Why Argue Islāmic Matters When You Can Walk Away?

Why Argue Islāmic Matters When You Can Walk Away? 1500 1000 Shaykh Faheem

Advice to the Muslim Ummah on How to Assess the Relevance or Irrelevance of an Islāmic Argument

By Shaykh Faheem of the Islamic Lifestyle Solutions

Ignorance leads to confusion. Confusion leads to conflict. Conflict leads to argumentation. Argumentation leads to disunity. Disunity leads to destruction.

       Scenario – As the family gathered for their usual Friday evening supper, there was bound to be an argument on the table. Not because my family is argumentative, but because my family is “Islāmic”, and so Islāmic matters are discussed and debated every time the family meets for a meal. Just as these thoughts ran through young Ahmad’s mind, Uncle Ya’qūb asked, “Did you hear about the debate going on in Pakistan and India regarding the….” and immediately the opinions began flying like stray bullets in a gunfight between blind men. Each one firing their views by arguing, “Well I think that…”, and “I am no Ālim, but I think this…”, and “You don’t know what you are talking about!” etc.

To prove their point, each one begins to pull out a post from the internet, from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. “Look, this is what certain Ālim said in Pakistan and this is what that Ālim said in India”. Seeing as though each one was insistent on their stance, things escalated fast. “You don’t know what you are talking about! Catch a wake-up!” said one of the uncles in a heightened tone as the youngsters on the table looked skeptically at each other. “Lakum Dīnukum Wa liya Dīn (for you is your religion, and for me is my religion) uttered the frustrated uncle. And so, another Friday family supper spoiled due to an argument about something happening in another country! At that moment, the young cousin, Ashraf, who was always fashionably late, walked into the silent awkwardness and proceeded to whisperingly ask his fellow cousins about the reason for everyone’s stressed-out expressions? He was told that everyone is upset because of their dispute regarding some person in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who passed away all those years ago, and now they are arguing whether he is a Muslim or not? “Really? For that reason, they are all angry and not talking? About something which occurred 1400 years ago? About something that isn’t part of belief? So why are they arguing and disuniting over it?” asked Ashraf in utter sarcastic disbelief. –End scenario.

The above is a typical example of how so many adults in Muslim homes are setting a dangerous precedent for the youth by arguing over matters which are not prerequisites of the religion of Islām, and in some cases, forcing their views upon the youth at home.

This essay will briefly discuss how one needs to assess whether the matter of discussion is one which even requires argumentation at all, or should be left alone. Ignorance on the method to assess whether or not a point is to be argued or not forms the basis of unwarranted argumentation between Muslims on Facebook etc. as this growing “sickness” in our community is spreading faster than any contagion or pandemic out there. The essay will cover the following;

  1. How to distinguish between necessary argumentation and unnecessary argumentation?
  2. Am I responding based on emotion or intellect?
  3. How to deal with necessary argumentation?
  4. How to deal with unnecessary argumentation?
  5. The etiquette of arguing?

Seeing as though this article is not a scholarly endeavour, but a means to help individual Muslims overcome these issues, the explanations will be as succinct as possible, free from terminology where possible.

How to Distinguish between Necessary Argumentation and Avoidable Argumentation?

    The majority of the time, Muslims are debating one another on matters which are not even necessary for debate, and in the heat of these secondary or subsidiary matters, they call on each other with slogans of nifāq (hypocrisy), shirk (polytheism), and kufr (disbelief). This is a “killer mistake” on their part and one which is in dire need of correction. So how does one discern when an argument is necessary or not?

    The first thing one needs to consider when debates or discussions are ensuing is, “are these discussions or debates from the essentials of Islām or not?” and more often than not, Muslims are unaware of this basic information regarding the essentials of the religion pertaining to belief, hence the position is to differ and become angered based on the assumption that the matter is one of “primary” concern when in reality it is more than likely to be an issue of historical difference rather in Islāmic debate. This will be clarified towards the end of the essay dealing with the etiquette of disagreement.

To alleviate a huge portion of the problem, one must know the essentials of the religion. They can be recollected by the famous 7th Kalimah which reads,

“I believe in, 1) Allāh, 2) His angels, 3) His books, 4) His Messengers, 5) on the Last Day (of judgment), 6) Good and bad is by His decree, 7) Life after Death.”

