The Muslim blogosphere was a place where many people could speak freely. It has brought people together, started a flowering of intellectual thought, and gave expression to thousands of Muslims. People whose voices were rarely heard, especially on the minbar, were now capturing the attention of Muslim leaders. It didn’t matter if you earned a PhD from Harvard or with your GED, whether you graduated from Azhar and became hafith al Quran or your weekly MSA halaqah and knew three surahs, whether you had an ijaza to teach Maliki fiqh, or you just took shahada and and only read the first chapter of the Halal and Haram in Islam, whether you were renown for your piety and scrupulousness, or just wrote a post with your live-in girlfriend reading it over your shoulder, everybody could weigh in and say something. Practicing and non-Practicing Muslims, cultural nominal Muslims and the devout, Salafi, Sufi, Sunni, Shi’ite, all have a stake in the public discourse on what is authentically Islamic. While that public conversation yielded some fruitful dialog, there have been many times when the exchanges have sown seeds of discord and created greater rifts. People have been slandered, backbit, and insulted, in addition to whole communities misrepresented, and misinformation disseminated. Enmity developed out of heated exchanged even though the people would have likely been friends if they knew each other in person. The anonymity of the blogosphere has allowed for people to write with a type of violence and hostility that they would never display in their docile lives in their cubicle workspaces. And sometimes people may read into an email exchange or post some type of negativity when none was intended. All-in-all, the blogosphere is like an Afghan meadow, beautiful but full of mines.
Ever wonder why you don’t see our ‘ulema involved in online disputes? Numerous imams and scholars have discouraged their followers from spending too much time online because of its unsettling content and endless flame wars. Thinking back to the years when I used to spend an inordinate amount of time in petty spats in the blogosphere, I have a sense of regret. One, for the waste of time. Often, I knew that I wasn’t going to convince the person I was arguing with that their stance stood on shaky grounds. I was often more concerned about the general audience who may read a post. When it came to the posts about gender, ethnicity, or Islam, I worried that some unquestioned statement would damage someone’s self image and cause them to question themselves. I know how demoralized I felt growing up when I came across to a racist stereotype and did not have the tools to dismantle it. As my training as a writer developed, I engaged in many public battles. I wont battles, but never a war. I noted how people often didn’t really engage in what I was trying to say. They had their preconceived notions, often about me, that influenced whether they were receptive to what I had to say. I found that the the two camps on any issue were already entrenched.
Second, I think back with regret over the way I treated some people. There were times when I could have been not so heavy handed with people who were less informed about an issue than I was. Being proved wrong can be humiliating. There were a few times I knew I had basically gave somebody the intellectual smack down. Nobody who has good intentions wants be called out for being prejudiced. And there were times when I argued that someone was a bigot, a sexist, etc. Things I wrote in the past rubbed people the wrong way and I know that I will continue to write things that many don’t agree with. But now, as I mature and am comfortable with who I am, I am concerned with the method of how I share my thoughts. My brothers and sisters have rights over me, just as I have rights. And each of us have the right to not be harmed, physically or emotionally. The rights that we have over each other are meant to bring us together in our shared humanity. Unfortunately, because we lack adab, etiquette, our conversations can spiral out of control.
Imam Ghazali writes:
Silence includes abstaining from contention and contradiction whatever your brother talks about.
Ibn Abbas said: Do not dispute with a fool, for he will hurt you; nor with the mild man, for he will dislike you. The Prophet (God bless him and give him Peace!) said. If a man gives up contention when he is in the wrong, a house will be built for him within the Garden of Paradise; but if a man gives up contention even when he is in the right, a house will be built for him in the loftiest part of the Garden.” While it is his duty to give it up if he is in the wrong, the reward for what is above duty is made greater. For to remain silent when one is right is harder on the soul than keeping quiet when one is wrong. Recompense is in proportion to the effort.
The most serious causes that fan the fire of ranour between brothers are contention and disputation. These are the very essence of variance and rupture. For rupture starts off with opinions, then becomes verbal and finally physical.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him!) said: Do not fall out one with another, do not hate one another, do not envy one another. Do not break off one with another. Serve God as brothers. The Muslim is brother to the Muslim. He does not wrong him or offend him or forsake him. A man can do no worse than disgrace his Muslim brother.
The worst disgrace is contention, for if you reject what another says you accuse him of ignorance and stupidity, or of forgetfulness and absent mindedness in understanding his subject. All this contitutes disgrace, annoyance and alienation.
