Arguing about the religion in Islam

In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Arguments over issues in the religion of Islam should be avoided as much as possible. Disputing and debating theological, legal, or historical matters will often lead to the hardening of hearts, bad feelings, and even hatred. As such, the Prophet has warned us that the nations before us went astray due to their indulgence in argumentation.

Abu Umamah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

مَا ضَلَّ قَوْمٌ بَعْدَ هُدًى كَانُوا عَلَيْهِ إِلَّا أُوتُوا الْجَدَلَ

No people go astray after being guided except that they indulge in arguments.

Then the Prophet recited the verse:

مَا ضَرَبُوهُ لَكَ إِلَّا جَدَلًا بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ خَصِمُونَ

They strike an example for you only to argue. Rather, they are a quarrelsome people. (43:58)

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 3253, Grade: Sahih

We should leave arguments and debates aside even if we are certain our position is correct and the others are upon falsehood. The Prophet has guaranteed a house in Paradise for those who avoid arguing even if they are right.

Abu Umamah reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

أَنَا زَعِيمٌ بِبَيْتٍ فِي رَبَضِ الْجَنَّةِ لِمَنْ تَرَكَ الْمِرَاءَ وَإِنْ كَانَ مُحِقًّا

I guarantee a house on the outskirts of Paradise for one who abandons arguments even if he is right.

Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4800, Grade: Sahih

The righteous predecessors (al-salaf al-salih) were firm in the prohibition of disputation as it leads to confusion, doubts, and spiritual ruin.

Malik ibn Anas, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

الْمِرَاءُ وَالْجِدَالُ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَذْهَبُ بِنُورِ الْعِلْمِ مِنْ قَلْبِ الرَّجُلِ

Disputation and arguments about sacred knowledge cause the light of knowledge to extinguish in a man’s heart.

And he said:

الْمِرَاءُ فِي الْعِلْمِ يُقَسِّي الْقَلْبَ وَيُؤَثِّرُ الضَّغْنَ

Disputation about sacred knowledge causes the heart to harden and breeds hatred.

Source: Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 1/248

Al-Shafi’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

الْمِرَاءُ فِي الْعِلْمِ يُقَسِّي الْقَلْبَ وَيُوَرِّثُ الضَّغائِنَ

Arguing about sacred knowledge hardens the heart and produces resentment.

Source: al-Madkhal ilá al-Sunan al-Kubrá 178

Ma’ruf Al-Karkhi, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

إِذَا أَرَادَ اللَّهُ بِعَبْدٍ خَيْرًا فَتْحَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ بَابَ الْعَمَلِ وَأَغْلَقَ عَنْهُ بَابَ الْجَدَلِ وَإِذَا أَرَادَ بِعَبْدٍ شَرًّا أَغْلَقَ عَلَيْهِ بَابَ الْعَمَلِ وَفَتَحَ عَلَيْهِ بَابَ الْجَدَلِ

If Allah intends good for a servant, He opens the door of action and closes the door of disputation. If Allah intends evil for a servant, He closes the door of action and opens the door of disputation.

Source: Hilyat al-Awliyāʼ 13021

Ja’far ibn Muhammad, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

إِيَّاكُمْ وَالْخُصُومَاتِ فِي الدِّينِ فَإِنَّهَا تُشْغِلُ الْقَلْبَ وَتُورِثُ النِّفَاقَ

Beware of disputes in the religion, for they preoccupy the heart and breed hypocrisy.

Source: Fadl al-‘Ilm 1/5

Ibrahim Al-Nakha’i, may Allah have mercy on him, said:

مَا خَاصَمْتُ أَحَدًا قَطُّ

I have never argued with anyone.

Source: Hilyat al-Awliyāʼ 5541

The righteous predecessors were fully capable of arguing and winning debates against their opponents, but they refused to do so out of fear and mindfulness of Allah.

Ibn Rajab comments on this practice, saying:

فما سكت من سكت من كثرة الخصام والجدال من سلف الأمة جهلا ولا عجزا ولكن سكتوا عن علم وخشية لله وما تكلم من تكلم وتوسع من توسع بعدهم لاختصاصه بعلم دونهم ولكن حبا للكلام وقلة ورع

The refrain of the righteous predecessors and Imams from engaging in excessive disputes and arguments was not due to ignorance or inability, but rather they remained silent due to their knowledge and fear of Allah. Those after them who spoke much and delved deeply into issues did not do so because they had more knowledge than them, but rather due to their love of speaking and lack of scrupulousness.

Source: Fadl al-‘Ilm 1/4

The correct method of defending Islam from its opponents is to be clear in conveying the true message and teachings of Islam with beautiful preaching and without indulging in bitter arguments with them. We should be kind, gentle, and graceful in our speech and wise to their social condition and misunderstandings about Islam.

Allah said:

ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ

Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in a way that is better.

Surat al-Nahl 16:125

Ibn Kathir comments on this verse, saying:

أَيْ مَنِ احْتَاجَ مِنْهُمْ إِلَى مُنَاظَرَةٍ وَجِدَالٍ فَلْيَكُنْ بِالْوَجْهِ الْحَسَنِ بِرِفْقٍ وَلِينٍ وَحُسْنِ خِطَابٍ

If anyone wants to argue and debate with them, then let him do so in the best manner with kindness, gentleness, and good preaching.

Source: Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr 16:125

We should respond to their misguided arguments with dignified behavior and engage them in discussion if they demonstrate sincerity, but we should leave them if the discussion descends into bitterness and fruitless debating. If they accept the message of Islam it is good for them, but if they refuse the message they should be left alone.

Allah said:

فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّمَا عَلَيْكَ الْبَلَاغُ الْمُبِينُ

If they turn away, then your duty is only to clearly convey the message.

Surat al-Nahl 16:82

Haytam ibn Jamil reported: I said to Malik, “O servant of Allah, if a man has knowledge of the prophetic tradition (sunnah), should he argue to defend it?” Malik said:

لَا وَلَكِنْ يُخْبِرُ بِالسُّنَّةِ فَإِنْ قُبِلَ مِنْهُ وَإِلَّا سَكَتَ

No, rather he should convey the Sunnah if they might accept it from him, otherwise he should remain silent.

Source: Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 1/248

Therefore, we should avoid getting into detailed and rancorous arguments with the followers of other religions or sects within Islam. This will only obscure the beauty of Islam and put us in danger of falling into arrogance, showing off, and hypocrisy. Rather, we must invite people to Islam in the best way and with the best manners.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

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