It is fair to say that it is near enough impossible for two individuals to agree on absolutely everything. Disagreements will always exist, and in many respects that is something that we ought to celebrate. Disagreement leads to debate, which not only fulfils the intellectual needs of human beings, but it is through the process of debate and discussion that common ground can be established and solutions can be articulated. On the other hand, disagreements can also have negative consequences, and rather than bring individuals together for a meaningful discussion to air out differences, they can draw individuals further apart and lead to animosity.
How we approach disagreements between one another naturally stems from our mindset; if we view them through the lens of maturity, then it follows that a discussion on our differences is likely to be a fruitful exercise in which both parties are likely to leave the discussion open to variant possibilities. Conversely, if one adopts an immature approach, then impudence prevails providing fertile ground for ignorance to establish its roots.
As faithful Muslims living in Britain, we have been inadequate in our approach to dealing with differences of opinion within the Muslim community. In some respects, this is rather surprising since many of us are frequently reminded by those more learned about the differences of opinion that existed amongst classical scholars on matters of theology and Islamic jurisprudence. And whilst in many instances scholars might have differed quite strongly with one another, providing no obviously heretical views were being espoused, scholars would debate matters with one another, which in many instances catalysed the cause of intellectual endeavour within the faith. For all the differences they might have had, there was a mutual respect that existed between them; after all, they were all batting for the same team.
Yet despite often being reminded about the approach that classical Muslim scholars took to disagreements, we find that Muslims today don’t reflect upon the example of the learned and continue to pursue an immature approach. This proves the sentiment that we ‘love’ scholars to be mere lip service. If we truly loved them, we would learn from their approach to religion, their demeanour as the righteous, and the maturity they had in their interactions with one another.
Over the last decade or so, we have progressed little on this front; in fact, perhaps the only thing that has differed is the nature of our disagreements. In the late 90s and early 2000s, our disagreements largely centred around meaningless discussions on the minutiae of Islamic theology. Lay Muslims would have heated discussions about the nature of God, His attributes, and how He ought to be worshipped. Anybody who disagreed with certain groups was fervently labelled an ‘innovator’ at best, otherwise excommunicated from the faith altogether. Websites such as allaahuakbar.net and troid.org had become authorities for some, as lay Muslims would visit such sites to arm themselves with the arguments they needed to shoot down others at their local mosque, and later, on internet forums. In its worst form, we saw the emergence of khariji mentality, where even those who had slight differences in the way they performed their prayers were deemed to be ‘out of the fold’.
Things have since changed. Those websites have now become pretty much obsolete, and the message seems to have reached the masses that deep discussions on Islamic theology and jurisprudence, whilst important, are best left to those who have the intellectual capability to undertake such discussions. Moreover, for the laity to be engaging in such matters, which in reality were of little consequence, carried little benefit and caused further rifts within the faith community.
One would have hoped that such realisation would have resulted in bringing the faith community together, but it seems those lessons are yet to be learned. With the war on terror, the rise in Islamophobia and the muscular approach of successive governments towards Muslims, the laity has moved from arguing about matters of theology, onto political responses and positions. Whereas once Muslims would have argued about what the ‘Hand of God’ actually signifies, today Muslims argue vehemently about ‘Prevent’ and other aspects of counter-extremism.
However, once again, it seems there is little room for disagreement when discussing such matters. A particular group seems to be emerging once again, positing that anyone who disagrees with their approach or tries to initiate discussions on matters taking place within the Muslim community is a ‘self-hating house Muslim’ or a ‘Quilliamite’. In many respects the circumstances around excommunication has changed; whereas once people would have called those that disagreed with them as ‘out of the fold’, today they are labelled as being ‘sell-outs’. It seems that some members of the Muslim community have transposed their traits of kharijism away from the theological realm and into the political one.
It is vital that we recognise this problem, which will ultimately fragment us further as a faith community. Whilst it is clearly apparent that there are certain voices in the public realm that have an agenda against Muslims in Britain, to label anyone that disagrees with a particular viewpoint as being from amongst those lot can have very damaging consequences. In this regard, we must start showing the love we had for our traditional scholars by embodying their approach to disagreement. We must move away from the vile arguments and name calling that is currently taking place on internet forums and social media, and come to having face to face dialogue with those Muslims who may see things differently in matters of politics, to understand their perspective and work towards constructing well-informed solutions to the issues we face. After all, we claim to be batting for the same team.