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How to Unite Despite Differences

All Praise is to Allāh, Whom we praise and seek His help and forgiveness. We testify that there is no true God worthy of being worshipped except Allāh, Alone, without partners or associates, and we testify that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam). May the peace and salutations of Allāh be upon the family and noble Companions of the Prophet.[1]

Introduction

Though the bond of kinship and lineage is deep-rooted and profound, it is nowhere near that of Islam’s brotherhood.

The men and women of the Mu’minūn are friends of one another…[2]

The Mu’minūn are (nothing but) Ikhwah (siblings)…[3]

The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) described those tied by this relationship as being like a single body:

The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion, and sympathy are just like one body. When one limb suffers, the whole body responds with wakefulness and fever.[4]

Hudhayfah al-Adawi reports:

During the Battle of Yarmouk, I carried some water and set out looking for my cousin. I told myself that if he is still alive, I will give him a drink. I found him and asked: ‘Would you like to drink?’ He nodded his head in the affirmative. Then I heard another man groaning and my cousin started pointing out towards him (an instruction to give him water instead). It was Hishām b. al-‘Ās. I said to him: ‘Would you like to drink?’ He nodded his head in the affirmative. Then I heard another groan and Hishām b. al-‘Ās started pointing out towards him, but before I reached the third man, he had passed away. Then I went back to Hishām, but he had passed away before I could reach him, then I rushed back towards my cousin, but he had passed away before I could reach him.[5]

Brotherhood is central to īmān and of immense value in Islam. It has a palpable sweetness, one that is tasted in this life before the next. In the next life, those who loved one another for the sake of Allāh will be shaded under His throne.

Anas b. Mālik (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) reports that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

Whoever possesses these three will taste the sweetness of īmān: to love Allāh and His Messenger more than anyone else; to love a person only for (the sake of) Allāh; and to abhor returning to infidelity after Allāh has saved one from it as one would abhor to be thrown into the Fire.”[6]

Abu Hurairah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) reports that the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

Allāh will say on the Day of Resurrection: Where are those who love one another through My glory? Today I shall give them shade in My shade, on a day when there is no shade but My shade.[7]

Ibn Taymiyyah (rahimahu Allāh) writes:

Allāh created the believing men and believing women as allies, siblings, and helpers of one another, and they are merciful and compassionate towards each other. He ordered them to unite and warned them of parting and differing. With this (in mind), how then can the Prophet’s Ummah divide and differ to the extent that a man becomes loyal to one group and an enemy to another based on his assumptions and desires, without firm proof from Allāh the Almighty?[8]

There are countless examples where Islam highlights the extraordinary importance of harmony and unity. For example, congregational worship is legislated at a single time. Worshippers are required to line up in firmly arranged rows, shoulder to shoulder, starting and ending in unison. These practices point to Islam’s emphasis on unity and must be used to shape one’s understanding of Islam’s greater objectives.

As such, Imam al-Shāfi’i (rahimahu Allāh) held the view that the person who misses the congregational prayer in a masjid where there is a designated imam could pray individually rather than setting up his own congregation afterwards – this is done in order to avoid division and differing.[9]

Sheikh Ahmed Shaker comments that such an understanding is “true, eminent, and built on accurate insight and understanding of the spirit of Islam and its objectives, the most paramount of which is gathering the Muslims on the singular objective of raising the Word of Allāh and unifying them (the Muslims).[10]

Calling to Unity Does Not Abolish Differing

Division is abhorred in Islam. Allāh says:

As for those who divide up their Dīn and form into sects, you have nothing whatsoever to do with them.[11]

Allah cautioned against differing when He said:

Hold fast to the rope of Allāh all together, and do not separate…[12]

Establish the Dīn and do not make divisions in it…[13]

Differing, however, can often bring good. Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

Differing concerning Islamic rulings may be a good thing if it does not lead to the greater evil of obscuring the Islamic ruling (on a matter). A man wrote a book named The Differing (Al-Ikhtilāf), so Ahmad b. Hanbal said to him: ‘You should call it The Book of Expanse.’ Though there is a single truth to any single matter, for it to be hidden from some could be mercy for them since it would have otherwise been too burdensome (to know).”[14]

