How does difference of opinion make Islam easy?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful Most Kind

Short Answer

Difference of opinion makes Islam easy because it provides people with different options. Whenever more options are available then there is more flexibility for people. Generally, flexibility leads to ease.

Explanation
النُّعْمَانَ بْنَ بَشِيرٍ، يَقُولُ: سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَقُولُ: الحَلاَلُ بَيِّنٌ، وَالحَرَامُ بَيِّنٌ، وَبَيْنَهُمَا مُشَبَّهَاتٌ لاَ يَعْلَمُهَا كَثِيرٌ مِنَ النَّاسِ (صحيح البخاري)

(Sayidina) al-Nu’man ibn Bashir said he heard the Prophet ﷺ say, ‘The Halal is clear and the Haram is clear, and between them are ambiguous matters. Most people do not know them.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, 52).

Room for difference

The above Hadith clarifies that there are aspects of our religion that have been left ambiguous. Therefore, they are open to difference of opinion. Muslims must respect difference of opinion when it is valid. When different views are outside of the limits of orthodox Islam, then they must be rejected. Importantly, one must recognise that difference of opinion makes Islam easy.

This fact was recognised by the great scholars of Islam throughout our history. Unlike some ignorant people in our time. They look upon different opinions as a Fitnah (discord). They believe it divides the Ummah and causes discord. Unfortunately, it is there lack on knowledge and wisdom that causes discord and confusion.

It is a mercy
(قَوْلُهُ: مِنْ آثَارِ الرَّحْمَةِ) فَإِنَّ اخْتِلَافَ أَئِمَّةِ الْهُدَى تَوْسِعَةٌ لِلنَّاسِ كَمَا فِي أَوَّلِ التَّتَارْخَانِيَّة. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

His saying: One of the effects of mercy, (meaning) the difference of opinion between the Imams of guidance brings ease to the people. As is mentioned at the beginning of al-Tataarkhaniyah. (Imam Ibn Abideen, Radd al-Muhtar).

 

وَفِيهِ أَنَّ اخْتِلَافَ الْأَئِمَّةِ رَحْمَةٌ لِلْأُمَّةِ. قَالَ الطِّيبِيُّ: الْمُرَادُ بِهِ الِاخْتِلَافُ فِي الْفُرُوعِ لَا فِي الْأُصُولِ. (مرقاة المفاتيح شرح مشكاة المصابيح)

It indicates that difference amongst the Imams is a mercy for the Ummah (nation). (Imam) al-Tibi said: What is meant by this is differences in secondary matters, not in the fundamentals. (Imam Ali al-Qari, Mirqaat al-Mafateeh).

In the Nusoos (texts) above, we find the scholars praising difference of opinion. They recognise that it is a means of ease and flexibility. Ultimately, the believer must always be pleased with the decree of Allah (Most High). When Allah (Most High) decrees that there is no room for difference then we are pleased with that. And when He (Most High) decrees that there is room for it, we are pleased with that too.

When there is no room for difference, we celebrate the clarity provided. And when there is room for it then we say, difference of opinion makes Islam easy. Alhamdulillah, we praise Allah (Most High) in all circumstances. However, it is very important for a Muslim to differentiate between valid and invalid differences.

Valid and invalid differences
قَالَ الْخَطَّابِيُّ وَالِاخْتِلَافُ فِي الدِّينِ ثَلَاثَةُ أَقْسَامٍ أَحَدُهَا فِي إِثْبَاتِ الصَّانِعِ وَوَحْدَانِيِّتِهِ وَإِنْكَارُ ذَلِكَ كُفْرٌ وَالثَّانِي فِي صِفَاتِهِ وَمَشِيئَتِهِ وَإِنْكَارُهَا بِدْعَةٌ وَالثَّالِثُ فِي أَحْكَامِ الْفُرُوعِ الْمُحْتَمِلَةِ وُجُوهًا فَهَذَا جَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى رَحْمَةً وَكَرَامَةً لِلْعُلَمَاءِ وَهُوَ الْمُرَادُ بِحَدِيثِ اخْتِلَافُ أُمَّتِي رَحْمَةٌ. (المنهاج شرح صحيح مسلم بن الحجاج)

(Imam) al-Khattabi said: Differences in religious matters are of three types. The first is, accepting the Creator and his oneness. Denying that is disbelief (Kufr). The second is about his Attributes and Will. Denying that is an innovation (Bidah). The third, is regarding rulings that are not fundamental, but have various possible interpretations. This is what Allah (Most High) has made a mercy and honor for the scholars. And is what is meant by the Hadith about my nation’s disagreement being a mercy. (Imam Yahya bin Sharaf al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim).

Although the Hadith Imam al-Khattabi quoted at the end is not authentic, his central point is upheld. When you study the behavior of the Sahabah, they did not accept every different opinion. Rather they would accept some and reject others. When they believed that there was room for difference of opinion, they respected it. Otherwise, they rejected and opposed it.

In order for the Muslim to be able to differentiate between valid and invalid differences of opinion, he or she must study Islam. Studying Islam is always an obligation. However, in times of confusion the obligation becomes more emphatic. In our time, many invalid views are being passed off as acceptable. They must be opposed. You cannot do so without sufficient knowledge.

Conclusion

It is correct to say that Difference of opinion makes Islam easy. However, this is only the case if it is an acceptable difference. Otherwise, the difference is not a source of mercy or facilitation. Rather it is Fitnah (misguidance), and it must be opposed.

Muslims must study, so that they can distinguish between valid and invalid differences. Otherwise, they will fall into the grave error of rejecting something that is acceptable. Or accepting something that is a means of misguidance.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (04.04.24)