Islamic articles

Argument Avoidance – A Vital Skill to Cultivate by Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

It gives me some satisfaction to recall the times I have been able to swallow back my bitterness and restrain my anger when one of my dear brothers (who may not think of me as such) abused me because they disagreed with me on some point. However, I mean it when I say: there are far more things that we have in common than the points of contention in which we disagreed.

I feel happy when I recall how Allah helped me to restrain myself and therefore avoid getting into useless and base arguments, the type that is heated and impassioned, where I would have inevitably stooped – witting or unwitting – to the level of disputing for the sake of my own ego instead of for the truth.

In the heat of the moment, there is a strong impulse to “clarify” the “truth” or “give full disclosure”, or any other justification for mean-hearted and vain disputation. We enter into a wild and barren desert when we let ourselves succumb to that impulse.

The strength of religious conviction – which should make us exemplary, well-mannered individuals and guide our interpersonal dealings in a positive way – unfortunately makes some of us mean hearted, bitter, and resentful to others. Sometimes, their zeal makes them always seek out faults in others or reasons to despise them. They become the type of people everyone else tries to avoid, since everyone expects them to come with questions to interrogate their faith: “What ideology do you subscribe to? What methodology do you follow? Who is your sheikh? What is your stance on such-and-such?”

I remember once when a young man came up to my teacher Salih al-Bulayhi and asked to speak with him in private. My teacher got up and went with him a distance to where the two could talk alone. As soon as they were together, the young man burst out: “I despise you for the sake of Allah!”

My teacher smiled and said: “Now why is that?”

The man said: “Because you say we can pay the Zakah al-Fitr in rice and that we can offer the Tarawih prayer as five units of prayer!”

To this my teacher replied: “Our Prophet (peace be upon him) advised us that when we love someone for Allah’s sake, then we should tell them that we love them. This, we know, is related by Abu Dawud. However, I do not recall where the Prophet said when we hate someone for Allah’s sake, we should tell them that we hate them.”

He wisely averted getting into a dispute on trivial matters that would have done nothing but harden both their hearts.

Avoiding arguments is an excellent skill to master. One of its rewards for is all the time that it saves! It also keeps our hearts clean and our relationships with other people amicable.

I thank Allah that I do not have to struggle very hard to keep my heart clean when others are ill-mannered with me in their disagreements. One way to do this is shrug off their behavior. You might excuse them by saying to yourself: “Some people never learned how to speak to others.”

With time, I learned an even better way: to pray for them. It is good to seek out the times when supplications are most accepted by Allah, and ask Allah to forgive them, show them mercy, and help them to overcome their shortcomings. You will find this lightens the load on your heart. It is good to pray for all Muslims, the knowledgeable among them as well as the ignorant, the righteous as well as the sinners. Indeed, I include all of humanity in my prayers, that Allah puts places the best of them in charge of their affairs and protects them from those who are tyrannical, that He bestows His bounty and favor upon them, and grants them His mercy, clemency, and guidance.

I do not deceive myself into thinking I am immune to being caught off guard by someone’s bad behavior and forget all the good values I have learned, so that I react and speak back at them in my own defense before I have time to recall my own principles. Allah teaches us humility through these experiences, and reminds us that we are still very small students in the school of life. This gives us the occasion to turn to Allah and say: “Glory be to You! Of knowledge We have none, save what You have taught us: In truth it is You who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom.” [Surah al-Baqarah: 32]

And to say: “Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You do not forgive us and have mercy on us, then surely we are of the lost!” [Surah al-A`raf: 23]

When we stumble and forget ourselves, this should make us all the more vigilant to maintain our dignity and composure in the future: to be patient, to pardon and to overlook.

We should turn to Allah who created us and ask Him to purify our hearts and make our inner selves more goodly than our outward appearance; to grant us humility before those who preceded us in knowledge, faith, and deeds; and to never behave arrogantly to anyone, no matter what mistakes we might see them making.

As Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “All the descendants of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi (2499) and Sunan Ibn Majah (4251)]

Those who we see making mistakes might have virtues that only Allah knows about in which they surpass many who fancy themselves to be scholars, preachers, and religious leaders. Allah tells us, relating Noah’s words: “I do not say about those whom your eyes hold in mean estimation (that) Allah will never grant them any good– Allah knows best what is in their souls– for then most surely I should be of the unjust.” [Surah Hud: 31]

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