Ethics of Disagreement

Disagreement and dissension, is capable of breaking up any society – and THIS is an issue that we need to face squarely!

by Khalid Dhorat

Very often, people philosophize and agonize about the state of the Ummah. It is true that what happens in other parts of the world, affect us directly: we are concerned, we voice our feelings and assist according to our means. However, what we sometimes forget, is that whilst we are thinking globally, we fail to act……locally!

We, too have pressing issues at home. Disagreement and dissension, is capable of breaking up any society – and THIS is an issue that we need to face squarely!

Unity above everything

Prophet Musa (A.S.) once became extremely upset with his brother Harun (Alayhis salaam), who was also a Prophet. He grabbed him by his hair and pulled his beard. Musa (Alayhis salaam) held Harun (Alayhis salaam) responsible for allowing the Bani-Isra’il in following ‘Saamiri’ and going back to worshiping the idols, during his absence. Harun (A.S.) sadly replied: “O son of my mother, do not seize me by my beard or my head. Truly, I feared but you should say that I caused a division among the Bani-Isra’il and did not respect my word ” (20:94)

This verse shows that Harun (A.S.) was more concerned with the unity of the Bani-Isra’il, than he was with their worshipping the golden calf. He was waiting for his brother to come back and calmly resolve this problem, thereby avoiding dissension.

Disagreements and differences between people are natural. All of us are different in one way or another. We come from different backgrounds and upbringings, we speak different languages, we belong to different ethnic backgrounds, and have variegated levels of education. We may therefore have different perceptions, opinions, and approaches. Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala says: “If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single community, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The return of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute.” (5:48)

From this ayah we see that being different is by Allah’s design. Differences among people cannot be and will not be eliminated. Therefore, we have to make our differences and disagreements work to the advantage of the Ummah. Can we prevent dissension and enmity by learning how to disagree? To differ and disagree is only natural, But the WAY we differ, is a matter of attitude and discipline.

Types of disagreement

There are three types of disagreements. The first is normal disagreement, IKHTILAF. It is used to describe a situation in which people genuinely cannot agree on issues. The second disagreement is dialectical in nature, JADAL. The aim of this kind of disagreement is ultimately to win an argument. At best, it is fruitless and serves no higher purpose. The third type and worst type of disagreement is dissension, SHIQAQ. This is when parties hold beliefs that are mutually exclusive. Each party has no room for the other’s opinion. It is when pride and arrogance subverts the rational mind to the lowest of the low. It may even lead to violence.

We have seen evidence of dissension in our society: family and business squabbles that dissipate the energy and resources of people; institutions of learning that bicker on irrelevant issues; road rage incidents that lead to death amongst neighbours; pamphleteering amongst organisations; malicious slandering etc. These are some of the symptoms of unacceptable disagreements that we see around us. They lead to disunity. They can be caused by selfishness, pride, arrogance and ignorance; or by blind loyalty to groups, parties or leaders. Allah warns us about these kinds of disagreements and gave us the examples of nations before us who destroyed themselves through dissension. Allah says: “And do not dispute with one another, lest you lose heart and your moral strength desert you…” (8:46)

Imagine the situation of a group of people who are trapped at the bottom of a deep pit. Either they can argue forever about who can jump high enough to reach the top until they get exhausted and die, or they can stand on each other’s shoulders and by mutual co-operation reach the top. The Sahabah (R.A.) differed among themselves on a number of issues, starting with choosing the successor to the Prophet (S.A.W.). They differed on strategy in political matters, on interpretations in fiqhi issues. BUT they continued to have respect, love and reverence for each other. The founders of the different fiqh schools, although disagreeing on many issues, even so had great respect for each other.

Can we be the same? Can we disagree and remain united? I believe we can. The first and foremost guarantee of our unity, is setting our objective wholly and sincerely to please Allah. We need to train our hearts to reject pride and jealousy. To remain ONE community, we need to subordinate our desires to Allah’s desire.

Some of the pitfalls we need to avoid:

Generalizing and stereotyping: “This person or that organization is like this,” or “they are all the same.”

Doubt: Be careful about your assumptions. “Who is behind this?” “Where do they get their money from?” and so on, planting the seed of doubt and mistrust.

Jumping to conclusions: “He is the culprit.” Hear the whole story, get information, hear all sides before judging any individual or group.

Speaking about what you do not know: Speak only after thorough investigation. Allah says: “Do not pursue that which you have no knowledge of.”

Some aspects we need to emphasize:

1. Make your loyalty to Allah alone, and look for justice and truth.

2. If a discussion gets heated, stop it immediately.

3. Always keep in mind that your brother or sister has the right to his/her opinion, just like you do.

4. It is always better to debate an issue without settling it, than to settle it without debating it.

5. Do not leave an argument carrying a grudge.

6. Conclude with a handshake, smile or a hug.

7. Assure the other side that your disagreement does not change your love and respect for him.

Above all, let us not be from those who have broken the unity of their faith and become sects, each group delighting in what they follow (30:31-32).