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The Starting Point is Kindness

Abu Abdillaah

All praise and thanks is due to Allah and may salaat and salaam be upon the Messenger of Allah and upon his family, companions and supporters as well as all those who adhere to his Sunnah until the Day of Resurrection, ameen.

In this article we address a trend among some Muslims to emphasize the aspect of harshness towards other Muslims when correcting them or warning others against them. There are admittedly circumstances that warrant being tough and hard, and many of the articles alluded to make those circumstances clear, however due to their emphasis on that aspect, harshness has become the starting point and is resorted to very quickly by some as opposed to being something employed after all else has actually been tried in an attempt to guide others to the correct path. Let it be clear that we are limiting this discussion to relationships between the common Muslims and not the criticisms of scholars of the innovators and deviants.

The fact is that we have too often experienced that those who apply harshness while claiming to adhere to the way of the salaf, leap to conclusions and tactics based upon statements of scholars without always first looking closely at the circumstances of the individuals they apply that harshness towards. Moreover, although claiming to want to correct and guide others, we find that they often never use the approach of kindness or courtesy of actual personal contact or generosity such as a call or a visit or a friendly meeting to deal with the issue in question. Instead we have found Muslims being hastily judged as innovators and then getting vilified publicly and privately, boycotted, warned against, rumor spread about, wrong suppositions made about inward motivations, the bearing of false witness, and even personal correspondence sent around the world justifying harshness towards them all in the name of protecting the "da'wah". We find this regrettable and in some cases reprehensible because it is being put forth as the way of salaf and moreover the Sunnah of our noble and generous Prophet (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa salaam).

Many relationships have been damaged and suspicion sewn due to the harsh approach. We therefore find it prudent to present evidences from the Qur'aan and the authentic hadeeth first that clearly establish that the starting point when dealing with Muslims, even if astray or in error, is gentleness and kindness to what some may consider a fault. This, as opposed to rapidly seeking to find fault in or condemning other Muslims whom Allah may have already forgiven or who seek His forgiveness.

Also keep in mind that the error, sin or deviation in question is often only in the perception of others when it may not in fact be the absolute case according to shariah. More dangerous is that the drive to lambaste or condemn often stems from what amounts to a difference of opinion on a given matter where there is indeed room to differ. When a position is taken that is not in agreement with that of one's preferred scholar or student of knowledge, then it is assumed that some deviation or ill-motive is afoot! Undoubtedly when expressing opinions one must take care to stay as closely to the principles and tenets of Islam and utilize solid evidence. Great scholars have differed and still do on many matters of the religion yet they do not always raise those differences to the level of loyalty and disassociation nor make them a cause of enmity and disrespect as we do!

The Heart of The Matter

A sad but true reality is that innovation (bid'ah) is spread far and wide. It is an evil of major proportions that has caused confusion about fundamental matters such as principles of faith and action among the Muslims. Many brothers and sisters who understand this danger and have taken the time to learn from the Qur'aan and the Sunnah and the statements of the scholars of the Sunnah deeply feel and understand the need to correct and reform the Muslims and to guide them. Many of these adherents of the sunnah see the disastrous effects of bida'h upon the ummah, sometime within their own families, not to mention in the Ummah at-large and it is a source of pain and frustration when due to the poison of bidah they face staunch opposition and rejection when calling to the truth sometimes for the simplest of matters.

It is the people of bidah who in reality mete out the most harshness toward the people of the sunnah with their charges of extremism against them. Many Muslims who are merely trying to implement the sunnah in all aspects of their lives are castigated and stereotyped by those who outnumber them.

If a sister who wears proper hijaab so much as opens her mouth to encourage her sisters to fear Allah and wear the hijaab according to the conditions laid out by the scholars of Islam, bringing evidence of those conditions from the Qur'aan and the Sunnah, and doing so in the nicest non-condemning way, she is still liable to be backbitten and called a fanatic! The same when a brother who does not shave his beard and who wears clothing that clearly identifies him as a Muslim bothers to point out any matter to those that feel threatened by that, they will quickly label him extreme and harsh no matter how soft, tactful or patient he is when doing so! They may even call him names publicly to turn people away from him. We have even heard of charges of assault made against decent brothers when they did nothing of the kind just because the person being corrected was afraid and trying to deflect from his own errors and misguided speech or actions. Some good and sincere da'ees have faced getting ostracized from certain mosques and even received physical threats!

The focus of this article is not on the deeds of those innocent and sincere brothers and sisters who uphold the way of the salaf in word and deed yet who nevertheless get attacked and labeled by their detractors. In fact, they mostly understand that they will be labeled and face hardships in calling to the correct path. It is the fate of the da'ee who is following the path of the prophets ('alaihimus salaam), most notably that of the Final Messenger Muhammad (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) and his Companions (radiallahu 'anhum) who faced much opposition and false accusations. Rather, the main focus of this treatise is to point to those true and actual occurrences that hinder the path to guidance for some that in fact are due to the manners of those who strive to adhere to the proper way but who miss the mark in their approach and as a result cause damage. Inadvertently perhaps, but damage nonetheless. This is written with love for those believers who want to follow the right path butnot to make excuses for the deviations and misguidance of those followers of desires who merely seek to protect their positions and parties no matter what the evidence is against them.

