Adab al-Ikhtilaaf: The etiquettes of dealing with differences of opinion part 2 [Video here]
In part 1 we introduced the importance of this topic and how we would navigate the series. We mentioned that we will look at verses of the Qur’an and Ahadith around the topic, give scholarly opinions and stories of how the scholars themselves deal with differences of opinion.
In the first discussion we mentioned the opinion of Sheikh Ahmad Zarrooq who said, “The difference of opinion about one reality, when those differences multiply, indicate toward the depths of understanding the totality of that thing (meaning it is so deep).
We also mentioned the story of ‘Allama Tabataba’i and Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi debating in private before going public with their differences of opinion.
This week we ask the question, ‘Why do differences of opinion occur? Allah (swt) mentions that divine books and Messengers (a) were sent to remove differences and unite us, but envies and jealousies caused abuse of those blessings and to were used as means of division:
“Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves.” (2:213)
Another reason for differences is peoples’ ignorance which they then convey onto others. Some narrations that mention this are:
“Ignorance is the [primary] source of evil” اَلجَهْلُ مَعْدِنُ الشَّـرِّ and “Ignorance corrupts all matters” اَلجَهْلُ فَسادُ كُلِّ أمْر
How do I know if I have an ignorance that contributes to misguidance and inappropriate opinions? Narrations also provide guidance on this: “The ignorant person feels aversion towards that which the wise person feels at ease with” اَلجاهِلُ يَسْتَوْحِشُ مِمّا يَأنَسُ بِه الحَكيْمُ , meaning that whilst the wise person feels it normal to read lengthily, reflect, not speak or choose his words particularly, the ignorant person feels averse to all of this and therefore does not do it. In turn his opinions are usually less or devoid of value, creating unnecessary differences of opinion.
“The ignorant person does not understand the learned because he [himself] was never learned before” اَلجاهِلُ لايَعْرِفُ العالِمَ لأنَّهُ لَمْ يَكُنْ قَبْلُ عالِماً, meaning that the ignorant person often speaks thinking he has encompassed a matter understanding it well, but in reality, because he has not taken time to learn, he cannot see past his own ignorance.
Again this person provides opinions which would be followed by some who share the same delusions causing differences. Another reason why differences of opinion exist are in each community there are those who are sources of sedition; they cause the differences to spread and exacerbate.
Sunni scholar Abu al-Qasim as-Samarqandi said the following: “All fitnah comes from three places: Those who spread news, those seeking to hear news and those who consume news. And none of the three are free from blame.” تنشأ الفتن عن ثلالثة نفر: قائل الأخبار ، قارب استماع الأخبار ، و متلقي الأخبار – لا يخلص احد من الثلاثة من الملامة
A question is therefore raised: Do the scholars welcome or abhor differences of opinion amongst themselves? The book ‘The Ways of the Righteous’, seventy-two stories of our Maraji’, published by The World Federation, narrates a meeting with Grand Ayatollah Syed Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi who mentioned meeting Ayatollah Hadi Ma’rifat in Iran, both of whom are known as great commentators of the Qur’an. The latter praised the former’s commentaries as outstanding. When Ayatollah al-Modarresi conveyed this story he asked the narrator, ‘What do you think about my commentaries?’ to which the commentator says he of course praised the works too. Ayatollah al-Modarresi replied, ‘I have not told you this for you to praise me too. I am asking you to point out where the work needs improving or is no longer accurate. I wrote this work reflecting a particular period in society which changes every few years, therefore if the works no reflect the needs or circumstances of the society, the works need updating.’
In this way, we can see that scholars are not fearful of constructive criticism or differences being presented to them, rather they welcome them.