Doctrines >Dialogue Starting With a Question   (1)


Dialogue Starting With a Question

1. The Prophet Poses the Questions

In the Holy Qur'an, we come across many verses which discuss doctrinal issues in detail. Many of these verses adopt the style of dialogue in which Prophet (p.) plays a pivotal role. He may be found throwing questions before false conceptions on the faith and life held by some people. He may be seen confronting them with certain matters which they cannot deny or are not in a position to deny because they are not aware of their relationship with the right path of the faith. So, once reminded, their recognition would be a binding one, i.e. they should return to the right path. This would be as a result of the umbilical relationship between the two. Thus, the approach is that of appealing to their minds, with a view to rousing their innate nature to the call of truth. This would make any stubborn argument or haughtiness a futile attempt, especially with people who have self-esteem.

The following Qur'anic verses discuss this approach to dialogue:

If indeed thou ask them who has created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon (to his Law), they will certainly reply, "God". How are they then deluded away (from the truth)? God enlarges the sustenance (which He gives) to whichever of His servants He pleases; and He (similarly) grants by (strict) measures, (as He pleases): for God has full knowledge of all things. And if indeed thou ask them who it is that sends down vain from the sky, and gives life therewith to the earth after its death, they will certainly reply, "God", Say, "Praise be to God!" But most of them understand not. (29:61-62).

If thou wert to question them, "Who created the heavens and the earth?" They would be sure to reply, "They were created by (Him), the Exalted in Power, full of knowledge" (Yea, the same that) has made for you earth (like a carpet) spread out, and has made for you roads (and channels) therein, in order that ye may find guidance (on the way); that send down (from time to time) rain from the sky in due measure - and We raise to life therewith a land that is dead; even so will ye be raised (from the dead) That has created pairs in all things, and has made for you ships and cattle on which ye ride, in order that ye may sit firm and square on their backs, and when so seated, ye may celebrate the (kind) favour of your Lord, and say "Glory to Him Who subjected these to our (use), for we could never had accomplished this (by ourselves)". (43:9-13).

It is obvious that these verses focus on conducting dialogue with those who claim there are partners to God, even though they recognize his Omnipotence and Control over things. Nevertheless, they fail to grasp the notion of the Divine Being. Thus, the style is that of posing the question to such people in terms of what they know about matters of belief in God. their answers would then to the basis for elaborating on God's Omnipotence and His management of the affairs of the universe, and how everything that relates to human life or others in traced back to Him. The sought after result would be that the polytheists would question themselves, realizing that they were in the wrong, without their being confronted face to face.

It may be deduced that although the holy verses have this common style, they vary as to the detail. Within the line of questioning, both the argument and counter-argument are presented so that thesis and antithesis are immediately recognized and the position taken, it is to be hoped, on the side of the truth. So, the Qur'anic good judgment makes use of confronting man with the truth head on, in order not to leave him any room to manoeuver, fall back on the remnants of the past, or fumble about in the darkness of falsehood.

This mood is brilliantly captured in the following Qur'anic verses:

Say: "Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?" They will soon say, "God". say, "Will ye not then show piety (to Him)? "Such is God, your real Cherisher and Sustainer: apart from truth, what (remains) but error? How then are ye turned away?" Thus is the word of thy Lord proved true against those who rebel: Verily they will not believe. Say: "Of your 'partners', can originate creation and repeat it" Say: "It is God Who originates creation and repeats it: then how are ye deluded away (from the truth)?" Say: "Of your 'partners' is there any that can give any guidance towards truth?" gives guidance to truth more worthy to be followed, or he who finds not guidance (him self) unless he is guided" What then is the matter with you" How judge Ye?" But most of them follow nothing but fancy: truly fancy can be of no avail truth. Verily God is well aware of all that they do. (10:31-36).

