Amongst the clearest signs of ignorance are disrespect, mockery, and name calling. When Musa (may peace be upon him) advised his nation, informing them of a certain victim of murder who would come alive should a cow be slaughtered and its meat rubbed against his body, the Banu Isra’il mockingly exclaimed, “Do you jest with us?” What, after all, would rubbing a piece of meat on a corpse do? Musa (may peace be upon him) replied, “I seek refuge in Allah from being included amongst the ignorant.”
From this it is deduced that mockery is the work of the ignorant and not appropriate for the people of knowledge, for it contradicts Islamic etiquette. One thing is to hold a difference in opinion or differ with a scholar in methodology, academic disposition, or school of thought (maslak), while it is an entirely different thing to show disrespect. Differences of opinion are permissible and tolerable while disrespect is not permissible under any circumstances.
I myself am witness to the fact that Mawlana Thanwi differed on numerous issues with Mawlana Ahmad Raza (Rida’) Khan (may Allah have mercy upon them). Their differences included issues such as qiyam, ‘urs, milad, etc…. but in spite of them, whenever his name was mentioned in a gathering, he would say, “Mawlana Ahmad Raza Khan Sahib”.
On one occasion, an individual sitting in the gathering mentioned his name without adding Mawlana to his name, stating simply, “Ahmad Raza Khan”. Hadrat Thanwi became angry and scolded the man, saying, “He is a scholar (‘alim) after all. In spite of the fact that there are differences of opinion between us, you are disrespecting the position he has been granted. How can this be justified? Difference of opinion is another matter altogether (i.e. this is a matter of respect and etiquette). It is another that he considers me to be on error on certain issues. What is the meaning of such condescension, such disrespect for him?”
Mawlana Thanwi took exception to the fact that the term Mawlana was not used for the very person who had constantly opposed him and had shown him disrespect (by declaring him a disbeliever). He was, of course, from the people of knowledge (Ahl al-‘Ilm). When someone’s name was mentioned, he considered it necessary to show him proper respect, even if it was one who bore absolute enmity towards him. He never allowed respect to leave his side.
I have similarly heard of the incidents of Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi’s dealings with those who passed fatwas of kufr upon him. Once, some of his closest students were with him when he was in Delhi. Amongst those present were Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan, Mawlana Ahmad Hasan Amrohi, and Hajji Amir Shah Khan (may Allah have mercy on them all). Mawlana Ahmad Hasan, while sitting with his friends, said, “Brothers, the recitation of the imam in the Lal Kuwa Masjid is excellent. Let us go and perform our fajr salat behind him.”
Shaykh al-Hind became angry and explained, “Do you not feel ashamed? Do you not have any skin on your face (an phrase used to express lack of shame) that you make such a suggestion considering the fact that (that imam) considers our shaykh a disbeliever and yet you ask us to perform salat behind him?” His tone was very severe.
Hadrat Nanautwi heard the discussion but said nothing at the time. Instead, the next morning he, accompanied by his students, went to that very masjid to perform the fajr salat. He joined the congregation behind the aforementioned imam. When the salat was completed and the salam performed, a number of followers enquired as to who they were, realizing by their dress that they were people of knowledge. They were informed that they were no other than Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi and his students, Mawlanas Mahmud al-Hasan and Ahmad Hasan Amrohi.
The imam was left dumbstruck and wondering, “Day and night I label this man a kafir, in spite of which he has come to perform salat behind me?!” The imam himself came forward and shook hands with Mawlana Qasim, exclaiming, “Hadrat! I used to brand you a kafir but am ashamed today, considering that you have come and performed salat behind me.”
Hadrat replied, “It is no big issue, for I have taken full cognizance of the driving force behind your stance, which I fully appreciate and due to which your honor has increased even more in my heart. Why? Because it is on the basis of information that reached you that I deride the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). The fervor of your faith came to the fore and demanded of you to brand me as you did. Nonetheless, I have but a single complaint: that you should have investigated the validity of that report.”
He continued, “All the same, the basis of your passing a fatwa of kufr was insult to Allah’s Messenger (may Allah bless him and grant him peace). Whenever a Muslim insults or disgraces the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), it should necessitate passing a verdict of disbelief and that the person has left the fold of Islam. I appreciate the sense of honor demanded by your faith. Yes! The complaint I have is that you should have at least once sought to determine the veracity or falsehood of the report that reached you. I have therefore come in order to inform you that the report is incorrect. I, too, consider such a person who insults or disgraces the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) to the slightest degree as having left the fold of Islam.”
“If you are still not convinced of this fact, I am prepared to accept iman at your hands right now. Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuluhu (I testify that there is no God but Allah and I testify that Muhammad is His slave and messenger)!” Upon hearing this, the imam fell at Hadrat’s feet.
The fact of the matter is that those elders were the embodiment of humility for the sake of Allah Exalted. The respect for everything connected to Allah was so firmly entrenched in them that there was not even the slightest whiff of self (nafsaniyyah) in them. Leave alone belittling those that opposed them or hated them, they were not even unappreciative of such opposition. In fact, they lowered themselves to the extent that they could say, “Those who label us as kafirs do so on the basis of the strength of their faith. This is proof of their faith. If only they would investigate whether we in fact belittle and disgrace the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), whether we are, Allah forbid, in fact his enemies or his devotees. Such investigation was necessary for them. It is not correct to pass judgment without inquiry.”
The above passage is a translation of a piece from Mawlana Qari Muhammad Tayyib’s speech entitled Adab aur Ikhtilaf-e-Ra’i (Etiquette and Differences of Opinion). The original translation was produced by Yusuf Gundiwalla and has been edited for grammar and style.