“Haram! Haram!”1 I heard a woman shouting from the other side of the mosque. An all too familiar scene; an individual publicly calling someone else out for something they deem religiously impermissible.
In my personal life, as I am sure with many of yours, I have dealt with the worst amount of judgment from some Muslims. As unfortunate as it is, it seems that those who gain bits of knowledge are sometimes those who are the most harsh, critical and downright rude towards others.
Countless times I have been given unwarranted “advice”—which may have been greatly appreciated—had it not been done in the form of public embarrassment, which often included loud voices, finger-pointing and condescending tones. It would have been even more appreciated if it were actually based on fact.
This methodology has made me and many others flee from or feel nervous in some places of worship or community spaces. Sincere or not, individuals who raise their voices and criticize in abrasive ways do nothing more for many Muslims than turn them away from the very thing they claim to call them towards.
Thankfully, God did not appoint individuals such as these to be the final Prophet. Instead, He sent someone who dealt with these exact situations with the utmost mercy and wisdom.
Let us look at just one powerful incident that took place in the lifetime of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him):
A man passed by a group of people and greeted them with Salam, and they returned the greeting. But when he had gone, one of them said, “By God, I hate this man for the sake of God.” The others present said, “What a bad thing to say! By God, we are going to tell him. Get up, O so-and-so (they said to one of the people present) and tell him.”
This person caught up with the man who had passed by and told him what had been said. The man went to the Messenger of God and said, “O Messenger of God, I passed by a group of Muslims among whom was so-and-so and when I had left, one of them caught up with me and told me that so-and-so had said, ‘By God, I hate this man for the sake of God.’ Call him and ask him why he hates me.”
So the Messenger of God ﷺ called the man who stated that he hated the passerby and asked him about what he had said. The man admitted it and said, “I did say that, O Messenger of God.” The Messenger of God asked, “Why do you hate him?”
The man replied, “I am his neighbor and I know him very well. By God, I have never seen him pray any prayer except the prescribed prayer which everyone, good and bad, alike prays.” The man who had been hated on said, “Ask him, O Messenger of God, has he ever seen me delaying any prayer, or not doing wudu [ablutions] properly, or not doing ruko [bowing] and sujood [prostration] properly?” The man who claimed he hated his neighbor responded, “No.” Then the same man continued, “By God, I have never seen him fast at all except this month which everyone, good and bad alike, fasts.”
The one being accused responded, “O Messenger of God, has he ever seen me breaking my fast during [that month] or doing anything to invalidate my fast?” The Messenger of Allah ﷺ asked him and he responded, “No.” The man complaining then said, “By God, I have never seen him giving to any needy person or spending any of his wealth for the sake of God except for this charity [zakah] which everyone, good and bad alike, gives.”
The one being accused responded, “Ask him, O Messenger of God, have I ever withheld any part of the zakah or kept it back from the one who asked for it?” The Messenger of God asked the man making the accusations and he replied, “No.”
After hearing all of this came an incredibly wise response from the Messenger of Mercy.
The Messenger of God said, “I don’t know. Maybe he is better than you.”2
What a healing narration. This incident is exactly what many of us have dealt with in our lives. Whether or not intended, we have felt hated and unnecessarily judged by someone who, as in the narration, claims our worship, our religious practices, are not up to par.
Yet the Prophet ﷺ taught us here to think critically about judging the worship and actions of others. As he taught us ﷺ, perhaps the person being judged is better than the one making the judgments.
Regardless of whether we have been the one to be hurt or have [unintentionally] hurt another in our fervent desire to spread the truth, here are a few things to keep in mind.
For those feeling judged or being corrected:
- Remember, we chose to be Muslim because of our connection with God, because of the truth of Islam, because of the validity of the Prophet’s Message ﷺ. Our Islam should never hinge on the bad manners or rude reactions of other Muslims. Our involvement in the community should not desist because of specific individuals. When confronted by someone who hurts us emotionally, but in a religious overtone, remind ourselves not to take it personally or as a reflection of Islam. Move on and hold onto the Islam we chose for the sake of God- not for people.