In these verses, the polytheists are confronted with the question about the universe and the perfect craft and fashion it exhibits, which point to the skilful Creator, who must be Omnipotent. Should their answer point in the direction of God, as is expected of them because they believe in Him, they would be asked again about the ability of those whom they called partners to Him to create the same or part thereof. The Qur'an takes up the responsibility of answering on their behalf for they will definitely be unable to provide an answer before the All-powerful God. They will turn their eyes around, only to ponder and then find none but God who can create this entire magnificent universe. They will be left speechless, and, on many occasions, silence is much more meaningful than words.

The Qur'an then settles the argument, which exposes the shallowness of their beliefs. It adopts a harsher style, which is meant to send shockwaves down their spines and challenge their integrity. This is in an effort to argue the case for believing in the truth and genuine monotheism and for treating it as an indicator to the just cause of belief. Conversely, the issue of polytheism would serve as a case of straying from the right path and of falsehood. The latter is not worthy of espousal by any sensible person in the face of that which is self-evident. Thus, such a person should not leave the truth at the mercy of baseless conjecture.

The approach in a lively faith

There is a need to espouse this approach of dialogue in this day and age, where Islamic activism comes face to face with certain elements that spare no effort in finding fault with Islam's aspiration to have a leading role in life. Thus, they shun Islam in favour of other ideologies under the pretext that they satisfy man's needs in this life and provide solutions for the intractable problems that are besetting humanity. However, they appear to forget that Islam is capable of providing such solutions and satisfying such needs. The Muslim activists can advance such issues, using the same Qur'anic approach to dialogue, which discusses the subject matter in detail. Another course would be to compare Islam with the other ideologies, stressing what sets Islam apart from such creeds, in that it is far superior. This style could pave the way to either thought-provoking ideas to induce calm thinking or brainstorming.

There may also be a need for this approach in conducting dialogue across the sectarian divide, especially in the issues that involve giving preference to certain Islamic personalities over others, because of the sublime qualities of those people. We should, though, steer the dialogue clear of historical quagmires, lest they should overwhelm, and leave us with tunnel vision and sectarian inward looking, as is the case at present. This can be achieved by focusing on the general historical facts to serve as terms of reference for the dialogue, away from those events, which deal with complex individual cases. This is so, in a bid to make the issue under discussion subservient to the main thrust of the opinion, with all the sentiments which it provokes and positions it imposes that serve the cause. Thus, disagreements on these issues might evaporate through this open and flexible approach, which would lead to loftier and open and outward-looking doctrinal thought.

The use of this approach should not, however, be confined to conducting dialogue on bygone Islamic personalities. Instead, there is a need for it to engage in dialogue to settle differences over our leaderships and public figures. In so doing, we should do away with our personal preferences, which normally colour our judgment of these figures, i.e. we should be objective in judging them. Otherwise, we would lose track of the approach we are adopting to solve the problem and settle the difference. This would inevitably lead us into a vicious circle.

Perhaps the most fitting Qur'anic verse serving this line of thinking is this one:

Say: "Of your 'partners' is there any that can give any guidance towards truth?" Say: "It is God Who gives guidance towards truth, is then He Who gives guidance to truth more worthy to be followed, or he who finds not guidance (him self) unless he is guided? What then is the matter with you? How judge ye?" (10:35)

Thus, the verse has stressed the importance of keeping detached from all the relations, be they personal, familiar, or regional, of the person being judged or appraised. Competence and erudition, which have a bearing on how the persons being judged, conduct themselves in the public domain, should be the criteria for judgment.

2. Others Ask and the Prophet Answers

In matters of dialogue, there is a problem facing those working in the way of God. It is that of bringing into debate certain subjects that have neither benefit nor relevance to the faith and life. Discussing such subjects is a form of intellectual luxury, which is concerned with prattle more than anything else. This is bound to turn the debate into a futile squabble. Examples of these topics are many, such as wrangling over the names of the mothers and fathers of the prophets, or the numbers of some groups of people whose stories are mentioned in the books of history or the Holy Qur'an. The Islamic dark ages witnessed such bickering over many matters, which had no bearing whatsoever on religion of life. This meaningless bickering took its toll on the intellectual capacity of the people of those ages, so much so that they did not contribute anything useful to knowledge. This has reflected badly on the intellectual welfare of Muslims causing them to lag behind the convoy of life. That was the result of their abandoning what was beneficial to them and could have roused their spirit to go forward, to what was trivial.

