A Concise Study of Difference of Opinions in Islam


5.1.5 Seek and propagate knowledge.

This helps protect us against much of the failure of judgment.

Knowing the points of consensus and difference is essential in the proper management of disagreement.

Individuals need to learn and promote learning. The Islamic organizations need to always keep a culture of seeking and honoring knowledge and its possessors. Scholarly discourse is to be encouraged for the continuity of intellectual viability and fertility. Inclusion of the experts in various fields of knowledge, such as medicine, management, chemistry, politics, economics, etc., is vital for the relevance of the Islamic discourse, and the applicability of the Islamic teachings.

5.1.6 Purify your heart from all evils.

i. Frivolity.

ii. Blind allegiances and cultish practices .

‘Umar ibn Abdul-‘Azīz (may Allāh be pleased with him) said:

العلم لا يهلك حتى يكون سرا

“Knowledge does not vanish except when it is kept secretly (to oneself).”[37]

He also said:

إذا رأيت قوما يتناجون في دينهم بشيء دون العامة , فاعلم أنهم على تأسيس ضلالة

“When you see groups of people talking secretly about matters of the religion in isolation from the public, know that they are innovators.”[38]

iii. Fatwah shopping, or touring between the scholars for a convenient view, deems a person fāsiq.

قال سليمان التيمي: «لو أخذت برخصة كل عالم اجتمع فيك الشر كله»

Sulaimān at-Taymi said: “If you adopt the lenient views of every scholar, you will have gathered total evil.”[39]

Allāh states:

أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَى أَنْفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ

“Is it not so that whenever a Messenger from God came to you with something that was not to your personal liking, you gloried in your arrogance, and some of them you called impostors while others you would slay.”[40]

فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَى أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا

“Do not then follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice.”[41]

5.1.7 Safeguard the ‘aqīdah and foundations of the dīn.

It is important that we preserve the purity of our ‘aqīdah. It is always advisable to take a harder line concerning differences that pertain to ‘aqīdah vs. those that pertain to practice. I must add here, however, that there could be excusable differences regarding matters of ‘aqīdah, like that what took place between ‘Â’ishah and Ibn ‘Abbās concerning the issue of the Prophet’s seeing Allāh. Contrarily, many of the differences in fiqh may be inexcusable. Abū Bakr mainly fought against those who rejected the obligation of zakāh.

5.1.8 Know your position and class amongst the people of knowledge, public and the position of others.

  1.  It is impermissible for a mujtahid to imitate another mujtahid that views other than what his ijtihād lead him to.[42]
  2.  The people have agreed that a muqallid is not counted amongst the people of knowledge, for verily, knowledge is knowing the truth with its evidence.[43]
  3.  A muqallid may not condemn another muqallid, except in matters of consensus amongst the scholars. Otherwise, they may exchange advice concerning the superior position by encouraging an impartial quest for the superior position and referring to the expositions of various positions by mujtahidūn.
  4.  Concerning our scholars that held false views:

a- Mistakes resultant from ijtihād should never result in defamation when they come from those known for their virtue and knowledge.

b-   Scholars of the Sunnah & defenders of deviance can never equate. For the scholars of the Sunnah, we should allow no one to violate their sanctity.

c-   Concerning our great imams, adh-Dhahabi said, “When water reaches two qullāt, it will not become impure.”

d-  This does not necessitate our approval/silence about their error.

e-   ‘Alī said, “Surely the truth is not known (recognized) by the people, rather know the truth and you will come to know (recognize) its people.”[44]

Therefore, it is unbefitting to say a certain position is correct because a certain imam upheld it.

5.1.9 Maintain the brotherhood amongst the Muslims, and when you see an otherwise sincere Muslim commit an injustice, condemn it, but do not forget all the good he does.

We all remember how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said one day to Abū Dharr:

إنك امرؤ فيك جاهلية

“You still have some characteristics of ignorance.”[45]

But, who is Abū Dharr? The Prophet again tells us:

ما أقلت الغبراء، ولا أظلت الخضراء، من رجل أصدق لهجة من أبي ذر

“There is no one on earth, or under the sky, who speaks more truthfully than Abū Dharr.”[46]

5.1.10 Be realistic.

Be mindful of the various differences amongst people.

Also, people have differences in their potential for excellence.

Graduation in reform is part of the way Islam addressed human weakness and differences in potential.

