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The Fine Line in Having an Open Mind

The Fine Line in Having an Open Mind

The Dilemma

“You need to be open minded,” we are both told and tell others. This has become the common line to say to anyone who disagrees with our opinions. It is obvious that if someone doesn't share our own views then they must be narrow-minded, right?

“Be careful of having an open mind, you don't know what you could let in,” said the notice on the bulletin board at a very conservative masjid. Does this mean having an open mind is a bad thing?

Who defines what is open minded and what is not? Who decides when it is good to be open minded and when it is not? And who came up with the above saying anyway?

 

Qur'anic Guidance

As with any other issue, we as Muslims need to look at the guidance of Allāh and his messenger (peace be upon him) and not answer the above questions according to our own ideas. There is no doubt that the Qur'an encourages thinking as mentioned in the following verses:

“Do you not think?” (Surah Saffaat 37:138)

“Do they not reflect?” (Surah Al-Ar'aaf 7:184)

“And when they are told to follow what Allāh has revealed, they respond, 'no, we will follow what we found our forefathers doing.' Even though their forefathers did not understand nor were they guided,” (Surah Baqara 2:170)

“And when they are told 'come towards what Allāh has revealed and to his messenger.' They reply, 'No, what our forefathers did is enough for us,' Even though their forefathers did not know anything nor were rightly guided,” (Surah Maa'ida 5:104)

“Indeed in that are signs for people who ponder,” (Surah An-Jaathiyaat  45:13)

At the same time, the Qur'an makes it quite clear that Allāh and his messenger need to be obeyed at all times and there is no room for opposing the Qur'an and Sunnah based on our own logic, as is clear in the following verses:

“Oh you who believe, obey Allāh and his messenger and the people of authority from you, and if you dispute in any matter then refer it to Allāh and his messenger, if you truly believe in Allāh and the Last Day…” (Surah Nisaa 4:59)

“It is not befitting a believing man or woman, when Allāh and His messenger decree a matter that they have any say in it, and whoever disobeys Allāh and His messenger has gone far astray,” (Surah Al-Ahzaab 33:36)

“Whatever the messenger gives you, take it and whatever he prohibits you from, stay away from it…” (Surah Al-Hashr 59:7)

The first set of verses promote thinking while the second set promote following, thus showing that the Islamic understanding is a balance between knowing which issues we should consider different views on and which issues are rigid and fix.

 

The Limits

Unfortunately today, being open minded is very loosely defined and is used to attack anyone who doesn't see or consider our viewpoints, even if our viewpoints are flawed or deviant. Based on the above verses, we can define the Islamic limits of keeping an open mind as follows:

1) We should have an open mind towards anything which is not related to the religion.

If it is a discussion of some worldly subject which doesn't oppose any of the teachings of Islam, then there is nothing wrong in discussing and considering it. This may seem obvious to some but there still exists a group of Muslims who regard studying worldly sciences like medicine, psychology and biology as Haraam. The general principle in Islam, regarding things of this world, is that everything is Halal until proven Haraam so that applies to studying this world as well.

2) There is no room for differences in issues explicitly stated in the Qur'an and Sunnah and agreed upon by Islamic scholarship.

There are things which are implied or understood from the Qur'an and Sunnah and then there are things which are explicitly stated and agreed upon. While the former are the area in which differences are acceptable, the latter are areas in which we should submit wholeheartedly.

These days the term Ijma (consensus) is thrown about too easily by different groups to win their arguments and often quoted on issues which don't have consensus. Nonetheless, on the actual few issues which do have consensus there is no room for difference of opinion, and being rigid on these issues is not being narrow-minded, it is being Muslim (submissive to Allāh).

3) Keep an open mind when dealing with legitimate differences of opinion

Keyword here is legitimate because the reality is that in today's world, everything seems to be subject to a difference of opinion. A legit difference of opinion is one that either existed among the early scholars (if it is an old issue) or an issue in which contemporary Mujtahids differ (if it is a new issue). In such issues, it is important for Muslims to have an open mind and consider different opinions, without forcing their views upon others.

 

Conclusion

Modern culture is all about freedom to do as one pleases and accepting everything as open to discussion. Muslims, however, should realize that our religion is one of Uboodiyah (servitude) and Islam (submission) to the Creator of the Heavens and earth, and considering viewpoints that go against His explicit commands is not acceptable, even if people call us narrow-minded for doing so.

allah masjid

About Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar. aka Abu Muawiyah, is the Head Tutorial Assistant of the Islamic Online University, the author of "Having Fun the Halal Way: Entertainment in Islam" and the host of a regular Tafseer program on Radio Al-Ansaar. Ismail began his study of Islam at the age of thirteen with a seven year Alim course at a local Madrassa. He then studied under a variety of Shuyookh and institutes from around the world. His most notable teacher is Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, the founder of IOU. Ismail is currently in his final year of BAIS (Bachelors of Arts in Islamic Studies).

11 comments

  1. Is the principle general, regarding everything is permissible unless proven haram? I was told that, that is the case in Muaamalaat, and in Ibadaat everything is impermissible unless proven permissible.

    Please clarify JazakAllah Khayr wa BarakAllahu Feek

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    • ^ I had the same thought while reading the article- I think this particular sentence might need to be clarified so people don’t take it out of its context or misapply it (“The general principle in Islam is that everything is Halal until proven Haraam so that applies to studying this world as well.”), since the opposite is true when it comes to acts of worship. wAllahu a3lam.

      jazaakAllahu khayr for writing the article; I think it’s a unique and very important topic!

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  2. Jazakallah khair for this great post!

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  3. This reminded me of one of my acquaintance who use to say “Beware! Don’t be so open minded that your brains fall off!”

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  4. “And who came up with the above saying anyway?” lol that remains unanswered…

    Muslims use such stereotypes for other muslims (rigid, extreme) when they do not understand an issue. One must try to understand the roots of rigidity and extremism in order to fight and such statements “you need to be open minded” are no good

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  5. Assalamu alaykum,
    Nice article. Concise and poignant. I will keep in mind: “being rigid on these issues is not being narrow-minded, it is being Muslim” I like the way you said that.

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  6. I think this was a very good article. We are reminded that there is no open minded discussion about what is reveled in the Quran or what is demonstrated by our Prophet (peace be upon him) through his Sunnah.

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  7. This was really refreshing to read, great article.

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  8. Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    This article seems to be balanced between two extremes. We cannot be too open minded and we cannot be too close minded.

    There is a fine line.

    JazzakAllahu khairan.

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  9. Nice article qnd a good reminder. Perhaps, an anecdote or two would make it even more interesting.

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