Destructive Patterns in Muslim Leadership | Partisanship (Part 2) | Siraaj Muhammad

PART 1 HAS laid out a representative, modern day scenario in which opposite sides of an issue have found themselves stuck in deadlock due to lack of common ground. When neither side is aware of their own assumptions—and the assumptions of the other side of the fence, the deadlock is not likely to be easily broken. The result has often been crippling disunity in our Community and ugly accusations or hard feelings toward the other.

Many sins, and precursors to sin, can be racked up by partisans, including: causing division, animosity, partisanship, mistrust, hatred, disunity, assumption of guilt, arrogance, anger, backbiting, pre-determined stereotyping, “my way or the highway” grudge-holding and feuding.

The first step towards undoing partisanship is usn al-ann—thinking the best of each other. But there may be layers of buried assumptions which must be peeled back before each side can understand and accommodate the other. We conclude with Part 2.

Understand Their Stance from Their Perspective, Not from Your Stereotypes

In our wiping-over-socks discussion, one stereotype thrown at Team Leather was that they did not know fiqh, and that those they were following didn’t know it either. They were also told that Imam Ahmad said he would pray behind Imam Malik, even if Malik had just eaten camel’s meat. (Eating camel’s meat breaks wuû’ in Imam Ahmad’s opinion, but not in that of Imam Malik).

This suggestion has a couple of unfriendly assumptions.

  • One, that your “opponents” would take kindly to being told that their authorities of choice are not real authorities. Has there ever been a good discussion that starts off with one group telling another group, “Your scholars are not real scholars” or more generally, “Your experts aren’t real experts”? Rather than getting into ad hominem confrontations (meaning, attacking the individual rather than discussing relevant points), one should stay focused on the content of the discussion itself.
  • The second assumption is that these followers, these muqallidûn, were open to switching opinions from one madhab to the next, if only the “evidences” were presented to them. But was there a consideration that opinion-hopping between madhâhib was not a viable option, according to what they were taught from their own scholars?

Team Cotton, on the other hand, was told their view was simply illegitimate, that in reality they were just following their “whims and desire,” that they were doing what was easy and following a strange opinion. This is equally problematic for a number of reasons.

  • One, that one individual or group can read the hearts and intentions of another, to tell them why they are following an opinion. It’s not appropriate to judge someone as insufficient and then to attribute an internal cause to this insufficiency based on speculation and stereotypes, i.e., they want to follow the easier opinion because they are weaker.
  • Two, if one follows the idea that all opinions are valid provided they come from one of the four canonical schools of jurisprudence, then whether one personally likes a particular practice or not, it has to be accepted that the practice of wiping over cotton socks is a valid one, even if it is not one’s own practice.

The authority issue is also a problem on this side. Just as you have your authority from where you learn Islam, so do others. Have you tried reading what their authorities say about wiping over cotton socks and why they allow it? I don’t mean have you read what your scholars have said about their authorities, but have you read directly from their authorities? It’s like asking, have you read about Islam from Muslims, or from non-Muslim professors? Someone who doesn’t sympathize with your worldview will examine and present the view differently from someone who does.

Note that the two groups have different issues. Team Leather doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the other opinion, or they half-heartedly acknowledge a token level of legitimacy. Team Cotton is not focused on materials, but on the questioned legitimacy of praying behind them because they wipe over cotton footwear. Can you not see how both groups, without establishing an understanding of one another’s positions, can never move forward and will instead spin their wheels in partisanship?

Because these two groups are unable to empathize with one another’s perspective, they fall into partisanship and division, and instead of working on a pragmatic solution, they dig themselves deeper into the hole.

And while these two groups are turning a small difference into yet another ummah-dividing division, a second problem rears its ugly head: Now there is a third group who are turned off by the contending  groups when they see that such meticulous care for religious practice results in negative, divisive politics.

Can we potentially accommodate both groups?

Getting to Pragmatism – Finding Win-Win Solutions

If you can humanize your “opponent” based on the operating procedure of husn al-ann—thinking the best of one another—and if you’ve made them feel as though you can understand and maybe even empathize with their perspective to a certain extent, you should then work with them and attempt to bring about a solution that satisfies as many parties as possible.

Looking for a win-win means putting aside “my way or the highway” thinking. It means that you have to be creative, and that some level of compromise may be required to move the ball forward. It is not about forcing the other side to capitulate, or about giving up your cause entirely so that someone else can “take over.”

Aren’t there some ways we could solve this “socks-wiping” standoff? A good problem-solving technique we use in the corporate world to foster respect for diverse cultures when ordering food is choosing food from which everyone can eat. Because of a number of Indians in the group, who are vegetarian by faith, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options are made available. Thereby we accommodate the needs of all the people as much as we can so as to foster goodwill and demonstrate respect for their religious philosophy, even when we ourselves may not follow it.

In our case, likewise, we can provide a creative solution that accommodates everyone:

  • One solution that can accommodate everyone is to put forward an imam who wears leather socks—never cotton ones—when making his ablutions. No one would disagree with praying behind this individual.
  • Another solution would be for the cotton-socks wearing individual to make wuû’ on his feet directly rather than on his socks if he’s going to be the imam. Note that this solution asks the “cotton-socks” person to prioritize community unity over asserting his correctness in the controversy. This is in order for all to see the bigger picture and to recognize the ramifications of a division that festers if left unchecked.
  • Yet another option is to point out to the “leather-socks-only” individuals that the authorities within their own school of jurisprudence (in this case, it is the Hanafite school) actually differ among themselves as to whether it is allowed to pray behind someone who wipes over cotton socks. Perhaps they can review such discussions with their local Hanafite teachers and see if they are willing to reconsider their stance? If not, then the two suggestions above are still viable options for the sake of community unity.

Note that I am not telling anyone for them to take my authorities and to follow them; rather, I am asking them to return to their own authorities and seek clarification. I am respecting that they follow one group and I am asking them to try to find a solution within the place where they are comfortable, not in the place where I am comfortable.

Uprooting Partisanship

If we are to truly mature as individuals and as a community, we must have intellectual tools and thought processes that allow us to see, and most importantly, to act beyond our initial impulses and inclinations. We must be ready to work towards inclusive and positive-minded solutions, even if there are people on the other side of the proverbial table who are not yet ready to include all of us into their circle of those who aim to please Allah in the same way that they so zealously strive.

The consequences of stagnant partisanship are not only internal spiritual damage due to excessive hatred, and at times, arrogance, but also deep cuts into communities that can last for generations. In fact, there are ongoing partisan grudges and feuds which impede progress in addressing our more immediate devastating political and social concerns. And don’t forget that this partisanship, on the part of some, impacts all of us.

We simply cannot afford partisanship – we must learn to work towards pragmatic solutions, or at least learn to agree to disagree while still maintaining spiritual love and brotherhood for one another.

 

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