The parents of two children divorced two years ago after a lengthy and costly litigation process. Since the divorce, the father completed a vocational course in auto mechanics and has started to earn more money after establishing his own business. Wanting to spend more time with his children, he hired a lawyer to help him increase his visitation rights. After hiring a lawyer, the court ordered the parents to enter mediation, where the father and mother were placed into separate rooms with the mediator going back and forth trying to come to a resolution. The parents intentionally did not want the other to get their way and therefore refused to compromise. They both feared that this would be another unsuccessful court-ordered mediation or worse, a long process followed by a costly trial.
Disputes often either arise or are exacerbated when there is a breakdown of one or more of the core ethical principles that govern us, at times triggered by a root cause such as a significant financial loss in business or a breakdown in communication in a relationship. As the dispute lingers, over time, the parties develop entrenched positions as to who and what caused it, leading to a natural desire to score a win over the other party at any cost. Human history has often reflected similar sentiments when laws such as “an eye for an eye” are proclaimed, ignoring the fact that if every time an eye for an eye were to be taken, or a tooth for a tooth, then the world would soon be, as Mahatma Gandhi famously stated, either blind or toothless. Science also teaches us that the brain responds to events through two parts — the amygdala and the hippocampus. The amygdala, at times called the “primitive brain,” provokes a quick flight-or-fight response whereas the hippocampus provides a more calm and thoughtful response. It is the latter which is conducive to conciliation and mediation.
Mawlana Hazar Imam established the Aga Khan Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CAB) in 1986 with the mandate of assisting the Jamat to resolve their disputes through mediation rather than costly litigation. The overarching vision was to have a system that not only helped to facilitate the resolution of disputes, but also to provide an empathetic response to any issues within the Jamat. Based on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s vision, the CAB system provides a holistic approach to resolving disputes. Whether it is following up with the parties post-mediation to monitor compliance, to ask whether they were happy with the services provided, or, with their consent, to connect them with sister-institutions for additional support services, the CAB system goes beyond just resolving the dispute, and focuses in a broader sense on restoring harmony and unity in relationships. This restorative process, also known as “bandaging the wounds,” is a concept rooted in Islamic values ensuring that the parties’ relationships remain strong and respectful.
Given the ethical principles of our faith, what then are the responsibilities of disputants who come to CAB for help? Are these ethical principles no longer applicable because of the vulnerability and stress of the disputants? There are numerous examples in Islam’s history where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) mediated cases based on these ethical principles.
In her article, “Principles and Practices of Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam. The Case of Morocco,” Claudia Maffettone gives a synopsis of various Qur’anic verses addressing dispute resolution in Islam. The Qur’an says, “If two parties among the believers fall into a quarrel, make you peace between them… with justice and be fair. For God loves those who are fair. The believers are but a single brotherhood; so make peace between your brothers.” (Qur’an, 49:9-10). These verses exemplify the ethic of peace by commanding believers to make peace when there is a disagreement.
Not wanting to continue the costly and lengthy litigation, the parents decided to try mediation through CAB. Following a few sessions, they realised that the father was now more financially settled and therefore more able to devote time to the children, including bringing them to Jamatkhana and religious education classes regularly. This gave the mother more free time to pursue further education. This progress was not a coincidence — the parents became comfortable with seeking assistance from CAB mediators who are trained to effectively facilitate communication between parties to better understand how each person feels in a way that is consistent with the ethical principles that our faith encourages us to follow throughout our lives.
Ashraf Ramji is a Certified Mediation Trainer for the Aga Khan International Conciliation and Arbitration Board. He is a trained lawyer with over 25 years of experience representing clients in private practice. He is also a former Chairman for the National Conciliation and Arbitration Board for the United States of America, and is the recipient of the Association for Conflict Resolution’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the field of mediation and training.