The lost art of respectful disagreement: 8 things we need to do when we disagree

Muslim Matters

The lost art of respectful disagreement: 8 things we need to do when we disagree

By Saud Inam

It is an unfortunate trend we see today that when it comes to disagreements in the Muslim American community we often publicly shame, mock and criticize each other. We must realize that publicly mocking, criticizing and shaming individuals on social media is neither productive nor does it help build our community or solve the problems at hand.

Here are a couple of points that’ll help us understand how to handle disagreements:

1) The need to respectfully disagree

Disagreements are inevitable. We have different cultures, languages, levels of education and ideas. However, these disagreements should not divide us as a community. When we remind ourselves of the disagreements in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) they never divided the community. The Prophet Muhammad emphasized unity over division. An example is the Treaty of Hudabiyah. Umar ibn Khattab disagreed passionately with the Prophet Muhammad’s decision, yet he did not boycott or create animosity or resentment against the Prophet.
Umar didn’t call for the boycotting of the Prophet or ask people to not agree to the treaty—no he disagreed, but accepted the decision. Likewise, if others make decisions or actions we may not disagree with we may not know their reasons or their circumstances. The key is to not be quick to condemn, but to create a dialogue to understand and not debate for the sake of debate.

2) The need to stop public shaming and criticisms

The only time we should publicly condemn an individual or organization is if their act or crime is something that impacts the world or our community negatively. Apart from that we need to keep our criticisms private and confidential (if our intentions are purely to address an issue and strengthen our community). Simply shaming, mocking or criticizing individuals, groups or even organizations shows a serious lack of sincerity in addressing the issue at hand. If the purpose of criticism is to simply boost one’s ego or attract limelight it is wrong. A more constructive way to address a disagreement is to provide advice to the individual or group you disagree with rather than publicly mock, criticize and shame them.

Allah said in the Quran, “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (49:6)

Also, we need to think good of our brothers and sisters and avoid backbiting and slander:

O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful. (49:12)

We cannot simply make Islam a theory, we must translate it into action. We also need to think about who benefits from our public shaming, criticisms, and mockery of one another.

3) The need for dialogue not boycotting

It’s unfortunate that we have resorted to boycotting one another and each others’ organizations over petty disagreements. How can we grow as a community if we cannot have dialogue with one another? We are amazing at debate yet cannot have a simple dialogue to understand one another’s views and perspectives. If at the end of the day you cannot convince your fellow brother or sister or organization to think or act a certain way let them work—you do your work and they will do theirs—the blessing is in the struggle and the intention, not the results.

The Prophet Muhammad said that when it comes to disagreements, “It is not permissible for a man to forsake his Muslim brother for more than three days, each of them turning away from the other when they meet. The better of them is the one who gives the greeting of salaam first.”(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5727; Muslim, 2560).

We have become a people unable to speak to one another and resort to boycotts of each other. Who benefits from this division? What good does boycotting our own brothers and sisters? Does it make us as a community weaker or stronger? Who does it benefit?

4) The need for an Islamic character

Some may tell me that I’m “stifling debate” or “silencing voices/opinions,” but honestly all I’m simply calling for is a better and more constructive way to resolve disagreements. The key to resolving disagreements is to do so with adab (manners) and akhlaaq (character). Observing the disagreements between activists online on both Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms it was heartbreaking to see just how vile our words and our actions had become in bashing one another over disagreements.

When we claim to be activists fighting for justice for Palestinians and claim to fight for justice for Muslims what good is our activism if we’re being unjust to our own brothers and sisters? Is that not hypocrisy? Would we like to be publicly ridiculed, mocked and criticized? Is this the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad? Is this the way he addressed disagreements?

How can we claim to represent Islam and Muslims and lack Islamic character and not exhibit Islamic beliefs, values and morals in our actions?

5) The need for private and constructive advice

Your fellow Muslim brother or sister is more likely to take your advice or hear your opinion if you speak to them in private. Everyone wants their weaknesses hidden and not exposed.

Imam Shafi’i is reported to have said: “To admonish your brother in private is to advise and improve him. But to admonish him publicly is to disgrace and shame him.”

Just as Imam Shafi’i said above if we publicly criticize or shame our brother or sister it shows a severe lack of sincerity and also an inability to deliver advice in a constructive manner. The sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad when addressing a problem in his community was not to call out individuals by name in public but would speak in general terms. In addition if he needed to correct an individual he would do so in private. Unfortunately, it’s become too easy for us Muslim American activists to hop on social media and type a few words and click enter and not even feel the consequences of what we did. Who knows what our words may have done to the brother, sister or organization we publicly mocked, shamed or openly criticized? Your words may have turned them away from Islam. Your words may have hurt them and even made them depressed.

6) The need to build not tear down

Our community is in need of people who build not tear down. We cannot afford to take irresponsible acts and show our divisions to those who seek to divide the Muslim community. If our intention when serving others is to establish justice, peace, equality and promote universal morals and values then we must do so together—as one community. I’m not calling for uniformity in thinking, no rather I am saying have different ideas, thoughts and approaches, but do so in a manner that doesn’t cause divisions or resentments in the hearts of Muslims.

Just as Noah (peace be upon him) built his Ark we must do the same. We need to make sure we’re Noah (building) and not his haters who simply criticized him and his work (tearing down).

7) The need for solutions

If we are going to offer criticisms and we truly want to improve the condition of the world around us we must offer solutions. Simply pointing out how big a hole in a ship is won’t stop a ship from sinking. So next time we hop on social media we need to think twice about if we have: 1) a valid criticism and 2) a solution.

We are like incompetent doctors who when a patient comes to us they know they have a sore throat but when the patient asks for the cure we simply say: “You have a sore throat.” We’ve identified the problem, but we don’t have the cure.

We all know there are problems in the world—we need solutions!

8) The need for mercy and compassion

We are meant to be a people of mercy, compassion, love and caring. How can we go and tell people of other faith in our quests for justice and equality that Islam is a religion of peace, mercy, compassion and love if we are not exhibiting those same characteristics within ourselves—with our own brothers and sisters? Is this not hypocrisy? May Allah save us from all hypocrisy and hypocritical acts and make us genuine to ourselves and to Him. Ameen.

We must ask forgiveness for those we may have wronged or hurt in our passionate disagreements or public shaming and public criticisms of our brothers and sisters.

The Prophet Muhammad said, “whoever has wronged his brother, should ask for his pardon (before his death), as (in the Hereafter) there will be neither a Dinar nor a Dirham. (He should secure pardon in this life) before some of his good deeds are taken and paid to his brother, or, if he has done no good deeds, some of the bad deeds of his brother are taken to be loaded on him (in the Hereafter).” (Sahih Bukhari)

May Allah guide us all, forgive us all, unite our hearts, and learn to love one another despite our diversity of thoughts, ideas, and actions. May Allah cleanse our hearts of all envy, greed, jealousy, hatred and fill our hearts full of love, mercy, caring, and compassion towards our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. May we be given the power to control our egos, lusts, desires and have the strength to seek forgiveness of those we may have wronged or hurt by our words and actions. May we be given Light in our hearts, our tongues, and every limb of our body. May we become walking Qurans and live Islam and not have Islam merely on our tongues. May our words match our actions and may we exemplify the sunnah of the Prophet in our lives. May we be given the strength to always strive to become better and admit our flaws and faults. May we be given humility in our hearts and unite us all in the company of the Prophet Muhammad in Jannat al-Firdaus. Ameen.
The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy. (49:6)


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