Establish common ground [29:46]

blog Apr 04, 2024

Continuing with our series on inspiration from the Holy Quran for engaging in discussion and dispute, the verse today is from Sura Ankabut where Allah (swt) says:

And dispute not with the People of the Book, save in the most virtuous manner, unless it be those of them who have done wrong.

And say, "We believe in that which was sent down unto us and was sent down unto you; our God and your God are one, and unto Him are we submitters." [Holy Quran 29:46]

This verse is an injunction to the Prophet and Muslims to not argue with Jews and Christians, except in a beautiful manner that calls them through God's signs and draws evidence from God's proofs or in a manner that invites them to good, as in the verse we discussed yesterday [16:125: Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation. And dispute with them in the most virtuous manner] which taught us that even if others speak poorly, Muslims should still speak well.

Today's verse from Sura Ankabut adds another principle for debate and dispute: establish common ground by reminding the other side of what you share in common. In this verse, the Holy Prophet [saw] is asked to remind them that he believes in their revelation and that they both share a common deity of worship.

Muslims are ordered to declare the fundamental similarities between the revelations sent to them and those sent to previous religious communities, as in 2:136: Say, "We believe in God, and in that which was sent down to us, and in that which was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in what Moses and Jesus were given, and in what the prophets were given from their Lord. We make no distinction among any of them, and unto Him we submit" (cf. 3:84).

In a world that is focused on differences between people, in what makes one superior over another and the divides therein, this verse establishes a very important principle of communicating with those we disagree with: instead of focusing on what separates us, establish a common ground that you can agree on.

A study of psychology reveals why this is such an important and effective way to communicate.

We all come from different backgrounds and as a result, we see things differently and hold different beliefs.

But this doesn't mean it's impossible to agree, or at least be amicable and respectful. By finding common ground, we can see eye-to-eye with someone else for a moment. It then becomes easier to see eye-to-eye on other topics you previously didn't agree on at all.

When we focus on differences, the other is likely to become defensive and much more stubborn in their position. Pointing out what you have in common and can agree on, validates them, puts them at ease and makes it more likely that they may listen to your point of view.

Of course, this does not mean that we will always convince the other person of our point of view. When people realize that there are at least some areas of agreement, it builds trust and both can walk away feeling less diametrically opposed. And it is more likely that you can work together toward common goals.


When was the last time you were in disagreement with someone about a matter or belief or value? Did you walk away with a deeper understanding or a feeling of further distance and dissatisfaction?


Next time you find yourself in disagreement, remember this verse and try establishing common ground, some area of agreement. This is not as hard as it sounds. We can often disagree about details but agree on the bigger picture. For example, as Muslims, we can all agree about the importance of the Holy Prophet [saw] and emulating his way of life, even if we disagree on the details of what that looks like. As parents, we can agree that spiritual wellbeing is important but disagree whether mosque or madressa is more important.

Communication experts recommend the following to foster communication between people on opposing sides of an issue:

  1. Know your subject and why you believe what you do. When we are not sure of why we belief what we do, we are more likely to get defensive.
  2. Try to see it from their perspective. Seeing from another perspective does not mean that we give up our beliefs. It does mean that we build bridges of mutual respect and understanding. When we can present the other person's argument to them, it immediately builds trust and respect because they know we get it, even if we do not agree.
  3. Seeing from another perspective begins by listening and asking questions to deepen our understanding. Not only does this foster greater understanding, it also allows people to reflect on their own beliefs and biases.
  4. Be aware of your own biases and maybe even announce them.

We are all products of our environment and upbringing and this impacts how we think and what we belief. We can be humble about this without changing our beliefs if they are working for us.

  1. Keep the issue under discussion separate from the person who is arguing it. This means we never ever attack another human being's character or personality. Doing do will only ensure that they do the same and will block out your arguments.



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