According to the tradition of Abu Umama al-Bahili:
God’s Messenger (God bless him and give him Peace) came out to us as we were disputing. He was angry and said. “Give up contention because there is little good in it. Give up contetion because the use of it is small, and it stirs up enmity among brothers.”
One of the early believers said, “If a man quarrels and disputes with his brother his manliness diminishes and his virtue goes.
Imam Ghazali was not alone in advising us to avoid quarreling. Haddad writes:
Beware of arguments and wrangling, for they cast rancour into the breasts of men, alienate hearts and lead to enmity and hatred. If anyone argues against you and has right on his side, accept what he says for truth must always be followed. If on the other hand he is wrong, leave him, for he is ignorant, and
God has said
“And turn away from the ignorant.” [vii :199]
The Quranic advice to turn away from the ignorant, and even telling disbelievers “To you, your way, and to me mine,” is extremely helpful. I use this advice in avoiding spats with Islamaphobes. There is clearly wisdom in walking away from a dispute, even if you know truth is on your side. Once you have reminded someone of the doing the right thing, or a correct stance, or warned them with good advice, you have done your service. If they wish to dispute, it is better to go about your business.
But sometimes arguments are unavoidable. Debates are important during this Age as Muslims are assessing institutions and practices, trying make their Islam relevant towards solving their world’s problems during this tumultuous time. But out of these debates arise many conflicts between religious authorities and lay people. A number of scholars have taken a stab at creating pacts of mutual respect. But many people don’t respect it for fear of losing their autonomy in interpreting Islamic beliefs and practices. A respected Muslim noted that the primary cause of the fragmentation of the Philadelphia Muslim community is due to how we deal with conflict. We have heated spats and then go through avoidance. Although there are polemical battles, the muslim community has done little in the way of conflict resolution. It is apparent that conflict resolution, or lack thereof, is a major problem in the Muslim world. Just look to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Pakistan to see how Muslims are at each other’s throats.
The politics of disagreement has wreaked havoc on our interpersonal relationships, on our communities, and the entire ummah. I think we can turn to a little advice from career coaches, management consultants, and community builders to see how we can effectively deal with conflict. Multi-national corporations, international agencies, and nation-states use similar methods in negotiating pacts, laws, and deals. Politics is all about negotiating conflicting interests. I did a little internet research and found a few sites that outlined strategies for dealing with interpersonal conflict. An article on Mind Tools, a site for Career development, outlined some of the theories for conflict resolution. I thought it would be useful to bring them here:
The “Interest-Based Relational Approach”
…Commonly referred to as the “Interest-Based Relational (IBR) Approach“. This conflict resolution strategy respects individual differences while helping people avoid becoming too entrenched in a fixed position.
In resolving conflict using this approach, you follow these rules:
Make sure that good relationships are the first priority: As far as possible, make sure that you treat the other calmly and that you try to build mutual respect. Do your best to be courteous to one-another and remain constructive under pressure;
Keep people and problems separate: Recognize that in many cases the other person is not just “being difficult” – real and valid differences can lie behind conflictive positions. By separating the problem from the person, real issues can be debated without damaging working relationships;
Pay attention to the interests that are being presented: By listening carefully you’ll most-likely understand why the person is adopting his or her position;
Listen first; talk second: To solve a problem effectively you have to understand where the other person is coming from before defending your own position;
Set out the “Facts”: Agree and establish the objective, observable elements that will have an impact on the decision; and
Explore options together: Be open to the idea that a third position may exist, and that you can get to this idea jointly.
By following these rules, you can often keep contentious discussions positive and constructive. This helps to prevent the antagonism and dislike which so-often causes conflict to spin out of control.
There are numerous ways we can deal with disputes, but is clear that we should derive our understanding from the Quran and Sunnah. We should work within our own tradition, taking the advice of Imam Ghazali, who helped revive the Faith during a time of tumult. We can also build upon it by drawing practical lessons that are in line with the spirit of religion. First, we should ask ourselves how our Messenger dealt with conflict. What was his adab when correcting or enlightening someone? How did he treat people? And then we should find ways to inculcate those values and practice them. My husband highlighted the hadith in which our Prophet said, “My community will not agree upon an error.” In unity, there is strength, but in our divisiveness and discord we have weakened ourselves and have committed many errors.