Etiquette of Discussion in debate

“Invite (mankind, O Muhammad SAW) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Inspiration and the Qur’an) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better.” TMQ 16:125

All those involved in the work of da’wah would inevitably engage in discussion, debate and even argument in conveying this da’wah. The Prophets, Sahabah and the Messenger of Allah all experienced debate and often came across those who neither listened to their message nor engaged politely, but rather worked to subvert the pure words, antagonize the da’wah carrier and even incite the audience against him with the expectation that the message would be lost.
Debating to establish the truth and refute falsehood is obliged by Allah (swt). Yet caution must be taken in avoiding certain types of debating forbidden by the Shari’ah that are considered kufr (disbelief), such as the disputation regarding Allah or His Signs.
Discussion boards, television phone-ins and web sites are littered with debates and discussion between Muslims that not only creates disunity unnecessarily but also acts as a corrosive impediment to purifying the heart and disfigures the pure Islamic concepts. For this reason we discuss the etiquettes of debate in Islam. The followings are some of the advices of the Muslim Scholars regarding the rules and etiquettes of debating:

  • Before even beginning to debate:

One should give precedence to the fear of Allah, intend to draw closer to Him and seek His good pleasure by adhering to His (swt) command.
The Muslim should intend to establish the truth and refute the falsehood without combating, suppressing, or vanquishing the opponent. Ash-Shafi’i said: ‘I never argued with a man except I wished he is helped and led to the right, asking Allah to give him protection and guarding. I never spoke to a person except that I did not bother whether Allah showed the truth on my tongue or his tongue.’ Ibn Uqayl said: ‘Any debate whose aim is not to support the truth is a curse on the one who engaged in it.’

  • He should begin by thanking and praising Allah and sending peace and blessings on the Messenger (saw), and desire that Allah help him to achieve that which pleases Him.
  • He should not debate for the sake of status, rank, seeking a benefit, argument, or to show off. Instead, He should be truly sincere for Allah, His Deen and his opponent, for the Deen is Naseeha (true sincerity and advice).
  • Both his style of debating and his appearance should be good. Ibn ‘Abbas narrated that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said

“Right guidance, graceful manners, deliberation and moderation, are one part of twenty-five parts of Prophethood.” Reported by Ahmad and Abu Dawud.

  • He should be concise to ensure that his speech is easy to understand, comprehensive and effective. Long-winded sentences will lead to boredom and is more prone to mistakes.
  • He should agree on a basis to which both sides will refer. With the disbeliever the basis will be rational evidences. With a Muslim it will be either rational or textual evidences. The mind is the reference in the rational matters, but for the religious matters the basis is the text (i.e. the Qur’an and the Sunnah):

“(And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger (saw).” TMQ 4:59

  • One should not debate with the Kafir (disbeliever) about the branches of the Shari’ah (e.g marriage to four wives), because the Kafir does not believe in their basis. The discussion should be restricted to the fundamentals of the Deen (the Aqeedah) whose proofs are rational. This is because the aim of the debate is to take him from falsehood to the truth, from misguidance to guidance and this will not be possible unless we take him from Kufr to Imaan.

“O People of the scripture! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah. If then they turn back, say: ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims (surrendered to Allah’s)’”. TMQ 3:64

Accordingly, we do not say: ‘we debate in that which we agree and leave that which we disagree’, because we are obligated to debate with them. And debate can never take place unless it is on a matter on which we disagree. If a Christian or a capitalist agrees with the Muslim that Buddhism, communism or socialism is rationally repugnant, then this is not called debate or disputation. Likewise, we cannot say we ‘will have dialogue with the Kuffar on matters we agree on, and leave what we disagree to the Day of Judgement when Allah will judge as he pleases and He will settle the matter between us.’ We cannot say this because we are commanded to debate in the matters we disagree on, and if we do not do this then we will have fallen short of our duty. Yes, the judgement is for Allah in this world and the Hereafter but we cannot confuse Allah’s action with what He has entrusted us with. Such a proof is untenable. Indeed it is an argument, which has no proof.

