Doctrines >Dialogue Starting With a Question   (2)


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 time.

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 questions.

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.