Life is certainly not easy. We will all experience moments of happiness, pride, joy, and, of course, instances of difficulty, discord, and regret. This life will always pose a risk of infinite goodness and infinite distress. In a world with a multitude of differing opinions and perceptions, there is bound to be disparity in agreement and enmity. As a whole, we often agree to disagree. How you react to any situation defines your overall character and your reaction to an argument will ultimately determine whether you will win or lose that argument. Mankind in its very nature is prone to argumentation as Allah states in the Quran, “And We have certainly diversified in this Qur’an for the people from every [kind of] example; but man has ever been, most of anything, [prone to] dispute.” (18:54) Along with argumentation, man has some sort of morbid fascination with winning. Sometimes, winning isn’t really winning and losing is actually winning. The Prophet PBUH had said that you will, “Struggle against disbelievers with your money, souls, and tongues.” Thus, how you handle your tongue is an important element in Islam which will determine whether you can win over God’s love or gain His disfavor.
As a Muslim, I’ve been met with varying opinions and judgments on Islam, from “hijab is oppressive” to people linking Islam to terrorism, and of course, stating that all terrorists are Muslim. Your first instinct may be to immediately respond with, “Really, because terrorists have no religion and you sir/ma’am know nothing.” And perhaps after that, depending on how severe the comment is, you may be biting back unpleasant words of profanity. You are flushed with an uncontrollable rage that you can’t seem to help. But how can you? Your nostrils begin to flare and your usual pleasantness begins to fade. Before you let your anger get the best of you, you realize there is a problem in the way you imagine an argument to be. The shouting match, the insults, the bickering. Remove this metaphoric image from your mind. To win an argument, you must not argue at all. As the saying goes, I can never lose because I’m not here to win. I’m here to offer you a practical guide to help resolve conflicts by deflating the image of an argument you have and shifting it into a sort of dialogue.
Have any argument go your way by following these rules:
Rule 1: Reassess Yourself
What is your intention?
If your intention is to argue for arguments sake, then you have a bigger problem. Your personal vendetta against a certain person should be put aside. You should only “argue” to establish truth. There shouldn’t exist an argument over something petty or negligible.
Rule 2: Mind Your Words
You shouldn’t intentionally use words that may come off as offensive or a tone that may sound rude. Rather, you should seek to have a dialogue. Remember, it’s easy to argue. It takes strength to have a dialogue. And in order to have a dialogue, you must do so when your emotions aren’t so heightened.
However, if you feel like you are unable to carry this out, then it is best to stay silent. Sometimes, staying silent doesn’t always mean you’ve lost. It’s better to refrain from speaking than to express wrong information.
Rule 3: Keep Your Emotions in Check
Emotional stability is key.
In order to avoid arguing, we need to control our emotions. When someone says something that you disfavor, your first instinct is to voice your objective or criticism by raising your voice so you feel heard. Remember, volume will never exceed logic as L.J. Smith said. Do the opposite of what your emotions are telling you to do. Don’t get overly emotional; not out of weakness, but because it becomes more difficult to control yourself and your ability to think clearly.
If we could imagine what intelligence looks like, we would picture someone who is calm, reserved, respectful, and open-minded. If you fail emulate this, then that would mean you allowed your emotions to get the best of you and have slandered the other party. Whether he or she is being condescending or ignorant does not matter. Challenge the opposing person’s views by hitting them with facts while remaining calm. In situations like this, it can become extremely hard to look past your opinions and thoughts in order to clearly look at the opposing person’s perspective. When you are aware of and maintaining your emotions, you are able to participate in the situation with a calm mind and exercise a temperament of control over your anger or frustration.
Rule 4: Surprises
Surprise your opponent with open-mindedness and understanding. You should give off an attitude that shows that you are taking their feelings into consideration, even if you oppose or are unable to comprehend their views. If you believe they are ignorant or view their ideals as being low or absurd, think again, because they may very well be thinking the same of your argument. Let’s be real; I’m human and you’re human and we can’t be expected to be open-minded all the time, especially if the other person’s perception or argument is dangerous or completely against what you stand for. You don’t always have to be genuinely open minded, so pretending is OK. Nod your head and listen. Listening is key as well. Don’t just listen to respond. That is arrogance, my friend, and we, as Muslims, should not be engaging in that.
Rule 5: R-E-S-P-E-C-T
This may be the last rule, but this is the most important one.
Respect. Respect. Respect.
Respecting the other party is a must. Don’t be bitter. You must be anything but acrimonious. Remember to assess the situation and to prevent making a fool out of the person, which includes embarrassing them or making them seem ignorant. Even if they aren’t respectful, that doesn’t mean you should be disrespectful in return. Don’t be snappy. Be kind and respond with, “I understand how you feel and respect you as an individual, but I do not agree with you.” This can be a great response instead because you are showing them that regardless of their views, you still respect that individual. This also helps tone down any tension between you and that individual. If you remain respectful, then that person’s attitude towards you may change as well. It isn’t easy, but the best thing to do is to avoid arguing. Now, this doesn’t always guarantee a good response from your opponent, but who cares? Do it for yourself because when you are respecting others despite their misbehavior, that reflects better on you.
You should only “argue” to establish truth.
“Try to empathize with others and see their situation from their point of view, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. Treat everyone with the respect due to all descendants of our first father Adam (AS). Do not hate the unbelievers or feel sorry for them because, in most cases, their unbelief is the result of an ignorance which may be our fault as much as theirs.” (Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murid). Can you blame them for their ignorance when the majority of people are influenced by what they see in mass media? Muslims are almost always portrayed negatively, but it is our job to be better than they are. Remember a fundamental ideal of Islam is that you can argue to establish truth BUT, within its limits. Do not transgress. Follow the guidelines.
It isn’t easy and it requires patience, strength, and, of course, trial and error. But as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Don’t be too hard on yourself, calmness in character requires discipline. Remember that’s the whole point – to actually listen to one another – not just for the sake of responding, but to gain a better understanding and perspective. Remember, your intent should always be to establish truth. Everyone loves to argue for something. It makes sense that it can’t be helped when you raise your voice, especially if someone is justifying Islamophobia or connects Islam with terrorism. However, be smart. You are here not to prove your point or to win, but to educate people and again, establish truth. Once you realize that that particular person doesn’t want to understand, but rather argue, then you abandon. State your closing statement and leave it at that, because that person is not here to understand but to argue and they’ll only drag you further down. Remember to use this opportunity to become a better person. Not for yourself but for Allah, since we as Muslims only seek the pleasure of God by seeking spiritual perfection in mind, manner, and soul.