Monday, July 13, 2009

The Art of Discussion

Abu Muhammad, Kmag 2005

One of the greatest skills that any human can possess is the ability to persuade people of their ideas through discussion. A characteristic of an effective da'wah carrier is the ability to listen, understand and respond in an excellent manner. Far too often people fall short of this and learn only the ability to dominate and dictate to others. It is evident that many of us will not tolerate others to raise views that are different to our own. Many Muslim parents will tell their children they can or cannot do a certain action, such that the child will obey their parents out of fear, but not out of conviction. Often such children will disobey their parents in secret.

Resentment may also be caused when others are not allowed to raise their differing points of view, or when their questions are not answered or dismissed as irrelevant. For example, a da'wah carrier may be trying to convince someone that only the Islamic State will truly solve the problems of the Ummah, but he does not consider the argument of the person he is speaking to. Rather, he dictates what he believes in and closes the doors to discussion. Such an attitude leads to strained relationships, and this is a further barrier towards winning over the other person towards your point of view. It is not surprising to find different members of Islamic groups, parents and children, siblings, Muslims and non-Muslims, rulers and their subjects having a strained relationship.

The most dangerous of these is the relationship of the Ummah with her rulers. The reality today is that the leaders tolerate no criticism or discussion from the Ummah and the Ummah itself discusses in secret and holds the leaderships in contempt. In the future Khilafah this situation must be radically changed, and the Ummah encouraged to discuss, debate and account their rulers.

The future rulers must also show signs of humility and accountability in the face of sincere criticism. This is the only way that a Khilafah will succeed and become prosperous. It is the manner of the Khulafah Rashideen of old. Therefore it must be the job of the da'wah carriers to nurture this attitude and level of thinking in the Ummah, to bring them out of the mode of being told what to do and just doing it.

Effective da'wah only occurs when people become convinced of your ideas. They will never be convinced unless you take their circumstances and their thinking into consideration in your discussion with them. It is only through listening to them and relating to their circumstances, that they will begin to appreciate what you are saying. They will begin to ponder your statements closely, and examine their own ideas about those issues. This also produces in them the ability to think and examine issues deeply. If on the other hand people are won over by glorified statements and issues that they haven't truly appreciated, they become people who memorise and repeat things in parrot fashion. They are not convinced themselves, so how will they be able to convince others?

Often there are several reasons why da'wah carriers may be lacking in the skills to listen, debate and persuade others of their ideas. It could simply be because they lack the correct etiquette of discussion or more seriously it could be linked to pride and showing off. A da'wah carrier may want to maintain an 'image' of being knowledgeable, and therefore will not want to be seen to 'lose' any discussion; this leads them to being very unapproachable and even insincere. For example, if such a da'wah carrier gave a speech where he told the audience that they must work to establish the Khilafah State, but members of the audience disagreed, he might respond to their disagreement by ridiculing their points out of pride. This would be wrong and would distance the audience even further from what he is trying to convince them to accept. Another example is that of a Muslim trying to convince a non-Muslim of the superiority of Islam; but because he is showing off in front of his friends, he ends up causing the non-Muslim to become very bitter instead of swaying him to his side. These types of examples are evident for all of us to see, if they are down to lack of knowledge then the solution is to simply point out the mistake, however if it is down to pride or showing off, its dangers must be made clear to the one guilty of such an approach.

The Islamic approach is very clear and we must adopt this if we are going to be able to succeed in life as parents, siblings, husbands, wives, da'wah carriers, rulers, friends, employers or in any facet of life. If we look at the lessons from Islam we will see that Islam builds a conviction in people, so Allah (swt) does not demand belief without bringing a convincing proof. He (swt) says:

"Verily in the creation of the heavens and earth, the differing night and day, the floating ships in the sea bringing benefit to people, and what water Allah sends down from the sky bringing life to earth after drought. And creating all kinds of animals. The directing of winds and the clouds between the sky and earth are all signs for those who have intellect." [TMQ Al-Baqarah:164]

The Prophet (saw) taught us the best etiquette of discussion. Muslim reported on the authority of Mu'awiyyah b. al- Hakam as Salami who said: "I was praying behind the Messenger of Allah (saw) and someone in the congregation sneezed. I said [to him]: 'May Allah have mercy upon you.' The people stared at me, showing their disapproval of my act. I said: "Woe to me, why do you stare at me so? They started to strike their hands on their thighs and when I saw that they wanted me to become silent, I was angered but said nothing. When the Messenger of Allah finished the prayer - and may my father and mother be ransomed for him, I found no teacher better than him either before or after him - he did not scold, beat, or revile me but he simply said: 'Talking to others is not seemly during the Salah, for the Salah is for glorifying Allah, extolling His Greatness, and reciting the Qur'an.'

There are many lessons from the life of Prophet (saw) and his Sahabah (ra) regarding our manner of discussion and the need to always remain sincere, not to try and show to anyone that you are perfect and without mistakes. 'Abdullah bin Mas'ud said: "O people! If somebody knows something, he can say it, but if he does not know it, he should say, 'Allah knows better,' for it is a sign of having knowledge to say about something which one does not know, 'Allah knows better.'" This is the characteristic of humbleness that we should possess so that we become convincing to the people because of the light of sincerity and not because of the forcefulness of our debate.

What distinguishes Islam from all other faiths and ideologies is the fact that it is built upon firm foundations that brings conviction to the mind. Therefore, we must remain sincere to it by not dictating to others but by opening the doors of dialogue to give them the opportunity to scrutinise and question.

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