. Your opinion is based on your subjective understanding – remember that always.
Remember the statement of Imam Al-Shafi’i (may God be pleased with him) said, “I believe my opinion is right with the possibility that it is wrong. And I believe the opinion of another who disagrees with me is wrong with the possibility that it is right.”
2. Reconcile, don’t ignore (and recognise there is enough to go around)
If two groups of the believers fight, you [believers] should try to reconcile them… [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:9]
The believers are brothers, so make peace between your two brothers and be mindful of God, so that you may be given mercy. [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:10]
Allah(SWT) then goes on to encourage reconciliation and further explains that this must be based on fairness and justice. I’d like to focus on one of the causes of conflict and why we sometimes think others must lose for us to win. There is a saying that “The secret to having it all is believing you already do” – often times, we can fall into argumentation and conflict because we have a scarcity mentality. There’s only enough money, work, opportunity for some of us and therefore the strongest must take it for themselves. The “hustle culture” driven by YOLO (you only live once) has arisen from the pressures of living in a global knowledge economy where to succeed and stand out, you need to do more, achieve more, and get more things done than anybody else, or you just won’t make it in life – or so we are told.
We know however that this time on earth is only a small portion of our lives, and a day will come when our words and deeds will be held to account with the result leading to significant pain or eternal pleasure. Operating with this belief makes you consciously focus your life on the three investments that Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us would continue to exist after our death: our children and their prayers for us after we die, an ongoing charity that’s genuinely sustainable and beneficial to people, and developing and spreading a useful body of knowledge that’s timeless. Rather than scarcity, Muslims have an abundance mindset.
Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He may multiply it for him many times over? And it is Allah who withholds and grants abundance, and to Him you will be returned. [Surah Al Baqarah 2:245]
Abu Dharr reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, said:”[…] O My servants, even if the first amongst you and the last amongst you and the whole human race of yours and that of jinns also all stand in one plain ground and you ask Me and I confer upon every person what he asks for, it would not in any way, cause any loss to Me (even less) than that which is caused to the ocean by dipping the needle in it.” [Muslim, 2577]
3. Don’t mock or cause offence to others
Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behaviour are evildoers. [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:11]
Don’t attack the individual personally because that only shows you up in the worst light and closes the door for any objective consideration of what you’re about to say. Bad language, swearing and sarcasm is inappropriate. It causes offence, is rude and is inconsiderate.
Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: The believer does not taunt others, he does not curse others, he does not use profanity, and he does not abuse others. Source: [Tirmidhī 1977]
4. Question your assumptions
Believers, avoid making too many assumptions– some assumptions are sinful– and do not spy on one another or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful. [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:12]
It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who was quoted as saying: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: Do you know what backbiting is? They said, “Allah and his messenger know best.” The Prophet said: To mention your brother in a way he dislikes. It was said, “What do you think if what I said about him is true?” The Prophet said: If what you say about him is true, it is backbiting. If it is not true, it is slander. [Muslim 2589]
Similarly in another narration collected in the Musnad of Imam ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Mubārak, Abdullah ibn Amr reported: They mentioned a man in front of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and they said, “He only eats if he is fed! He only moves if he is made to move!” The Prophet said: You have backbitten him. They said, “We only said what is true about him.” The Prophet said: It is enough sin to mention bad things about your brother.
5. You’re from the same parents – know each other
People, We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another. In God’s eyes, the most honoured of you are the ones most mindful of Him: God is all knowing, all aware. [Surah Al Hujuraat 49:13]
Umar bin Khattab(RA) offered some deep advice to Al-Ahnaf Bin Qays, stating:
When one’s speech increases, his mistakes will also increase,
And when one’s mistakes increase, his modesty will decrease,
And when one’s modesty decreases, his piety will decrease,
And when one’s piety is lessened, his heart will die…
In summary, the principle here is that we can disagree without being disagreeable. The adab we have discussed today address based on the guidance from Surah al Hujuraat show the importance of:
- Verification: check the facts before you comment
- Seek to reconcile and bring people together, not disunite, remembering that Allah(SWT) blesses all of us with abundance and others don’t need to lose for you to win
- Don’t cause offence or mock others
- Question your own assumptions
- Remember you are all from Bani Adam and your differences are only to encourage growth and knowledge of one another. The best of you are the most mindful od Allah(SWT).