From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah:
You are not me, and I am not you. We are not cookie cutters of each other, so let’s remember that when telling others what they should and should not do, especially regarding matters subject to permissible disagreement.
I find it quite telling and profound that the foundational, clear, and undisputed matters in our faith are very few in comparison to the ever-growing list of issues subject to scholarly disagreement, personal circumstance, and individual choice. It tells me that my Lord is Al-‘Aleem, Al-Hakeem—All-Knowing, All-Wise—in giving us a religion that can be applied to every circumstance, every people, every culture, and every generation till the end of time.
But as has been the case of both social and political tyrants in history, there are always people who believe they know better than God. These people believe the All-Powerful, All-Aware needs our help more than we need His, so they use the faculties that God has given them to inform Him and His servants about issues that He apparently overlooked.
For these people, the concept of permissible disagreement does not exist—and often the concept of impermissible disagreement also does not exist. For them, their mind processes only one inflexible perspective on every religious issue: “mine.”
So when they hear of documented historical evidence of disagreement on a religious issue, instead of humbly taking a step back and saying, “SubhaanAllah, I didn’t know that,” they declare as evil and misguided anyone who holds a view different from theirs. And sometimes they go as far as to declare as evil and misguided the person who merely shared the historical information while making no claims about which view is right.
They have no hesitation or qualms about implying that even some Companions and scholars of the salaf are evil and misguided, as they declare, “Only a corrupt, misguided person who isn’t upon the Sunnah would believe such-and-such is permissible!”
Laa ilaaha illaAllah. What have we come to as an ummah when our belief in Allah and the Day of Judgment does not still our tongue from speaking about the “evil” hearts and intentions of others? Even if someone is indeed gravely mistaken on an issue, this does not make them corrupt, evil, and misguided. As the saying goes, “Perhaps Allah will forgive them for their ignorance but will not forgive you for your arrogance.”
So on what basis do we claim that fellow believers—and even some of the most respected scholars of the past—are evil and misguided for no crime other than having a different conclusion from what our mind says must be? Since when is a deviation from *you* a sin?
Your personal inability to see other than evil in a potentially permissible matter says nothing about the evil of the issue itself and everything about your own ignorance—or the evil workings of your own mind and heart, not anyone else’s.
God Himself makes mention of some benefit in drinking alcohol and gambling, even as He’s declared them both haraam: “They ask you concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say, ‘In them is a great sin, and [some] benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit…” (Al-Baqarah, 2:219).
Yet we cannot acknowledge benefit in something that isn’t even agreed upon as haraam.
Being tested with nearly letting go of my faith forced me to answer some very difficult questions about life and what it means to hold on to my religion and encourage others to do the same.
Today, I stick to foundational, clear, and undisputed matters when telling others what they must and must not do. And I strive to keep the words “obligatory” and “haraam” off my tongue except regarding matters for which no varying point of view is even permitted.
No, I am not naïve. I know my faith isn’t as simple as that. I know that Allah requires more from me upon earth. However, because I am not naïve, I realize that my advice as a non-scholar cannot deviate from that—even as my practice goes beyond the bare minimum. In other words, I cannot hold someone else accountable for staying within the limits of my own doubts, fears, and uncertainties while they’re doing nothing unequivocally wrong. Or to put it as a scholar once said:
“Whenever you correct someone regarding a matter of permissible disagreement, insisting that they follow a different point of view, you are not calling them to follow the Sunnah. You are calling them to follow you.”
As such, I merely caution fellow believers to carefully consider the benefits and harms to their lives and souls—and what they truly believe Allah requires of them—before coming to a conclusion of permissibility or lack thereof on a controversial issue. And no matter how convinced I am regarding the permissibility or prohibition on a matter, I truly believe I don’t have the right to tell them anything differently. And truthfully, it scares me when I see others believing they have the right to go beyond this.
But these are lessons of the tongue and faith that I learned under the painful fire of experience. And there’s nothing like an unstill tongue and a prideful heart to bring the fire of experience raging into your life until you are humbled beyond words.
So if you still see it as your responsibility to micromanage other people’s lives and worship of Allah, then keep talking. Your test is coming. And Allah is indeed the Best Teacher.
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