     According to the aqīdah (creed) of the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jama’āh, the above constitutes the Dharūriyātud Dīn essential belief for a Muslim. If a person believes in the aforesaid matters, then such a person is classified as a believer (Mu’min). Thus, they form the “primary” matters of being a Muslim and all other unrelated debated matters are considered “secondary” or “subsidiary”.

      Once this information is recognized and understood, then the Muslim should consider whether any current matter of debate is directly related to the above matters of belief, or is it a matter of historical difference? Is it a matter of differences of opinion by scholars or fiqh, or hadīth or commentary of the Qur’ān? Or is the matter of discussion an “opinion” of a companion (sahābī) or the “opinion” of a pious sage or famous scholar? Once all of these ‘checks’ have been carried out, and the matter proves to be one which is not a debate concerning these essentials, then the ‘intellectually mature’ thing to do, is to “walk away” from these “unnecessary” debates.

     An example of needlessly debated issues can be seen by the example of say, the death of a person in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). One group may say, “He died as a believer!” and the other may say “There is insufficient evidence for his death on Islām!” and so, two groups of people will spend hours or even days preparing to “defeat” their “Muslim” or “Sunnī” opponents on this matter. However, in reality, a smart Muslim will first ask,

  1. Is the faith or disbelief of the debated person part of what I am obligated to believe in as a Muslim?
  2. Does my belief in this matter make me a better Muslim?

     Of course not! Why? Because this debate is not part of “essential” belief for Sunnī Muslims, yet uneducated and ignorant Sunnīs will excommunicate (call another a disbeliever) and alienate their own Sunnī Muslims based on a matter which the Allāh (SWT) and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not command belief in! If there is no explicit text in the Qur’ān commanding belief on a matter, then the “Islāmic” thing to do is to not convert that “secondary” matter into a “primary” of belief in Islām.

      Another example expressing the diabolical levels of ignorance within Muslim communities is the “importing of international disputes” to our land. Just because the people of another country are debating a matter (which most of the time is not part of the essential beliefs), that does not obligate anyone locally to get involved in those disputes. It does not matter how much of love and affiliation we have for those people of organizations overseas, if the matter is causing unrest, disputation, disunity and leading to each of the proponents calling on one another with slogans of kufr, etc. then why on earth would someone wish for the same to occur in your homeland?

The concept of disunity is highly abhorred in Islām as the Qur’ān clarifies,

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ

“Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allāh, then He will inform them of what they did.”

(Sūrah Al-An’ām, 6:159)

Commentating on the above verse, “Sayyidunā Abdullāh Ibn Abbās (ra) mentioned regarding this verse that Allāh (SWT) commanded the believers to remain steadfast with the congregation (majority), and he stopped them from disputation and division, and He (peace be upon him) informed (the believers) of the previous nations and their differing on religion as a corollary (of that division) they were destroyed.”

(The Beginning of the End – An Eschatological Endeavour to Unravel the Mysteries of the Modern Age, Islām and the Prevalence of Sectarian Strife with reference to Tafsīr Ibn Abī Hātim, Volume 5, Page 1430, Published by, Maktabah Nazār Mustafa, Makkah)

Even though there is much detestation against disputation, many Muslims (who are uneducated on the essentials of Islām) continue to import their overseas debates and cause local strife. Yes, if the matter was part of the essentials of belief, then it would necessitate the local “scholars” (and not the local keyboard warriors) to educate the Ummah on the matter. However, “majority” of these overseas debates have nothing to do with the necessities of belief according to the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā’ah yet these matters are being vociferously promoted, and local Muslims are being consequently drawn into these divisive debates which cause unnecessary dispute and disunity.

    The inability to discern between the essential or necessary matters of debate stands to prove the prevalence of ignorance on the part of those promoting such argumentation. Thus, knowledge of the basics of Islām will grant us the ability to be free from the manacles of ignorance in this regard!

    Contrarily, an example of a necessary matter of debate or discussion for the sake of argumentation may be viewed in the case whereby a person claims that since the Prophet Muhammad k married Sayyidah Ā’ishah (ra), that he is a paedophile! Or that God Almighty is humanized, or questioning the existence of God, or that the Qur’ān is not the book of God, or if someone begins an atheistic inclination stating that they disbelieve in the hereafter. Such matters are of pivotal concern as they deal directly with topic of Imān.

    Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly –depending on your point of view-, Muslims are prepared to roll up their sleeves and “fight” against their Muslim brothers and sisters regarding secondary or subsidiary matters, yet when non-Muslim apologists and atheists, etc. attack the foundations of Islām, majority of Muslims seem to turn a blind eye to these matters and harness all of their energy in frivolous disputes about matters which have little or no impact on one’s faith! Is this logical?

    Thus, from an Islāmic intellectual perspective, this is certainly a sign of the prevalence of ignorance on the basic teachings of the religion on the part of those who are unable to discern between what is necessary and what is avoidable in the case of engaging in argumentation. Once a Muslim can discern between the two, then the next matter lies in the mechanics of how to deal with the situation. However, before that, we must address the fundamental reason which leads to our involvement in numerous argument as a Muslim community.

Am I Responding Based on Emotion or Intellect?

If I had a dollar for every time I was called to mediate an argument between Muslims which are based purely on an “emotional” position, I would be economically free today. Nonetheless, another vital reason for far too many unwarranted disputes and arguments in the Ummah as based on our “emotionally” charged mentality. Did you know that a cover to cover reading of the Qur’ān reveals that not once did Allāh (SWT) guide us to act on emotion? Contrarily, the Qur’ān is filled with verses in which we are implored the use of the rational faculty. Retrospectively, one of the many functions of sending the Qur’ān was to fulfill that purpose,

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنٰهُ قُرْءٰنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ

“Indeed We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran so that you may exercise your reason.”

(Sūrah Yūsuf, 12:2)

    In fact, the Qur’ān asks of its readers, “Will you not reflect?” (38:29), Will you not reason (6:50), and will what is it that prevents us from contemplating or pondering on the verses of the Qur’ān? (47:24). The reason for this is because subjectivity is linked to emotion. When a person approaches a subject with a predisposition on a matter, then our emotion veils us from the requisite objectivity to perceive the topic from the standpoint of knowledge.   If we stop and “think” about the discussion or debate, its consequences, ramifications and all-round implications, we will be in a position to identify whether or not it is a matter of scholarly endeavour or merely the ramblings of an emotionally driven rhetoric aimed at an emotionally charged audience. Knowledge-based endeavours however stand to be an unbiased approach that is not charged by the emotion of the arguer. This fault in the Muslim community –of reacting emotionally instead of intelligently- seems to be the default status of the dominant Sunnī community these days.  

How to Deal with Necessary Argumentation?

   If a matter is being debated on social media, or amongst family and friends, then one must revert to our first point of consideration and proceed to assess whether or not the matter is from the essential matters of Imān or not. If the matter is directly linked to any of the 7 beliefs elucidated earlier, then one should not be hasty in responding. A sincere Muslim who understands that the matter of “concern” is with regards to primary issues of Imān should first seek the advice of the Ulamā (scholars) regarding that matter as it deals with core beliefs, and unless one is erudite on the matter, then “commenting” can sometimes cause us to tread a very thin line between faith and disbelief. In these cases, the Muslim ought to realize that scholarly discussions should be deduced by scholars and not by autodidacts or those who surf the internet looking to “copy and paste”. There is a common statement prevalent amongst Muslims which is oxymoronic in nature, and has become a kind of disclaimer amongst certain people to get their views across, which states, “I am not an Ālim, but. I think…”

    Statements of this nature are very dangerous because firstly, if you are not an Ālim (scholar) then you should know that commenting on the matter is futile because if your perception of the matter is incorrect, then you risk misguiding others. There is no “but” in this matter. Surprisingly, we do not hear anyone saying “I am not a surgeon, but I think this is how the procedure should have gone”, yet people assume that the decades spent by the scholars can easily be on par with analogical arguments? Hence if it is a scholarly debate, let the scholars deal with it. An unscholarly remark in a scholarly discussion is as out of place as a donkey in a horse race.

How to Deal With Unnecessary Argumentation?

