Futuwwa and Debates

It’s been difficult to begin writing with my head whirling with so many thoughts and ideas about American Muslim social etiquette, the place of Muslim women scholars, and perspectives on Muslim women spiritual practices. Some of my thoughts are reactionary, sparked by recent experiences in Muslim community life. Some were good and some frustrating. But one that really got me is how often we Muslims can make being around other Muslims extremely uncomfortable.

I know that Muslims do not hold the monopoly on polemics, but there is something about the ways in which Muslims engage in pointless debates that makes you want to stay in your house, avoid the masjid, and steer as far away from Muslims as you can. Battling on street corners quoting hadith makes debating seem like a democratic endeavor. But is knowledge truly equalizing, when some have a lot (including information that can serve to contextualize some knowledge) and others have a little. The funny thing is that Muslim men tend to debate at a much higher rate than Muslim women. Often these debates deal with matters that have little effect on daily life or practical affairs. Debating is not just a gendered male domain, there are plenty of women who get feisty in debates, myself included. The problem is, that I hate arguing. I have a fight or flight reaction once one sparks up. Debates are not about guiding someone to truth but rather they are a battle of egos. One can feel like a bully when defeating the flimsy argument of an intellectual midget. But is a clash of the titans between two intellectual giants any better?

Arguing is not constructive on an intellectual or social level. It doesn’t build bonds or help community life. Debating is not a way for us to get to know each other. And if you are going to engage in a discussion of difference, there is an etiquette about how you should go about that (I’m not going to get into that in this post). You shouldn’t drag someone into a fight, especially if they are waving a white flag and call for a truce. You don’t call somebody up and introduce yourself then go about arguing about somebody’s minhaj or deviant behavior. A Ramadan iftar is not the place where you should engage in a debate. As a guest, you should not try to demonstrate the force of your argument with a loud voice, pointing fingers, or jabbing your hand in the air in threatening moves. As a host or a guest, you should not try to embarrass anyone or put anyone on the spot. If you feel like there is some serious problems with the the company you are in, consider excusing yourself and bowing out gracefully.

My recent readings on Sufism and Muslim spiritual practices has touched upon the concept of futuwwa (Islamic chivalry). So much of Futuwwa, which comes from the word “young man” is a composite of the virtues of altruism, humility, loyalty, gentleness, generosity, hospitality, and chastity. Putting others before yourself, often entailing hospitality and not making others uncomfortable either as a guest or a host. Debate and arguing are the opposite of the virtues that comprise futuwwa. Character is shaped by environment, but it can also be a matter of education, reflection, internal inclinations, and personal choice. Although many Muslims still find value in lineage and social status (i.e. Shurfa’ or Sayyid), I see nobility as a reflection of character and ethical conduct.