by Sulaiman Palden
I wanted to read and learn about how our Prophetﷺ, his sahaba, right up to early generation of scholars handled differences in the growing ummah of that time, to serve as a reminder for myself especially in today’s social media dominated environment where differing opinions, debates, and polemics seem to be rife.
The book address how from our Prophetﷺ to our early generation of scholars engaged and handled differing opinions and viewpoints amongst the ummah, while still maintaining good etiquette and decorum, never allowing personal grievances to cloud their judgements, always keeping the higher principles of the shariah in mind. The book was originally written to address differing Islamic groups in the modern era with various agendas, be it political, legal, social, or theological, and how due to their ambitions, were causing dissent and division in the ummah.
The book explains as far back as the the Prophet’sﷺ time how he handled difference and disputes amongst his expanding community, and how his followers in the next two generations after his passing also handled differences and potential conflicts that were occurring due to the spread, expansion and growth of the religion across the Middle East.
Differing legal perspectives and approaches of the four madhabs and their scholars are also highlighted, but more importantly what is explained was how amongst the four imams, despite their differing legal opinions and outlook, always respected each others’ works and efforts, never allowing their own ambitions to cloud their judgements, praising their fellow imams above themselves, and keeping the unity of muslim ummah in mind.
The book was a good insightful read, a timely reminder of what our earlier generation of Muslims had to go through to maintain unity in the ummah, and that threat of division and conflict in those early centuries was very real, and that it took the foresight, mercy, and discipline of those early generation of scholars to keep the ummah unified and to control and minimise conflicts as much as they could.
The author explains what some the causes of these differences and disputes were back then and also the causes for differences that are occurring today as well, the chapter on ‘knowledge and refinement’ is a good example of how amongst the four imams they had tremendous respect for each other, despite knowing the differences amongst their schools, still had a high regard for the other imam’s opinions and views, they were objective and mature in the handling of their differences, there are examples of how the imam of one madhab praying behind an imam of another madhab despite minor differences in the performance of sholat.
The book unfortunately does not address how the handling of differences can be applied in this social media environment but solutions and a way forward are offered, important take away is the importance of continuous learning of knowledge, scholarship, tolerance, and adab (etiquette) in learning and dealing with people, and that even in differences there is still an adab to observe as exemplified by the early generation of scholars and Allah knows best.
“Differences of opinion amongst genuine scholars were, to begin with, a source of blessing which helped develop islamic jurisprudence, establish the relevance of islam to changing circumstances, and safeguard public welfare. Later, differences of opinion became one of the most critical and dangerous factors contributing to disunity and internecine strife among Muslims. Indeed it became a scourge which dissipated much of the energies and potential of the Muslim ummah; it caused people to become engrossed in matters which did not deserve the attention given to them.”
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