Some Examples

1a) A young Muslim woman lives in a Muslim country where many women wear Islamic hijaab yet she openly flaunts her beauty by taking off hijaab and even accentuating that beauty with perfume and make-up because she enjoys the admiration of others. If told to wear hijaab she just takes the admonition lightly or ignores it altogether making it clear that her desires have precedence over eeman.

1b) Another Muslim woman does the practically the same thing as above but she has been raised in a very un-Islamic environment yet she is diligent in her prayers and fasting nor does she flirt or mix with the opposite sex. On top of it, the few Muslims in her area don't make an issue of hijaab at all and it is common place to see women wearing the flimsiest of scarves or very attractive covering even with jilbaabs or scarves.

1c) A Muslimah who wears full hijaab but who has been through a series of bad marriages and divorces until she is intimately known by many men and it is known that a major contributing factor to those failures is her fierce temper and verbal abuse and vulgar speech and threats to her husband when angered.

A Muslim who wears a suit and tie, shaves his beard and wears his slacks too long but he attends the masjid, gives zakat and treats his family with love and kindness not ever neglecting their rights upon him. He even supports all the efforts of the Muslims with his time and money and sends his wife to women's classes at the masjid but he rarely finds time to sit in the circles of learning. He believes in the Qur'aan and Sunnah but asks for rulings and opinions here and there and is given some incorrect rulings based on weak evidence or opinions and acts upon them.

2b) A Muslim who is also clean shaven and not readily or easily identifiable as a Muslim and who gives nothing to the Muslims nor takes any care with regard to the haraam and the halaal and only attends the masjid for Jumu'ah khutbah and even then gets out as quickly as possible. When he does show up at the masjid he avoids those "bearded ones" like the plague.

2c) A Muslim who who wears a full beard, is careful to make sure his thobe is above his ankles and when he speaks he only speaks of the Qur'aan and the Sunnah and the way of the Salaf yet at home he is brutal to his wife and children when angered and views spending a little extra on them as a sin or leaves his wife to collect assistance from outside sources (even non-Muslims) to support herself and her children.

Distinctions Should Be Made

Should there not be a distinction made between the two ladies [1 a and b] in how they are approached, taught or admonished even though the ruling of hijaab is the same upon both? What do you think will be the likely result when either of those women is exposed to sisters who wear full hijaab and they are both shunned as "brazen hussies" but in the company of those who do not wear proper hijaab (albeit incorrect) they are treated with kindness, support and love? Is it fair that 1c is treated with more tolerance and understanding because she looks the part but it is she whose behavior is perhaps more reprehensible?

In the case of the men, 2a and b may be lambasted as innovators or open sinners and even get approached by an intimidating group of well-meaning, "sticking-to-the-manhaj" brothers aiming to "set them straight". Is it likely that either will be amenable to such an approach or treatment? Yet 2c, because he "walks the walk and talks the talk" among those brothers they overlook what is known to others and always greet him with a smile and bend over backwards to treat him with kindness over and over again before tactfully chastising him for his negligence or cajoling him to do right by his family.

We should all agree as lovers of the truth and adherents to the Sunnah that innovations (bid'ah) are detestable and should be avoided and warned against. When we see or read of innovation it should be detested in our hearts and we should hate to see it manifest in ourselves or other Muslims. Yet we must not let our distaste for this evil, partisanship or any other external factor cloud our judgment and even-handed treatment of others.

Each case above is that of a sinful Muslim, in some cases openly so, and evident innovation is present, yet they are not equal nor should they be treated in the same way nor with a double standard based upon how they look or whom they associate with. Certainly, class, nationality or race should have no place in determining the equality of treatment. They all need to be guided in the best possible manner and with careful consideration. It is not an easy task or a "black and white" one. This is why the Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam) was so outstanding in his ability to assess the situation of different believers and was able to affect their hearts and correct them.

A Cause Of Fitnah (Trial)

Now there is the case of where a sister or brother is neither openly sinful nor exhibiting any bad character and in fact may be known for their good works and is considered an example of diligence and adherence to the Sunnah in the Muslim community. However they may make a statement or hold a position that disagrees with ours or that of a scholar or student of knowledge whom we respect. The hasty to judge then look upon them with suspicion and make statements about them and spread impressions to others that sully their reputations or lessen the respect or regard they had in the eyes of some and turn others away from them. Every association the person has is examined and any fault they may have is exposed. Perhaps their words become open to interpretation thereafter and they are discouraged from participation in the good deeds they had perviously been known for. Allah knows that they may in fact be in error or it could merely be a misinterpretation of their intent. Shaytaan may fuel the fire even more and harsh words are exchanged and battle lines drawn.

No time is taken to sit with the individual in question, speak with them, learn if they take their position based upon their understanding of evidence or the opinion of a scholar or even the interpretation of a hadeeth or the acceptance of a weak narration or opinion. They may be further accused of following some deviant sect or another. The issue may get taken to where an Islamic ruling about the person is sought from those who are very distant from them and the impressions are carried to the mufti by those who themselves are subject to error in their assessment and presentation of the matter which may lead to boycott or further recriminations.

