Wednesday, 23 November 2016

"Falling Into The Trap of Judging Others"

[I initially wrote this paper for a university magazine and decided to also share it here. It may sound a little bit more formal than my usual posts, which tend to be very personal, but as with anything I hope it benefits one of you]

We've all had those moments, browsing from one YouTube video after the other as the ten minute break becomes an hour or so. I must have been doing the same when I somehow stumbled upon a video with a cleric addressing a Q&A.

One questionnaire stepped forward and asked:

'Dear shaykh, may Allah reward you for your speech, I had just one question. I have become friends with a Muslim co-worker who is a very good person but unfortunately he does not observe his prayers. What should someone like myself do in this position?'

The response was quick: 'Advise him to pray. But if he doesn't oblige then stay away from him altogether and cut off any relationship you have with him too'.

Just like that.

I found it a little difficult to absorb at first especially since we, as Muslims, cannot force others to do something. But then again the five daily prayers are one of the most important pillars of our faith.
“Take care to do your prayers–praying in the best ways–and stand before God in devotion” [Surah al Baqarah (2):238]

I tried to brush it off and clicked onto another video to watch (convincing myself there was still time left in that "ten minute" break).

It’s now been a couple of years since I stumbled on that video and now I find myself asking how can we, as Muslims, balance this approach?

Is it reasonable to cut off all ties of communication with someone who isn’t fulfilling a religious duty or still stay close to them which could potentially negatively impact our own faith?

So let’s look at both.

One of the most obvious setbacks to cutting off ties with someone is that it automatically breaks off a source of guidance for that person. Suppose Maryam does not pray her prayers whilst her friend Aisha does; if Aisha decides to cut off all ties with Maryam, since she doesn’t pray, then there may be no one left for Maryam to reach out to. There will be no one left that will remind her in times of uncertainty to perform a good deed and no one she can turn to during times of distress who will remind her to remember her Creator. By cutting off all ties with Maryam, Aisha will have left her no source of guidance to reach out to.

Another drawback from this approach is that it can have a way of sprouting itself into something worse. Suppose Ahmed does not like how his family observes their religious duty or lack thereof. Ahmed could apply the same approach here by not speaking to his own family because, in his eyes, they are not observant as much he thinks they should be. It does not just stop with Salah or a co-worker, it can extend even further.

There is one guarantee from this approach and that is a sort of partition. It creates more and more division not just amongst people but even friends & family–all of which is very counterproductive since we, as human beings, are naturally social creatures.

Just recently, whilst browsing online nonetheless, I came across a quote from imam al Ghazali who was asked, "What is the ruling for the one who has left prayer?" He replied, "The ruling is for you to take them along with you to the mosque".

That is wisdom!

Not only did he correctly point out we should advise others towards acts of good deeds but he also mentioned we should take them–not leave them–to the mosque with us. Hence, he not only encouraged us spreading good deeds but he also preached unity.

“And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves…” [Al Imran (3):185]

As sr Asmaa Hussein, author of the book ‘A Temporary Gift’, and someone who lost her husband due partly to the hate speech and division being spread in Egypt, said it best herself: "Were so involved in putting people down and counting…[the] sins [of others] that we don't stop and think - how can I be a source of good and inspiration in this person's life?"

I asked her why that same quote of Imam Ghazali meant so much to her? She felt it was due to being a new mother. Since she was so cautious of taking care of the influences around her young daughter, she felt afraid of any external negative influences.

Recently Asmaa felt that instead of teaching her daughter to stay away from people or things she did not agree with, she wanted to teach her compassion.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said,
“May Allah have mercy upon the man who is easygoing when he sells, easygoing when he buys, and easygoing when he asks for payment” [Reported by al-Bukhaari (2076)]

Asmaa hopes that every time her daughter thinks about passing judgement on someone, she first stops and reflects on how that person’s actions will inform her of her own. So instead of insulting, she learns to be encouraging and instead of abandoning, she learns to become a shoulder to lean on.

Coming from someone who, at one time, wasn't consistent with his own prayers, we should always aim be a friend not a judge. We also need to understand this world isn't a place of judgment, that's reserved for the Hereafter. And nor are we judges–that duty only belongs to Allah. We are merely people. People who perform acts of good deeds and people who fall into mistakes–some more than others.

The Prophet (pbuh) once said,
"All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of those are the ones who repent" [Sunan ibn Majah (4251)]

As sr Asmaa said it best herself: "we have an obligation to help others but we also have an obligation to maintain ourselves and our faith."