An Exposé on One of the Greatest Destroyers of Modern Day Discourse
“We have been forbidden to search for faults, we can take note only of that which is overt.” (Ibn Mas’ood)
Perhaps one of the greatest trials for those who discuss issues of contention today is context. Understanding the context of a person’s speech can set a person totally against another, or totally in agreement with him. It can cull hate in our hearts, or love. If I tell you, “The solution to our problems is to love Allah.”—the context in which one receives that statement will determine whether I am perceived as a passive, do-nothing, extreme sufi who believes that no organized hard work is required to solve problems….or as one who believes in sincere, dedicated work to help society, but remembers that nearness to Allah (swt) is the end goal of all work and of our existence. The assumption that I am a simpleton who has no further thought than that statement, or that I may have more thoughts going on behind the scenes but that this is a conclusion that I have come to is in the ear and eye of the beholder.
The assumption of man—the faulty assumption—tends to fall on the side of conflict. When we hear a statement, we tend to suspect immediately that the person who is speaking is less knowledgeable than ourselves, perhaps less aware of the issue, and so we jump on his/her statement to break the argument into oblivion.
Suppose a person were to say to you: “Every Muslim in the West should read the newspaper every morning.” One man’s assumption may think – this brother is a political nut-case who thinks the solution lies in being aware of politics and current events, why isn’t he doing dhikr (remembrance) in the morning!?” However, another person may think: “It is good that he is encouraging us to read the newspaper. After my dhikr every morning, I think I will do that so I am aware of what is going on in the world.”
You see? Many of us have the tendency to imbalance the statements of other people, and put words into their mouths, because we feel more comfortable when we are able to observe one or two characteristics of a man and then throw the entire personality of another human being into a pre-labelled box—it spares us the agony of deep thought, reflection, and contemplation. We deal better with boxes and categories than we do with people, and in doing this, we end up committing an injustice.
- If a person speaks about `aqeedah (core beliefs) – he must be a Salafi.
- If a person mentions Imam Ghazali or mentions the word muraaqbah, he must be a sufi with no activism or concern for the people.
- If a person calls us to study politics and history, he must be an activist lacking in his spirituality.
- If a person calls us to seeking `ilm and education over seeking an overly emotional islam, he must be a man removed from the awliya’ who thinks education is the question and answer to everything.
- If a person calls to an increase in the secular knowledge of Muslims, he must feel that the scholars of the Ummah are idiots and he must be saying that all traditionalism is wrong!
“Man has been created from haste…” (21:37) [Man is a creature ever hasty and impatient as part of his nature]
When we do this, it destroys any chance of an honest discourse. We become caught up in defining and redefining our positions and terminologies and spend long essays or words on attacking/defending positions that do not need attacking/defending. And at the end, we have gone nowhere, convinced no one, preached to our own choirs, and made a host of enemies.
From the Book of Adab of Imam Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 90, narrated Abu Huraira:
The Prophet said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you)!”
So let us be a little less assuming when we speak with our brothers and sisters and let the arrogance die in our hearts. inshAllah we will find our conversations full of productivity, remembrance, and blessing, and we may be of those whose sins Allah forgives for remembering Him.
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Originally published December 2007.
JazakAllah. good stuff.
I agree with the sentiments of the article. However, in a world where assumptions are rife we should be aware of how what we say can be taken, and as such not leave what we say ambiguous, even if in doing so we have to expound up on our point with more words, sentences and paragraphs. So yes people should not have suspicion, but at the same time we should not give them cause for suspicion.
Good article, good reminder. MashaAllah. I agree that we are way too quick to label people sometimes, and that cuts at the root any chance we have to work together on anything.