Differing occurred amongst the greatest Companions and the generations that followed them, yet it never led to their disunity and so it was not abhorred. Al-Shātibi transmitted a number of occasions in which the Companions differed and concluded:

These are among other issues they differed upon and yet they were people of love and mutual counsel, and Islam’s brotherhood was ever present between them…[15]

The issue is therefore not with differing, but with division and disunity, which weakens. This type of differing was, as Ibn Taymiyyah asserts, the type “that prompted their enemies to overpower them… and if a people disband, they corrupt and are destroyed, but if they gather, they are rectified and will dominate. Unity (jamā’ah) is a mercy, while disunity is a punishment.[16]

Islam has no aversion to differing, so long as it takes place within the framework of ijtihād, that is, a jurist’s Islamic reasoning that does not explicitly contradict an established consensus (ijmā’), which is of course based on the Qur’ān and Sunnah. On the contrary, Islam is in aversion to disunity, even if it occurs off the back of applying a Sunnah if both parties are following their own understanding of that Sunnah. In other words, it is often better to leave off a Sunnah if disunity would result by applying it. It is reported that ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) prayed four units in Mina during the Hajj, in contrary to the Prophet’s Sunnah, as well as that of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (rady Allāhu ‘anhumā).

‘Abdullah b’ Mas’ūd was asked about this and he replied:

Surely we are Allāh’s and to Him shall we return.” Then he said: “I prayed with the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) two units of prayer at Mina, I prayed along with Abu Bakr al-Siddīq two units of prayer at Mina, and I prayed along with ‘Umar b. Khattāb two units of prayer at Mina. I wish, from the four units (led by ‘Uthmān), that Allāh accepts two of them.[17] Then he said: “I raised my objection to ‘Uthmān then prayed four,” adding that he nonetheless prayed behind ‘Uthmān because “differing (disunity) is evil.[18]

To this effect, Ibn al-Qayyim explains:

Differing is inevitable as people vary in their intentions, understandings, and abilities. What is abhorred, however, is that they display hostility towards one another. Differing brings no harm if it leads to no partisanship and each party intends (in their position) obedience to Allāh and His Messenger. Such is inevitably contained in a human’s nature…

Differing will hardly take place where the (utilised) principles, intended objectives, and followed techniques are the same. If it does (in such a case), such (differing) will be harmless, as was the case between the Companions when they differed. They built on the same principle – the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger – intended the same objective – obeying Allāh and His Messenger – and followed the same technique – observing the evidences contained in the Qur’ān and Sunnah –putting them both ahead of (their own) opinions, derivations, preferences, and politics.[19]

But how do we unite despite differences?

The First: Be Fair with Your Opponent

Disagreeing with another’s opinion should never lead to conflict or division unless one of the two opinions is clearly seeking to bring about injustice or is clearly impacted by one’s personal whims and desires. Allāh says:

Those given the Book only differed after knowledge had come to them, envying one another.[20]

In another verse, after ordering us to not take those who reject the truth as allies, Allāh cautions us:

Do not let hatred for a people incite you into not being just – be just, for that is closer to Taqwa[21]

Commenting on this verse, Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

This verse was revealed concerning (the believers’) aversion to the infidels, which is required (of a believer). If, despite Allāh ordering such aversion, one is forbidden from dealing unjustly with its recipient, then how could one deal unjustly towards a Muslim off the back of an interpretation or desire, when he is worthier of not being wronged?[22]

A fair person is much more mindful of the real size of a mistake and thus will not exaggerate or forget the favourable past of whoever said or did it, or the leading or surrounding circumstances that led a person to say or do it. One must recall the grave mistake of the Companion Hātib b. Abī Balta’ah, who divulged the Prophet’s intention to enter Makkah. Nonetheless, Hātib’s previous participation in the Battle of Badr was enough to acquit him of punishment.

