Bigotry is the intolerance towards others who hold different opinions from oneself. Sadly some believers have adopted this shortcoming as a virtue towards other submitters in faith. Their logic for such an understanding is the following:
- My understanding is 100% from the Quran.
- If someone has a differing understanding than what I believe then that person must be following a source beside God and the Quran
- If someone follows a source other than God and the Quran then that person is a hypocrite and idol worshipper
The simple error in logic that people who hold such opinions fall into is that they fail to distinguish between God’s words in the Quran and their understanding of God’s words in the Quran, the two are not the same. Two individuals can read a verse and come away with two completely different understandings. Either one party is right and the other party is wrong, or both parties are wrong, or both parties are right but viewing the topic from different angles; similar to the parable of the blind men describing the elephant.
God tells us in the Quran that no one knows the true meaning of God’s words except God and those who are knowledgable.
[3:7] He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses—which constitute the essence of the scripture—as well as multiple-meaning or allegorical verses. Those who harbor doubts in their hearts will pursue the multiple-meaning verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning. None knows the true meaning thereof except GOD and those well founded in knowledge. They say, “We believe in this—all of it comes from our Lord.” Only those who possess intelligence will take heed.
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
The paradox of someone who is knowledgable is that such a person would never assume they have the absolute understanding on every topic. A knowledgeable person would have enough humility to realize that they will always have more to learn. And a humble person will welcome hearing different understandings as it will allow them to either correct their ways if they are wrong, or refine their understanding as they seek to grow closer to the true meaning of the verses of the Quran by having their views challenged.
Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.
– Proverbs 12:1
A sign of someone who lacks knowledge, on the other hand, is one whose mind is made up on all matters of faith. Such a person believes that they have no more to learn and thus their minds will be locked and impermeable to grow in understanding.
[41:5] They said, “Our minds are made up, our ears are deaf to your message, and a barrier separates us from you. Do what you want, and so will we.”
وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا فِي أَكِنَّةٍ مِمَّا تَدْعُونَا إِلَيْهِ وَفِي آذَانِنَا وَقْرٌ وَمِنْ بَيْنِنَا وَبَيْنِكَ حِجَابٌ فَاعْمَلْ إِنَّنَا عَامِلُونَ
[2:88] Some would say, “Our minds are made up!” Instead, it is a curse from GOD, as a consequence of their disbelief, that keeps them from believing, except for a few of them.
وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا غُلْفٌ بَلْ لَعَنَهُمُ اللَّهُ بِكُفْرِهِمْ فَقَلِيلًا مَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
The reason for this paradox is that the more a person learns the more they understand how little they know. Imagine a circle that encompasses the total sum of how much a person knows, and the circumference being the awareness of how much they don’t know. As their circle of knowledge increases through learning, so does their circumference of ignorance.
Therefore, a less knowledgable person not only knows less than someone who is more knowledgable, but they also have less understanding of how much they don’t know. If someone doesn’t realize how little they know, they are less inclined to be humber. Alternatively, the more a person learns the more they realize the limits to their knowledge, thus increasing their humility. This is often depicted as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
And probably best encompassed in the quote which states:
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
The Quran is packed with embedded information that God releases to mankind at the appropriate time to for the seekers who are sincere. One can read the Quran thousands of times and still learn new insights each time they open the book, and as believers we are constantly striving to better understand God’s words in the Quran. For someone to think that they have the correct understanding on all matters that the Quran covers is pure arrogance.
Does this mean that we accept any and all interpretations? No, absolutely not. Then how do we decide when an interpretation has gone too far and should be rejected? The baseline I like to use is two-fold.
Firstly, we shouldn’t have the same level of faith for everything we believe. The more core a belief we have the more stringent we need to be towards that belief. For instance, does it make sense to believe that Shuaib and Moses’ father-in-law are the same person to the same degree as we believe that God is One? If we do, then we are either not believing the oneness of God as strongly as we should, or putting to strong of a belief on less important matters than we should. Because of this it makes sense to leave room for interpretation for certain matters in the chance that we have the wrong understanding, or potentially overlooking some detail on the matter.
Secondly, God tells us that individuals will move from stage to stage in life. Today someone might have a wrong understanding on some topic, but later they may come to the correct understanding on a belief. If we expect everyone to be at the same level of understanding on every topic, then it shows that we are lacking in patience and tolerance for others.
God warns us if we dismiss those who believe then we will be a transgressor.