  • The debater should not raise his voice or shout in the face of his opponent, except as much as it is enough to make him hear his voice. He should not look down or belittle his opponent. He should not debate with someone who hates him whether that hatred is from him or his opponent. He should not intentionally sit in a place higher than his opponent in the gathering.
  • He should be patient, forbearing and forgiving when his opponent argues unless if he is insolent. He should then desist from debating and arguing with him. We should avoid getting angry and annoyed. Ibn Sireen said: ‘Rage is the other name of ignorance’ i.e. when it happens during a debate. If he is debating with someone more knowledgeable than him he should not say: you are mistaken or what you have said is wrong. Rather he should say: what would you say if someone said or objected by saying such and such…or he should oppose using the style of one seeking the correct path such as “is it not correct to say such and such”.
  • He should think about what his opponent is saying and understand him so that he can respond correctly. He should not be quick to speak without allowing his opponent to finish. Ibn Wahb said: ‘I heard Malik say: ‘there is no point in answering without understanding, and it is not good manners to interrupt one’s opponent.’’ But if he is showing off, playing the crowds then he should advise him. If he doesn’t take notice of that then he should discontinue the discussion.
  • The debater should face his opponent and not look at those present showing contempt for his opponent whether or not they agreed or disagreed with him. If the opponent does this he should be advised. If he does not respond then the debate should be stopped. He should not debate someone obstinate and self-conceited for such a person will not take anything from someone else.
  • We should not debate in places of fear such as debating on satellite channels or public gatherings unless one is confident with his Deen, fearing none for the sake of Allah and happy to bear the consequences of his statements whether that is imprisonment or even murder. Nor should one debate in the gathering of the ruler fearing for himself unless he is prepared mentally to be like Hamzah (the master of Martyrs). Otherwise silence is better for him because in such a situation he will disparage the Deen and people of knowledge. Here he should remember the stance of Ahmad, Malik and Sa’eed ibn Jubair from the famous scholars.
  • A Muslim should not debate with someone who belittles knowledge and the people of knowledge or be in the presence of a fool who belittles the debate or those debating. Malik said: ‘The humiliation and disgrace to knowledge is when a man speaks with knowledge to one who does not obey him.’
  • He should not refrain from accepting the truth if it appeared on the tongue of his opponent. Returning to the truth is better than continuing with falsehood, and also so that he becomes from “those who hear a saying and follow the best of it”.
  • He should not distort the answer by responding with something inconsistent with the question. For example; Question: Is Saudi Arabia an Islamic state? Answer: The judiciary in it is Islamic. This is deliberate distortion. He should have said: yes or no or I don’t know. He should not deny the obvious facts otherwise he will sound presumptuous. Like the one who denies that the Kuffar hate the Muslims or denies that the existing regimes in the Muslim countries are kufr regimes i.e. that they do not rule by Islam.
  • He should not make a general statement and then contradict it afterwards in the details. For example in the beginning he says the West is an enemy to Islam and the Muslims but later he says it is helping the Palestinians to establish their state and decide their future because the West loves freedom and justice. Nor should he say America has come to liberate Iraq from oppression and dictatorship.
  • He should not refrain from applying his proof in every issue that falls under it. For example, he cannot say that the purchase of houses in theWest with riba (usury) is permitted based on the argument that the specific need is considered as a specific necessity (daroorah), but at the same time he argues against the use of riba in other needs such as food, clothing and marriage. If he has allowed all of these things based on the argument of the need, then he would have allowed many prohibited (haram) things, and if he does not apply his proof and principle in all the needs then he would have contradicted himself.

Insha’Allah, if we follow these rules, Allah will lead both parties to the truth and give his Bounty and Blessings. – Ameen

One Response to “Etiquette of Discussion in debate”

  1. saadiq says:

    assalamu ‘aleikum.
    dear brothers and sisters,

    much of your article regarding dawah is very good information and directions, but we should mention that we think that Muslims should not debate when attempting dawah because it only results in arguements. plus in your own words, it is clear that when we speak of debates, it means we are facing opponents.

    in the days of one of our most dynamic da’ees (Ahmed Deedat), we (Muslims) spoke so fervantly of debating, but we soon learned that we were facing many non-believers that beleived only in emotions and tears and so on.

    the use of dawah techniques on the internet is a source, but we still think that face to face contacts and training and continued practice is necessary. too many of our brothers and sisters at many masjids think that they can truly learn good dawah off the internet, we don’t think so.

    we have been a supporter of “the shield” since we became informed of its inception, please continue your good works. we think that the ‘gadflys’ that you used to post at the local masjids were very inciteful and instructive—don’t stop that because many still read.