Tuesday, 5 July, 2022

Respecting difference of opinions in Islam

Adil Ilahi

Respecting difference of opinions is one of the aesthetic sides of Islamic history and tradition. Islamic scholars in the past were so respectful to the people who had different opinions from them particularly in religious matters. Nowadays, Muslims seem to be intolerant believing that they should not tolerate any kind of opinion that differs, especially when it is related to Islam. This is a notion that is very much prevalent in contemporary Muslim society.

It is not necessary to believe that others always follow our path. Believers must present their beliefs believing that a person has the right to accept or reject the call. Because we must know that everybody has been given freedom by Almighty Allah. This is the fundamental belief of Islam. Therefore, we cannot impose our ideas on another person. We are not allowed to compel someone to believe in all the things that we consider to be true. This worldly life, according to Islam, must be treated as an exam hall for the believers. If we sit, for instance, in an exam hall and we do not have the freedom to write then the examiner will not be able to judge us. Therefore, human beings, in a sense, are completely free to be judged on the Day of Judgement.

If we study Islamic history, we will find exemplary tolerance among Muslim scholars. Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanble and Ali Ibn Al Madini, two reputed Islamic scholars, for instance, had an extreme argument over an issue. Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanble had a very strong disagreement with another great scholar Ali Ibn Al Madini. Seeing this sort of extreme argument, Ibn’Abd al-Barr, one of the witnesses, thought that a severe bitterness would develop between these two scholars because of the intensity of their argumentation. Surprisingly, Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanble went forward and hailed the camel of Ali Ibn Al Madini as a gesture of respect while he was leaving.  There is another very remarkable incident of Imam Al Shafi’i, another great Islamic scholar, regarding respecting different opinions. He had a very long and extreme argument with one of his students about a religious issue and they raised their voices at each other. Later, when Imam Al Shafi’i met that student again, Imam Al Shafi’i talked to the student and held his hands normally. This was also a remarkable gesture by a reputed scholar who was shaking hands and embracing a person who had entered into a big argument with him earlier. These two incidents have been brought into the light to show the importance of respecting different views.

A person can accept a certain religion which is different from Islam as he is completely free to accept or reject religion and the Qur'an, the book of Allah (SWT), also states that there is no compulsion in religion. It could be that someone has said that Islam degraded women, someone could have said that Islam is a religion of violence. These terrible and unpleasant remarks can make us surprised and shocked, but we should react as politely as we can. In this situation, from our understanding, we should try to make them understand why we believe that Islam is a religion of peace and Islam does not degrade women rather Islam uplifts women. There are a lot of Qur'anic verses, hadiths and Islamic books available against the above-mentioned objections and, therefore, we can suggest that they read those materials to exchange views. Even though we have differences, we can create a friendly environment where different opinions can be discussed. Islam always appreciates scholarly discussions and dialogues. 

Intolerance is not the product or outcome of Islam because there was no such intolerance in Muslim societies in the early period, particularly in the scholarly discussions and dialogues. We see a lot of disagreements on various fundamental issues among the Islamic scholars, but they did not directly claim that others’ statements are against Islam. All the Muslim jurists and scholars accepted different opinions. They believe that the other person has the right to differ from them. Nowadays, we see a kind of sensitivity is increasing to different opinions among the Muslims. It leads us to a kind of extremism and we need to end this unnecessary extremism.

Showing disrespect to different opinions is one of the main causes of the current instability of Muslim society. Though sometimes our opinions seem inappropriate, we are not ready to accept others’ views. We hardly praise others. We completely forget that sometimes Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had also changed his decision for the greater interest of Muslim society. In addition, sometimes Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sought suggestions from his companions on different matters. He is the final messenger of Almighty Allah and he could impose his decisions over the Muslims. Instead, he took advice or suggestions from his companions to show the importance of unification.   


The writer is a Lecturer at the Department of English, Cox’s Bazar International University