[6:52] And do not dismiss those who implore their Lord day and night, devoting themselves to Him alone. You are not responsible for their reckoning, nor are they responsible for your reckoning. If you dismiss them, you will be a transgressor.
وَلَا تَطْرُدِ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ مَا عَلَيْكَ مِنْ حِسَابِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ وَمَا مِنْ حِسَابِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ فَتَطْرُدَهُمْ فَتَكُونَ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
Similarly we see this lesson repeated through the example of Noah.
[11:29] “O my people, I do not ask you for any money; my wage comes only from GOD. I am not dismissing those who believed; they will meet their Lord (and He alone will judge them). I see that you are ignorant people.
وَيَاقَوْمِ لَا أَسْأَلُكُمْ عَلَيْهِ مَالًا إِنْ أَجْرِيَ إِلَّا عَلَى اللَّهِ وَمَا أَنَا بِطَارِدِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّهُمْ مُلَاقُو رَبِّهِمْ وَلَٰكِنِّي أَرَاكُمْ قَوْمًا تَجْهَلُونَ
[11:30] “O my people, who can support me against GOD, if I dismiss them? Would you not take heed?
وَيَاقَوْمِ مَنْ يَنْصُرُنِي مِنَ اللَّهِ إِنْ طَرَدْتُهُمْ أَفَلَا تَذَكَّرُونَ
[26:114] “I will never dismiss the believers.
وَمَا أَنَا بِطَارِدِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
It is interesting that the word that is translated as “dismiss” is طَارِدِ (ṭāridi) which comes from the root ط ر د which also has the meaning of driving someone out.
But obviously this does not mean that we accept anyone who simply claims to believe in God, but God warns us that if we are to make such a claim we have to be absolutely sure, and even then God warns us to error on the side of caution if we choose to resort to make such decelerations.
[4:94] O you who believe, if you strike in the cause of GOD, you shall be absolutely sure. Do not say to one who offers you peace, “You are not a believer,” seeking the spoils of this world. For GOD possesses infinite spoils. Remember that you used to be like them, and GOD blessed you. Therefore, you shall be absolutely sure (before you strike). GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَتَبَيَّنُوا وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَنْ أَلْقَىٰ إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَامَ لَسْتَ مُؤْمِنًا تَبْتَغُونَ عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فَعِنْدَ اللَّهِ مَغَانِمُ كَثِيرَةٌ كَذَٰلِكَ كُنْتُمْ مِنْ قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللَّهُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَتَبَيَّنُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
How do we handle disputes in a congregation?
God commands the followers of the Quran that we are never allowed to be aggressors and that oppression is worse than murder.
[2:190] You may fight in the cause of GOD against those who attack you, but do not aggress. GOD does not love the aggressors. [2:191] You may kill those who wage war against you, and you may evict them whence they evicted you. Oppression is worse than murder. Do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque (Masjid), unless they attack you therein. If they attack you, you may kill them. This is the just retribution for those disbelievers. [2:192] If they refrain, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. [2:193] You may also fight them to eliminate oppression, and to worship GOD freely. If they refrain, you shall not aggress; aggression is permitted only against the aggressors.
While these verses are in the context of war, we can use this as a lesson as a framework for less severe matters such as personal debates and arguments. The take away from this is the following:
- We can never be an aggressor. Therefore one person aggressing physically or verbally against another in speech should not be tolerated.
- We should never create an environment where people fear reprisal for sharing their opinion.
- We shall always be equitable in our dealings.
- In a congregation if a dispute arises it is more important that we maintain the correct behavior, before we address the correct understanding.
How does this look in practice?
Let’s assume a dispute arises between two believers regarding a topic of the Quran. God informs us that when we debate with the people of the scripture, who have not accepted the faith, to debate with them in the best possible manner.
[16:125] You shall invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment, and debate with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path, and He knows best who are the guided ones.
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ
So we should extend the believers in our community, who we are brethren in faith, with even more respect and tolerance than outsiders.
[16:126] And if you punish, you shall inflict an equivalent punishment. But if you resort to patience (instead of revenge), it would be better for the patient ones.
وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُمْ بِهِ وَلَئِنْ صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِلصَّابِرِينَ
If the two parties involved in the dispute escalate into aggressive behavior, it is the duty of the neutral party to first establish peace between the parities before they even attempt to address the topic of contention. If one party continues to aggress after the reconciliation, it is the responsibility of the neutral party to fight the aggressing side until they submit and then all parties can be reconciled once again.
