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Dialogue and Dispute


Man has experienced the meaning of these two words in both his life and psyche since he started his journey in social life, where a myriad of ideas and thoughts can be found. This presents man with the opportunity of discovering whether they make sense in real life situations, where conflict and dispute are rife.

Man may make a move with the intention of making clear his idea, in the hope that he could be able to make it so intelligible that there would be no room left for a question to be raised against it or for a differing view to be precipitated by insufficient information, which might render it lacking in certain areas. This is the arena of self-dialogue at certain times, and mutual one dialogue at others. In this process, thought starts a long journey, peppered with many stops on the road to maturity. This is what we mean by the word “dialogue” (al-hiwar).

It may be the case that, at other times, man finds himself in a situation where he has no alternative but to rush into the fray to defend his view against opponents. The situation would then change to a clash characterized by attacking and defending . It would be dominated by a climate of mental, psychological, and verbal tension -all in an effort to carry the day, should there be room for victory, or to reach a compromise, should there be common ground.

This is what the word “dispute” (al-jadal) suggests to us, in that it tries to give us the meaning of a dialogue that exists in a climate of differing ideologies and doctrines, whereas the first word [dialogue] suggests more than that.

The word “dialogue” in the Qur’an 

The two words in question have been mentioned in the Qur’an in many places. The first word, dialogue (al-hiwar) has been used less than the second, dispute (al -jadal); it is mentioned in three verses (ayahs), two of which are in the chapter “al-Kahf” (the Cave), telling the story of the owner of two orchards and his argument with his friend, who was not as affluent as the former:

(Abundant) was the produce this man had: he said to his companion in the course of a mutual argument: ‘more wealth have I than you, and more honors and power in (my following of) men. [18:34].

His companion said to him, in the course of the argument with him:

Does thou deny Him Who created thee out of dust, then out of a sperm-drop, then fashioned thee into a man?” [18:37].

The third verse where this word is mentioned is in the chapter “al-Mujadalah” (the Pleading One) in the story of the woman who came to the Messenger of God (p.), complaining of her husband:

“God has indeed heard (and accepted) the statement of the woman who pleads with thee concerning her husband and carries her complaint (in prayer) to God: and God (always) hears the arguments between both sides among you: for God hears and sees (all things)” [58:1].

“Dispute” in the light of challenges

The second word has been mentioned in twenty-seven places in the Qur’an, in private and public issues, ranging from the religious, which deals with both doctrine and life, to the social.

Perhaps, the underlying reason for all the space the word has occupied in the Quran -in what Islam was to contend with it in the situations man lived in of situations -is that this has been the closest to the realities Islam has lived in. It has faced ideological as well as traditional challenges, which form part of man’s mind; this goes hand in hand with the movement towards change with which Islam has wanted for man’s inner self and intellect to be challenged, with a view to moving him away from the darkness of doubt, unbelief and going astray to the light of faith, unity of God and guidance.

Islam also has had to face external challenges put up by an array of forces, be they religious, social or political, which were running man’s life in the communities that did not believe in Islam. Those forces did their best to sow, if not stop, the progress of Islam, using all tools at their disposal. This was through the protracted debilitating wars they waged, obstacles they put in its way, doubts they raised, dubious means they used to sow doubt, perplexity, and fear in what Islam has offered of as guidance and solutions to life’s problems. On this basis, Islam has stood its ground in the face of all those challenges and fought them with vigor, driven by a desire to get to the truth and let the views with its concepts not through wanting to have victory for the sake of winning per se.

Thus, Islam has taken to conducting debate that is based on direct dialogue, which emanated from advancing the idea in the arena of struggle. This has been in an effort to invite the exchange of questions and answers in order to spare the time and effort of the disputants. That is, they would not need to look for any questions they could not find readily or that they might have found difficult to search for them. This is in an effort to instill deep the idea into man’s mind and provoke forcefully his thoughts. That is the reason why, in the Qur’an, Islam has discussed the issue of debate within oneself alongside that conducted with members of social groups, including those opposing Islam’s views.

It did not stop there. Rather, it tried to immortalize all that which was raised about debate on tenets in order to give rise to the idea that it is necessary to keep this practice alive as far as issues of belief and life are concerned.

