“Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; an argument an exchange of ignorance.”
– Robert Quillen
“If men would consider not so much wherein they differ, as wherein they agree, there would be far less of uncharitableness and angry feeling.”
– Joseph Addison
Since the advent of social media and social networking discourse and debate can evolve from the comfort of an armchair and dissolve into argument and name calling in a matter of seconds. Everyone and anyone can now have an opinion on the most trivial of topics and the highest brow of subjects. We can infer much from a few characters which more often than not are typed out in haste, with very little thought of their impact. Statuses are slung out every other second. And people take no time in feeling offended.
When we read words off a screen we do not always hear them as the writer meant them. As with the spoken word, our response is to what associations we have to the language being used and to what we think is being said. We are all capable of reacting adversely to the posts and comments of others. And some online personalities and profiles look to do nothing else but provoke. Be it through their responses to others’ posts or their own statuses. Better known as ‘trolls’, their very online existence is to rankle people and bring down the tone of interactions, creating disharmony in their wake.
The Muslim community is not averse to these debates and problems. The recent disclosure of certain possible wrongdoings, the handling of the issue(s) and the related brouhaha online that ensued is an example of this kind of unnecessary and unhelpful discussion. It is not to say that we cannot debate and have discourse. And that injustices do not need to be spoken against. However, as Muslims, there are certain etiquettes and principles we ought to follow and keep in mind. There is never any need to resort to insults and disrespect.
Stick to the truth
“You must speak the truth for the truth leads to virtue and virtue leads to Paradise. One, who always speaks the truth and means the truth, is recorded as truthful with Allah. Keep away from the lie for the lie leads to evil and evil leads to the Hellfire and one who continually tells a lie and intends to lie is recorded with Allah as a liar.”
(Bukhari & Muslim)
None of our business
“Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is his leaving that which is of no concern to him”
Remain humble and avoid arrogance
“The people whom I hate the most and who are the farthest from me on the Day of Judgment are those who talk uselessly, and those who put down others, and those who show off when they talk.”
Shall I not tell you about the companions of Paradise? They are every humble person considered weak, but if they gave an oath by Allah it would be fulfilled. Shall I not tell you about the companions of Hellfire? They are every harsh, haughty, and arrogant person.
Respond with better
And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.
(Al Furqan, verse 63)
And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.
(Al Fussilat, verse 34)
Do we want it on our record?
Man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared [to record].
(Qaf, verse 18)
Avoid being harsh
So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].
(‘Ali Imran, verse 159)
“And speak to him (Pharaoh) mildly, perhaps he may accept caution or fear Allah.”
(Taha, verse 44)
“The believer is gracious, for there is no goodness in one who is neither kind nor friendly.”
“Verily, Allah is kind and he loves kindness. He rewards for kindness what is not granted for harshness and he does not reward anything else like it.”
Walk away (or remove our hands from the keyboard)
“I guarantee a house in the surroundings of Paradise for the one who stopped being aimlessly argumentative even if he is right.”
Guard our tongues and behaviours
“Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him say good or remain silent.”
(Bukhari & Muslim)
“A person may say a word that is pleasing to Allah and he may not think much of it, but Allah will, (because of that word), bestow his pleasure upon him on the Day of Judgment, and a person may say a word that is displeasing to Allah, and he may not think much of it, but Allah will have, (because of that word) put his wrath and anger on him on the Day of Judgment.”
(Tirimidhi & Ibn Majah)
“The believer does not accuse, curse others, disobey Allah, nor bad-mouth others.”
If we feel affronted by the words we read (or hear), we ought to consider why. A pause before responding can be useful. If we do stop and think then we may prevent ourselves from saying/typing something we may later regret. And although our posts, tweets, chats, comments and ‘grams can be deleted just as fast as they can be placed online, they will already have been recorded on a more permanent site from which they cannot be erased but by the Grace of Allah, the Effacer of sins.
May I take heed of my own words and may Allah grant us the wisdom to say the right thing at the right time and may He enable us to be silent or walk away if that is better.
Khalida Haque is a counseling psychotherapist, clinical supervisor and group facilitator. She is also founding director of www.khair-therapeutic.com and co-host of www.thebigreconnectsleepover.com. She started her writing journey with SISTERS magazine and holds on to the dream of becoming a 'proper' author.