There is truth in the following statement by Sheikh Mahmoud Sheltout, in his Qur'anic Commentary:

As for getting busy with pure theories, which do not yield any benefit for this life, nor a reward in the Hereafter, the faithful, who are active in the service of Islam, should have nothing to do with them. They should not be involved in arguments, such as what would happen to the spirits when they depart the body? Where would they go? What are they going to do? They should also not ask about the grave's torment, i.e. is it confined to the dead body or will it include both body and spirit? Is it going to happen to the body while in a state of liveliness or half dead? There should not be engagement in questions about the Scales of Justice? How the weighing process is going to be conducted? What is going to be weighed? What would the land and sky or paradise look like? And so on and so forth, which Muslims got bogged down with and many of their scholars filled their books with; thus, they diverted the attention of the masses from knowing what is good and acting upon it.

Some Qur'anic verses have referred to the position of Prophet Mohammad (p.) towards some of the things his companions used to enquire about, and whose knowledge would not yield any tangible benefit. What he did in such situations was, sometimes to choose to ignore the question; at other times he directed it to something different. This was a deliberate way of reminding them that they should feel duty-bound to ask about those aspects because it would profit them, and not what they had asked about.

However, if need be, the debate should not go into details, leaving the way open the bringing the discussion to a close, for there is nothing to be served in going along with the other party in what they aim for.

As the Qur'an reports, the Prophet (p.) was asked about the ghost and the Day of Judgment. God Almighty did not wish to elaborate in answer to those questions, because both subjects are of the exclusive domain of God's Omniscience. The soul in particular cannot be comprehended because it does not follow empirical rules. It comes to be recognized by the traces it leaves, or maybe coming to know about the spirit is not going to serve any purpose.

Here is the Qur'anic verse, which deals with the question about the spirit:

They ask thee concerning the spirit. Say: 'The spirit is of the command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O men!) (17:85).

The enquiries about the Day of Judgment have been discussed in a number of Qur'anic verses:

They ask thee about the (final) Hour when will be its appointed time? Say: "The knowledge thereof is with my Lord (alone): None but He can revel ass to when it will occur. Heavy were its burden through the heavens and the earth. Only, all of a sudden will it come to you". They ask thee as if thou wert eager in search thereof: Say: "The knowledge thereof in with God (alone), but most men know not". (7:187).

Men ask thee concerning the Hour: Say, "The knowledge thereof is with God (alone): and what will make thee understand? Perchance the Hour is night!" (33:63)

They ask thee about the Hour, "When will be its appointed time?" Wherein art thou (concerned) with the declaration thereof? With thy Lord in the Limit fixed therefore. Thou art but a Warner for such as feat it. The Day they see it, (it will be) as if they had tarried but a single evening, or (at most till) the following morning! (79:42-46).

The Prophet's job was not to tell those who asked to pinpoint the time of its arrival. Rather, his task was to warn them that it was inevitably coming so that they would prepare for it by doing good deeds. Moreover, determining the time of its coming does not serve the purpose religion aspires for in people's lives, in that they should be concentrating on the self-discipline that is precipitated by the fear of the consequences of evil-doing on the Day of Judgment. That is why God did not make the timing known to His Prophet, or to any other of His creation.

A hint of an unforgiving style can be detected in the last few verses, in that there is no mincing of words. The criticism is self-evident about the question. The reason seems to be that the answer is directed at those stubborn people for their insistence on repeating the question whose answer they already knew. The answer outlines to the questioners the tendency and the knowledge available in that regard. These made it incumbent on them to either shut hp or ask again about the reasons for such a tendency. They were unyielding about asking the same question again, which means that their aim was not the acquisition of knowledge. Rather, they were bent on wrangling and mischief making.