12 Oct CAN WE BOTH BE RIGHT?
Differences of opinions don’t necessitate disunity. There are more than one methods of interpreting the same thing and some of the different methods are acceptable within the boundaries of Islam. There can be unity in diversity and Islam allows room for that to happen.
Disunity happens when people are not educated about the principles behind differences of opinions. Scholars of Islam differed with each other in many areas, but they are not disunited. They don’t harbour ill-feelings towards one another. They don’t have that attitude, “I’m right and you’re wrong. It’s my way or the highway!”
In Islam, we have sound methodologies of interpreting the same scriptures – the Quran and the Sunna. We call these methodologies “Madhab” or “Mazhab” (depending on which spelling you are more familiar with, both referring to the same thing).
If we trace back these different Madhahib (plural of Madhab) to the individuals who pioneered them, we will observe that they were not in disunity with one another. In fact, they respected and loved one another despite the fact that they disagreed with each other on certain matters.
Note: The issue of differences of opinions is a huge topic, one that cannot be properly addressed in a simple article. I recommend the paper written by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah entitled “Living Islam with Purpose”. In that paper, he addressed this issue and I think his explanation is one of the best ones I have come across.
Point is, there can be unity in diversity. The idea of having more than one legitimate ways of looking at the same thing is not only present within Islamic knowledge. It is also present within secular knowledge.
Note: I’m not a fond of the name “secular” because if one observes deeply, all knowledge goes back to the same source – God. So I made the distinction between Islamic and secular not to separate them, but to categorize them for better organization of ideas.
One day in my Sociology class, I learned about different sociological perspectives or theories of explaining sociological situations. Almost immediately, I realized that the idea of having theories in Science is similar to the idea of having Madhahib in Islam.
There are different ways of seeing the same thing, and one is not necessarily superior over the other. One way can be superior from the other, but not necessarily. Two ways of seeing the same thing can both be correct.
That is not to suggest that we can interpret things willy-nilly. Like theories and Madhahib, we have a methodological framework within which we formulate our interpretations. The methodological framework has principles on which any interpretations must adhere to. Otherwise, one falls outside of the framework and one’s interpretation is no longer grounded in it.
I think that is the whole point of having these different methodologies – to keep us grounded.
Imagine if there are no methodological frameworks with which we can base our interpretation of Science with. It will be chaos wouldn’t it? Every individual Scientist will have his/her own unique interpretation of the data at hand and there wouldn’t be a mechanism to determine which interpretation would be acceptable and which one would not. What good use will that bring?
If that happens, Science will no longer be Science.
Similarly with Islamic knowledge, the different sound methodologies that we have today safeguard us from misinterpreting the scriptures – the Quran and the Sunna.
These methodologies weren’t made up out of thin air. They were made based upon sound Islamic principles. If they weren’t, then they are not considered sound methodologies. Similarly in Science, if a theory is not based upon scientific methods, then that theory is not recognized as a legitimate theory.
The different methodologies also, in a way, represent how vast Islam is. Islam is not a path with one lane only big enough to fit a small car. Islam is a wide path with many lanes and each lane represents one methodology of thinking.
As long as we are on one of those lanes, as long as we stay on this road, and as long as we keep moving in the right direction, Insha Allah we will reach the same Destination eventually.