06 December 2009

To Err Is Human

Mistake is something that is as common as flu. This is one thing that escapes no one. Considering that scene, a few questions went through my mind. What should be the right way for a Muslim to respond to this? Should the politician be praised for his honesty or condemned for his mistakes?

It is crucial that Muslims understand the fundamental principle of the fallibility of human to err. Mistake is something that is as common as flu. This is one thing that escapes no one. The Prophet Muhammad(sal allahu alahi wasalam) once said, "Every son of Adam makes mistakes, and the best of those who make mistakes are those who repent". (At-Tirmidhi)

The reality that every human being must face is that mistakes are unavoidable. From the moment we were born till the day we breathe our last breath, we are always at risk of making mistakes. However, although it was acknowledged that all sons of Adam make mistakes, Muslims are obligated to correct and advise one another. God Almighty says in the Quran:

[Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.] (Aal `Imran 3:104) Therefore, even Muslims have their own share of mistakes, correcting and advising one another is something that they are duty-bound.

So, what are the basic principles used by the Prophet Muhammad(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) when correcting the mistakes of others? Allah Almighty says in the Quran: [Invite all to the way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance.] (An-Nahl 16:125)

To Correct, Not to Humiliate
We should avoid 'add salt to the open wound' statements.
Therefore, in Islam, it is clear that mistakes should be corrected on a footing of compassion rather than harshness. The ultimate aim or objective of the 'mistake-corrector' in Islam is to give advice so that the 'mistake-doer' changes, repents, reforms, improves, increases knowledge and gets closer to God; but not to humiliate, to shame, to put down, to embarrass, to dishonor or to disgrace the person who is mistaken.

There was an incident during the Prophet's(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) time that could provide Muslims with some guidance. A man came to the Prophet in distress and crying, one of the Prophet's(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) companions, Abu Hurairah narrates "While we were sitting with the Prophet a man came and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I have been ruined."

The Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) asked what was the matter with him.
He replied: "I had sexual intercourse with my wife while I was fasting."
The Prophet asked him,: "Can you afford to manumit a slave?" ... He replied in the negative. The Prophet asked him,: "Can you fast for two successive months?" ...He replied in the negative. The Prophet asked him, :"Can you afford to feed sixty poor persons?"... He replied in the negative.

The Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) kept silent and while we were in that state, a big basket full of dates was brought to the Prophet. He asked, "Where is the questioner?" He replied, "I am here." The Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wasalam) said to him, "Take this basket of dates and give it in charity." The man said, "Should I give it to a person poorer than I? By God; there is no family between its two mountains (i.e. Madinah) who are poorer than I." The Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) smiled till his pre-molar teeth became visible and then said, "Feed your family with it." (Bukhari)

This was how compassionate, gentle, empathetic and loving Prophet Muhammad(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) was to a person who clearly had regretted his mistake.
-Let us analyze how the Prophet responded to that man.: Was Prophet Muhammad(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) angry or upset? Was he harsh? Was he intimidating? Was there any sign of displeasure shown by him? Was he humiliating the man? Was he hard on that man?

He wasn't all accounts. Instead he was gentle and understanding but firm. He even smiled. With his gentleness, did the Prophet(Sal Allahu alahi wa salam) achieve the very objective of correcting mistakes in Islam? Did the man change his behavior after that? Was his behavior reformed? Did he feel disgraced by admitting the mistake? Did the man learn his lesson well? And more importantly, were the ones observing the situation inclined to repent from their own mistakes after witnessing the fairness and compassionate way the Prophet Muhammad(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) dealt with the man?

From that one hadith above, Muslims have learned from the Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) that if someone came to them full of regret, was very sorry for what he did, apologized and was remorseful, Muslims should also be compassionate towards the person. The Prophet(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) has demonstrated that he simply listened to the grief of the repenting man and did not say anything to aggravate the condition of the man.

Thus, Muslims are taught to restrain themselves from being tempted to give any 'add salt to the open wound' statements, or 'I told you so', or perhaps 'What were you thinking?!' or maybe the 'I never expected this from you' or even the 'I am disappointed in you' tone. Another thing Muslims understand from the hadith above was that the Prophet Muhammad's gentleness did not make him compromise on the accountability that the man has to take responsibility upon his mistake.
The man was still liable for the mistake he had done. And the Prophet Muhammad was firm on that. But what should be learnt was the way the Prophet Muhammad9sal Allahu alahi wa salam) handled the whole affair — with compassion, gentleness, and firmness.

Could we reflect upon ourselves, on our daily conducts of similar incidents? When our loved ones, children, spouse, friends, brothers, sisters, co-workers, relatives or neighbors admitted their mistakes and apologized, how did we react towards them?
When they said they were sorry, did we disgrace them further? Did we frown upon them? Did we shout just to satisfy our anger? Did we remind them of their mistakes every chance we get? Did we use the mistakes they did to our advantage and throw it back at their faces? Did we have our own "..told you so.."?

Or were we calm and understanding when listening to them? And help them overcome their grief as how the Prophet Muhammad(sal Allahu alahi wa salam) had done?

These are some of the questions Muslims should reflect upon!

1 comment:

  1. May I use a couple of your paragraphs you have here? I was writing something about an incident that has taken place and when I read this a few days ago, all I could think about was that. I decided to speak about it in a round about way-I hope I managed to do that at least-and would love to use some of the surahs and hadiths you have here. I would also like to link this blog've written with such carefulness and such grace that I would not want to taint it in any way. I would be willing to share my blog with you beforehand if you would like before you allow me to link? Please let me know either way. It is not bad in my opinion-however it may not have been the way you would have gone about it? I am not sure.??.lol.anyway, just let me know. InshaAllah

    Thank you so much for writing this...InshaAllah it will be of benefit for a lot of people-it has helped me for sure.
    Assalamu Aleikom

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