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

Of the principles of the Sharī’ah and wisdom is that he who has done a great deal of good and has had a noticeable (positive) effect on Islam should be tolerated more than others and forgiven (for his mistakes) more than others, for sin is filth, and two qullas[23] cannot be dirtied.[24] People recognise this in their dispositions. Those who have done thousands of goods deeds are forgiven for one or two mistakes. It is said: ‘If the beloved commits a mistake, his good deeds will make him a thousand excuses.’[25]

Likewise, a scholar, a caller to Islam, or a leader may be failing to apply some of the Sharī’ah for a valid excuse. Those justly recognising their circumstances will lend them the benefit of the doubt. Ibn Taymiyyah mentions several examples of this, including that of the Negus of Abyssinia not carrying out many of Islam’s obligations like migration (Hijrah), Jihād, and Hajj. Likewise, the Negus clearly did not rule by the Qur’ān as he was not able to do so.

Ibn Taymiyyah also mentioned the believer in the court of the Pharaoh who is mentioned extensively in the Qur’ān, as well as Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhi al-Salām) in his dealings with the people of Egypt:

Oftentimes a man may be elected as a judge or even a leader over the Muslims and the Tatar (the Mongols) whilst within himself are matters of justice that he wishes to apply but is unable to. Rather, there may be obstacles in his way, and ‘Allāh does not impose on any soul any more than it can stand.’”[26],[27]

Ponder over the hadīth of the man who lost his camel – this exemplifies the extent of an excusable and circumstantial mistake! The hadīth mentions how a man lost his camel, his only means for survival whilst resting in the desert. As the man prepared to die, he opened his eyes to find it standing at his head, and out of sheer delight he said: “’Allāh, you are my slave and I am your lord.’[28] The Prophet then commented that the man erred because of his overwhelming delight, but he was not rebuked for what he said because of his particular circumstance!

The Second: Taking into Account Interests (Masālih) and Harms (Mafāsid)

One of the principles of the Sharī’ah is to choose the lesser of two evils when there is no alternative. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would see the grave evil of the idols of Quraish standing in and around the Ka’bah, but he did not immediately change this. Likewise, he did not execute the known hypocrites of Madinah despite the certainty of their animosity and scheming against the Muslims, “in case it is said that Muhammad kills his companions.[29]

Dealing with those who disagree with us must be overshadowed by this principle. In other words, sometimes it is better not to reply, if in doing so a greater harm would ensue. Allāh forbids that one insults the gods of polytheists in case the resulting evil outweighs the benefits sought by insulting them. Allāh says:

Do not curse those they call upon besides Allāh, in case that makes them curse Allāh in animosity, without knowledge.[30]

Ibn al-Qayyim writes:

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) legislated that his Ummah renounces evil such that it is replaced by what is good; that which Allāh and His Messenger love. But if greater evil and that which is even more displeasing to Allāh results from renouncing (that first) evil, then it should not be renounced, even if Allāh dislikes it and its people.[31]

The Prophet’s abstention from demolishing the Ka’bah and rebuilding it on the foundations of Prophet Ibrahim (‘alayhi al-Salām) is a great example of this balance.

Supporting this meaning, Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

In the absence of pure light (guidance), or if it (the light) cannot be brought about except by being blemished or else one remains in darkness, then one cannot be blamed for (choosing) blemished light except if pure light is available. How many avoid this (blemished light) and end up in total darkness?[32]

Understanding the intricacies of balancing between interests and harms no doubt requires a person to be intrinsically involved with the situation in question. Therefore, it is almost impossible for a person looking at another’s situation from a distance to make that balance on their behalf!

Moreover, balancing between interests and harms is associated with the time and environment in which a person lives. For instance, before speaking, one must ask themselves: how will evil people exploit my words to forward their evil agendas? How will my words be understood in the contemporary context? All such considerations and questions are related to the legal maxim in Islam that actions in Islam are not intended purely in and of themselves, but instead for the Islamically intended interests and benefits that they bring about.[33]

The Third: Knowing a Speaker’s Language and the Reality of their Opinion

Failing to establish the purpose behind the words used by a speaker is bound to lead to misinterpretation. Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

Most transmitters do not intentionally lie, but appreciating the reality of people’s statements and the rest of what is needed to establish purposes besides merely relating words is difficult for some.[34]

Al-Subki writes:

I often see those who hear words and understand them in the wrong way, and then censure the writer, the author, his followers, and those who follow his way, despite the author not intending that (transmitted) meaning.[35]

The Fourth: Verify!