[49:9] If two groups of believers fought with each other, you shall reconcile them. If one group aggresses against the other, you shall fight the aggressing group until they submit to GOD’s command. Once they submit, you shall reconcile the two groups equitably. You shall maintain justice; GOD loves those who are just.
وَإِنْ طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا فَإِنْ بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَىٰ فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّىٰ تَفِيءَ إِلَىٰ أَمْرِ اللَّهِ فَإِنْ فَاءَتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
Once amicable relations are established among all parties involved then the parties can discuss the matter for as long as it needs to take, so long as both parties are willing to engage amicably. If one party indicates that they need space and do not want to discuss the matter, then this is a sign to the other party that they refrain from discussing the matter and respect the other parties request.
This interpretation is taken from verse 11 of Sura 58, entitled The Debate (Al-Mujaadalah). In this verse we see how God commands us to behave with one another in a congregation, that if someone needs space we should give them their space. Notice that this verse also addresses that “GOD raises those among you who believe, and those who acquire knowledge to higher ranks” which is something we should all aim to do.
[58:11] O you who believe, if you are told, “Please make room,” you shall make room for each other to sit. GOD will then make room for you. If you are asked to get up and move, get up and move. GOD raises those among you who believe, and those who acquire knowledge to higher ranks. GOD is fully Cognizant of everything you do.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمْ تَفَسَّحُوا فِي الْمَجَالِسِ فَافْسَحُوا يَفْسَحِ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَإِذَا قِيلَ انْشُزُوا فَانْشُزُوا يَرْفَعِ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنْكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ دَرَجَاتٍ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ
As believers we have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that our example is a good one and that our communities are inviting and not repulsing to those who are in the community as well as those who are interested in hearing the message. If the example we set for others causes people to be repelled from the message then we could be committing a horrendous sin and be partially responsible for the sins of all those we caused to turn away from the message.
[3:99] Say, “O followers of the scripture, why do you repel from the path of GOD those who wish to believe, and seek to distort it, even though you are witnesses?” GOD is never unaware of anything you do. [3:100] O you who believe, if you obey some of those who received the scripture, they will revert you, after having believed, into disbelievers.
[4:85] Whoever mediates a good deed receives a share of the credit thereof, and whoever mediates an evil work, incurs a share thereof. GOD controls all things.
مَنْ يَشْفَعْ شَفَاعَةً حَسَنَةً يَكُنْ لَهُ نَصِيبٌ مِنْهَا وَمَنْ يَشْفَعْ شَفَاعَةً سَيِّئَةً يَكُنْ لَهُ كِفْلٌ مِنْهَا وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ مُقِيتًا
If we fail to take heed and continue with the division and secetarianism that is rampant in Submitter communities then we are destined to be replaced like the communities of the past that have been replaced before us.
[47:38] You are invited to spend in the cause of GOD, but some of you turn stingy. The stingy are stingy towards their own souls. GOD is Rich, while you are poor. If you turn away, He will substitute other people in your place, and they will not be like you.
هَاأَنْتُمْ هَٰؤُلَاءِ تُدْعَوْنَ لِتُنْفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَمِنْكُمْ مَنْ يَبْخَلُ وَمَنْ يَبْخَلْ فَإِنَّمَا يَبْخَلُ عَنْ نَفْسِهِ وَاللَّهُ الْغَنِيُّ وَأَنْتُمُ الْفُقَرَاءُ وَإِنْ تَتَوَلَّوْا يَسْتَبْدِلْ قَوْمًا غَيْرَكُمْ ثُمَّ لَا يَكُونُوا أَمْثَالَكُمْ
But if we choose to instead fix our errors and correct our ways then God can reconcile our hearts and give us one more chance to redeem ourselves and fulfill the requirements to be included as part of God’s believing community.
Believers are United
[3:103] You shall hold fast to the rope of GOD, all of you, and do not be divided. Recall GOD’s blessings upon you—you used to be enemies and He reconciled your hearts. By His grace, you became brethren. You were at the brink of a pit of fire, and He saved you therefrom. GOD thus explains His revelations for you, that you may be guided.
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
[3:104] Let there be a community of you who invite to what is good, advocate righteousness, and forbid evil. These are the winners.
وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
[3:105] Do not be like those who became divided and disputed, despite the clear proofs that were given to them. For these have incurred a terrible retribution.
وَلَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ تَفَرَّقُوا وَاخْتَلَفُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ وَأُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