Respecting our differences
“Waste no time debating what a good Muslim should be. Be one!”
By Muhammad Alshareef
Imam Malik one day entered the Masjid after Asr. Towards the front of Masjid An-Nabawee he drew closer and sat down. Rasul Allah had commanded that anyone who enters the Masjid should not sit until he first prays 2 rakas as a salutation of the Masjid. Imam Malik was of the opinion however that Rasul Allah’s forbiddance of praying after Asr took precedence and so he would teach his students to not pray the tahiyyatul Masjid if they entered between the Asr and Maghrib time.
At that moment that Imam Malik sat down, a young boy had seen him sit without first praying the 2 raka’s of Tahiyyatul Masjid. The young boy scorned him, “Get up and pray 2 rakas!”
Imam Malik dutifully stood up once again and began praying the 2 rakas. The students sat stunned: What was going on? Had Imam Malik’s opinion changed?
After he had completed the salah, the students swarmed around and questioned his actions. Imam Malik said, “My opinion has not changed, nor have I gone back on what I taught you earlier. I merely feared that had I not prayed the 2 rakas as the young boy commanded, Allah may include me in the Ayah…
“And when it is said to them, ‘Bow (in prayer)’, they do not bow.” – al mursalat 77/48.
Imam Ahmad held the opinion that eating camel meat nullifies ones Wudhu, an opinion that the majority of scholars differed from. Some students asked him, “If you find an Imam eating camel meat in front of you and – without first making Wudu – then leads the Salah, would you pray behind him?” Imam Ahmad replied, “Do you think I would not pray behind the likes of Imam Malik and Sa’eed ibn Al-Musayyab?”
Allah created humans with differences. It is the law of creation. Different tongues, different colors, different cultures…all that on the outside. On the inside, humans were created with many degrees of knowledge, intellect, and comprehension of concepts. This is all a sign of Allah’s all encompassing power to do whatever He wills:
“And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors: verily in that are signs for those who know.” [30:22]
Humans shall differ, that is not the issue. The issue is: How as a Muslim should one confront these differences of opinions and what should be our relationship with someone of a different opinion.
Allah ta’ala commanded us to call and advise people in this Deen of Al-Islam. Many Muslims set off on this mission blindfolded, not realizing that the map was there in the Qur’an also. In fact, in the very same verse where Allah commanded us to call and advise people in this Deen, Allah taught us how to do it. Read the following verse carefully:
“Invite (fi’l Amr – Allah is commanding) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best! ” – Surah An-Nahl 16/125.
There is no need to philosophize. No need to talk in the flower gardens. It is right there, plain and simple for anyone who would take heed.
There in that Ayah are the three ingredients to apply when we disagree with someone. The same Allah that taught us to debate the truth, taught us how to do it:
1 – With Hikmah (wisdom)
2 – With good instruction, and
3 – To argue in a way that is best.
What does it mean to have Hikmah when differing with someone? The grandsons of Rasul Allah(saw) once set one of the most beautiful examples of Hikmah in advising others. Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn – in their young age – once saw a senior man performing Wudu incorrectly. Together they arranged a plan to teach the man without insulting him, advising him in a manner befitting of his age.
Together they went to the senior and announced, “My brother and I have differed over who amongst us performs Wudu the best. Would you mind being the judge to determine which one of us indeed performs Wudu more correctly.”
The man watched intently as the two grandsons of Rasul Allah performed Wudu in an explicit manner. After they had completed, he thanked them and said, “By Allah, I did not know how to perform Wudu before this. You have both taught me how to do it correctly.”
We must understand that there are two dimensions to Hikmah. Firstly, there is the Hikmah of knowledge – Hikmah Ilmiyyah. And secondly, there is the Hikmah of Action – Hikmah Amaliyyah.
Some people may have Hikmah of knowledge. But we see that when they try correcting others, advising them, they lack the Hikmah of Action. This causes many a common folk to reject the Hikmah of knowledge.
To illustrate this hikmah of knowledge without Hikmah of action, a brother once completed the Salah in a local Masjid and then proceeded to shake hands with the people on his right and left. The brother to his immediate right slapped his hand and snapped, “That is not part of the Sunnah!” The man replied most correctly, “Oh, is disrespect and insult part of the Sunnah?”
To show Hikmah when we differ requires the following:
One: If we differ, our intentions should be that we are differing in the sincere hope of coming away with the truth. Our intentions should be sincere to Allah.
We should not differ just to release some hate or envy in our heart. We should not differ to embarrass someone like we may have been embarrassed.
