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In the Name of God بسم الله

"beware Of Debates" - Imam Abu Ja'far (as)

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What is "debating"? We use this term loosely, at least I do, but essentially we should define it better according to the understanding of the Aimmah (as).

First what does the Qur'an command us:

Qur'an, Surah an-Nahl (ch. 16), Verse 125:

Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way.

Next, a warning from the Imam (as) about debating:

Al-Kafi H 245, Ch. 8, h 4

A group of our people has narrated from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Khalid from his father from ibn abu ‘Umayr from Muhammad ibn Humran from abu ‘Ubaydah (Ziyad ibn ‘Isa) al- Hadhdha’ from Imam abu Ja‘far (a.s.) who has said the following.

"O Ziyad, beware of debates because they create doubts, invalidate one’s good deeds and turn one into a complete wreck. One may say a thing, perhaps, he will not be forgiven. In the past there lived a people who ignored acquiring the necessary knowledge and instead they sought a knowledge that was not required of them. They came to speak of Allah’s self and they became confused. Their extreme perplexity was such that if called from the front they would reply to the back and to the front if called from the back.’"

Which is true, when people use their minds too much to debate they can get lost in confusion. It is clear from the text that the Imaam (as) is talking about saying things of which you have no evidence/knowledge for.

So if debating is saying "I think X" and "I think Y" then that is what we've been warned against.

But if you're telling someone "The Hadith says X" or "Qur'an says Y" then that's not debating, that's sharing knowledge. We use the term debating loosely which is dangerous sometimes because it causes the wrong impression. The better term is dialogue.

There is a method of debating--which isn't to say "I'm right you're wrong!"--but to encourage dialogue and to share resources and knowledge, which is what the Imaams (as) did:

Al-Kafi H 291, Ch. 13, h 2

Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from al-‘Abbass ibn 'Amr from Hisham ibn al- Hakam, who about the debate with an atheist (see Hadith No.225 - 6), has said the following.

"He asked Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.), ‘Do you say that He is All-hearing and All-seeing?’ Abu ‘Abdallah said, "Allah is All-hearing, All-seeing. He hears without any organ and sees without any instrument. He Himself hears and He Himself sees. When I say He Himself hears I do not mean thereby that He is One and His self is something different. I only try to express what I have in my mind to answer a question and help you understand the answer. So I say, "His whole self hears. This does not mean that His whole has parts. In our perception whole consists of parts. It is to make you understand and express my thoughts. It all amounts to saying that He is All-hearing, All-seeing, All-knowing and All-aware, without any multiplicity in the meaning."

In fact, the Sahabah of Imaam abu `Abdallah (as) were praised for debating properly and successfully:

Al-Kafi H 223, Ch. 3, h 2

Muhammad ibn Isma‘il has narrated the following from al-Fadl ibn shadhan from Safwan ibn Yahya from Mansur ibn Hazim who has said that I spoke to Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) saying, "I debated certain people and said to them, ‘Allah, Glory be to Him, is far Glorious, Majestic and Honorable than being defined by means of His creatures. In fact, the existence of the creatures is proved through the existence of Allah.’" The Imam (a.s.) said, "May Allah bestow up on you blessings."

Consider the following Hadith to see how Imaam abu `Abdallah (as) "debated":

Al-Kafi H 415, Ch. 1, h 4

Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from those whom mentioned from Yunus ibn Ya’qub who has said the following.

"I was in the presence of Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) that a man from Sham (Syria) came to him and said, ‘I am a man of Kalam (meaningful words) Fiqh (laws) and rules of obligations and I have come to debate your people." Imam abu ‘Abdallah asked, " Are your meaningful words those of the Messenger of Allah or your own words?" He replied, "Somme of them are from the Messenger of Allah and some of them are my own words." The Imam said, "Are then you a partner of the Messenger of Allah?" He said, "No, I am not." The Imam (a.s.) asked, "Have you received any revelation from Allah, the Most Holy, the Most High ?" He said, "No, I have not." The Imam then asked, "Is it obligatory to obey you just as it is obligatory to obey the Messenger of Allah?" He said, "No, it is not." The Imam (a.s.) then turned to me and said, "O Yunus, this man has just defeated himself before debating others." The Imam then said, "O Yunus, why do you not speak to him if you do well in debate?" I said, "I wish I could but, may Allah take my soul in the service for your cause, I have heard that you do not allow debating and say that wayl (a place in hell) is for those who debate. Some of them say, ‘This is accepted and that is not accepted and this is alright to say but that is not alright to say that this we understand and that we do not understand.’

