When God Speaks, Are We Listening?

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In our faith community, Ramadan is often called “the month of Qur’an,” after the name of our holiest book. During this time, when Muslims fast during daylight hours, many undertake to read the entire Qur’an as a spiritual discipline. They focus on gaining a greater understanding of its teachings through study and reflection and, most importantly, to follow its guidance in everyday living.

Each time I pick up the Qur’an to read it, I feel as if God Almighty is talking to me, personally. There is nothing new in this: early Muslims also took God’s Word very personally. Many would learn only about ten verses at a time, not moving on until they had mastered every nuance of that scripture and had practiced diligently to apply it in action.

Recently I came across a verse (2:269) that has always moved me profoundly: “God gives Wisdom to whomever God wills. And he/she who is given Wisdom is given a great deal of good.”

How true this is! Yet, often I find myself lamenting, “Wisdom! Where are you?” And when I pray to God for the blessing of this precious gift, I ask, “Make it easy for me to seek it, make it easy for me to accept it, and make it easy for me to follow it. Amen.”

Last week I came across an old file in which I’d saved clippings and articles whose wisdom I admired. Over the years, I’ve found this collection very useful and I’d like to share a few of them with readers.

This one is adapted from an article by Ron Kraybill called “Repairing the Breach.” It’s a witty and satirical reflection on how to turn disagreements into full-blown feuds — something our society is all too good at! Here’s the essence of what he says:

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……Not that all disagreements inevitably become nasty conflicts. On the contrary, disagreements often lead to greater harmony and communication. But the tactics that keep disputes alive and festering are really quite simple… If you follow these few principles you will turn disagreements into bitter feuds. Guaranteed.

Here they are:

1. Develop and maintain a healthy fear of conflict. For one, it will prevent others from knowing that concerns exist on your part until long after they originate. It will guarantee that if and when you do discuss your problems, you will be upset and in an explosive frame of mind. Better yet, tell everyone except the offending party about your concerns. You know that it would do no good anyway to discuss the situation directly with the individual involved, so rally others to your side while you can.

2. If by chance you are in a situation where you are discussing a conflict with the other party involved, be as vague as possible about the issues. That is, avoid stating your concerns in such a way that the other party can do anything practical to change the situation. Use generalities like “you’re arrogant,” or “you’re self-seeking and materialistic.” To keep a dispute festering, you must not speak in specifics like, “I felt as if you completely misunderstood me.”

3. The third commandment of conflict maintenance is to assume that you know all the facts of a matter and that they clearly indicate you are right. Clinch your position, if possible, by finding any authority to prove you are right.

4. An effective variation, particularly useful in those situations where a rather unassertive person is upset with you, is to announce that you will talk with anyone who wishes to discuss problems with you — then let it be known that your responsibility ends there. Clearly, you should leave the entire burden of reconciliation upon the offended party.

5. Judge the motivation of the other party on the basis of one or two mistakes on their part. Forget that everyone makes mistakes. Find one or two incidents that your opponent handled wrongly to use as proof that he or she is malicious, or at least incompetent.

6. If these conflict maintaining mechanisms fail and, despite your best efforts, you find yourself engaging in discussion with your opponent, approach resolution as a strictly win/lose situation. That is, view this as a situation where one person must win and the other person must lose. It’s either him/her or you! What you don’t want is a situation where both of you are committed to a win for everyone and dignity for all sides. Avoid brainstorming about various alternatives. If you get too many options lying on the table, you might find yourselves bargaining towards an agreement which leaves everyone satisfied.

There you have it. Those interested in avoiding change and growth in personal relationships should find these principles particularly helpful. One last tip — avoid mediators! They have a way of bringing healing into even the nastiest of disputes.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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