Rasul Allah said, “Whoever learns knowledge – knowledge from that which should be sought for the sake of Allah – only to receive a commodity of the material world, he shall not find the fragrance of jannah on the day of resurrection.” – An authentic hadith narrated by Abu Dawood in Kitab Al-Ilm.
Kindness and Gentleness
Two: To have Hikmah when differing means we should rarely depart from an atmosphere of kindness and gentleness, we should seldom allow ourselves to become angry and raise our voices.
Fir’own (Pharaoh) was one of the evilest people that lived. Musa was one of the noblest. Look at how Allah told Musa to advise Fir’own…
“Go, both of you, to Fir’own. Indeed, he has transgressed. And speak to him with gentle speech, perhaps he may remember or fear (Allah).”
A man once entered upon the Khalifah and chastised him for some policies he had taken. The Khalifah replied, “By Allah, Fir’own was more eviler than me. And by Allah, Musa was more pious than you. Yet, Allah commanded him…’And speak to him with gentle speech, perhaps he may remember or fear (Allah).'”
Take Your Time and Clarify
Three: To have Hikmah when dealing with others is to be patient and clarify things before snapping to conclusions.
Imam Ahmad narrates with his chain of narrators leading to Ibn Abbas who said, “A man from Bani Saleem passed by a group of the Prophet’s companions. (At that time of war) The man said ‘as salamu alaykum’ to them. The companions concluded that he only said ‘as salamu alaykum’ to them as a deception to save himself from being caught. They surrounded him and Malham ibn Juthaamah killed him. From that event Allah revealed the verse…
“O you who have believed, when you go forth (to fight) in the cause of Allah, investigate, and do not say to one who gives you (a greeting of peace), “You are not a believer,” Aspiring for the goods of worldly life; for with Allah are many acquisitions. You (yourselves) were like that before; then Allah conferred His favor (i.e. guidance) upon you, so investigate. Indeed, Allah is ever with what you do, acquainted.” – Surah AnNisa, 4/94. From Tafseer Ibn Katheer.
Fourthly, never trade in kind words for harshness, especially when dealing with other Muslims.
Look at the power of a sincere and polite word: Mus’ab ibn Umayr was the first of ambassador of Rasul Allah in Madinah. Before Rasul Allah had arrived in Madinah, Mus’ab taught ahl al-Madinah about Islam and they began to enter the Deen.
This enraged Sa’d ibn ‘Ubaadah, one of the chieftains of Madinah. He sheathed his sword and set off for the head of Mus’ab ibn ‘Umayr. When he confronted Mus’ab he threatened, “Stop this nonsense you speak or you shall find yourself dead!”
Mus’ab replied in the way that should be a lesson for us all. This man before him did not stop at rudeness and ignorance, he wanted to slit his throat.
Mus’ab said, “Shall you not sit and listen for a few moments. If you agree with what I say then take it, and if not, we shall desist from this talk.” Sa’d sat down.
Mus’ab spoke about Allah and His messenger until the face of Sa’d ibn Ubaadah’s face shone like a full moon and he said, “What should a person do who wishes to enter into this Deen?” After Mus’ab had told him he said, “There is a man, if he accepts this Deen, there shall be no home in Madinah that will not become Muslim. Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh.”
When Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh heard what was happening, he was infuriated. He left his home to go and kill this man called Mus’ab ibn Umayr for the dissention he had caused. He entered upon Mus’ab and announced, “You shall desist of this religion you speak of or you shall find yourself dead!”
Mus’ab replied, “Shall you not sit and listen for a few moments. If you agree with what I say then take it, and if not, I shall desist from this talk.” Sa’d sat.
Mus’ab spoke about Allah and His messenger until the face of Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh’s face shone like a full moon and he said, “What should a person do who wishes to enter into this Deen?”
Look at what a kind word did. Sa’d ibn Mu’aadh went home to his Madinan tribe that night and announced to them all, “Everything of yours is Haram upon me until you all enter into Islam.”
That night, every home in Madinah went to bed with Laa ilaaha illa Allah…all because of a kind word.
Part II: Who wins?
Mu’aawiyah ibn al-Hakam al-Salami. When he came to Madeenah from the desert, he did not know that it was forbidden to speak during the salaah. He relates: “Whilst I was praying behind the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), a man sneezed, so I said ‘Yarhamuk Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on you).’ The people glared at me, so I said, ‘May my mother lose me! What is wrong with you that you are looking at me?’ They began to slap their thighs with their hands, and when I saw that they were indicating that I should be quiet, I stopped talking (i.e., I nearly wanted to answer them back, but I controlled myself and kept quiet).