- Read the seerah (Prophetic biography). Sometimes experiencing these incidents can be emotionally jarring. Read the life of the Messenger of Mercy ﷺ to find incidents like the above, where someone was accused or hated on for no reason, but the Prophet ﷺ always responded with love and compassion. And he ﷺ, not those individuals, is the human embodiment of our religion. Thus, these incidents should only increase our love for him and our desire to truly emulate him.
- If we know we are doing something wrong and the person yelling at us is pointing out what we know we are struggling with, make sure we remind ourselves that we are struggling with our own flaws as that person is struggling with their own (one of which may be character, for example). Remind ourselves that all of us have vices and we all need to grow. Outside of an incident, recognize what areas we could personally grow in and work on those consistently, over time. Seek transformation because it is the best thing to do, for the sake of God, and we can all strive to be better people. And do not ever enable your pain to allow you to become the worse person.
We cannot let someone else be the reason we stop seeking self-reformation or being a part of the community. The Houses of God were not built only for the always-obedient angels. They were built for us believers struggling to come back to Him with all of our shortcomings and sins. All of us make mistakes and the Prophet ﷺ himself reminded us:
“Every child of Adam sins, and the best of those who sin are those who repent.”3
For those giving advice:
- If we see something that angers us, then remind ourselves that a much worse action would be pushing someone away from Islam.
- A lot of times, there are differences of opinion in that which we deem impermissible. Sometimes, what we are angry over is something culturally rooted and has no basis in the Qur’an or sunnah (Traditions of the Prophet). Learn from scholars. It is likely that whatever we are frustrated over is simply a difference in valid scholarly opinion.
- If we feel the need to give advice, follow the Prophetic method:
Mu’awiyah ibn al-Hakam shares, “Whilst I was praying with the Messenger of God ﷺ, a man among the people sneezed and I said: Yarhamuk Allaah (may God have mercy on you). The people glared at me and I said: May my mother be bereft of me! Why are you staring at me? They started striking their hands on their thighs, and when I realized that they were telling me to be quiet, (I felt angry) but I kept quiet. When the Messenger of God ﷺ had prayed – may my father and mother be sacrificed for him; by God I have never seen a better teacher or better teachings before or since; he did not rebuke me, hit me or revile me – he said: “This prayer is not the right place for any of the people’s speech, rather it is tasbeeh (glorifying God), takbeer (declaring His greatness) and recitation of Qur’an.”((Muslim))
The Prophet ﷺ was so merciful in his method of teaching; the man who learned from him ﷺ shared that the Prophet ﷺ did not punish him, did not rebuke him or express displeasure with him. Instead, he ﷺ empowered him by gently teaching him.
This is a prime example of two beautiful Prophetic axioms we should implement when we share advice with others as well. The Prophet ﷺ taught us, “The Most Merciful shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.”4
The Makkan period of revelation of the Qur’an focused especially on the believers’ relationship with God and building their conviction in the Hereafter. It was not until the migration to Madinah that heavy legal rulings fully began being revealed.
So what about us? How can we expect someone just getting into Islam, whether a convert or some returning to their faith or someone culturally raised Muslim to just suddenly know exactly how to be the perfect Muslim- in ‘our’ eyes (as if we have reached that status ourselves!)?
We have to be careful that we do not deem ourselves more pious—God forbid—because of our plethora of worship and ‘good deeds’ and knowledge, only to find ourselves bankrupt when it truly matters:
“The bankrupt of my nation is the one who would come on the Day of Judgment with prayers, fasting, and zakah, but who had offended one person, slandered another, devoured others’ wealth, shed the blood of this person, and beat that person.”5
What would be the point of all our knowledge and worship if we offend someone and isolate another, especially in the name of following the truth?
For those of us truly, fervently seeking to follow Islam in every aspect of our lives, we must ensure we incorporate this pinnacle message of the Qur’an and sunnah especially in our interactions with others:
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.”6
Spreading the truth requires following the footsteps of the Messenger ﷺ. He was a Mercy to all the worlds. Let us ask ourselves: When people meet us, what word would they use to describe us? If “merciful” would not cross their minds, perhaps we have a lot more following the Qur’an and sunnah to do.