collections khutbah Reviving a Culture of Respecting Differences of Opinion
Reviving a Culture of Respecting Differences of Opinion

Islamic Religious Council of Singapore

Friday Sermon

3 March 2023 / 10 Syaaban 1444H

Reviving a Culture of Respecting
Differences of Opinion

My beloved brothers and sisters in Islam,

Let us continue our efforts to elevate our taqwa towards Allah (s.w.t), by obeying all of His orders, and by abstaining from all of His prohibitions. With our efforts, we pray that we will be amongst His servants whom He loves. Amin.

Brothers and sisters,

Any decision-making process will certainly involve diverse and different opinions. This is unavoidable and true, even for religious issues such as Islamic jurisprudence. Differences of opinion are to be expected.

If we delve deeply into our Islamic tradition that has been built up over time, we will find many differences of opinion that transpired between the scholars in the past. In fact, differences and disputes regarding Islamic law and the Shariah have occurred since the time of the Prophet (s.a.w) and his Companions.

As believers, we must accept that differences and disagreements between ourselves are part and parcel of our normal life. Allah (s.w.t) said in Surah Hud, verse 118: 

Which means: Had your Lord (o Muhammad) so willed, He would have certainly made humanity one single community of believers, but they will not cease to disagree.”

Brothers and sisters,

Maybe some of us will ask: How can there be disagreements, when there is only one Qur’an, and Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) is also only one person?

My brothers and sisters, there is no dispute that the main sources of Islamic law are the Qur’an and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w). However, there may be different approaches towards the understanding of religious texts. This is because all scholars have different perceptions, interpretations, and reasonings when approaching a certain issue. A person's intellect is greatly influenced by his environment, personality, needs, customs, and culture, as well as various other reasons. All of these contribute to how a person engages with and responds to a certain issue.

For example, when the third verse of Surah al-Ma’idah was revealed, which reads:

Which means: Today I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and chosen for you Islam as your religion.”

Most of the Companions at that time were exhilarated, because they were proud of the perfection that Allah (s.w.t) had gifted to them. However, Sayyiduna Umar al-Khattab (r.a) immediately bowed down, crying in sadness. He understood that the verse indicated that the Prophet's (s.a.w) task was almost completed, and therefore his death was approaching.

Brothers and sisters,

Regarding issues of disagreement or differences, differences of opinion should enrich the minds of a community, and stimulate intellectual development. In fact, embracing these differences can help expand our perspectives, and make us see a problem or an issue more broadly and deeply, which is beneficial for the development of society. All of us should work to cultivate an open-minded attitude. Whenever we express our opinion, or even when we disagree with someone else's point of view, that should all be done with an open-minded and tolerant attitude.

Sadly, this intellectual openness is not common. Rather, we often have differences in opinion that lead to divisions and arguments that erode our spirit of unity. What is more devastating is when these differences of opinion play a part in developing enmity and oppression.

Recall what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still fresh in our minds. The world had to adapt to a very awkward and foreign way of life, albeit temporarily. We in Singapore were also not spared, and we had to make various adjustments to how we lived our lives, including to our religious practices.

During the pandemic, our religious activities were affected greatly. In the earlier phases of the pandemic, the hard decision to close the mosques had to be made for the greater good of all. At the same time, it was also announced that Friday prayers were not obligatory, and when Friday prayers eventually resumed, adjustments had to be made to the prayer times to enable multiple sessions of Friday prayers to be implemented. Safe distancing was also enforced during the congregational prayers.

Muslim jurists and scholars have, over time, left behind a vast treasury of writings and examples of their deliberations and decisions, that we are able to refer to when making decisions relevant to our context. Our religious authorities were thus privileged to be able to draw upon this rich Islamic tradition of knowledge, in order to decide how best to manage the issues of worship during the pandemic. However, amongst the local community, there were those who were not happy with the decisions made by the religious authorities. What made the situation sadder were the negative and unpleasant comments that were posted on social media by those who held differing opinions, and by those with extreme views on the matter. 

Therefore, we should remember to be open-minded when faced with opinions that are not compatible with our beliefs. This attitude of openness and tolerance in the face of differences was the guiding principle of our scholars in the past. Imam Syafie once stated: "My opinion is the truth, but it may contain errors. Other people's opinions may contain truth".

May we be amongst His servants who are always positive in our outlook, and who embody noble characteristics at all times. Amin Ya Rabbal 'Alamin.