Internal Unity or Division: The Socks Taste Test
“One issue causing division in our MSA is wiping over socks,” said the organization’s president. “Meaning, if someone wipes over cotton socks (i.e., during wuḍû’), others will say that his Prayer is not valid and they will refuse to pray behind him [for fear of invalidating their own Prayers].”
“Causing division” in this context means people are forming into camps that oppose or tenuously co-exist with one another by circumstance rather than choice.
Some would say this whole scenario, dividing over the material of the socks, is rather immature – we have matters of far greater import than worrying ourselves over trivial matters. We should be uniting rather than dividing and holding animosity in our hearts. Others might counter by saying that because this is an act of worship, or rather its prerequisite, it demands meticulous attention to detail; no matter is trivial when it comes to conforming to Divine Guidance in the worship of Allah.
There is legitimate value in the observations of both sides and in their perspectives, but in order for us all to see this, we must escape the “Either / Or” dichotomy of viewing difference and attempt to find third alternatives that facilitate an “And” paradigm. In this case, it is important to pay close attention to the particulars of ritual ablution (wuḍû’) as the latter group believes, but it is also essential that as we exercise care in its observance and follow particular opinions from the ʿulamâ we trust, that we don’t divide among ourselves due to the differences we follow, as the former group rightly points out. We should be able to move forward as brothers and sisters in faith despite our differences, and not simply on the condition that there is full agreement.
Generally speaking, making an honest attempt to either reconcile differences to the satisfaction of two or more parties is no easy task, particularly when there exists a level of emotional investment or personal gain in a position taken. Simply look at secular politics and the way individuals in western democracies take hardline positions for or against anything. This is a problem of being human, meaning, it’s not something specific to Muslims.
This overzealous adherence to a position is partisanship. Partisanship can take any difference, no matter where it ranks on the scale of problems, from benign to malignant, and make every difference the Armageddon to end all Armageddons. It causes many to see the world only through the filter of their own group, accepting exclusively their own assumptions, and disallowing the framing of their perspective from anyone other than their leader alone.
In this post, we’ll walk through undoing partisanship and finding our way to pragmatism, i.e., to a place where, instead of mistrust, hatred, and disunity, we’re in a place of respect, brotherhood, and unity as a people, even if not in opinion. We will continue to examine the “wiping-over-socks” problem as our case study. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the people in favor of leather-only wiping ‘Team Leather,’ and those who allow for cotton socks ‘Team Cotton.’
Community Unity: Do We Have Good Thoughts (Husn Al-Zann) of the Other?
The Prophet ﷺ has said:
Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk, and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other, and nurse no malice, and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah. (Bukhâri and Muslim)
A common problem I’ve observed in dissenting discussions is an assumption of guilt. By this I mean that one views themselves not only as balanced and championing the greater good, but the other as weaker, looking for easier opinions, and as being too “strict,” “controlling,” “political,” “deviant,” or perhaps “sellouts.” In extreme cases, they are judged hypocrites (munâfiqîn). The religious commitment of “the other” is always in question, as is their competence. They must have an agenda. They are not taking from real scholars, but from fake scholars who don’t deserve whatever title they’ve received from their Islamic learning institute of choice.
Before we can talk about the proper manners of differing with others, that is, about the actions that result from our tongues, first, the actions of the heart need addressing. A person may very well know the etiquette of disagreement, but they may not possess the internal state to properly actualize them. The individual must continuously inculcate two ideas into their hearts:
- One, that the person they differ with truly wishes to serve Allah, not their “whims and desires,” as the cliche goes.
- And two, only Allah knows the sum value of each individual’s spiritual worth. Even if, for the sake of argument, a person is weak in the area under discussion, they may be strong in many others, and there exists a possibility that overall, this person’s value with Allah is higher than your own.
In fact, to assume otherwise betrays a greater problem, that of arrogance.
When this internal state is clear of negative thoughts, emotions, and attributions, it allows for the individual to have a calm, rational, thoughtful exchange of ideas instead of an insecure, tit-for-tat, win-at-any-cost battle royale for all the marbles. It allows you to think clearly and to focus on dialoguing with your Islamic principles, which will manifest itself in your language, your expressions, your nonverbal cues, and that in turn will impact on how the other person processes your dissenting thoughts.
In the socks debate, before we can talk about the validity of praying behind someone who wipes over cotton footwear rather than restricting himself to wiping over leather socks, one has to foray through a more fundamental debate than this:
Is wiping over cotton socks even a legitimate option
- Team Cotton would say Team Leather is neglecting the sunnah and simply following their madhab.
- Team Leather would say Team Cotton’s opinion is either illegitimate or, upon acknowledging its validity as an opinion, tack on that it is so weak that it may as well be considered illegitimate.
It is here that one’s internal state is most important. When faced with difference of opinion and caricatures, before engaging the “other,” one must first engage themselves. You want to address the question, “Is the difference in opinion valid?”, but don’t tackle that question until you can unequivocally state that your internal state towards your fellow Muslim is valid. If not, it is better to disengage from the discussion until it’s corrected.
Anger and general negativity is, more often than not, a sign that one of Iblîs’ entourage is holding sway in your mind and is puppeting the internal dialogue via your heartstrings. This often leads to another major sin: backbiting (ghîba).