5.1.11 Avoid jadal (dialectics).

There are two ways to define jadal (dialectics):

  1.    Advancing evidence to show which juristic rulings are sounder.
  2.    Enabling a person to maintain a position, no matter how false it is.

The second type is evil and must be avoided. Abū Umāmah relates that the Messenger of Allāh (blessings and peace be upon him) said:

أنا زعيم ببيت في ربض الجنة لمن ترك المراء وإن كان محقا، وببيت في وسط الجنة لمن ترك الكذب وإن كان مازحا وببيت في أعلى الجنة لمن حسن خلقه

 “I am the claimant of a house on the outskirts of Paradise for the one who refrains from opinion-based arguing, even if he is in the right, and a house in the middle of Paradise for the one who refrains from lying, even when he is joking, and a house in the highest part of Paradise for one who makes his character good.”[47]

5.1.12 We are required to pursue the truth

Difference of opinion is not a license for each person to select what suits their whims and desires. The scholars agree on this being fisq.[48] Each one must excel in pursuing the divine intent from the legislation within their capacity. A mujtahid is obligated to deduce for himself and adopt that result, even if greater scholars have said otherwise. A muqallid is obligated to seek out the most knowledgeable and trustworthy of the scholars accessible to him, and abide by what they determine to be the strongest view. If two of them disagree, he should do his best in weighing their proofs. If he cannot understand the discourse, he may then choose one of the two positions without blame.

Ash-hab, a student of Imam Mālik, said, Someone asked Mālik whether one is safe to follow any ruling related to him from one of the Companions. He replied,

لا والله حتى يصيب الحق , وما الحق إلا واحد

“No, by Allāh, unless it is correct, for the truth is only one.”[49]

Avoid speaking with certainty when experts disagree.

The Companions always stressed that their deductions were not necessarily what Allāh intended. Ibn Mas‘ūd, for instance, would say,

فإن يك صوابا، فمن الله وإن يكن خطأ فمني ومن الشيطان، والله ورسوله بريئان

 “…so if this (verdict) is correct, it is from Allāh, and if it is mistaken, it is from me and Shaiṭān, and Allāh and His Messenger are free of it.”[50]

5.2 Specific Recommendations

Each type of disagreement call for a different approach of management.

5.2.1 Differences Between Religions

The discussion here is to show them the truth, not to discover it together, and not to find a midpoint.

Cooperation is regarding the common good of humanity: justice, peace, security, protection of the environment, etc.

5.2.2 Differences Between Muslim Sects

Cooperation here is like that with non-Muslims. In addition, they have the general rights of Muslims, if their innovation does not take them beyond the pale of Islam. Of those rights is to support them against their enemies if they become subject to their wrongdoing.

5.2.3 Within Ahl-us-Sunnah

i.  Sunnah vs. Bid‘ah and Truth vs. Falsehood

Condemn the false position and do not propagate it in any way, directly or indirectly.

If innovation is not simply an isolated incident(s) of deviation, and it is a pattern for which the person is known, you should warn against his deviations, if he was influential and the people are being led away from the Sunnah by him.

When the deviation affects the tenants of the ‘aqīdah and the foundations of the religion, we should never be looking for unity of the Ummah at the expense of the dīn. This Ummah is worth nothing without Islam. Remember the position of Abū Bakr against those who rejected the obligation of zakāh and those claimants of prophethood.

ii. Correct vs. Incorrect

Inexcusable (غير سائغ) differences

–          Condemn the false position and do not propagate it in any way, directly or indirectly.

–          If the person is otherwise generally abiding by the Sunnah, do not compromise their credibility.

Excusable (سائغ) differences

–          Weak differences vs. strong differences.

–          Advise your brethren of the stronger views without condemnation of theirs.

–          Be more assertive concerning the weaker differences; still without frank condemnation.

iii. Variational Differences

Those differences do not even warrant reconciliation. If there are different ways of performing a certain act, then everyone is free to choose their preferred way. When this has to do with different individuals and groups performing variant functions, such diversity should be encouraged because no single individual or group is capable of fulfilling all of the duties on this Ummah. Balance should be exercised. Belittling the work of others should be totally avoided.

Finally, there should be a difference in treating those who arrived at the wrong position out of failure of intent and those who did the same out of failure of judgment.

May Allāh unite our Ummah in goodness!


