Doctrines >Dialogue Starting With a Question
Dialogue Starting With a Question
Directing the dialogue to what enriches life
We come across examples of the questions they were
raising for certain reasons, when the Prophet (p.) chose to answer
differently, i.e. not to their liking. The Prophet's aim was to direct
them to the sort of questions they should be putting to him, as has
already been mentioned.
He was asked about the birth of the moon and the
phases it goes through from being born small to growing bigger and going
back to being a crescent. It was apparent that they were not interested
in gaining knowledge in the field of astronomy. Going into detail about
this topic would have required treading in a minefield of specialist
knowledge that would certainly have been beyond their comprehension. In
addition, it would have made no difference to their lives. Instead, the
main thrust of his reply was to delve into the practical benefits to be
reaped from the phenomenon of the moon's birth and rebirth. It is there
for them to serve as a calendar. Among other things, it is there to make
them determine the time for their pilgrimage (hajj). The lunar
calendar is simple, for it does not need anything other than sighting the
moon at the start of the month, a process that is familiar to all.
The Holy Qur'an used a metaphor to urge man to address
the issues directly rather through the backdoor, thus:
They ask thee concerning the new moons. Say: "They are
but signs to mark fixed periods of time in (the affairs of) men, and for
Pilgrimage. It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is
virtue if ye fear God. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear
God: That ye may prosper". (2:189).
They asked the Prophet (p.) as to what they should
spend in charity. In his answer, he chose to focus on those people on
whom they should spend it, just to remind them that this was what they
should have asked about, because it is not so important as what to spend.
Rather, whom to spend it on.
They ask thee what they should spend (in charity).
Say: 'Whatever ye spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and
orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is
good, God knows it well'. (2:215).
In another Qur'anic verse, the answer does not contain
a reference to the type and quantity of things they should give away in
charity; it uses one word (afu in the Arabic text), i.e. "What
is beyond your needs"'. (2:219).
The Qur'an tells of what Muslims and others used to
discuss in detail about the number of the People of the Cave. Argument
erupted between Muslims when, it so appears from the import of the verse,
they wanted to involve the Prophet in providing the decisive answer to
settle the argument:
(Some) say they were three, the dog being the fourth
among them; (others) say they were five, the dog being the sixth,
doubtfully guessing at the unknown (yet others) say they were seven, the
dog being the eighth. Say thou: "My Lord knows best their number; it is
but few that know their (real case)". Enter not, therefore, into
controversies concerning them, except on a matter that is clear, nor
consult any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers. (18:22).
In its discourse, the Holy Qur'an aims to put the
issue in perspective. That is, knowledge about the number of that band of
people is not as important as the lessons that should be drawn from their
story. The significance of the story of the People of the Cave is in its
religious connotation. Here we have a group of young men who did not give
in to the pressures to renounce their belief, but found a safe haven from
the excesses of their people in the cave. God Almighty had sheltered them
in His Grace. He made the way they lived their life and what has become
of them a miracle and a moral to be pondered by other people through
That aspect of the story is what the faithful should
concern themselves with. Knowledge should be a means to a better
spiritual life, not one to satisfy one's curiosity about the unknown.
Accordingly, there will be no benefit gained from knowing their number or
personal qualities. This is because it does not pose a problem that
requires a solution. The morale of the story that God Wants us to reflect
on is that there is not harm in ignorance in matters that would serve no
purpose, because it has no bearing on the balance sheet of good and evil,
or proper and improper conduct. It went on to direct the Prophet(p.) to
keep away from engaging in debate on this topic and ordered him not to "consult
any of them about (the affair of) the Sleepers", just to counsel
others that they should not ask about these things.
Thus, the Islamic rationale behind dialogue is clear.
Man should not take to wrangling on every subject, lest the whole
exercise turn into a wasteful and meaningless effort. Muslim activists
should endeavor to be in charge of the situation by closing the door on
any topic where all the signs indicate that it is not going to yield any
conclusive result. Instead, the dialogue should be directed to those
areas that would benefit the faith and enrich life.
