Let's Talk Reflections

How To Engage With People You Disagree With

Asalaam Alaikum everyone.

One of my goals for Rabīʽ al-Awwal (the birth month of the Prophet pbuh) is to connect and learn more about the Seerah. To do that, I’ve been listening to Ustadh AbdelRahman Murphy’s Heartwork series. In sha Allah I’ll be sharing reflections based on the episodes here.

This reflection is based on the lessons from the opening of Makkah episode – Episode 60

Social media is a bubble. And it’s easy to assume we all have access to the same information. It’s an even smaller leap when we sometimes assume that the people we are surrounded by (friends, family) see the world in the same way we do.

News alert: people can be presented with the same set of information that you’re exposed to and reach radically different conclusions. Take the EndSARS protest/movement for example. Go on Twitter and Instagram and you’ll be fooled into thinking lots of people hold the same opinions as you do. Depending on who you follow and what is shared on your timeline, the probability is those thoughts will confirm and align with yours. But have conversations with people on ground (with your friends, family, colleagues) and suddenly you may be staring at a completely different picture.

When the Trump government started to separate children from their parents under its cruel immigration policy, I was baffled by the silence of some Republicans. Surely this was an issue that should unite everyone? But for them, the end (preventing ‘illegal’ immigration) justified the means. More recently with British politics, 322 conservative MPs voted against free school meals for children over the holidays. Not only are the optics terrible, but it’s hard for me to understand the economic rationale when the same government has spent £12 Billion on private contracts and consulting fees for a non-functional track and trace app. Yet here we are. Unsurprisingly, there are also people on the government’s side in this case.

What the EndSARS protests has taught me is that people can be exposed to the same set of information as you and arrive at radically different conclusions. As far as I’m concerned, the protesters did nothing wrong. Their only crime was believing that the government had an iota of conscience. My full blame for the Lekki massacre lies squarely with a government who chose to open fire on peaceful protesters even as they held the Nigerian flag and sang the National anthem. The protesters died believing that their government wouldn’t stoop so low. But as the Nigerian government as made evident in the past couple of days and with previous atrocities, the bar can only get lower.

From the onset of the protest, to the height of its violence I have heard some astounding statements during conversations.

“Why did they go to the protests?”

“The protesters are hoodlums seeking to destabilise the government.”

“The movement is now a failure.”

2018 Mahmoudat would definitely not have engaged with those conversations in the same way I’ve been trying to do. Instead of fiery and overwhelming passion, I’ve been working on improving my communication method in these situations. To have a little bit more patience, to interject less, allow people to finish their thoughts. Malcolm X has been a huge inspiration for me. We know Malcolm as the fiery speaker and civil rights advocate, but if you study his interviews and conversations carefully, you’ll also notice an unwavering calmness in his dialogue with people he disagrees with. He is incisive, his line of questioning deliberate and precise.

Over time I’ve adopted the method of questioning instead of outrightly trying to convince people. And it yields results. Questions like,

Why do you think X is true?

Is this your opinion about Y?

Would you agree that..?

Are you aware of … ?

Allows me to understand as best as possible the underlying set of beliefs and core values that has influenced how people interpret information. How we engage in dialogue matters. People want to feel like they’re understood and listened to. Yes you might disagree with them with every fiber of your being but the way you get them to understand your perspective is not by shouting over them, it’s through engagement.

In the last Seerah episode I listened to, Ustadh AbdelRahman shared a conversation skill he learnt during his Masters Programme. When you’re in conversation with people, instead of planning your rebuttal and response, you have to force yourself to summarise their points instead using something like this,

“I heard you say……………………………………. is that correct?”

“What I’m hearing is……………………………………………….”

Use these two statements and see how it changes the course of the conversation in emotionally charged moments.

The fight for better governance in Nigeria is a long journey for all of us. And if we’re going to win the battle ahead, it needs to be with conquering people’s heart one step at a time in the same way the Prophet SAW did. His life should be a source of inspiration for all of us.

The theme for this Seerah episode was how to conquer ourselves and I genuinely got goosebumps listening to it.

I pray that you benefited from this post and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. Subscribe via email for exclusive content and new post notifications. Listen to my podcast Bookversations here.

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  1. What a thought-provoking post. May Allah bring justice to all and guide us to intelligent, fruitful discussions. I have also been trying to use questions more. As you said, they help us to understand the other person, but I think they also help the other person to reflect on their own ideas and maybe realise without anyone shouting at them that they might not be entirely correct or that what they said doesn’t reflect what they really think.


  2. JazaakumuLlaahu khayran for this thought provoking piece of writing. I’ve never read your write ups before but this came at a critical and very important time for me; it’s very very practical.

    A point of note, is it worth checking again the information of Lekki massacre?

    Baarakallaahu feeh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wa ʾiyyāk and Alhamdulilah I’m happy the piece resonated.

      With regards to the Lekki Massacre, are you referring to contentions surrounding calling it a massacre vs. an attack?

      I’m following the Lagos panel and unsurprisingly we’ve gone from, “The army wasn’t present,” to the “Lagos Governor invited us” to “We were there but we only shot blanks.”

      And there’s a whole other conversation about the impact of misinformation and how it created space for credible accounts of the night to be questioned.


  3. I love the Heartwork series! I’m so far behind, but I like how Ustad goes through the Seerah and applies it to our lives. I’ve recently been grappling with learning how to engage with people I disagree with, without getting firing to share my views and talk at people. I need to transform it to dialogue and 2-way communication, and how you mentioned mirroring what the other says, or respectfully inviting them to show you what they believe can be useful tools I can implement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly that series has been life changing. I just love hearing the different insights. I was watching a Qalam Hangout episode recently and he mentioned that he reads three different Seerah books to cover the stories Masha Allah.


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