A true believer stands for something greater than his or herself.
The modern secular approach to morality has greatly plagued our society over the last half century. Hearts are hardening and people are not concerned with moral values anymore. People stand by en masse and watch the blatant spread of debauchery, lewdness, and other forms of widespread societal corruption without apprehension. We promote and entertain ourselves with corruption in our movies, television, music and video games. It has gotten so bad that social iniquity is accepted as normal in mainstream American and European society. With the globalization of western values, this iniquity is an international reality. The question is – how do the true servants of the Merciful react?
This brings us to our next characteristic of the servants of The Merciful.
“Do not give witness or credence to falsehood or immorality and if they happened to pass by vain or harmful speech they pass by with honor and dignity.” (Qur’an, 25:72)
Since the early generations our scholars have differed slightly over the meanings carried in this verse. The above translation attempts to lump them all into one general category. The first underlined part is the translation of the word ‘yash-hadoona Az-Zoor.’ Our scholars tell us that what is meant here is that the servants of the Merciful do not attend, give witness to, affirm or give credence to any falsehood. Al-Zoor is specifically referring to falsehood which has been made to look good or desirable. All sin and immorality basically falls under that category. Some of the great scholars from the early generations said Al-Zoor specifically refers to polytheism, which means that a Muslim would not go to, take part in or support a polytheistic ritual. Similarly we would never show acceptance to or validate polytheistic beliefs.
That being said, we are still obliged to not offend or insult people’s beliefs as the latter part of the above verse indicates, “if they happened to pass by vain or harmful speech, they pass by with honor and dignity.” This is a general rule for preserving one’s faith and setting a strict standard in favor of monotheism. Note that taking part in interfaith dialogue is a specific exception which has its benefits and can be discussed in a separate article.
Another explanation for the word Al-Zoor is lying. A true servant of God would not be in the company of people who often lie and they definitely would not lie themselves, particularly when giving their testimony over a disputed matter. Others contend that Al-Zoor means “the party scene” – the bar or dance club. They say that the gatherings where music and alcohol are found fall under Al-Zoor. So according to this interpretation it is definitely not appropriate for a true servant of God to be at a place where alcohol, drugs or un-Islamic music is prevalent.
The second underlined part of the verse “if they happened to pass by vain or harmful speech” is the translation of ‘Itha marroo bil-laghwi.’ We have translated it as “if they happened to pass by” rather than “if they passed by” because as the commentators mentioned the linguistic connotation of this verse is that they did not or would not intend to witness ‘Al-Laghw,’ which we translated as vain or harmful speech. The exegetes mentioned that Al-Laghw refers to the rude and disrespectful attacks of the disbelievers upon the believers. Others said that it refers to all foul language and evil talk such as lying, backbiting, evil poetry, evil songs and slander. The later commentators kept with the basic linguistic meaning of al-Laghw which is vain or foul talk.
The last underlined part of the verse “with honor and dignity” is a translation of ‘kiraamaa’, which means noble, honorable and dignified. Our scholars said this verse means that if we happened to be verbally abused – as is quite common these days – we should exercise wisdom, kindness and pardon others. So we should either be silent (if that is best), respond with a clear non-antagonistic refutation or outright forgive and show kindness to the ignorant person who has bad character. Similarly if we hear lies, backbiting, slander or other foul speech we should advise the people against it in a kind, yet unyielding manner and be on our way.
This verse carries a lot of guidance and teaches us how to deal with social iniquity with honor and wisdom. When we look at the meaning of the last part of the verse “[pass by] with honor and dignity,” we see how many Muslims are clearly not in-line with this Islamic behavior. An example of this is the rioting, burning of flags or effigies of politicians as a response to anti-Islam campaigns in western media. This is not how we stand for something greater than ourselves.
This verse is about hearts with spiritual life that stand against all forms of evil, especially when it comes to evil that is made beautiful, appealing and acceptable. When the Prophet ﷺ told us that Islam came as a stranger and it will return strange, he was informing of us of the very reality we find ourselves in. In the time of the Prophet ﷺ, sin and corruption were norms which he and his companions stood against. They embraced these divine set of morals – self-respect, honesty and integrity – that put their human desires in check and regulated them for something better in the long run.
We pray God Almighty bless us to be like those strangers who revive spiritual and moral integrity as a societal standard. May we do this so that we may earn His pleasure and become true Servants of the Merciful! Ameen.