The required wisdom
In the activity of dialogue, which the Qur'an talks
about, there is an important aspect in the context of the questions the
prophets uses to face and the answers they used to provide to those
This point relates to the subject being raised by the
adversaries of the faith within a dialogue setting. It may touch on
topics that are viewed with sensitivity by society. Thus, bringing them
to the fore may create incensed reactions that may contribute to aborting
to aim of dialogue. This could be detrimental to conduction dialogue on
these issues and the positions taken thereof, resulting in freezing the
activity of true faith in life, by virtue of demagogic atmospheres
created by discussing such issues.
It is desirable that Muslim activists should be
tactful enough to bring the curtain down on dialogue on such sensitive
subjects, without departing the ideological line they follow of stirring
up adverse sentiments. This is the morale that can be learned form the
following Qur'anic verse, which talks about some sensitive issues Pharaoh
deliberately wanted to bring to the fore the disadvantage or Moses
(a.s.). The aim was to inflame popular feelings against Moses:
(Pharaoh) said: "What then is the condition of
previous generations?' He replied: 'The knowledge of that is with my
Lord, duly recorded: my Lord never errs, nor forgets'. (20:51-52).
It may be inferred from this verse that Pharaoh's
question to Moses (a.s.) about the previous generations, i.e. the
forefathers of the people at his time, was intended to make Moses brand
them unbelievers, or that their lot would be hellfire, etc. This was
bound to inflame the feelings of their offspring, who could have revolted
against him, in revenge for what they would perceive as an insult to
their ancestors. Pharaoh's aim could have been different, in that the
might have attempted to divert the attention to something else other than
the main topic of the debate, i.e. the issue of belief and unbelief.
However, Moses (a.s.) ruined his plans by closing the argument, which
Pharaoh intended to manipulate or deflect its main thrust. Moses (a.s.)
left their affair to God Who is aware of their situation, as neither he
nor Pharaoh had any knowledge about their circumstances to talk about.
In this day and age, Muslim activists may face many
situations of the same type. Some people often confront them with
political, social, or personal issues, which are intended to create
tension in the ranks of the masses. Those sorts of people also try to
create conditions that are conducive to arguing emotive issues. This is a
deliberate attempt to turn the activists away from their main objective.
Sometimes the opponents try to play down the significance of the issues
being discussed by trivializing them and narrowing them down to a mere
detail, in a bid to complicate matters for the activists.
It is a wiser to avoid being dragged into such futile
arguments by leaving matters to God, as to Him belongs dominion on the
Day of Judgment, invoking the domains of His all-encompassing Mercy where
man's decisive future in the Hereafter is concerned. The general
principles of reward and punishment, and consequently securing a place in
heaven or hellfire, should be highlighted. Punishment should be construed
as a kind of dispensation of justice. By the same token, pardon should be
viewed as a gesture of goodness, mercy, and forgiveness. This may
contribute to bringing equilibrium to the situation, on the one hand, and
keeping the relationship with God, on the other hand. This should, of
course, be an honest endeavor, not to permit belief in God to turn into a
justification for abdicating responsibility or an excuse for wrongdoing.
The Prophet (p.) faced some legal matters that Muslims
and others were used to ask about, for they had a bearing on their
day-to-day life. Some of these were traditions deep-rooted in their
psych, such as drinking alcohol and gambling. Some were practices that
have attained the status of being sacred, which they could not violate,
such as going to war in the sacred months, i.e. Rajab, Thul Qi'dah, Thul
Hijja, and Muharram.
The answer of the Prophet (p.) was in keeping with
general Islamic understanding, which recognizes that acquiring knowledge
in any field is a natural right for all men and women. Anyone has the
right to ask about anything pertaining to the faith and its laws.
Religion in return has to provide windows of knowledge on any particular
issue being enquired about. They have come to deliver people from
darkness to light. Thus, they should take the people out of the darkness
of ignorance to the light of knowledge.