Rushing to make judgments makes one prone to making mistakes. Islam has ordered that one should verify news. Allāh says:

You who have īmān! If a deviator brings you a report, scrutinise it carefully in case you attack people in ignorance then come to greatly regret what you have done.[36]

You who have īmān! When you go out to fight in the Way of Allāh, verify things carefully. Do not say ‘you are not a Mu’min’ to someone who greets you as a Muslim, simply out of desire for the good of this world…[37]

Investigating is to patiently learn and understand the situation without rushing to making judgement such that the full reality of a matter becomes clear. It applies both to the process of conveying information and the piece of information itself. The verification process involves scrutinising the trustworthiness and intelligence of the conveyor. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:

What a terrible riding-beast it is for a man (to say) za’amū (so and so claimed).[38]

The metaphor here is that lack of scrutiny is the worst form of transporting information!

Al-Khattābi writes:

People say za’amū (so and so claimed) when a narration has neither a chain of transmission nor is verified… Thus, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) disliked such statements and ordered that one verifies, abstaining from transmitting narrations except from trustworthy sources.[39]

Scholars of Hadith will often reject narrators for their transmission from ambiguous sources, even if they claim that such sources are trustworthy, such as to say, ‘I was told by a trustworthy source,’ without specifying whom.[40]

As such, Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

Whoever wishes to convey a statement should name the one who said it and the source, otherwise anyone can lie.[41]

The Fifth: Freeing Oneself from the Pressure of their Audiences

Ironically, one’s followers can be one of the most dominant forces of influence. One’s followers are the first to object if one were to express what goes against the interests of the followers, or if one were to change course or retract from an opinion they previously held. Many a time, those who are followed fear the objection or breaking away of their followers. Sometimes, one refrains from appearing to understand the position of their interlocutors, just in case it upsets one’s followers. Therefore, freeing oneself from the pressure of one’s audience is paramount to achieving harmony with others one may differ with.

The Sixth: Adopting the Ethics of Islam

Embracing the many ethics of Islam is paramount to achieving harmony, or at least lessening the negative consequences of holding different views to others. These include:

Giving the benefit of the doubt to the one who differs with you

Allāh says: “You who have īmān! Avoid most suspicion. Indeed, some suspicion is a crime.”[42]

‘Umar b. al-Khattāb (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) is reported to have said: “Do not consider a word coming out of your Mu’min brother as evil if you can find a good way of interpreting it.”[43]

Submitting to the truth, even if your opponent is the first to arrive at it

Imam al-Shāfi’ī would say: “I have never debated with anyone except that I would say: ‘O Allāh, allow his heart and tongue to utter the truth such that if I am right, he chooses to follow me, and if he is right, I follow him.’[44]

Recall the story of Abu Hurairah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu) with the devil who correctly directed him to read Āyat al-Kursi. On that occasion, this malicious enemy “spoke the truth, though is usually a liar,”[45] as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) later told Abu Hurairah. On another occasion, a Jewish rabbi came to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) complaining that the Muslims were committing a form of associating others with Allāh by taking oaths by the Ka’bah in their saying, “By the Ka’bah (wal-Ka’bah).” On hearing this, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) commanded them that if they wanted to swear an oath to say, “By the Lord of the Ka’bah.[46]

Covering up the faults of the mistaken Muslim

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “Whoever covers up the fault of a Muslim, Allāh will cover up his fault on the Day of Resurrection…[47] This is to rectify the fault without defaming the one at fault. Such a behaviour can be found abundantly in the Sunnah. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) would often say, “Why is it that certain people…” do such and such without specifying certain names.