References and Notes:

[1] Qur’ān 11:118-119

[2] Wehr and Cowan, A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, 298

[3] Qur’ān 25:20

[4] The Ummah is “the body of Muslims as one distinct Community.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 24

[5] Qur’ān 5:89

[6] Da‘wah is “inviting or calling people to worship Allāh by following the Messenger of Allāh.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 6

[7] Ijtihd is “to struggle, to exercise personal judgment in legal matters.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 134

[8] al-Bukhārī, as-Ṣaḥīḥ, Hadith 7352

[9] A mujtahid is “someone qualified to carry out ijtihd.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 137

[10] Qur’ān 25:20

[11] Ijmā’ is “the consensus of the people of knowledge among the Muslims.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 10

[12]Qari’ (plural qurra’): one who recites the Qur’ān.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 77

[13] ash-Shāṭibī, Kitāb al-Iʻtiṣām, Vol.3, 93

[14] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmū‘at al-Fatāwā, Vol. 24, 172

[15] That is, the approach is correct, but the ruling is incorrect

[16] as-Suyūṭī, al-Ittiqān fī ‘Ulūm al-Qur’ān, Vol.1, 45

[17] al-Bukhārī, aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ, Hadith 946

[18] This certainly does not include the rock and rap music of our day. Likewise, it is not related to lewd or indecent songs. The difference of opinion was only about the use of music with recital of poetical verses permissible otherwise as well.

[19] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmū‘at al-Fatāwā, Vol.30, 80

[20] Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr, Jāmi‘ Bayān al-‘Ilm wa Faḍlih, Vol.2, 901, No. 1689

[21] Qur’ān 25:20

[22] Qur’ān 10:19

[23] Qur’ān 2:213

[24] al-Bukhārī, aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ, Hadith 100

[25] Janabah is the “major ritual impurity requiring a ghusl.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 121

[26] Muslim bin Hajjāj, as-Ṣaḥīḥ , Hadīth 174

[27] as-Sajistāni, Abū Dāwūd, as-Sunan, Hadīth 4104

[28]aḥād: an isolated hadith; a report which is transmitted through a single isnād or from a single source.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 97

[29] Mutawātir: Literally, it means ‘continuously recurrent.’ Technically, it means a report by a large number of people at all stages of the isnād, precluding the possibility of agreeing on a lie.

[30] Qur’ān 3:105

[31] Qur’ān 3:103

[32] at-Tirmidhī, Abū ‘Ȋsā, al-Jāmiʻ, Hadīth 2676

[33] Ibn al-Qayyim, I‘lām al-Muwaqqi‘īn ‘an Rabb al-‘Âlamīn, Vol.1, 6

[34] ash-Shāfiʻī and ʻAbdul-Muṣaṭāwī, Dīwān al-Imām ash-Shāfiʻī, 118

[35] at-Tirmidhī, Abū ‘Ȋsā, al-Jāmiʻ, Hadīth 2640

[36] as-Sajistāni, Abū Dāwūd, as-Sunan, Hadīth 1905

[37] al-Bukhārī, aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ, Vol.1, 115

[38] al-Lalakā’i and al-Ghāmdi, Sharḥ Uṣūl I‘tiqād Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jam‘ah min al-Kitāb wal-Sunnah wa Ijmā’ aṣ-aḥābah wat-Tābi‘īn wa man Ba‘dahum, 153

[39] Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr, Jāmi‘ Bayān al-‘Ilm wa Faḍlih, Vol.2, 927, No. 1766

[40] Qur’ān 2:87

[41] Qur’ān 4:135

[42] al-Âmidi, Abū al-Hasan ‘Ali, al-Iḥkām fī Uṣūl al-Aḥkām, Vol.4, 247

[43] Ibn al-Qayyim and as-Salmān, I‘lām al-Muwaqqi‘īn ‘an Rabb al-‘Âlamīn, Vol.2, 11

[44] Ibn al-Jawzī, Talbīs Iblīs, 483

[45] al-Bukhārī, aṣ-Ṣaḥīḥ, Hadīth 30

[46] Ibn Mājah, Muhammad bin Yazīd, as-Sunan, Hadīth 156

[47] as-Sajistāni, Abū Dāwūd, as-Sunan, Hadīth 4800

[48] Fisq is “deviant behavior, leaving the correct way or abandoning the truth, disobeying Allāh, immoral behavior.” Bewley, Glossary of Islamic Terms, 68

[49] al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī and al-Izazī, al-Faqīh wal-Mutafaqqih, Vol.2, 11

[50] as-Sajistāni, Abū Dāwūd, as-Sunan, Hadīth 2116

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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