The Imam (a.s.) said, "I said so if they would ignore what I say and follow what they themselves want." The Imam then said, "find out who is outside who could debate and bring them in. The reporter has said, "I then brought in Humran ibn ’Ayun who was good in debating, Ahwal who also was good in debate. I brought Hisham ibn Salim who debated well. Another person I brought was Qays ibn Masir who the best of them to me. He had learned Kalam (theology) from Imam Ali ibn al-Husayn (a.s.) Our gathering took place in Makka before Hajj. Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) would stay near the Holy Mosque for few days in a small tent. Once the Imam (a.s.) looked outside the tent and there was a camel growling and said, "By the Lord of the Ka‘ba, it is Hisham." We thought it must be Hisham, the man from the family of ‘Qil who was very beloved to the Imam (a.s.). It was Hisham ibn al-Hakam who came in. He had just grown a small beard and all of us were older than him. The Imam (a.s.) made room for him and said, "He is our supporter with his heart, tongue and hands." The Imam then asked Humran to debate the man. Humran came out strong. Then the Imam asked Taqi to debate the man. Ahwal also came strong. Then the Imam asked Hisham ibn Salim to debate the man. They both remained the same. The Imam (a.s.) then asked Qasys al-Masir to debate the man. When they debated the Imam (a.s.) laughed because of the man from Sham sometimes saying the right thing.

The Imam then asked the man from to speak with Hisham ibn al-Hakam. The man said, "O boy, ask me about the Imamat (spiritual leadership) of this man." Hisham become angry and began to shake and said, "O you, is your Lord more protective of His people or people themselves?" The man said, "It is My Lord Who is more protective of His creatures." Hisham then asked, "What then He in His opinion has done for them?" The Man said, "He has established His authority and guidance so that they would not differ and disunite and be united to support each other and remind them of their duties towards Allah." Hisham asked, "Who is he?" The man said, "He is the Messenger of Allah." Hisham then asked, "Who is the Divine authority after the Messenger of Allah?" The man replied, "It is the book if Allah and the Sunnah." Hisham then said, "Have the Book and Sunnah helped us today in removing our differences?" The man said, "Yes, they have helped us." Hisham then asked, "Why then do we have differences among us. You have come all the way from Sham to oppose and debate us?" The man then remained quite. The Imam asked him, "Why do not speak?" The man said, "If I were to say that we have no differences I would speaking lies. Were I to say that the Book and Sunnah solves our differences it would be invalid because they can be interpreted in so many ways. Were I to say that we do have differences and each claims to be the rightful party then the Book and the Sunnah would have been proved of no help. However, I can askthe same question from him also." The Imam (a.s.) then said to man from Sham, "Why do not then ask him this question?"

The man from Sham (Syria) then turned to Hisham and asked, "O you, is your Lord more protective of His people or people themselves?" Hisham said, "It is My Lord Who is more protective of His creatures." The man then asked, "Has He then established for them a means that would remove their differences, unite them, remove their difficulties and show them the right from wrong?" Hisham asked, "Do you mean for the time of the Messenger of Allah or at this time?"

The man from Sham said, "At the time of the Messenger of Allah was the Messenger of Allah. Who is the (Divine) authority at this time?" Hisham said, "(The Divine authority) at this time is this person sitting among us. To him people journey long distance to find answer to their questions. He tells us about the news of the heavens and the earth as he has inherited it from his father and grand father." The man from Sham said, "How would I know that?" Hisham then said, "Ask him whatever you would like." The man from Sham said, "You have left no excuse for me and I must ask."

Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) then said, "O man from Sham, "I can tell you how was your journey and how was your road. It was so and so." The Imam (a.s.) informed him with details. The man agreed and acknowledged the details and said, "Now I have become a Muslim." The Imam (a.s.) said, "In fact, you have become a believer in Allah now. Islam is before Iman (faith). Because of Islam people inherit each other and marry. Because of faith people receive rewards." The man then said, "You have spoken the truth. At this time I testify that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad is His Messenger and that you are the executor of the will of the Executor of wills of the Messengers of Allah."

