Part 1: How to Discuss the Truth?
What is an acceptable level of discussion that enables the topic of Truth to be conversed without hurting people’s ideas of what they deem sacred?
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
The issue here is that if we are overly sensitive and delicate in our treatment, we may barely scratch the surface of what is Truth for fear of offending others. The discussion of Truth will be so general that it would lack any depth and may indeed restrict and lead the conversation to a different type of falsehood, of a wish-washy variety.
Conversely, speaking the Truth in a hostile, tactless manner is also problematic. What comes across is not necessarily the points raised, but rather the arrogance of the speaker that might indeed detract from the Truth being discussed.
It is my contention that everything can be discussed. That is to say, every thought and belief can be challenged in the bid to understand the Truth. This does not mean that one is being offensive to the other – by simply challenging views.
What is offensive is if this is gratuitously done – for instance, when expletives, name calling, and insults are being hurled around. Clearly, that would be offensive. And this type of conversation should be universally frowned upon, in my opinion.
For example, when discussing Truth or God, there is a belief that, ‘All roads lead to God’, or: ‘All religions are valid because followers devote themselves to God in their own respective (cultural) ways’. Though it is the prerogative of the one who believes this to believe it, it is acceptable for such a belief to be challenged. And this does not mean that the one espousing a contrary view to be intrinsically offensive. For instance, ‘How can everyone be right?’ is a legitimate question.
A contrary view might be to affirm that there is really only one true Truth, and one True religion – that all the others are false. Again, it is the prerogative of the one who believes this to believe it. However, if this view leads that person to view others as ‘less than human’ – but more importantly, to act on this – then that is a problem. Such an attitude is likely to carry over into terms of abuse and offensive behaviour, which is a topic for another post.
But for instance, it is nonsense for Muslims to be offended (which they’re not) that the Pope insists that Christianity is the only True religion. The Pope – and others – are free to believe what they want. Fact. For Atheists to believe insulting the Prophet via offensive cartoons to be an example of valid criticism is also nonsense. We may term this as ‘obscene criticism’ with ties to ‘hate speeches’ and movements that ‘incite hatred’. A valid criticism is something substantial, that has a point but is said in a tactful way. People can strongly believe in spaghetti monsters as Atheists are prone to believing are the gods of the Theists. That is fine. But we all should be free to challenge such views – that religion is false (from the Atheist’s point of view) or that Atheism is illogical (from a Theist’s point of view) and hence, also false. Because to examine our lives and understand the world, universe, the existence we inhabit is a vital part of living fully in reality. Not doing this is living a life not being able to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong. The two are connected.
Check out Surah Al-Jaathiyah (‘The Kneeling’ [in dread of the Judgement]) where an unexamined life is Qur’anically critiqued.
There has been discussions on how to conduct one self in such conversations. Rudeness is obviously disallowed. Qur’anically speaking, we should ‘use the best speech’ when discoursing: For Qur’anic and Prophetic wisdom on the etiquette of discoursing, please click here.
I have written a number of poems on this too, titled, ‘The Problem of Inter-Cultural Communication‘:
The idea that there might be one true version of Truth and reality is not intrinsically a fascist position. It depends how that Truth is posited. What if that version is the Truth? Shouldn’t everyone be told about it? Yes, of course. And that – because those that might possess it ought to care.
Often we shy away from such debates. But that is because of a fear we may offend the other. That concern is valid, but for the sake of understanding the Truth, people should feel comfortable to put forward their thoughts to assess their value of that Truth.
The issue revolves around questions of identity. This is why people feel ‘hurt’ when we encounter differences of opinion, sometimes. In the conversation, we must disengage the notion that the ‘Truth being discussed’ is the same as the ‘Truth understood as part of one’s identity’. This may help. The former lies in the public domain, the latter in the private.
The conclusion of ‘What is the Truth?’ can only be ascertained for one self – but even then, we may not be 100% certain of our claims. In the Qur’an, Allah (be He glorified in the highest) says that He will inform us about that in which we differed (source). So we believe all the questions will be answered, and all the problems will finally be resolved.
Part Two: Rules for Inter-Communication
Whenever we start are to engage in an online discussion, it has often struck me whether we are supposed to find points of commonality and comment on this or to find points of difference and to discuss this. Of course, I guess it depends on the purpose of the discussion. And perhaps the easy answer is you do a bit of both…
It is plausible to deliberately try and find fault with another’s point-of-view in order to engage in a stimulating conversation, so long as the one debated is calm, intelligent, and open-minded enough to accept the critiques but also to return the favour in suitable fashion.
The hazard is when one discovers that one has become offended by whatever knowledge, whatever opinion, whatever different point of view comes your way, and you find yourself bothered by it. And this is a problem.
It is equally plausible to focus instead – in order to avoid controversy and ill-feeling – on points of similarity and agreements. There is nothing wrong with this either, because in this way one will learn much about what the other shares. The problem here, though, is that one never quite gets to know the other well enough. It is a bit too pleasant. A bit too nicey-nicey. But is knowing the boundaries of what people deem acceptable the purpose of conversation?
“We have been made into nations and tribes to get to ‘know’ one another,” is a Qur’anic directive [49:13]. Knowledge is key. Only via knowledge can one gain positively for the benefit of all. Because – Islamically, at least – that is the purpose of knowledge. And the Best Knowledge is to Know God… And to (act) live accordingly.
A suggestion: We may like to take the cue from face-to-face conversation and note that it is rude to talk rudely to people! And equally it is well-mannered to talk to people in a well-mannered way! The rules of interpersonal conversation might serve as a useful yard-stick to realise when an online conversation is going the wrong way.
In this case, one ought to be able to talk about points of agreement or points of difference with no fear, whatsoever! What matters, then, is whether one is being well-mannered in the way they talk or downright rude.
We ought not take offence when people think differently to us. This is a mistake on our part. We should explore, explore, explore. Talk. Debate. Thrash it out! We ought to be able to distinguish between difference and similarity (which is both good) and between ‘people hating others’ and ‘governments forcing (thought-controlled) uniformity’ (which is both bad, nay, evil).
Part Three: An Afterthought
A recent conversation on social media made me write Part One, above. But then I remembered I had already written something similar. I found an old article that I hadn’t posted for some reason: Part Two. I’ve included both here.
It seems that a) having a decent conversation, b) conducting oneself equitably whilst discussing and c) seeking the Truth – clearly – are active interests of mine. I pray Allah make it easy for me and for those others seeking the Truth, God-Willing, to conduct ourselves according to the Best. Ameen.
Exalted be your Lord, the Lord of Glory, above what they attribute to Him, and peace be upon the Messengers, and all praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Universe. And the peace and blessing upon prophet Mohammed and his relatives and all his companions.