Such is a clear injustice especially if it leads to castigation, and the spread of suspicion regarding them among the Muslims, even if "well-intended". This is simply thulm (wrongdoing) that may stem from anything from over-eagerness and impatience, jealousy or partisanship or insincerity to lack of knowledge and arrogance. No good purpose is actually served (other than perhaps to expose the incorrect approach of making false and unfounded accusations). Instead, what usually happens is that rumors get spread and backbiting becomes the order of the day - and in these days of the Internet the evil is magnified when the matter gets immediately sent around the world! Some zealous individuals may believe it is their duty to even physically confront the individual when they had nothing at all to do with the matter in the first place and all their information is gotten second-hand! When good people are attacked and vilified, it is very discouraging to others and demoralizing to the community!

Ironically it could be that after such treatment is shown to be clearly unjust, it still leads to the residual effect of creating distrust and disdain of those who initiated such actions and any good they attempt is rejected or negated and relationships get tarnished. They may just try to take a low profile so as to give the impression they had nothing to do with the fitnah they instigated and may even start to point fingers at each other!

A Wake Of Destruction

How sad is the resultant build-up of animosity between Muslims and the infusion of partisanship with innocent Muslims being pushed to take sides in disputes and an "You are either with us or against us" attitude develops that poisons relations in the community often over matters most really have no idea about in detail. The above even seems a case of the hunters "shooting themselves in the foot", as they alienate those who would be their allies, and give the impression of companions who turn upon themselves and people who don't know who their friends are.

In these times of confusion with so many parties and ideologies all claiming to be correct, the effect of harsh treatment may be to further distance Muslims from the truth, making them defensive, or more clinging to the parties of misguidance, wallaahul-Musta'aan! In the end the ranks of the Muslims are weakened and dissension and argumentation helps the cause of the deviants and the enemies of Islam.

We are not those who believe the word bid'ah should never be mentioned or pointed out and that we should remain silent about it when it is plain and obvious. This is a "head-in-the-sand" approach that only encourages more innovation. Muslims need badly to be educated about Islam and what is bid'ah and what is not along with what its dangers are and who is an innovator and who is not and whose place it is to make such determinations.

None of the above described scenarios included the person who practices innovation, teaches it, advocates it, and calls to it even after having been repeatedly given clear evidence they understand that clearly refutes their position. Such is the bona fide innovator who is deluded into believing that his whims and desires are determiners of what is or is not Islam. Such a one is dealt with in an altogether different manner which indeed may entail using harshness and even this should be determined by the people of knowledge and not just anyone who thinks that what they have done is sufficient.

Concluding Point

The scope of this article prevents us from addressing how to handle each of the cases above in detail, but the main point we hoped to make is that great thought must be given before treating a Muslim with harshness as to the consequences and justice of such action. The intent should be to guide one's brother or sister in faith for the sake of Allah. We must remember that the foundation of dealing with other Muslims in general is one of employing kindness, having patience and overlooking of faults, while harshness and sternness are the exception and not the rule, wallaahul 'Alam.

What follows is a body of evidence from the Qur'aan and the authentic Sunnah to substantiate the above so that it is clear that there is a genuine basis for it and not merely emotionalism.

May Allah forgive me for any errors and verily He is the Generous Provider of Success and all praise is His.

From The Abridged Tafseer of Ibn Katheer

Aali Imraan 159

And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; also pardon them, and ask forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs...

Among the Qualities of Our Prophet Muhammad are Mercy and Kindness

Allah addresses His Messenger and reminds him and the believer of the favor that He has made his heart and words soft for his Ummah, those who follow his command and refrain from what he prohibits.

And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently...

meaning, who would have made you this kind if it was not Allah mercy for you and them?

Qatadah said that, And by the mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently... means, "with Allah's mercy you became this kind."

Al-Hassan Al-Basri said that this indeed is the description of the behavior that Allah sent Muhammad with. This aayah is similar to Allah's statement, Verily there has come unto you a Messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He is anxious over you (to be rightly guided, to repent to Allah); for the believers he is full of pity, kind, and merciful (9:128)

And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; (5:159)

The severe person is he who utters hash words and "harsh-hearted" is the person who heart is hard. Had this been the Prophet's behavior, "they would have scattered from around you." However Allah gathered them and made you kind and soft with them, so that their hearts congregate around you."

'Abdullah Ibn 'Amr (radiallahu 'anhu) said that he read the description of the Messenger of Allah in previous Books, "He is not severe, harsh, obscene in the marketplace or dealing evil for evil. Rather he forgives and pardons." [Fathul-Bari 8:449]

Verily there has come unto you a Messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He is eager for you; for the believers he is full of pity, kind and merciful. But if they turn away say: "Allah is sufficient for me. There is no God but He, in Him I put my trust and He is the Lord of the Mighty Throne. [At-Tawbah 128 - 129]

This is similar to His other statement: And be kind and humble to the believers who follow you. Then if they disobey you, say: "I am innocent of what you do." And put your Trust in Allah the All-Mighty, the Most Merciful. [26:215 - 217]





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