"Your Sheikh, My Sheikh": Islam and difference of opinion
‘إن الله رفيق يحب الرفق’
Difference of opinion and gentleness. Two characteristics which rarely accompany each other, but which if were to come together, can produce for the benefit of Muslims, nothing of short of excellence in the deen.
Masaajid are increasingly populated by youth where just a generation ago they were not; the youth are taking up Islamic courses and classes in droves; they are striving to gain knowledge of their deen and they more passionately believe in and defend positions they follow in matters of ‘Aqidah (belief), Fiqh (rulings) and other areas of Islam.
While for the most part this is a positive development, there are results of this phenomenon that have had slightly negative implications for our communities. These are usually a result of not appreciating the depth of valid difference of opinion that exists in Islam, both in classical and contemporary times.
The most common area where this is apparent is with regards to “blind following” or, more accurately, in many young Muslims’ opposition to it, without fully understanding what it means. In the love we have of practising Islam properly, have we perhaps done injustice to the very principles of Islam whose revival we are actively seeking ?
The problem is manifest in two ways, which we will look at briefly.
The first is the way in which we relate to those with whom we may differ. If difference of opinion is a mercy from Allah, then where is the mercy between parts of the community when people differ? Over many Islamic issues, and indeed verses of the Qur’an, the companions of the Prophet (saw) differed. After them, the tabi’een differed. And after them the greatest scholars of this Ummah differed. Difference of opinion is, without any exaggeration, as old as Islam. Indeed, the Rasul (saw) himself gave the Ummah the right to disagree over the same piece of evidence when he declared two different groups of companions (who had differed in their interpretation) both valid in their interpretation of a statement he had given to them (“Do not pray Asr until you arrive at Bani Quraydah”). One statement, two interpretations. Both deemed by Allah through His Messenger (saw) to be acceptable.
The above teaches us that difference of opinion will exist, and it should not be a reason for acrimony or disunity. Unity does not require that everyone have the same opinion about every detail. True, if we see someone misguided in their fundamentals we should oppose and seek to guide, but where the difference is in the detail and as long as the opinion is valid, Islam obliges us to treat each other, and the opinions of other scholars who arrived at them, with deep respect.
The second way this aspect manifests itself is in the contradiction some fall into as a result of the above thinking. All scholars ultimately devise an opinion on the basis of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The difference is that they interpret an evidence differently to another person. Thus, it is interpretation that leads to difference of opinion, not the lack of following of Qur’an and Sunnah.
Given these points, it is pivotal that as Muslim youth we keep in mind two things. First, that different opinions exist because of differences of interpretation, not because others do not follow the Qur’an and Sunnah. Second, that we should keep this in mind and always respect and value others’ opinions when they have been arrived at by scholars, especially if we do the same for those scholars we ourselves follow.
It should grieve us that in some matters, Muslims will show greater affection and mercy to a non-Muslim than to his fellow Muslim with whom he may disagree. May Allah grant the youth of this Ummah knowledge and the wisdom to utilise this knowledge in the best of ways. Ameen.