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I have seen a number of questions by various users which seem to take a "defend yourself" tone: One form of example (but hardly the only one) would be questions which provide a basis of a common fiqh ruling held by one school, then demand answers from other schools/sects that disagree with that ruling to defend their interpretation, or unwillingness to follow it.

Given that we are attempting to build a pluralistic site, can these posts ever be constructive? How should we as a site be dealing with them?

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Questions of a certain type give me pause when I see them:

The problem with each is that they confrontational first and inquisitive second. You've suggested a related type which isn't a strawman or looking for a pre-determined answer, but has the same profile. (May I suggest calling it stand and deliver?) In all cases the goal seems to be to pick a fight rather than the understand Islam or an Islamic group.

However, it's difficult to create any hard-and-fast rules about these questions because they come down to the motivation of the asker. Motivation in others (or even ourselves!) can be very difficult to discern, so saying that confrontational questions should be disallowed is treading on dangerous ground.

Thankfully, a third party can often make an edit or suggestion to turn such questions around. For instance, changing "How can they believe this?" into "Why do they believe this?" can make a huge difference. In the case of the defend yourself style, I'd recommend editing such questions so that they show more genuine curiosity. This will often require a sympathetic outsider to ask rather than anyone with skin in the game.

Even so, as you indicate, "us vs. them" is inherently dangerous. Be very careful about making judgments about groups of "others". Be doubly careful if they aren't around to defend themselves.

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    +1 on the edit suggestion. Tone indicates motive, and a change of tone is all it takes. If someone refuses to change their tone (I've seen a few trolls who've refused such politeness edits), then it can be flagged or locked as confrontational. – Muz Jul 11 '13 at 12:27
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Many "defend yourself" posts are actually quite constructive.. good questions matter just as much as good answers. The motive itself is what matters - some are subtle attacks, whereas some are inquisitive, much like a child who questions everything.

Similar to the child who gets silenced when asking too many questions, disallowing these kinds of questions means that you're turning away a lot of genuinely curious people. I know a great deal of people who convert to Islam, who do so only after having a good deal of aggressive "defend yourself" questions answered. They may seem hostile at a glance, but they're just aggressively curious.

There will of course, be subtle attacks disguised as questions, but these would have to be evaluated by tone. If it sounds hostile, edit the question to have a softer tone.

If someone is questioning a clearly different interpretation from another school, of course it is a good question! There is a reason for different interpretations, and digging up the source for that can be enlightening.

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Religion in general is as much a matter of faith as it is of knowledge. Expecting anyone to defend, or prove, their faith logically should be out of scope for this site, as there's really no objective way to prove "faith", any more than there's an objective way to prove that God even exists in the first place. That is not what this site is for, nor should it ever be.

We are a site for sharing knowledge, not for proving which interpretation of that knowledge is "right" or "wrong". It's fair to assume that all Muslims believe that what they believe is right, and that nobody likes being told to defend themselves.

Be nice. It's in the FAQ Help Center:

Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you because we’re all here to learn, together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know, and bring your sense of humor.

Unless the question can be worked to point to a particular evidence (e.g. Why does such-and-such school reject this hadith?), I feel that such questions should be treated as off-topic for this site. Any question which starts with the premise that anyone who is expected to answer it is wrong by default is unlikely to ever be constructive, if only because it's outright rude to the people who volunteer the time to actually answer the question.

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    I am sympathetic to the cause. However, we should be careful not to ban genuine questions (where a user is trying to understand where the differences come from) together with those questions which are not genuine (trying to prove a group is wrong). There is a delicate balance in being respectful and asking questions about other groups. The goal of a genuine question should be understanding, not undermining/attacking some group. It shouldn't turn into a argumentative discussion between the two sides about the validity of their positions. – Kaveh Jul 1 '13 at 22:39
  • Here are two examples that I asked/answered that I think have been OK: Did Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan become the ruler of Muslims in a legitimate way?, Why does Shi'a Islam differ so much regarding Abu Bakr, Omar and Othman, compared to Sunni teachings? I think we should distinguish between questions similar to these and those questions whose main intention is attacking not learning. – Kaveh Jul 1 '13 at 23:26

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