Our series have proposed the following principles for maximising our time during religious sermons:
First, our intention is purely for learning and not reaffirming what we already believe. Second, we must use active forms of learning. Third, we must be ready to ask pertinent and challenging questions to scholars. Fourth, we must be willing to accept constructive criticism of ourselves and our communities.
Today’s sermon follows on from the willingness to accept criticism to the ability to actually correct one’s views when confronted with evidence known as تصحيح آرائنا (tasheeh aara’una). This is something truly difficult and requires intellectual and moral honesty.
For many of us, our sources of Islamic knowledge is the pulpit and not necessarily source literature or scholarly books – and often there is a gap between the two. If we have been listening to something from the pulpit for many years and then we hear something new or different, it can appear controversial or strange as it conflicts with your knowledge base; it may be the application of a verse of the Qur’an or narration or particular explanation. As we know ijtehad – striving to find accurate Islamic opinions – and interpretations are always being updated, and so we realise knowledge may be reviewed at anytime or we may not be fully informed on a matter yet.
At times a person rejects when evidence comes to him or due to it being against what they consider to be correct. Imam Ali (a) said: “مَنْ أسْرَعَ إلَى النّاسِ بِما يَكْرَهُونَ قالُوا فيهِ ما لايَعْلَمُونَ / Whoever hastens to the people with that which they dislike, they will speak about him that which they do not know.”
If a verse or sound narration is introduced to me proving its position, increasing my knowledge base, or even disproving what I thought to be previously correct, I must be willing to change my opinion to be in line with the truth I have come across. As Imam Ali (a) said: “اَلْحَقُّ أحَقُّ أنْ يُتَّبَعَ / The Truth is worthier of being followed” and بِالعُدُولِ عَنِ الحَقِّ تَـكُونُ الضَّلالَةُ / It is by turning away from the truth that misguidance comes about.”
This may seem obvious but ask yourself how many have been willing to do this? And ask whether you have ever changed your religious opinion on the basis of new evidence or only ever retained your previous understanding despite evidence to the contrary?
The primary standard of truth is the Qur’an. If we are introduced to a verse of Allah (swt) which has been applied in the correct way, we are obligated to correct our opinions to be in line with the verse no matter how challenging to our pride or previous beliefs this may be. The Qur’an states: “وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ / And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you.”
Therefore either when Truth comes to us, we must correct our opinions or we use the Qur’an to judge the matter. Let us take an example.
In recent days political speeches have been made about cutting ‘freedom of movement’. To some, freedom of movement is negative as it violates borders and allows cultures to mix. Many Muslims will hear this political rhetoric and be persuaded. It is the responsibility of the Muslim that if he believes such a thing and then is presented with what the Qur’an states, he is obliged to correct his opinion or he is required to search out what the Qur’an says and correct his opinion.
In one verse Allah (swt) states: “O humanity! Indeed We created you from a male and a female and made you into peoples and types that you to know one another. Truly, the most generous of you with God is the most God-conscious. Truly, God is all-Knowing, all-Informed” (49:13). Prohibiting or ostracising freedom of movement is then is direct violation of Allah’s (swt) directive of people knowing one another.
In another verse Allah (swt) states: “Had Allah pleased He would have made you (all) a single people, but that He tests you in what He gave you. Therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds” (5:48). In this verse Allah (swt) states He could have made mankind one people, but he wishes to see how we respond to the different features and resources He provided: language, culture, oil, steel, water, technology etc. And that we are to strive in doing good. If we are blocked from meeting one another, how can this be achieved?
Imam Ali (a) said: “Emigrate from your native country in pursuit of loftier positions, for there are five benefits to be had from travel: Alleviating anxiety, working for a living, acquiring knowledge, attaining moral excellence, the companionship of distinguished people” (Immigration and Jihad, Dar al-Hadi Publications, 2003 pg 43).
In all of these cases we can see the principles that freedom of movement and immigration are positive. If I believed something different I am required to correct my opinion no matter my biases. If we can do this then our sitting in sermons will be truly beneficial to us. If not, we will continue to hold onto things that may be in opposition to Islam.