Updated 22 Sept 2018
Our last post explained a little about why A Modest Argument started: to better explore conflicting ideas and understandings.
To develop that some more; we argue with our loved ones about fiqh or aqeedah or race, gender, and sexuality issues but are we really listening? Or are we just trying to get our point across?
As Stephen R. Covey taught us in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we should seek first to understand, then to be understood. Much easier said than done, I know.
When we are firm in our own ideas and hold tight to our perspective and understanding being right, it’s actually hard to listen to people who oppose what we are saying. Who really has time for that?
Usually the only reason I’ll willingly use my energy to argue a point is when I think that person may benefit from what I’m saying, or I think they need to benefit from what I’m saying.
This could be presenting an argument to someone to make them see their prejudice or addressing something problematic someone shares on WhatsApp about religion, and in either case, if I’m honest: I’m probably not trying to listen to the other person.
When it comes to issues of religion, no doubt the factor of knowledge plays a big part, of course, in why and how we argue. An important definition of knowledge from Google: facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
How much knowledge we have or we lack, where we’ve learnt it and in what context it was taught matters. Was it taught as the only correct way or was it understood as one acceptable path among others? More importantly, do we have a full comprehensive understanding and awareness of what we are discussing?
Probably not, because if we did we’d be able to have a meaningful discussion and not a simplistic debate. This kind of knowledge requires years of learning, and you can’t get that from a website or an Instagram account or a forwarded WhatsApp message.
Still, we’ll continue to debate these issues amongst ourselves when they arise because, I hope, in most cases: we want what’s best for each other.
Initially I wasn’t going to mention the role of ego because I’d like to think the exchange of ideas doesn’t come from our egotistical self a lot of the time… But that’s not really true.
Our arguments may not stem from ego at first (by contrast they come from a place of care), but they are probably rooted in ego once they start to grow. This is what stops us from being considerate in our exchange of ideas and prevents us from being able to say, “actually I didn’t know that”.
Our ego encourages us to avoid and ignore anything that opposes our existing ideas and understanding, and obstructs us from truly learning and building our knowledge.
‘Abdullah narrated it on the authority of his father Yahya: “Knowledge cannot be acquired with sloth” (Sahih Muslim). And indeed we are lazy when it comes to learning anything, yet seem to find a lot of meaning in acting like we know a lot. May Allah protect us from this and increase us in knowledge and imaan, Ameen.
So, what’s the better way? After having these kinds of negative exchanges with friends whom I love, specifically around religious issues, I had this vision of a particular friend and I actually spending the time to compile and present our arguments in full (or at least, in a more complete form).
Rather than in the reactionary heat of the moment way which I mentioned in the previous post- we’d have time and space to be considerate and more reflective. After researching, we would write about it collaboratively, and the task of presenting variant points collectively would foster a much better learning process. It would produce a good read at worst and at best perhaps it would benefit others who take either of our positions, whatever they would end up being by the end of it.
Do you fancy writing a ‘modest argument’? Read more about how we’ve grown and get in touch here.