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Ethics & Disagreement in Islam

February 26, 2009 by  


By Adil James, MMNS

P2207902 Bloomfield Hills–February 20–Let’s just agree to disagree about the ethics of disagreement in Islam.  Imam Ali Leyla of IAGD gave a guest lecture at the BMUC, a description of the ethics of disagreement in Islam this past Friday at the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center.

Imam Ali Leyla focused on showing that disagreement always exists in Islam.  He showed that there was disagreement in various circumstances among the angels, among the prophets, among the holy Sahaba of Prophet Muhammad (s); the theme of his talk was that disagreement is unavoidable, but said that out of that disagreement Muslims should “remain brothers.”

The imam showed a very detailed knowledge of Islamic history, discussing various specific instances where Sahaba both during the time of the Prophet (s) and after he passed away differed as to what should be done in different circumstances.  He tried to introduce principles of Islamic law as well, trying to show a difference between Shari’ah, which is Divine and holy, as opposed to fiqh, which he said was not holy but manmade and therefore at times possibly faulty.

“Even the Companions had disagreement, but they didn’t become enemies,” he said.

He discussed also the many schools of Islam, saying that there had been once a large schism between the Madrasal Athar and the Madrasal Ra` which had been healed by Imam Shafi’i who bridged the gap between them.

According to his understanding, there are varying levels of the strength of fiqh, descending from the Qur`an down to the logic of those who studied the Islamic sciences and derived solutions to other problems, including some that were not issues at the time of the Companions, and were not directly broached by the Shari’ah of Prophet (s); such issues, he argued, include organ donation, cloning, commercial insurance, and international law.

He also showed that even in the case of Qur`an, there are sometimes multiple possible interpretations of words that are in Qur`an, therefore multiple honest interpretations.

Imam Leyla even gave examples of the closest Companions intentionally applying the Shari’ah in a manner inconsistent with the clear reading of Qur`an–the imam did not castigate the Holy Companions for doing this, rather he explained that according to the exigencies of a time, for example, it might be wrong to cut off a person’s hand who stole when he was starving, to feed his family and not in order to pursue greed.

He gave a wonderful story of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who was approached by students of Abu Kurayb, who used to attack ibn Hanbal all the time.  ibn Hanbal advised those students to follow their teacher well, and when they reminded him that Abu Kurayb always spoke ill of him he said he was aware of this, but “what can I do–he is greatly troubled by me.”  He still advised them to follow their teacher, and said that Abu Kurayb was very knowledgeable.

Imam Leyla gave several bullet points to follow, saying Muslims should uphold justice at all times, avoid judging people with whom there is disagreement (or certainly not call them names), purify intention, be objective and don’t personalize disagreements, avoid poisonous language, win people even if one loses the situations, and give people the benefit of the doubt.

Prophet (s), he explained, said a person would be granted a house in Paradise if he ends an argument even though he is right.

He said to “avoid arrogance,” which he said meant a person should not reject the truth when he/she hears it.  “Accept the truth when it is clear,” he said.  “Admit your mistakes,” he said.

Jealousy and hatred, he explained, quoting a hadith, are “the  shaver”–they do not shave hair but they shave belief.  Therefore, quoting the hadith, Imam Leyla cautioned that we should spread salaams often in order to counter the shaver that shaved the communities before Prophet Muhammad’s (s) community and that will and do afflict it now.

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