In his autobiography, Imam Hasan al-Banna narrates the following incident, which occurred shortly after he began giving regular lessons in a small, local masjid.
One of these nights I felt a strange feeling, a feeling of disarray. I saw that the listeners were separated between themselves, even in their seating, and I had barely started speaking when I was taken off guard by a question.
“What is the ustadh’s (teacher) opinion on tawassul (praying to Allah through an intermediary)?”
So I said to him, “My brother, I do not think that you want to ask me only this one question. You also want to ask me about saying salat (blessings) and salam (peace) on the Prophet ﷺafter the athan (call to prayer), and about reading surat al-Kahf on Fridays, and about saying sayyidina (our master) before the name of the Prophet ﷺ during tashahhud (the sitting after prostration in the second and last units of prayer), and about whether or not the Prophet’s parents are in Hellfire, and about whether or not the reward of reciting the Qur’an reaches the deceased, and whether the Sufi orders are a sin or praiseworthy…”
I began to list to him all the areas of disagreement that have existed in the past and which have been major areas of conflict between the people. The man was shocked, and he said, “Yes! I want the answer to all of these questions!”
I said to him, “My brother, I am not a scholar. I am just a simple teacher and civilian. I have memorized some verses of the Qur’an, some ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ), and some rulings from my readings in books. I am voluntarily teaching the people what I know. So if you ask me outside of what I know, then you have placed a burden upon me, and whoever says, ‘I don’t know,’ then they have given their fatwa (legal opinion). So if what I say pleases you and you see that there is good in it, then you are welcome to listen. However, if you want more details, then you should ask someone else from the noble scholars and specialists who will be able to answer your inquiries. As for me, this is all that I have, and Allah does not burden a person with more than they can bear.”
The man was taken aback by my response, and through it I was able to defuse the situation. Most of the listeners were pleased and laid at ease by my response, but I did not want to lose the opportunity. So I turned to them and said, “My brothers! I know for certain that this brother and many of you did not want from this question except to know what the background of this new teacher is (referring to himself). Is he from the group of Shaykh Musa or from the group of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Sami’? This knowledge is of no benefit to you, and you have spent the last eight years in this fitna (tribulation). Eight years is enough. These issues have been areas of disagreement between the Muslims for centuries, and they are still in disagreement about them. Allah, Blessed and Glorious is He, wants from us love and unity and dislikes for us enmity and separation. I hope that you will all make a covenant with Allah right now to leave these issues and will instead focus your efforts on learning the foundations of your faith together with your brothers, on upholding the character, manners, and agreed-upon guidance of our faith, and on carrying out our obligations and recommendations. We should put aside excessiveness and delving into details until our hearts become pure and we all desire nothing other than the truth, rather than inquiring merely as a means of upholding an opinion that we have. At that point, we can all study together in an environment of love, trust, unity, and sincerity.”
Subhan’Allah (perfect and exalted is Allah). How much time has been wasted in our communities and on the internet arguing with one another in the name of Islam. Some may try to make themselves feel good by acting as if they are going to solve disagreements that have existed for centuries when in reality they may have just started praying only six months ago, and their accumulation of knowledge is still yet shallow. It’s time for us all to start focusing on the bigger things while not neglecting the “smaller” ones. It’s time to start focusing on the areas of agreement and respecting one another, especially when we have acceptable, scholarly disagreements.
Let’s all pick up the phone and call someone that is from a different “group” than us and see how our brother or sister is doing. There’s no difference of opinion on the importance of that.