Will you explain the hadith "Difference of opinion (disagreement) in my ummah is a mercy"?

The Details of the Question

Will you explain the hadith "Difference of opinion (disagreement) in my ummah is a mercy"?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Those who call some hadiths “mawdu (fabricated)” are usually the people who do not know and understand the meaning of the hadith and why the hadith was said. Thus, it should not be forgotten that the words of those who express their ideas without knowing the nature of the issue are of no value. 

The hadiths reported from the Prophet (pbuh) reached us after a thorough investigation and search. The effort of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, who went to Egypt from Madinah in order to learn only one hadith, is enough to prove it. In the following centuries, in a period of about four-five centuries, hadith scholars worked very hard about the soundness of hadiths day and night. They did not accept everything they heard as hadiths; they investigated everything, from who narrated it to what was the chain of narrators. They even graded hadiths due to the differences in the chain of narrators and prepared hadith books accordingly.   

There are some hadiths that are the same in meaning but that were narrated differently. There are also some hadiths that were classified as “marfu (traceable), munqati (broken), mursal (hurried), daif (weak)” based on the terms of the science of hadith in the order of soundness . Hadith scholars tried to understand these kinds of hadiths, which were not understood at first, within the framework of the science of hadith and with the help of some verses and other hadiths and explained them accordingly.

The issues mentioned above are in question for the hadith “Difference of opinion (disagreement) in my ummah is a mercy.” People have objected to this hadith throughout the history of Islam. Hadith scholars gave them the necessary answer and showed them that their objection was meaningless.

In order to set an example to hadiths like that, we want to report the words and explanations of hadith scholars in detail so that those who say “fabricated” about any hadith that they do no not understand will be more cautious regarding the issue.

Imam Ajluni wrote a book called "Kashfu’l-Khafa". This book studies and investigates whether the words that are said to be hadiths and that are disputable are really hadiths. It is an original study in the field of hadith. The following explanation of the hadith scholars is given about the hadith in question: Imam Bayhaqi reports the following hadith from Ibn Abbas in Madkhal:

“My Companions are like the stars in the sky. You will find the truth no matter from whom among them you receive hadiths. Difference of opinion of my Companions is a mercy for you.” (al-Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa, I/64; al-Munawi, Faydu’l-Qadir, I/210-212)

Bayhaqi also includes the following hadith in the same book:

“Difference of opinion (disagreement) of Muhammad's Companions is a mercy for Allah's slaves.”

Hadith scholars like Tabarani, Daylami, Abu Naim, az-Zarkashi and Ibn Hajar mention the existence of a hadith in the same meaning. Khattabi, the great hadith scholar says,  

“Two people opposed this hadith. One of them is mad and the other is irreligious. They are al-Musili and Jahiz. They say, ‘If difference of opinion were a mercy, unanimity (agreement) would be torture.”

Stating that what they say is nonsense, Khattabi describes difference of opinion as follows:  

“There are three kinds of disagreement. The first and the second ones are disagreements about Allah's personality and attributes; one of them is unbelief and the other is bid'ah. The third one is disagreement on secondary(minor) issues of fiqh which have aspects. The disagreement in this one is a mercy for the ummah.”

Umar bin Abdulaziz states the following:

I do not like the statement “The Companions did not disagree.’ If they had not disagreed, there would not have been permission regarding any issue.”

In the explanation of Sahih al-Muslim, Imam Nawawi deals with the issue of disagreement on an occasion and makes the following explanation.

“Something being a mercy does not necessitate its opposite being torture. Something like this in this hadith is baseless. Only ignorant people or those who pretend not to know say so. Allah Almighty states the following:

‘It is out of His Mercy that He has made for you Night and Day― that ye may rest therein….’

The night is described as ‘mercy’; it cannot be concluded that the day has to be torture.” (see Sharhu Muslim, 11/91-92; Ajluni, ibid)

Some scholars mention the hadith “My ummah will not unite on misguidance” and say, “It should not be understood from the hadith that the disagreement of the ummah is not mercy.”

Scholars state the following about what is meant by disagreement in the hadith:

“What is meant by disagreement here is not the disagreement on major issues of the religion but on minor issues. For, disagreement on major principles of the religion is misguidance. (Qadi Iyad, Subki). What is meant by disagreement (difference) on this issue is the disagreement of the ummah on arts, positions, ranks and degrees, which is a mercy for the ummah. For, the existence of different arts is useful for the ummah.  (Imam Haramayn)

The point that hadith scholars agree on here is the disagreement on minor (secondary) issues. It is called ijtihad. Madhhabs occurred due to the disagreement of mujtahids (having different ijtihads) on the secondary issues of the religion, not on the principles. The existence of different madhhabs is also a mercy for Muslims. For, every Muslim followed a madhhab based on his own conditions, acting and worshipping accordingly.

