Imam Malik was once asked by the ruler of that time to compose a book as guidance for his fellow countrymen. He agreed after much consideration, and decided to name it Al-Muwatta’. The ruler then announced to Imam Malik his intention to make Al-Muwatta’ the main source of reference, which also means its standard to second to the Quran. Upon hearing this Imam Malik said:
“O Leader of the Faithful, truly the difference of opinion among the scholars is a blessing from Allah to this ummah. Each of them follows what is true and correct according to him. All of them are rightly guided, and they seek only (the pleasure of) Allah.”
Such is the humility of the scholar in handling differences of opinion regarding religious matters. Imagine if the entire Ummah was made to adhere to a single mode of practising Islam; what would be the outcome then?
We sometimes find Muslims arguing with each other about differences between their actions: “Why do you pray with your hands like that?”, “You’re washing yourself the wrong way,” and other similar statements frequently heard in mosques. This is especially true in multicultural Muslim communities common in Western countries. Although many grow up with whatever customs their parents follow, they may fail to realize that other Muslims might act differently than they do. Hence, it would be of benefit to understand why Muslims may have some differences with regards to religious practices.
On the other hand, having varying viewpoints regarding religious matters is part of human nature. People have been disagreeing with each other since the time of the Prophet and will continue to do so till the Day of Judgment. What we can best do is to be openminded and tolerant of differing opinions – so long as we stay within the boundaries of Islam. Allah mentions in Surah Hud verse 118-119:
Which means: “And if your Lord had willed, He could have made humankind one community; but they will not cease to differ. Except whom your Lord has given mercy, and for that He created them.” [Al-Quran, surah Hud, verse 118-119]
Having different views and opinions should be celebrated as something positive and must not cause the severed ties and conflict. It is our innate disposition as human beings and it reflects the vibrancy of human life. It would be truly unfortunate if we were able to interact with people of different races and religions amicably, but remain cold-hearted and slanderous towards one another only because we hold different views, or follow different schools of thought.
The difference of opinion in matters relating to practice (Fiqh) is a blessing from Allah to this ummah. Each and every ruling takes into account various factors such as locality, time, culture, its impact on the community, and so on. A ruling which suits a particular place, time and people may not necessarily be suitable to be exercised in a different circumstance.
Thus, let us not be quick to condemn and mock the views of others which may not be the same as our practice and norms. We should instead respect one another’s opinions. Even the companions of the Prophet and the scholars differ among themselves regarding matters of Fiqh. It was reported that Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud once heard a man reciting the Quran in a different manner than he had heard from the Prophet. He immediately brought this man to see the Prophet to protest the matter. The Prophet said to them:
Which means: “Both of you have done good.” [Hadith reported by Imam Al-Bukhari]
Such was the wisdom of the Prophet in dealing with dissent within what is permissible. Each of them had their own proof and evidence which did not go against the fundamentals of Islam.
Let us also consider Imam Al-Qurtubi’s statement in his book Al-Jami’ Li Ahkam Al-Quran regarding dissent among the scholars. He wrote (which mean):
“Abu Hanifah and his followers, as well as Imam As-Syafi’i, prayed behind the imams of Madinah, alongside the followers of the Maliki school of thought even though they did not recite the Basmalah (before reciting AlFatihah) aloud nor in a low voice.”
Let us not be intolerant and bitter towards one another, because that is truly what the nafsu desires. If we look at differences of opinion in a positive light, it would only bring about rahmah and ease in our religion. On the contrary, should we consider differences to be divisive, it will thus lead to disunity and animosity. Imam As-Syatibi advises us in his book Al-Muwafaqat:
“And everything that occurs in Islam that results in people having varying views regarding it, yet does not cause conflict, hatred and the severance of ties – we know that that is the nature of Islam. And everything that occurs, resulting in conflict, disunity, slander, and the severance of ties – we know that that has nothing to do with Islam whatsoever.”
We should, ideally, look for a better, more positive solution. What is the use of squabbling amongst ourselves? Let us squander the differences that divide us for the greater good, that is to love and be compassionate towards our fellow Muslim brethren. We do not have to contest every opposing view that we encounter; instead, there is much we can learn from them and perhaps even apply them if the situation calls for it.
We ask that Allah open our hearts to be more receptive of differing opinions, and may He unite us as brothers with love and compassion. May Allah also grant us the passion and determination to seek knowledge of His deen so that we may practise it correctly and confidently.