If the debate or discussion is not directly linked to a matter of belief, meaning that whether or not one takes a position on the argument at hand, it will not impact his or her faith, then the best thing to do in these situations is to “walk away”. When we look at the disputes and debates on Whatsapp, Facebook or Twitter, etc. we find that 9 out of 10 times, there is much ado about nothing. People become enraged and post responses that incite aggressive responses from the community, and in these cases, both parties share in the ignorance and responsibility for perpetuating disunity in the Ummah over matters which should not have been divisive in the first place as they are not foundational beliefs of the religion. Instead of wasting valuable time on these debates which are of no primary concern or impact on our faith, one should be able to distinguish, discern and follow to divagate from such matters which cause us to become distressed over matters which are dramatized by those who themselves are completely oblivious to the status quo regarding matters of significance and matters of insignificance concerning the level of argumentation. 

The Etiquette of Arguing

Islām is a religion which implores from its adherents the principles of the highest form of morality in all regards, and even in matters of argumentation, there is a need for identifying the necessity of being ethical where there is a scope for differing views. This is known as “Adab Al-Ikhtilāf” (ethics of disagreement). From a logical perspective, the world of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamā’ah is jurisprudentially divided into four categories viz. Hanafī, Shāfa’ī, Mālikī, and Hanbalī. In Islām, the five daily prayers are compulsory, yet these four schools have differed (based on their methodology) pertaining to the mechanics of prayer, however, there is love and understanding between these four schools even today. If scholars can differ, and still maintain respect for one another on a matter which is explicitly established in the Qur’ān and Sunnah, and still maintain love and respect for their Sunnī brethren, why then should the non-scholars and laymen find reasons to create argumentation on matters which are not mentioned as matters of belief? Far from being illogical, it is also unethical to behave recklessly as we notice today that when someone differs with another and proceeds to social media to lambast the person who shares a difference of opinion on a matter. Unethical and unislāmic behaviour to debate an Islāmic point? Astounding indeed!

The correct approach for the laymen and even certain supposedly educated people within society should be to assess whether or not one is “qualified” to comment on a matter on not. This is because one of the core reasons for the prevalence of these disputes is because –the majority of the time- uneducated people who are unaware of the history, context and rulings on a matter, tend to base their views on a purely emotional or their perspective of rationale, which leads them to “disagree” and “dispute” on a matter. Additionally, they promote their fallacious opinions on social media which in turn fuels many others who are unfortunately on the same limited level of Islāmic insight, thus causing a cascade of misinformation to become widespread in the community.

If one considers themselves to “qualified” in Islāmic matters, then still, there is a need to assess whether or not the topic raised is one which warrants a response? In other words, is it a matter which is “open” for differing views or not?

Again, a reiteration of the earlier example ought to clarify this.

Scenario – A person passes away in the prophetic era. A debate ensues whether or not the person passed away as a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or not? Here, the person must assess,

“Is this an Islāmic debate? Or is this a historical debate?”

1400 years later, and Muslims are still unable to distinguish between the two. An Islāmic debate should be premised around a topic dealing with those matters which affect our understanding of the beliefs of Islām. Hence, one must contemplate, “Is the matter of debate merely to exhibit a historical analysis on something?”, If so, then it means that the fact that there are two opposing views on the matter, proves that there is no explicit unambiguous text from the Qur’ān or Sunnah regarding it in the first place, thus there is a difference of opinion. The very nature of opinion means that it is not fact! Had there been any such factual evidence, then it would not have become a matter of debate in the first place. Thus, if it is merely historical in essence, why make it an “Islāmic” debate which then causes one group to label its opposition as disbelievers, hypocrites or weak in faith? Such behaviour is more than sufficient to prove that both parties are unaware of the Islāmic methodology and status quo for these matters.

Conclusion – If a matter is found to be sourced as a mere historical debate, then nothing we can do today can change history as it is in the past and we are located in the present. The correct thing to do would be to submit that in the end, it is God Almighty who knows the true reality and it is why He is Master of the Day of Judgment (1:1). Unfortunately, the principle reason why secondary matters are considered primary, leading to unnecessary debates, boils down to the unfortunate lack of Islāmic knowledge. If one is not erudite on an Islāmic matter, meaning that there is no formal Islāmic education on the subject, then why argue in the first place? Walk away, because it is the best thing you can do for your sense of calm and for the benefit of the Muslim community. So in future, prior to hastily responding, revisit some of the steps mentioned in this essay and after evaluating that the matter is not one which impacts on your faith, then ‘Why argue when you can walk away?’