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The voice of unity - Part IV: The methods of obtaining knowledge and eradicating dispute

Nov 2, 2012, 11:22 AM

As the fourth in a series of talks regarding the subject of unity, the present article focuses on differences and disputes. At the outset, two types of difference are mentioned: 1) differences that are condemned: 2) those that are considered beneficial, or at the least, tolerated by the faith. This talk focuses on the second of the two. In delving into this second category, the author speaks of the different methods of seeking knowledge. He defines ijtihad from the perspective of the Quran and shows how this definition can be used explain and excuse the apparent differences amongst the Islamic schools of thought and their followers.

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

In the previous atricles I spoke about the unity of the Islamic Ummah and Islamic brotherhood. It was stated that, unfortunately, due the various factors, Muslims have not protected their unity. Therefore, the roots of dispute must be examined. Coincidentally, the Quran gives importance to this point. If one reviews the number of verses about unity and compares them to the number of verses about dispute, he would find that the verses about dispute are two or three times more than those about unity. In addition to the fact that different people see things in different ways, the substantial reason for this is that man is rebellious and tumultuous by nature.

After the initial two lectures that covered the unity of the Ummah and Islamic brotherhood, I examined the issue of ‘differences’ and ‘dispute’ from the viewpoint of the Quran and Islam.

The conclusion of the previous discussion was that the Quran severely rejected one from of dispute. This was evidenced by a number of verses from the Quran and was discussed under a number of titles. We said that if man continues to dispute after a religious argument is proven for him, he will be completely rejected. The reason for this is that when one continues in dispute after he finds path of knowledge and authority, it is certain that he does not have positive intentions. The Quran states:

But they did not differ expect after knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves. (45:17)

In one case, division is prohibited as well as disputes that lead to division:

Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not be divided. (3:103)

Arguing is prohibited in some places:

And do not dispute, or you will lose heart and your power will be gone (8:46)

The Arabic term ‘tanazu’ stems from the root naza’a which means digging and pulling; both sides start to pull at each other during religious discussion.

This type of dispute, which causes Muslims to divide into sects are rebuked. The Quran states:

But the factions differed among themselves. (43:65)

Whenever the Quran uses the term ‘factions’ in the plural it is rebuking partisan activity.

Another phrase that is used in a number of verses is:

So leave them in their stupor. (23:54)

The Arabic term ‘taqatta’ means severely tearing. The unified Islamic society and Ummah has been, and is being severely torn. The Israelites tore their society apart. These are various phrases used for the division which has been rebuked; the division that the Quran forbids.


There are two categories or types of dispute that are found in the words of Islamic scholars. One of these categories is rebuked and the other is not. The category of dispute that has rebuked is that which was mentioned. But, there is another category which has not been rebuked; we are in need of it and we must accept it.

The following categories have been presented in some articles composed in Cairo (taken from the journal Message of Islam)

Religious issues are of two types. One type of religious issue are categorized as ‘certainties’ while the other are labelled ‘not-certain’ or ‘doubtful’. Religious certainties are just what we had stated was the criterion for the unity of the Ummah: tawhid, the hereafter, biding the right and forbidding the wrong, jihad on the path of Allah, positive ethical traits, piety, and refraining from committing sins. The principle of the necessity of leadership and an Islamic government in the general sense, prayer, fasting, qiblah, Quran, hajj and the kabah are unanimously agreed upon. They are the criterion of being a Muslim and the scale of Islamic unity. Muslims must protect these commonalities; they must hold to them. The Quran states:

Hold fast, all together, to Allah’s cord, and do not divided. (3:103)

We stated that the divine cord is compose of these very same certain doctrines of Islam; the doctrines that are unanimously agreed upon.

But there are other issue in religions that are not as clear. Or, if they were clear at the beginning, over time their clarity has been lost and Muslims have disputed over them. The universals of theological and jurisprudential concepts are unanimously agreed upon. But, the particulars are disputed about. Ijtihid, as well be stipulated, applies to these non-certain issues.

Jurisprudents and religious authorities (maraji’ taqlid) write at the beginning if their books on practical Islamic laws: taqlid is impermissible in the necessities of religion, i.e., in the certainties of religion.

Taqlid pertains to issues other than these. Taqlid pertains to theoretical issues which are not unanimously accepted and not considered to be of the necessities of Islam.

This matter is in complete congruence with the division that we presented. The differences that Muslims have in issues which are certain or in the universal principles and doctrines of religion are not accepted. For instance, a Muslim who is in the Muslim world [and hence exposed to the fundaments of Islam] but who does not accept prayer, cannot be consider-differs in the particulars, then these differences are not given the same ruling and in fact they  cannot be decisively condemned. These latter types of differences do not result in one leaving the fold of Islam.

Now the above division was with regards to religious issues. These issues were divided into issues that are certain and issues that are not certain; issues that are necessities and issues that are not necessities. Differences and dispute is not accepted in the first category while it is accepted in the second. And sometimes there is no choice but to fall into these types of disputes.

The late prominent professor, ‘Allamah Tabataba’i, provided a different division. He stated that disputes before one obtains knowledge are not problematic; rather positive. But disputes after one has obtained knowledge are rejected. These categories are in complete congruence with the verses of the Quran. Man is naturally in a state of doubt before he reaches knowledge and certainty about a religious issue. In such a state, if he were to speak to others, he would differ with them.

These differences must be there because all religious issues are not certain or part of the necessities of religion; hence it is only appropriate that they debated. As long as one has not obtained knowledge, and as long as he is trying to obtain knowledge, there will be differences of opinions. There is no way around this. But, for a person in such a conundrum, what is important is that he tries to take these disputes to such a place where the opinions could be supported with proofs. While it is possible that those who are searching for the truth will not reach the same conclusions, nevertheless, if their seeking and enquiry is carried out correctly, then their reaching varying conclusions is valid and differences are accepted by religion. This subject will be discussed at a later time.

To be continued