Issue 73 / January - February 2010
Faults in Belief and Fellowship
Question: Feelings of fellowship between people can be damaged because of some unexpected behavior, and thus good will towards one another can easily be weakened. Is this situation a result of a fault and immaturity in our belief? How can we attain true perfection in belief and how can we maintain it?
Answer: Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, prayed that his community not be completely eradicated from the face of the earth, that they not suffer from pervasive famine, and not be attacked by an enemy which could destroy the great majority of believers; he said that his wishes had been granted. Working from this hadith, we can say that his community will not be subjected to general destruction, nor will they remain under the sovereignty of others permanently. However, the Prophet also reported in the same hadith that a similar prayer that he made for Godâ€™s prevention of bloodshed and mischief among his community was not granted (Muslim, Fitan, 19/20).
As to why this last prayer was not accepted, it can perhaps be argued that what was asked for lies within the capacity of human willpower. Humans are blessed with reason and mental capacity. It is not congruent with human dignity to be herded to and fro or to be gathered here and there, against their will. Human beings can exercise their volition and seek the possibility to live together with others peacefully.
â€śWe try (test) people through one anotherâ€ť
By mentioning repeatedly in a number of verses (Anâ€™am 6:53) that people will be tested through one another, God warns the Muslim community of this grave threat that might loom over them. God Almighty puts us in trial in a variety of ways; sometimes with illness, sometimes with misfortune, sometimes through our worship, and at other times with our vulnerability to sins. Trying some of us through other people is another means of testing. Every individual person is unique; God created each of us like a separate species in and of itself. We all have different personalities; no one is like another person. By creating every one so different God reveals the manifestations of His beautiful names and glorified attributes and thus puts us through a trial with a promise of a reward for those who are successful. This test requires acknowledgement of these differences in the nature of each person; it is with this awareness that everyone should seek ways to coexist, despite all our differences.
It is reported that Bediuzzaman Said Nursi once praised one of his students and his good skills in his writing to another of his students. He said: â€śHis writing is better than yours.â€ť Upon this, which was also a kind of trial, his student remarked that he was pleased to hear this; he showed no sign of discontent. Bediuzzaman realized that this student was truly sincere in his words. It may not be possible that everyone has the same level of ease at heart in the face of such a situation; we should not expect such a purity of conscience from all. Yet, it is still in our hands to control our behavior.
We should also never forget that a person who displays bad behavior is not necessarily a bad person in all their aspects. Labeling someone thus, especially if that person is an observant believer, is a distorted perspective and reflects oneâ€™s own contempt. Moreover, discrediting another believer in such a way means that the discreditor is actually the one who is on the wrong path; he or she might suffer a blow from that person, or a severe dispute might occur. So, instead of making an immediate judgment about another person, it is always best to think of a way to resolve the dispute and to come to terms. The person who takes the first step and apologizes for what has happened can be considered to be a hero. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, also points out that when two people are angry with one another, the virtuous one is the one who makes the first greeting (Bukhari, Adab, 62). The following verse in the Qurâ€™an enjoins believers as follows:
Goodness and evil can never be equal. Repel evil with what is better (or best). Then see: the one between whom and you there was enmity has become a bosom friend. (Fussilat 41:34)
In contradiction of divine commands
I deeply regret and sometimes feel great sorrow when such weaknesses and lack of integrity surface, despite the above-mentioned divine instructions and warnings. It is not uncommon to come across two people, who normally meet each other at spiritual gatherings and discuss issues related with belief, becoming involved in a dispute. This means that such people are unable to perceive the resentment and hatred that is directed towards believers, and the plots that have been devised by antagonist circles obsessed with enmity; these can obstruct many good services. If these plots against and resentment towards believers are trivial matter, then what is significant for them, that their honor and pride were not regarded? So for us, is it truly the case that the denial of God and His Messenger is not a major issue, but a word uttered unfavorably on our behalf is more important?!
What do we value most? We should be aware of the attention that we give to frivolous matters which we unnecessarily overvalue at the expense of many issues of greater magnitude. God has blessed us with reason, and even beyond that, with belief and the ability to comprehend. So, it is imperative that we analyze how people fall out, albeit they share countless common denominators in belief and values. They believe in the same Creator, the same Sovereign, the same Lord, perhaps even follow the same Messenger and religion, and turn in the same direction for prayer; they may even live in the same country and are committed to the same lofty goals, treading on the same pathâ€¦ Hundreds of shared values should unite people, but we may still fall in dispute over matters that are as insignificant as the wings of a fly. If someone curses me, this does not give me the right to respond likewise. For Bediuzzaman, retaliation is a cruel principle.
â€śIf for God the world was worth the wing of a fly, unbelievers would not be allowed to drink even a drop of waterâ€ť (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 13). The world is so insignificant that the unbelievers are allowed to drink. If this is the real value of the world, then what significance can some repugnant worldly issues have for friends who fall apart? Can this ever be reconciled with reason?
It is also reported from Hafiz-i Shiradhi that â€śthe world is not a commodity worth disputing.â€ť I believe that no one would consider this to be an exaggeration. Yet, how much are we reflecting this truth into our lives? Thinking over all these, I cannot help but ask myself â€śfor what purpose are we reading, keeping ourselves busy with the Qurâ€™an and the practice of the Prophet, or with the analysis of marginal matters?â€ť Why are we wasting our time quibbling over such matters if they do not help us reach human perfection?
I am sorrowed by those who do not forgive
All of us need rehabilitation; we need to reflect on our integrity and revise our humanity. This is necessary for all of us. It is easy to overemphasize trivial matters and start the gossip that lies at the tip of our tongues; minds and pure hearts are tarnished with the tar of gossip.
Let me give you an example of how important this issue is: if a friend gets up from their seat and leaves the room, and if I infer in my mind or comment openly on this, saying, â€śI think he is overwhelmed by sleep too much, so he leaves the gathering to sleep somewhere elseâ€ť he might be hurt if he were to hear this. What would befall me is to ask for his forgiveness the very first moment I came across him. Gossip is a grave sin. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, says that gossip is worse than adultery on the grounds that God can forgive the adulterer if he repents and is determined not to commit the sin again. Nevertheless, a gossiper has to ask forgiveness from the person he or she has gossiped about as well as from God (Bayhaqi, Shuabuâ€™l-iman, 14/255). Gossiping about a person who has a large following might result in a grave sin, for it violates the rights of all those people who admire that person. This is a very delicate matter. Unless we deem what God Almighty enjoins as significant as being significant, then many trivial matters will replace them.
We have serious faults in our belief; it is certainly imperfect. We have huge gaps in our commitments to the basic tenets of belief, both at a personal and social level. We seem not to possess perfect belief in the existence of God and His all-encompassing presence, nor in the fact that His will is superior over all other things, nor in the Hereafter where we will account for all we have done in this world.
I am disappointed with and deeply sorrowed by behavior that does not suit a true believer; indeed, for any weakness in this regard. I am heart-broken by my friends who are unable to forgive one another, by those who seek the errors of others, and by those who keep record of othersâ€™ sins like the Angle Scribes, and by those who ignore the good deeds performed by others.
Let us not allow any feelings or thoughts that might damage fellowship to enter even our dreams. If we believe, then let us be prepared to honor even the evil-doers and embrace those who have turned their backs on us. Let us make it our life principle to be without hands against those who strike us and without speech against those who curse us.