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Quarrelsome behaviour

April 05, 2013

WE see no time in human history devoid of wars and killing. Human history is full of such events. Every nation takes pride in its heroes who fought wars against its enemies. But the question is: why do humans fight and kill each other?

The above question invites us to think about the root causes. Humans live in societies. They are different from each other in many ways such as habits, thoughts, interests and perceptions etc. These differences propel people to struggle for self-assertion and can lead to confrontation, intolerance and violence. Parochial thinking and egoism also create bad blood among different sections of the population.

Some people remain unhappy with the existing conditions of their societies; they feel deprived, mistreated and marginalised, which leads to confrontation and rocks society as a whole. Such societies are more vulnerable to frequent clashes and conflicts.

The Holy Quran highlights this issue. It says “…But man is more quarrelsome than anything” (18:54). This means that every human being has a natural tendency to quarrel. Quarrels start when a person, in response to some grievances, entertains grudges against others and feels indignation, followed by vengeful thinking.

Thereafter, a stage is reached when interaction between individuals touches the point of irrationality. It is amply proved in history that the spirit of revenge has resulted in horrid enmity, driving people to take up arms.

Vengeful thinking damages society at large. Therefore, a civilised society tries to nip vengeful thinking in the bud. It provides many avenues where one can vent one’s frustrations and seek redress and justice.

Islam abhors violent and quarrelsome behaviour in society. It urges Muslims to solve their disputes through reconciliation, mediation, negotiations and other ‘soft’ means of conflict resolution. It warns believers that the devil sows disagreement among them (17:53).

In this connection, we find numerous examples in the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) which promote compromise and mutual concession in order to build friendship and confidence.

One such example is the incident of when the repair and renovation of the Holy Kaaba was over; a serious quarrel arose as to who was entitled to put the Hijr-i-Aswad (black stone) back in its place. Leaders of many Makkan clans were in dispute, each claiming the honour and the right to set the stone back in its place. There was an impasse, which was solved with the Prophet’s humane and intellectual approach.

It was suggested that the first person to arrive at the Kaaba the next morning would have the right to put the stone back. As it occurred the Holy Prophet was the first to arrive at the Kaaba, but he wished to share the privilege. He spread a sheet of cloth, put the Hijr-i-Aswad in the middle and asked all the leaders to hold the sides together and thus carried the stone back to its place.

In several places the Quran refers to solving disputes amicably, calling upon the disputing parties to forgive, for to forgive is ennobling. It enjoins believers to “…do good as Allah has been good to you. …” (28:77). It states that “Believers are brothers. So make reconciliation between your brothers and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy” (49:10). Islam commends those who forgive peoples’ mistakes and do not hold grudges.

However, conflict is a necessary part of life. And resolving conflict is one of the most difficult areas of human endeavour, but not something impossible. Every conflict is resolvable through negotiations if conducted in a spirit of openness, firmness and willingness to accept the ground realities.

Parties need to abjure the use of force, intimidation, rigidity, intransigence and uncompromising attitudes in settling disputes, as these are the biggest obstructions while fluidity paves the way to settlement. These are some basic requirements of resolving conflicts, but each conflict has a unique history with unique characteristics.

Each party to the conflict has its own concerns and fears. The challenge is to find the right inducement to draw the parties off the battlefield and into the negotiating room. The success of negotiations is often attributed to the readiness of parties to exploit opportunities, confront hard choices and make fair and mutual concessions.

It is very unfortunate that the Muslim ummah, during the last many centuries, has seen numerous conflicts turn ugly causing disunity, mistrust, discontent and unhappiness in its ranks. These have prevented smooth development and caused us to remain backwards. Centuries-old issues lurch back to life every now and then causing tensions.

It is a fact that the world will never be free from disputes and differences. But the need of the hour is to promote pluralism — to coexist in spite of differences. There are divergent views even in a family, so the nation at large must consider it a strength rather than a weakness.

Modern man needs to embrace diversity and curb all the irritants that cause differences to turn into animosity and bloodshed. Many disputes erupt due to hearsay and the Holy Book enjoins us to verify before taking any action (49:6). We should keep our faith in Allah’s promise that He “will judge you on the Day of Resurrection about that wherein you used to differ” (22:69).

Equally, it is necessary to inculcate sound ethics in the younger generation so that disputes can be solved with broad-mindedness. Those who live by the sword often die by the sword. Violence breeds misery and ruin. Therefore, in the modern era, one must seek peaceful means of solving disputes.

The writer is an educationist.