The Imam (a.s.) then turned to Humran and said, "When you speak on the basis of Hadith you speak the truth." Turning to Hisham ibn Salim the Imam (a.s.) said, "You want the Hadith but you do not know them." About the al-Ahwal the Imam said, "You analogized and use a great deal of cunning ways and break falsehood with falsehood but your falsehood is stronger." To Qays al-Masir the Imam (a.s.) said, "You speak of something very near to the Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s.a) but use something very far from the Hadith of the Holy Prophet. You mix the truth with falsehood while a small degree of truth is enough to remove falsehood. You and Ahwal are experts in jumping here and there." Yunus has said, "I thought the Imam will say about Hisham something similar to those he said about the other two." The Imam then said, "O Hisham, you sometimes almost fall but you spring up like a bird on take-off. People like you should speak but be careful of slipping and intercession will follow, Allah willing."

Subhanallah at the following hadith:

Al-Kafi H 209, Ch. 1, h 1

Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub has narrated from Ali ibn Ibrahim ibn Hashim from his father, from al-Hassan ibn Ibrahim from Yunus ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman from Ali ibn Mansur who narrated the following.

"Hisham ibn al-Hakam has reported that in Egypt there lived a heretic who had heard about Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) a great deal. He traveled to Madina to debate the Imam but he missed to find the Imam therein. He was told that the Imam has traveled to the city of Makkah. He then left for Makkah and we were with the Imam (a.s.) when we came across him during our performing Tawaf (the seven times walking around the Ka‘bah). The man’s name was ‘Abdul Malik also called abu ‘Abdallah as his Kunyah in Arabic. He touched Imam abu ‘Abdallah’s shoulder with his shoulder as he walked along. The Imam asked him, "What is your name?" It is ‘Abdul Malik (meaning slave of the King)." The man replied. "What is your Kunyah?" The Imam (a.s.) asked. "It is abu ‘Abdallah (meaning father of slave of Allah)." He replied. The Imam then asked, "Who is this king whose slave you are? Is he of the earthly kings or of the heavenly ones? Tell us about your son. Is he a slave of the Lord of the heavens or a slave of the Lord of the earth? Say whatever you may it will be against you." Hisham has said that I asked him (the heretic man), "Why do you not answer?" The man seemed to dislike my words. The Imam (a.s.) then told him, "Meet us when we finish our Tawaf (walking around the Ka‘bah)." The heretic man came to the Imam (a.s) later and sat in front of the Imam (a.s.) and we were all gathered around him.

The Imam (a.s.) then asked him, "Do you know that the earth has an underside and an upperside?" The man replied, "Yes, I know it." The Imam then asked, "Have you gone in the underside of the earth?" The man replied, "No, I have not gone there." The Imam (a.s.) then asked, "Do you know what is therein?" He said, "I do not know but I guess there is nothing therein." The Imam (a.s.) then said, "Guessing is weakness. Why do you not acquire certainty?" The Imam (a.s.) then asked, "Have you climbed up into the sky?"

The man replied, "No, I have not done so." The Imam (a.s.) then asked, "Do you know what is up there?" He replied, "No, I do not know." The Imam (a.s.) said, "It is very strange. Without reaching the East or West, without going under the earth or climbing up the sky and not even have crossed anything to know what is behind you deny what is in them. Does any man of reason deny what he does not know?"

The heretic man then said, "No one has ever come up with such statements to me as you have." The Imam (a.s.) then said, "So you are uncertain about Him. Perhaps He is or may be He does not exist." The heretic man then said, "Perhaps He is." The Imam then said, "O man, one who does not know has no authority over the one who knows. O Egyptian brethren, listen carefully. We have no doubts in the existence of Allah (God). Think about the sun, the moon, the day and the nights follow each other and do not miss their turns or become confused. They each have its place and do not have any choice. If they had any other choice they would not come back again. If they had a choice the day would not end with night and the night would not end in the day. They are forced to continue, O Egyptian brethren, I swear byAllah (God). The One who has forced them is stronger then them and greater.

What people speak of and you guess it is (dahr) motionless time if it was so, then when it would take them away it would not return them and if time have returned them then why it is not taking them away? These things, O Egyptian brethren, are compelled. Why the sky is up high and why the earth is low? Why the sky does not fall down on earth? Why the earth does not flow one layer over the other and the two do not stick to each other and why those on it do not stick to it?"

The man then said, "God their Lord has made them to hold together." Hisham has said, "He professed belief in God in the presence of Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.)." "Humran then said to the Imam, "May Allah take my soul in service for your cause, if heretics profess belief in Allah (God) before you it is because the unbelievers converted to faith because of your father." The man who had just professed belief in Allah requested Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) to allow him to become one of his students. The Imam then asked Hisham to teach him. Hisham taught him well and he became a teacher for the people in Syria and Egypt. His purification was very well and the Imam (a.s.) became happy with him."

I hope this helped you as much as it helped me.


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