Kaniz Fatma, New Age Islam
27 April 2021
Munazarah or Debate Should be held with good manners
1. Literal Meaning of Munazara
2. Munazara among Muslims, non-Muslims and their sects and sub-sects
3. Munazara is good only with good manners
4. Islam recommends Useful Munazara and forbids Useless Munazara
Munazara is an Arabic word that is popularly translated as debate, while it has other meanings, such as ‘discussion’, dialogue, conversation, disputation and controversy. Munazara is derived from the word ‘nazara’, which means ‘to contemplate’, ‘ponder over’, ‘to debate or argue with’. According to the popular usage of the terminology, it refers to a debate or dialogue between two groups. Each group aims at correcting and annulling the other party’s argument, while both groups are determined to reveal the truth they believe in.
Munazara (debate) occupies an important position among the ‘ulama’ and the scholars of Islam during which they discuss a core of differences from other sects, sub-sects and the people of other religions. Both the groups present their arguments to correct the mistakes they see in one another.
The culture of Munazara has been common among the Muslims themselves as they have got divided into several sects, such as Deobandis, Barelvis, Wahabis, Sunnis, Shias, Mutazalites, Asha’arites, Maturidis, Hanbalis etc. Munazara is also done among Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus etc. This is also popular among several sects of non-Muslims. For example, just as Muslims have several sects, so the Hindus, Christians etc too have several sects. But they use the word ‘debate’ which is known as ‘Munazara’ among the Arabic or Urdu speaking people.
Munazara is a good thing, provided it is done as a dialogue with good manners and etiquettes and for knowing the truth or highlighting the shared values and respects. Its goodness also depends upon the purpose of Munazara as some people do it for inviting others to their religion while some do it for highlighting the shared values and human ethos. Some ethics of Munazara are as follows; mutual respect between the two parties, freedom to express a point of view, self-control and avoidance of negative reactions, being honest and humble, being fair and avoiding fanaticism and prejudice, all forms of violence, extremism and terrorism should be rejected altogether, using a moderate tone and admitting wrong and accepting what is right.
There are many forms of Munazara. One of them is purely in form of a dialogue, as it has been referred to in several verses of the Quran. From the very beginning of human life on earth, Allah the Exalted has made dialogue His method. It is mentioned in the Quran that God Almighty says,
“And [mention, O Prophet], when your Lord said to the angels, "Indeed, I will make upon the earth a vicegerent (khalifa)." They said, "Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?" Allah said, "Indeed, I know that which you do not know." And He taught Adam the names - all of them. Then He showed them to the angels and said, "Inform Me of the names of these, if you are truthful. "They said, "Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.” (2:30-32)
To understand the nature of the dialogue between God Almighty and the angels, one may ask a question here as to why God Almighty planned to speak of His decision to the angels. Was it only to inform them? Was it to seek their advice? Or, was it to make them express their opinion on the subject of vicegerent? It was not for seeking advice, because a person turns for advice to wise and trustworthy only when he cannot see all aspects of a problem clearly, and does not want to depend on his knowledge and understanding alone. Neither of the two situations obtains in the present case. God Almighty is the Creator of the Universe and knows everything about the smallest particle of dust; He sees and hears everything, apparent or hidden. Then it is clear that He does not need anyone’s advice. When we think, we find that God Almighty in His wisdom gave a mere statement in the form of consultation to teach men the advisability of mutual consultation. In short, this is a unique form of dialogue adopted by Allah Almighty for teaching mankind the importance of mutual consultation.
What is the manner that Islam recommends for the believers to adopt while doing debate or Munazara? Islamic perspective on Munazara (discussion and debate) is enshrined in the Quran itself, as it says,
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction and argue with them in a way that is best” (16:25). This means that one should not use abusive language while doing debate or Munazara. The Prophet (peace be upon him) too had several religious discussions with the atheists, polytheists and members of the Jewish and Christian religions. During several discussions, the Prophet presented pieces of evidence but he never forced anyone to accept his Deen of Islam, as the Quran itself says, “There is no compulsion in the Religion” (2:256)
There is a Surah in the Quran, known as Surah al-Mujadalah which means ‘dialogue or dispute’. The reason for this name is reported to have been a particular incident of Sayyidah Khaulah bint Tha’labah whose husband had uttered the words of Zihar for her. She went to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) complaining about her husband and seeking redress for her problem according to Shariah. Then the verse was revealed in which Allah Almighty says, “Allah has indeed heard [and accepted] the statement of the woman who pleads with you, concerning her husband and carries her complaint [in prayer] to Allah: and Allah [always] hears the arguments between both sides among you…” [58:1]
Islam recommends useful debate because it leads to success, cooperation and appreciation of truth, but it forbids useless debate, destructive dialogue or argument because it wastes time and effort and often leads to hate and enmity. For example, the Quran suggests the believers not participate in destructive debates and arguments which come from the whispers of Satan because such debates also lead to hate and enmity among people. The Qur’an says, “The devils do inspire their minions to dispute with you…” (6:121)
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