Muhammad Ali Musofeer
HUMAN interaction or communication is viewed as a complex process involving multiple factors. Historically, debate and dialogue have been among the significant approaches used for human communication and argument.
Debate and dialogue are seen as two different paradigms with different purposes used by individuals or societies to interact. These two distinct approaches have different implications and outcomes for human societies.
Debate is generally seen as an oppositional approach in which two sides attempt to win by disproving each other. Debate affirms a participant’s own point of view, at times defending assumptions as truth.
In debate, one defends one’s own position and tries to exclude other solutions. In debate, differences are highlighted with the purpose to search for flaws and weaknesses in the other’s position. Being an exclusive approach, debate at times leads towards polarisation and conflicts.
On the other hand, dialogue is viewed as a collaborative approach in which two or more sides work together to find common ground to achieve an understanding of diverse views. In dialogue, listening to others is considered more important than talking in order to find common meaning.
Dialogue helps the participants to enlarge and possibly change their points of view. Dialogue encourages the participants to search for strengths in the other’s position; therefore it is viewed as an inclusive approach.
Historically, debate has been the dominant approach for argument, mostly influenced by Hellenistic logic that encourages the hard argument with the approach of ‘I am right, you are wrong’. In the mediaeval period, the Muslim theologians used Hellenistic logic considerably in interpreting theological concepts, at times with the aim to approve one’s point of view and reject others’ viewpoints.
This polemical attitude largely influenced Muslim societies and even today this is used predominantly in theological debates. Due to this approach, sometimes Muslim societies have witnessed polarisation and violence.
Today, we live in a multicultural and globalised world. Technological advancements and rapid communication have shrunk the distance between different societies and cultures. Plurality of expressions has become the most common phenomenon of societies, including Pakistan.
In this scenario, enforcement of a particular way of thinking leads toward polarisation and conflict. Therefore, our society demands a paradigm of thinking that can appreciate multiple perspectives. In this context, we need a different frame of reference for interaction.
The debate approach would be less helpful in dealing with complex and diversified societies that require nurturing of harmony and peace. Hence, dialogue could be an effective way to find common ground for coexistence in a diversified society.
There are ample examples in Islamic teachings and history that encourage people to adopt dialogue to respond to issues. For instance, the Holy Quran clearly says that there is no compulsion in faith (2:256). Plurality in human society is viewed as a natural process (16:93, 10:99) while the Quran stresses on dealing with people fairly and speaking with kindness.
It is evident from history that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) adopted the way of dialogue many times in his life to solve issues, even though at times such an approach was seen as a compromise. In short, Islamic teachings put emphasis on dialogue among people and societies.
Developing a culture of dialogue in a society is not an easy job. Serious steps need to be taken at multiple levels to inculcate the culture of acceptance and appreciation of plural views and interpretations. In promoting the environment of dialogue the role of the government, media, educational institutions and civil society cannot be overlooked.
A comprehensive policy is required at the government level which encourages acceptance and appreciation of the rich, diverse cultures in the country. Any form of violence needs to be discouraged strictly. Serious steps need to be taken to discourage polemical speech and literature which can easily be found at some bookshops/stalls. Furthermore, political parties need to inculcate the culture of tolerance within their ranks by appreciating diverse views.
The media can be another important source in promoting the culture of dialogue in society. Diverse views and cultures need to be explored and appreciated with the purpose of creating harmony in society. The culture of creating hype on minor issues needs to be avoided.
Education is viewed as an effective instrument to inculcate the culture of dialogue in the younger generation. In this regard serious steps are required in different aspects of education.
First, textbooks and teacher learning material need to be reviewed in order to include materials that are inclusive in nature. Multiple methods need to be used during the teacher learning process in order to explore multiple views of students. The current examination system confines the student to rote learning; therefore examinations need to be revamped in order to broaden the perspectives of the students.
Civil society can be another instrument in nurturing the culture of dialogue and peace in society. In Pakistan, civil society is not well rooted; however, it is growing with the passage of time. Civil society can provide platforms for people from different backgrounds to come together for the cause of peace and harmony in society.
In sum, our current thinking pattern is stimulated by the mediaeval thinking pattern. Therefore, at times our conversation takes place in the form of debate. Our faith interpretations are also influenced by such thinking, which sometimes leads towards polarisation and violence.
In today’s pluralistic world, we need a paradigm that encourages exploring and appreciating multiple views — that could be achieved through dialogue. Hence, a comprehensive effort, with the help of government, media, educational institutions and civil society, is required to shift our collective thinking from the debate to the dialogue paradigm.
The writer is an educator. firstname.lastname@example.org