“Dialogue” contains the elements of “dispute”

We prefer to use the word “dialogue” in the title of this book, albeit the words “dispute” and “argument” occupy more space in the Qur’anic narrative and style, for two reasons:

1- The word “argument” has taken on a new connotation, in that it denotes the mode adopted by both the parties to the argument. They tend to wrangle aimlessly, so much so that their squabble seems a kind of intellectual luxury -with digressions and winding verbal discussions taking place, which would weigh heavily on the topic being debated, taking it nowhere.

Maybe, the reason for this is that arguing for the sake of argument has turned into some sort of exercise taken to by many who aim to train in the means of give and take, and attack and defend in the arena of intellectual struggle. This is done in a bid to defeat the opponent save getting with them to the truth or to a conclusion. That is why we did not want our dissection to be branded with this hallmark at the outset.

2. The word dialogue has, as we have already mentioned, wider implications than dispute or argument, each of which imply that there is an element of struggle. The former is flexible enough to accommodate the said element and more, on the way to making the subject matter clearer through question and answer. This is more akin and beneficial to our discussion, because, here, we have set out to espouse dialogue that makes its starting point with advancing the ides, even if there are no challenges posed. We also espouse the dialogue that mounts a defense of the idea, in the arena of struggle, against the challenges of its enemies and opponents alike. This is to fulfill our goal in this discussion of uncovering the mechanism of the approach that was put across by the then Islamic activism, within the boundaries of dialogue -in all its domains -, so that we can make use of it in broadening the appeal of contemporary Islamic activism, which is faced with the same situation on two fronts:

(a) Defense against misconceiving Islam, is a drawback, which we are still suffering from. This has been the result of misguided intellectual practices, or a mistaken and shaky presentation of Islam.

(b) Defense against the challenges mounted by others who may perceive “blurring” in Islam’s vision of, and solutions for, the questions of life and intellectual and doctrinal issues.

Indirect dialogue

In this discussion, we may come across the approach that does not seem to have room for real dialogue, in that we may see two people engaged in an argument for the sake of argument. Islam, on the other hand, would like people to engage in dialogue on issues of faith, in order to reach the goal. Accordingly, this approach represents a natural entry into dialogue.

However, reference made to this approach should not signal a departure from the subject we are discussing. That is, it is incumbent on people who took it upon themselves to call others to the way of God to invite them to engage in dialogue, cause them to do so by example, and reciprocate when they invite them to do so. In all this, they should be in the thick of dialogue at one time, or on the way to it at another, right from the first step on the road of discovery.

We should follow the example of the Qur’an in refuting certain utterances or allegations spouted by some people, from who Islam differs with either on ideological grounds or in some aspects of life. Thus, the issue should be put on a course that is capable of making those allegations not just a mere viewpoint that cannot be challenges or a question that cannot find an answer. This is worthy of recognition as a start of a dialogue in the activity of doctrine or legislation for life and society. This will manifest itself in the dynamics of dialogue, in the question of belief, with idolaters, atheists, and deniers of prophecy, among the people of the Book and others. The Qur’an reports their points of view and argument, and then responds to them, in order to put the whole issue in a dialogue setting. Qur’anic dialogue may try to put across, as examples, some excellent and well-depicted dialogue practices and personages, so that people are aware of them, with a view to following their examples in real life situations.

We may come across other examples that are completely the opposite where dialogue aims to depict some evil personalities by narrowing the narrative to issues that can uncover important sides of the personality being discussed. This gives us an insight into many unpleasant human specimens in life, so that we may guard against taking them as examples, especially in critical matters.

On a third level, the rational behind dialogue would be the clarification of positions on life an our mission in it, through discussing certain aspects pertaining to them in either short or long dialogues.

*By  The Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah   This article is a translation of a chapter of a book about dialogue in the Quran whose first Arabic edition appeared in 1979/1399h. It reaffirms the Sayyed’s belief that Islam is the religion of dialogue , which is by the way the title of the English translation of the book that was recently published by Dar Almalak.
The Book has been translated by najm alkhafaji.

* Copy Rights; http://www.islamology.com



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