How to Keep a Disagreement from Becoming an Argument

Today, we often come across Muslims who argue over very trivial issues. This is especially true when there is a healthy difference of opinion among the Muslim scholars, yet, you find some unqualified Muslims trying to force their version of  a religious opinion onto another. This often causes resentment and hatred between people. While Muslims are supposed to act like brothers and sisters, they end up acting like enemies. There is a fine line between respectfully disagreeing with someone in a polite manner, which a person has the right to do, and arguing with someone, which only leads to defensive behavior and a long, pointless debate in which neither side is able to convince the other that it is wrong.

It seems many Muslims have forgotten the advice of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) on this issue:

“No people go astray after having been guided, but they resort to arguing.” (Tirmidhi)

“I guarantee a house in the surroundings of Paradise for a man who avoids quarrelling even if he were in the right, a house in the middle of Paradise for a man who avoids lying even if he were joking, and a house in the upper part of Paradise for a man who made his character good.” (Abu Dawud)

I came across a beautiful advice in the highly popular book How to Win Friends and Influence People [pgs. 120-122] by Dale Carnegie on this topic. He quotes from Bits and Pieces published by The Economic Press, saying:

  • Welcome the disagreement – Remember the slogan, “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” If there is some point you haven’t thought about, be thankful if it is brought to your attention. Perhaps this disagreement is your opportunity to be corrected before you make a serious mistake.
  • Distrust your first instinctive impression – Our first natural reaction in a disagreeable situation is to be defensive. Be careful. Keep calm and watch out for your first reaction. It may be you at your worst, not your best.
  • Control your temper – Remember, you can measure the size of a person by what makes him or her angry.
  • Listen first – Give your opponents a chance to talk. Let them finish. Do not resist, defend or debate. This only raises barriers. Try to build bridges of understanding. Don’t build higher barriers of misunderstanding.
  • Look for areas of agreement – When you have heard your opponents out, dwell first on the points and areas on which you agree.
  • Be honest – Look for areas where you can admit error and say so. Apologize for your mistakes. It will help disarm your opponents and reduce defensiveness.
  • Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully – And mean it. Your opponents may be right. It is a lot easier at this stage to agree to think about their points than to move rapidly ahead and find yourself in a position where your opponents can say: “We tried to tell you, but you wouldn’t listen.”
  • Thank your opponents sincerely for there interest – Anyone who takes the time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you, and you may turn your opponents into friends.
  • Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem – Suggest that a new meeting be held later that day or the next day, when all the facts may be brought to bear. In preparation for this meeting, ask yourself some hard questions: Could my opponents be right? Partly right? Is there truth or merit in their position or argument? Is my reaction one that will relieve the problem, or will it just relieve any frustration? Will my reaction drive my opponents further away or draw them closer to me? Will my reaction elevate the estimation good people have of me? Will I win or lose? What price will I have to pay if I win? If I am quiet about it, will the disagreement blow over? Is this difficult situation an opportunity for me?

There is also another great article on this topic here.

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