The Seventh: Eagerly Look for Ways to Overcome Disunity

Unity needs effort and action, not only demands and appeals. Allāh will undoubtedly assist those who sincerely strive for unity. Allāh says:

And those who strive for Us, We will surely guide them to Our ways.[48]

The aforementioned are but a handful of means towards this objective. It is important to add that the correct arbitration should be sought if disunity ever occurs. The arbitrator should be a fair person with a sound past and respectable standing in the community. Likewise, we should get together face-to-face with those we disagree with to rekindle the love and harmony between us and break the artificial barriers often created by modern day cyberspaces by using physical conferences, seminars, dialogues, visits, and so on.

There is a lot more than can be said about this subject. I would like to end by noting that no time is more pressing than now to deal with our disunity. Muslims are the subject of unprecedented harassment in our day and age, and our disunity for trivial matters is only making us more susceptible to serious damage. Let us make ourselves aware of the bigger threats that affect our collective, and may Allāh help us to that end. Āmīn.

Walhamdu Lillāhi Rabbi Al-‘ālamīn

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Article contents primarily sourced from original article < http://www.saaid.net/Doat/hani/7.htm > by Prof. Hani bin Abdullah bin Jubair, rendered into English with modifications and slight rewording. All original scholarly quotes can be found in the Saaid article link above and have been rendered into English to the author’s best ability to their closest meaning, which obviously loses much of their original eloquence and depth.

[2] Al-Qur’ān 9:71 onwards

[3] Al-Qur’ān 19:10

[4] Bukhāri and Muslim on the authority of Al-Nu’mān b. Bashr (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[5] Reported in Kitāb Al-Zuhd – ‘Abdullāh b. Al-Mubārak

[6] Bukhāri and Muslim on the authority of Anas b. Mālik (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[7] Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurairah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[8] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[9] Al-Umm

[10] In his commentary on Sunan Al-Tirmidhi

[11] Al-Qur’ān 6:159

[12] Al-Qur’ān 3:103

[13] Al-Qur’ān 42:13

[14] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[15] Al-I’tisām

[16] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[17] Sahīh Muslim

[18] This wording is Abu Dāwūd’s in his Sunan with an authentic chain of transmission

[19] Al-Sawā’iq Al-Mursalah

[20] Al-Qur’ān 3:20

[21] Al-Qur’ān 5:8

[22] Minhāj Al-Sunnah Al-Nabawiyyah

[23] A qulla is a unit of measurement that equals a vessel of about 160 litres.

[24] As appears in the Hadith

[25] Miftāh Dār Al-Sa’ādah

[26] Al-Qur’ān 2:286

[27] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[28] Bukhāri and Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurairah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[29] Muslim on the authority of Jabir b. Abdullah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[30] Al-Qur’ān 6:108

[31] I’lām Al-Muwaqqi’īn

[32] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[33] See Al-Muwāfaqāt by Imam Al-Tahāwi

[34] Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa

[35] Qā’ida fī Al-Jarh wa Al-Ta’dīl

[36] Al-Qur’ān 19:6

[37] Al-Qur’ān 4:94

[38] Sunan Abī Dāwūd on the authority of Abdullah b. Mas’ūd (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[39] Ma’ālim Al-Sunan

[40] See Tadrīb Al-Rāwi

[41] Minhāj Al-Sunnah

[42] Al-Qur’ān 49:12

[43] Al-Durar Al-Manthūr – Al-Suyūti

[44] Qawā’id Al-Ahkām

[45] Bukhāri on the authority of Abu Hurairah (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[46] Al-Nasā’i on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. Yasar (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[47] Bukhāri and Muslim on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar (rady Allāhu ‘anhu)

[48] Al-Qur’ān 29:69

The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.

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About Ahmed Hammuda

Ahmed Hammuda is a regular contributor at Islam21c. His interests lie in Qur'anic Tafsir and the field of Middle East Affairs and how they reflect on Muslims living in the West. He is an Electrical Engineer by trade and has been involved in various Da'wah activities over the course of his education and working life. He has transferred the same analytical approach required in engineering into a careful and measured approach in his views and positions.

2 comments

  1. Verily our ummah is One Ummah. Islam is the religion of Truth. and Allah is the real name of God in original Torah & Bible.
    https://youtu.be/3e-s59JWZ3A

  2. One of the greatest causes of disunity amongst Muslims is the attempts to create unity!

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