It is not always our disagreements that divide us, rather, more often than not, it is how we deal with those differences. It is completely possible and plausible that despite our differences, we can still have a respectful and peaceful relationship. In fact, were we to observe the words of Muhammad b. Hasan (d.461/1068), one of the early and most reputable Shia scholars (better known as Shaykh Tusi), we’d see that it is possible to oppose another jurists views, but still maintain the bond of religious brotherhood.
In his ‘Uddat Al-Usul, Tusi makes a shocking revelation about the extent of dispute among the Shia scholars in matters of jurisprudence, to the point that there is no chapter except that the scholars have conflicting views in it, and goes as far as saying their differences outnumber those of Sunni jurists like Abu Hanifa, Shafe’i, and Malik. He explains the cause of this diversity in verdicts is due to the large amount of conflicting narrations, five-thousand of which he has collected in his Tahdhib Al-Ahkham and Al-Istibsar. Nonetheless, as Shaykh Tusi points out, this great degree of differences in opinion has not resulted in the Shia scholars cutting ties or breaking their bonds, and they have not permitted the differences to lead them to disassociation from one another, or to label others as deviant. They have accepted that just as it is permissible for them to act on the reports they deem acceptable, others are permitted to act on the reports that meet their own standards[i].
Ayatullah Javadi Amouli emphasises this final point after mentioning it in his Manzilat-i Aql[ii]. Elsewhere when discussing this quote, after suggesting that this level of relatively great dispute is not surprising given that the doors of Ijtihad (extrapolation of Islamic law) were closed in the other Islamic legal schools, he then comments further on the idea of preserving brotherly relations despite the nonconforming views. Javadi Amouli begins by quoting the Quranic verse ‘the faithful, men and women, are comrades of one another’[iii] and then goes on to share his thoughts on the reason for this behaviour among the scholars. He continues explaining, ‘This is a common companionship (wilayah). (Shaykh Tusi) Said that with all their scholarly disputes, they did not severe the bonds of this companionship, when they left their (academic) gatherings and classes, they were brothers. This shows that the knowledge is knowledge (for the sake) of the hereafter… They differ in such a manner, yet they all pray behind one another. It’s clear that it is (for) the hereafter. The knowledge where a person carries the disputes with them outside of the intellectual gatherings, is worldly. This is a difference in opinion, an intellectual disagreement, what does it have to do with (effecting) the common comradeship?.’[iv]
The important point to keep in mind is that Shaykh Tusi is speaking about differences based on evidences and proofs, and the right for each expert to hold their opinion based on the evidence that they have accepted. Nonetheless, the general spirit and idea can be implemented at various levels, and if individuals have evidence and justifications for their stances, their right to hold the opinion should be respected, and this difference in opinion should not, in ordinary circumstances, lead to dissociation or severing ties with one another.
One must also ask the question that if there is such scope for differences in jurisprudence based on the various narrations, then how reasonable is it to create disunity and friction between individuals who follow differing views, or to treat the verdict that one follows in an absolutist fashion.
We need not allow our conflicting opinions disunite us or break our ranks, and this should be reflected in our approach to one another, while also working to educate and advise one another, as is mentioned in the continuation of the verse quoted above.
In short, we need to aspire towards knowledge that is free from the Nafs (ego – in this context).
[i] See: ‘Uddat Al-Usul, Al-Shaykh Al-Tusi, v.1, p.137-138, (Sitareh, Qom, 1417H).
[ii] Manzilat-i Aql Dar Hindaseh-ye Ma’rifat-i Din, Abdollah Javadi Amouli, p.121-122, (Esraa).
[iii] Qur’an, 09:71 (Quli Qara’i translation)
[iv] http://www.esra.ir/en/web/office/%D8%B5%D9%81%D8%AD%D9%87-%D9%86%D9%85%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B4-2/-/asset_publisher/8rjD9XKkoN9L/content/%D9%85%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AD%D8%AB-%D9%81%D9%82%D9%87-%D9%80-%D9%86%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%AD-%D9%80-%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%87-345-1397-02-09/ (A transcript from one of Javadi Amoulis advanced lessons in Jurisprudence).