When the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) had finished praying – may my father and mother be sacrificed for him, I have never seen a better teacher than him before or since – he did not scold me or hit me or put me to shame. He just said, ‘This prayer should contain nothing of the speech of men; it is only tasbeeh and takbeer and recitation of the Qur’aan.'” (Saheeh Muslim, ‘Abd al-Baaqi edn., no. 537).
Islam showed us how to differ with one another. Some people think that we should never differ at all and all disagreements should be avoided. Nay, this is an incorrect assumption, for the Qur’an and Sunnah show clearly that when a mistake is made it should be corrected. Indeed helping others do what is right is a requirement of the Deen, sincere Naseeha.
We see when Rasul Allah turned away from AbdAllah ibn Umm Maktoom, the blind man, Allah corrected him in the Qur’an…
“(The Prophet) frowned and turned away, Because there came to him the blind man But what could tell you that perchance he might become pure (from sins)? Or that he might receive admonition, and that the admonition might profit him?” – surah Abasa, 1-4
When Haatib ibn Abi Balta’ah (may Allaah be pleased with him) made the mistake of writing to the kuffaar of Quraysh and informing them of the direction in which the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) was headed on a military campaign against them, Allaah revealed the words:
“O you who believe! Take not My enemies and your enemies as friends…” – Surah Mumtahinah/1
And so on. Thus we learn that when a mistake happens it should be corrected. However, the method of correction is what needs our attention. Whenever Muslims argue, it is as if each party carries a banner of: ‘I must win and you must lose!’ Careful study of the Sunnah however shows us that this is not always the case with the way Rasul Allah acted. Consider the following examples:
“I lose and you win!”
A Bedouin came to Rasul Allah and told him, “Give me from what Allah gave you, not from the wealth of your mother nor from the wealth of your father.” The Sahaabah were furious at the man and step forward to discipline him for what he said. Rasul Allah commanded everyone to leave him.
Then by the hand, Rasul Allah took him home, opened his door and said, “Take what you wish and leave what you wish.” The man did so and after he completed, Rasul Allah asked him, “Have I honored you?” “Yes, by Allah,” said the Bedouin. “Ash hadu an laa ilaaha illa Allah, wa ashhadu anna Muhammadar Rasul Allah.” (Meaning he embraced Islam)
When the Sahabah heard of how the man changed, Rasul Allah taught them. “Verily the example of myself, you and this Bedouin is that of a man who had his camel run away. The townspeople tried capturing the camel for him by running and shouting after the camel, only driving it further away. The man would shout, ‘Leave me and my camel, I know my camel better.’ Then he took some grass in his hand, ruffled it in front of the camel, until it came willingly.
‘By Allah, had I left you to this Bedouin, you would have hit him, hurt him, he would have left without Islam and eventually have entered hellfire.”
“I win and you lose!”
A Muslim should not have an apologetic stance to everything he is confronted with. There are times when the truth must be said, when there is no room for flattery.
When the Makhzoomi women – a women from an affluent family – stole, people approached Rasul Allah to have her punishment canceled. Rasul Allah became very angry and stood on the pulpit and announced, “By Allah, had Fatima the daughter of Muhammad stole I would have cut her hand off.”
No room for flattery, the truth must be stood up for. It is here that the etiquette of disagreement that we talked earlier about should shine.
“I win and you win!”
There doesn’t always have to be a loser. We see in many cases that Rasul Allah gave a way out for the people he differed with. When he sent the letter to Caesar, he said in it, “Become Muslim and you shall be safe, Allah shall give you your reward double!”
He did not say surrender or die! Nothing of the sort. Become Muslim and you shall win, rather your victory shall be double.
I shall end with this shining example of how to act with other Muslims from our role model, Abu Bakr:
Abu Bakr once disputed with another companion about a tree. During the dispute Abu Bakr said something that he rather would not have said. He did not curse, he did not attack someone’s honor, he did not poke a fault in anyone, all he said was something that may have hurt the other companion’s feelings.
Immediately, Abu Bakr – understanding the mistake – ordered him, “Say it back to me!” The companion said, “I shall not say it back.” “Say it back to me,” said Abu Bakr, “Or I shall complain to the Messenger of Allah.” The companion refused to say it back and went on his way.
Abu Bakr went to Rasul Allah and related what had happened and what he said. Rasul Allah called that companion and asked him, “Did Abu Bakr say so and so to you?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “What did you reply.” He said, “I did not reply it back to him.” Rasul Allah said, “Good, do not reply it back to him (do not hurt Abu Bakr). Rather say, ‘May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr!'” The Companion turned to Abu Bakr and said, “May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr! May Allah forgive you O Abu Bakr!” Abu Bakr turned and cried as he walked away. Let us leave today with a resolve to revive this air Rasul Allah and his companions breathed, an air of mercy and love and brotherhood.