Wisdom, Good Instruction and Argument

By Dr. Mohammad Akram Nadwi and translated by Dr Abu Zayd

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They asked: What is the meaning of the verse: “Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best.” ?

I replied: You would have achieved real success were you to truly understand the meaning of this verse, for most people have neither understood it properly nor applied it correctly.

Know that inviting to our Lord’s way (daʿwah) is only realized with two fundamental characteristics: wisdom (all of which is praiseworthy and not restricted by any other thing) and instruction (which is qualified with being ‘good’ since it can also be inclusive of other types). Furthermore, argument must generally be avoided, even as it is sometimes unavoidable, in which case it is allowed only ‘in a way that is best.’

They asked: Why would you say that argument must generally be avoided?

I replied: Because God mentioned two matters in a single arrangement (wisdom and good instruction), as two basic ways of calling to God, and these do not include argumentation. Rather, argument has a different benefit, and for this reason, when it is mentioned it is separated from the first two matters.

They said: Tell us then the meaning of wisdom.

I replied: It includes everything that is firmly established, and here it refers to all matters built upon the ‘the natural disposition which God has instilled into man’ and supported by sound reasoning. Anything based in the natural disposition of man and supported by sound reasoning is solid and firm. It is incumbent upon believers to call others to God’s way by appealing to the most fundamental natural and rational matters. This is summarized by reminding people of God’s favors and bounties, as well as His signs and attributes. All of these are natural and rational. These include the notions of associating partners with the Lord (shirk), worshipping Him, and obeying Him. It includes the necessity of rejecting ingratitude to God and shirk, and the ideas of treating others well, especially one’s parents. For this very reason, the Qurʾān begins with praise for God the Lord of the worlds, since praise is the beginning and most important part of one’s innate natural disposition.

Many people who call to God today have distorted the process because they have not understood the meaning of wisdom. So they build their efforts upon proving the existence of God, and affirming his Lordship and sustenance through rational proofs. This is a serious mistake. God has placed within the roots of our nature the need to love Him and be grateful to Him, and this is further supported by our rational intellects. What these people attempt to affirm through their rational arguments can easily be reversed, thereby losing any benefits to their proclamations. This was not the way of the Prophets and Messengers at all. In fact, Satan affirmed the Lordship of God despite being the greatest unbeliever. This is also the origin of the mistake of theologians and mystics in their misguided explanations of the meanings of God’s oneness (tawḥīd).

On the other hand, relying on basic natural and reasonable matters are the firmest proofs and most solid evidences. When a person adopts wisdom in his affairs, it makes the best impression on others. For instance, if a thirsty person were to come across an old woman sitting by a well and say to her, “Dear mother, I am thirsty. Would you please allow me to drink some water?” She would likely be pleased by his good manner and allow him to drink from the sweet water, and even give him something to eat. However, were the same person to come to her and say, “Wife of my father, give me water!”; she would likely raise her cane to hit him! Respect for elders and addressing them in a manner that suits their rank is embedded in one’s nature and supported by reason. The same goes for the notion of admiration for those who are polite and kind in their requests.

They asked: Tell us the meaning of good instruction.

I replied: It is reminding people of the days of God (i.e. the stories of past nations, whom God has rewarded or punished in anyway), and of death and the Day of Judgment in all its details. It should be noted that this can potentially lead to rejection if the warning becomes excessive to the point of making people despair and become hopeless before their Lord. That is bad instruction and should be avoided. God’s Book is filled with reminders of the days of God, of death, resurrection, paradise and Hellfire.

They said: Tell us about arguing in the best way.

I replied: You must first know, as I already mentioned, that argumentation is not one of the ways of calling to God at all. However, if such a situation happens to arise for a person calling to God, then he must first realize that this represents a distraction from his efforts. This person should think critically and decide: either they disregard the distraction altogether, or point out the weakness of the opponent’s evidences and refute them, before promptly returning to the daʿwah.

An example in the Qurʾān of disregarding argumentation meant to distract is as follows:

Pharaoh said: “And who is this Lord of the Universe?” Mūsā answered: “The Lord of the heavens and the earth and of all that is between them, if you were only to believe.” Pharaoh said to those around him: “Do you hear (what he says)?” Moses said: “(He is) Your Lord and the Lord of your first forefathers.” Pharaoh said to the audience: “This Messenger of yours who has been sent to you is simply mad.” Mūsā continued: “(He is) the Lord of the east and the west, and all between them. If you only had any understanding!”

(Qurʾān 26:23-28)

An example of pointing out the weakness of an argument and refuting it is as follows:

Have you not considered the case of the person who had an argument with Ibrāhīm simply because God had given him kingship. When Ibrāhīm said, “My Lord is He Who gives life and causes death,” he answered, “I give life and cause death.” Then Ibrāhīm said, “Then, God brings the sun from the east: just bring it from the west.” At this, the disbeliever was confounded. And God does not guide those who are unjust.

(Qurʾān 2:258)

They asked: What is the benefit of argumentation then?

I replied: Basically there are some people who are so endowed with the luxuries of worldly life that they are deluded by their own arguments and are not aware of the weakness and frailty that they contain. So when someone wise and rational is able to come and show the fragility of their claims, then that person becomes perplexed and confounded, weakening his stance among his associates and making him utterly incapable of opposing the caller.

Disclaimer: Translations have not been checked by the author and represent the work of the translator