When mujtahids disagree on an issue, those who are right get two rewards and those who are wrong get one reward.Their mistake while trying to find what is true does not gain them a sin but a reward. See Fayd al-Qadir Volume 1 pages 210-212 for more detailed information regarding the issue.

When the hadith “Difference of opinion (disagreement) in my ummah is a mercy” is understood  as“disagreement on serving the truth, having different opinions and making different interpretations”, the issue becomes more general. For, Muslims believe in the same principles and truths but every individual has an independent personality and mentality. Therefore, it is normal to approach and interpret hadiths from different viewpoints.

Since Muslims settle their issues through consultation, everybody needs to tell their ideas sincerely and express their views based on their knowledge and specialization. With this aspect, disagreement becomes the source of material and spiritual development. While explaining this hadith in his book called "Mektubat (Letters)" , Badiuzzaman said Nursi deals with the issue within the framework of three questions and three answers, and writes about examples. We will summarize his explanation:

The question and answer are as follows:

- The following is stated in a hadith: "Difference among my ummah is mercy.” Difference requires partisanship. How can it be mercy?

The difference intended in the hadith is a positive difference. Those who try to convey the Islamic realities to the people who need them will exchange ideas to a certain extent. However, everybody should repair and spread their own way and style of service. They should not seek to tear down and destroy the views and service of others but rather to improve and reform them, which is the positive aspect. As for the negative difference, they try to destroy one another by nurturing hatred, envy and hostile feelings. The hadith rejects it because those who are at each other's throats cannot act positively.

The second question: The sickness of partisanship also delivers the oppressed common people from the oppressor elite. For, if the elite of a town or village join, they will destroy the oppressed common people. If there is partisanship, the oppressed may seek refuge with one of the parties and thus save themselves.

This issue is explained as follows:

If partisanship is in the name of truth, it can become a refuge for those seeking their rights. However, the partisanship now is biased and self-centered; it can only be a refuge for the unjust, not the just. It has become a point of support for them. For, if a devil comes to a man engaged in biased partisanship, encourages him in his ideas and takes his side, that man will call down Allah's blessings on the Devil. However, if the opposing side is joined by a man of angelic nature, he will go so far as to invoke curses upon him. Therefore, there is no mercy in this kind of disagreement and a positive outcome cannot be obtained.

The third issue is as follows:

In the confrontation of views taking place in the name of justice, there is unity with respect to aim and basic purpose but difference occurs regarding means; and people think differently. This confrontation of views makes manifest every aspect of the truth and serves justice and truth. However, what emerges from a confrontation of views that is partisan and biased and takes place for the sake of a tyrannical, evil-commanding soul and based on egotism is not the flash of truth but the fire of dissension. For, the views of the people who take part in this kind of confrontation of views can never find a point of convergence. Since they do not differ for the sake of the truth, they discuss excessively and forever. They give rise to rips and wounds that can never be treated because they do not unite on the aim.  

After these explanations, which we summarized, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi warns all believers as follows:

“O people of faith! If you do not wish to enter a humiliating condition of slavery, come to your senses and enter and [take refuge in the citadel of: 'Indeed the believers are brothers', to defend yourselves] against those oppressors who would exploit your differences! Otherwise you will be able neither to protect your lives nor to defend your rights. It is evident that if two champions are wrestling with each other, even a child can beat them. If two mountains are balanced in the scales, even a small stone can disturb their equilibrium and cause one to rise and the other to fall."

"So O people of belief! Your strength is reduced to nothing as a result of your passions and biased partisanships, and you can be defeated by the slightest forces. If you have any interest in your social solidarity, then make of the exalted principle of "The believers are together like a well-founded building, one part of which supports the other" your guiding principle in life! Then you will be delivered from humiliation in this world and wretchedness in the Hereafter.” (Mektubat (Letters) p. 247-249)

To say that this hadith is “fabricated, fake” after all these explanations is nothing but ignorance. Besides, no hadith scholar said this hadith was “mawdu (fabricated)”.  Regarding how to view the hadiths that are doubted, it will be very useful to read the "Twelve Principles" in the "Third Branch of the Twenty-Fourth Word" in the book called Sözler (Words) written by Badiuzzaman Said Nursi.

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