Managing Conflicts [At-Tijaarah]

Conflict refers to all kinds of disputes or differences in thinking or action between individuals or between groups of individuals; at work, within associations or even at home. No group of people is free of conflict. That is the nature of human beings and societies. Allaah created us different in many ways. The Qur'an says:

"If your Lord had so willed, He would have made mankind one people, but they will not cease to differ, except those on whom your Lord and Sustainer has bestowed His mercy, and (or this did He create them." (Q 11 [Huud]: 118-9)

We should look at conflict in a positive way: it is impossible to eliminate it but it is possible to benefit from it. Now, conflict may sound like a strong word to some; they may prefer "disagreement' or 'difference of opinion' but the nature of the phenomenon remains the same.

The Nature of Conflict: Conflict can be functional or dysfunctional, and occasional or chronic. Conflict is functional when it improves the group's performance by forcing examination of basic issues and identifying 'new opportunities. It is dysfunctional when it hinders and prevents the group's goals from being achieved. Conflict is occasional when it is the exception, not the rule in the individual's or the group's behaviour and it is chronic when individuals or groups routinely differ in 'their approaches. Overall, conflict that is dysfunctional and chronic is undesirable, whereas conflict that is functional and occasional is not only acceptable and normal, but is even desirable.

A healthy dose of conflict is desirable for success, whether at the office or at the home front. The Companions experienced functional and occasional conflicts. For example, upon the death of the Prophet (sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallam), Umar (RA)insisted that he did not die, and threatened to punish those who said so, until Abu Bakr (RA) appeared on the scene and recited:

"Muhammad is no more than a Messenger...." (Q3[Al-Imraan]: 144)

They had conflict of opinions about who should be the successor of the Prophet (sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallam), raising questions such as should the successor be from the Ansars or the Muhajireen? Umar and Abu Bakr even had conflicting opinions at the onset on the permissibility of fighting those who withheld Zakaah!(Muslim)

The Do's and Don'ts of Conflict: First, let us take the do's. Do assume that everybody is doing the best that he or she can do. Do accept that most conflicts are the result of bad systems and not bad people. Do allow that often conflicts arise when present systems do not allow people to get what they need from each other.

Then the don'ts. Do not assume that the 'right' answer has already been discovered and is held by one of the parties involved in the conflict. Also very important, do not assume that the truth of a particular position is related to the force or eloquence with which it is presented, the number of people who hold that position, the person who espouses it, or things other than the merit of the position itself. Do not go for 'winning,' 'being right, 'and 'having the answer,' rather than being willing to negotiate and seek alternatives. Do not assume that others' positions or behaviour are unreasonable and that the people are at fault.

The Salam Model: Our purpose here is to point out how we can handle conflict to our advantage. For this purpose, we present the SALAM model of conflict management. Sallam means peace, thus the model points to a systematic way of approaching the conflict and moving towards a fair and peaceful resolution. An example of a conflict during the life of the Prophet (sallaallaahualayhi wa sallam) will illustrate this model. Zaid ibn Khalid al-Juhani (RA) reported: ''A Bedouin came and said, "O Allah's Messenger! Judge between us according to Allaah's laws." His opponent got up and said. "He is right. Judge between us according to Allaah's laws:" The bedouin said "My son was a labourer working for this man, and he committed illegal sexual intercourse with his wife. The people told me that my son should be stoned to death; so, in lieu of that, I paid a ransom of one hundred sheep and a slave girl to save my son. Then I asked the learned scholars who said, "Your son has to be lashed one hundred lashes and has to be exiled for one year." The Prophet (sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said. "No doubt I will judge between you according to Allaah's laws. The slave-girl and the sheep are to go back to you, and your son will get a hundred lashes and one year exile." He then addressed somebody, "O Unais! go to the wife of this (man) and stone her to death [if she confesses]." So, Unais went and stoned her to death. (Bukhari)

State the Views: The first letter S stands for stating the conflicting view. Do not assume that the nature or content of the conflict 5 already known. Let what is in conflict be clearly stated. Allaah advises us not to act on what we do not know:

"And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; for every act of hearing or of seeing or of (feeling in) the heart will be inquired into (on the Day of Reckoning)." (Q17[Al-Israa]:36)

What is in conflict should be clearly stated -without agreement or disagreement. This will establish what is at stake and how critical is the disagreement. Some conflict might be resolved just by stating them clearly, because one party or the other might find that it can live with the situation without trying to change it. In the example the Bedouin clearly stated that the conflict is not about whether Zina had been committed. Rather the conflict was about how to contain the shame on both sides.

Agree there's a Conflict: The second letter A stands for agreeing that a conflict exists, again without making any judgment. At this stage, we must detach issues from personalities. One way to do that is, when possible, let each side state the other side's position as fairly as it can. This enables them both to focus on issue not persons. Do you not see that the two disputants above clearly agreed to a conflict? When the first said, "O Allaah's Messenger! Judge between us according to Allaah's laws," his opponent got up and said, "He is right. Judge between us according to Allaah's laws."

Listen & Learn: The third letter L stands for listening for and learning the difference of course, that is the tough part. Most of the time, we listen not to learn but to respond when our turn comes. The two parties should move to a higher level by consulting with one another [Shura] on how to solve the problem between them. In the above instance, it is implicit that both parties consulted and agreed to refer the conflict to the Prophet (sallaallaahualayhi wa sallam) for resolution according to Allaah's laws. This way they direct their mutual resources of creativity, experience, wisdom, etc. to attack the problem, not one another. It should also be noted that regular and pro-active mutual consultations help to avoid conflicts rather than having to manage them.

At this stage, we must make the Shari’ah the unbiased arbitrator with respect to the issues at hand. This should be a mutual effort. In the example, the agreement between the, two parties and the scholar's previous judgement had faded. However, once they both submitted to the Shari'ah, it was easy to resolve the conflict: 'The Prophet (sallaallaahu alayhiwa sallam) said, "No doubt I will judge between you according to Allaah's laws;" and he went on to give the judgement.

Advise Each Other: The Prophet (sallaallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

'Religion is good advice'. We said: To whom? He said: 'To Allaah and His Book, and His Messenger and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk' (Muslim).

The fourth letter A stands for advising one another. This is a stage where compromises begin to take shape. We advise one another in the Islamic manner of Naseeha, recognizing that the advisor is not always right.

Minimize, do not Maximize: When two people always agree with one another, one of them is redundant. There will always be conflicts but keep it to the minimum. The last letter M stands for minimizing areas of disagreement that could lead to aggression or withdrawal. Therefore we should seek agreement in as many aspects of the conflict as possible, minimizing those aspects in which either party has to yield its position.

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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