The believers are brothers in faith. So make peace and reconciliation between your brethren. And fear Allah so that you may receive His mercy. O Believers! Let not some men among you laugh at others. It may be that the latter are better than the former. Let not some women laugh at others. It may be that the latter are better than the former. And do not criticize one another, nor call them by offensive nicknames. It is bad to commit sin after professing belief. And those who do not repent are wrongdoers. O Believers! Avoid suspicion as much as possible. For in some cases suspicion is a sin. And do not spy on and backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? You would abhor it. And fear Allah. Allah accepts repentance and is Most Merciful. O mankind! We have created you from a single pair of a male and female. And We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another. The most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted with all things. (Al-Hujurat 49:10-13)
The passage above goes to great lengths in identifying and remedying these human failings.
Mention is made first of the fairly common tendency of laughing at others. Both men and women are equally prone to doing this.
Strikingly enough, the Qur’an addresses both men and women separately, asking them to desist from it. For the men or women so ridiculed may be better than those scoffing at them. What actually accounts for issuing this directive separately to men and women is that Islam does not envisage any intermixing of men and women.
It does not, therefore, admit the possibility that men may mock women and vice versa. For they should not and cannot gain such acquaintance with the opposite sex, as may result in taking them as the butt of ridicule and mockery. Repetition of the directive is also aimed at emphasizing the evil of such a practice.
Laughing at others may take many different forms, as is pointed out thus:
Copying someone’s voice, laughing at his words, face or dress, and making gestures so as to attract attention to others’ weaknesses. The underlying idea behind this act is to express one’s superiority by undermining the prestige of others.
This is regarded as character-assassination in Islam, and is abhorred in the same way as physical attack and persecution.
Since mocking others amounts to attacking their honor and prestige, it is bound to strain social relations. The victim too might even resort to revenge. As a result, the social fabric is damaged, giving rise to many more evils.
Islam therefore, strikes at the root of this common human failing of laughing at someone else’s expense.
Not to Slander
Another habit that deals a severe blow to mutual love and understanding is the tendency to criticize and blame others for offences, both real and imaginary. Needless to add, acrimonious remarks made against others are always counter-productive. The blame game is endless, with each party projecting the other in the worst possible light.
Far from promoting the Islamic value system, this tendency creates fissures and ruptures in community life. Such actions and reactions run counter to the Islamic ideal of Muslim brotherhood. At another place too, the Qur’an condemns the practice of slandering:
Woe to every kind of scandalmonger and backbiter, who piles up wealth and lays it by, thinking that his wealth will make him last forever. By no means! He will surely be thrown into that which breaks to pieces. And what would explain to you that which breaks to pieces? It is the fire of Allah kindled to a blaze. (Al-Humazah 104:1-6)
Using offensive nicknames is a variation of slander. The Qur’an makes a point of prohibiting this as well. For, like mocking and slandering others, it disrupts cordial social relations. The victim may avenge himself or he may harbor ill-feelings against those who show disrespect towards him. In either case, social relations are bound to be affected.
The Qur’an is so particular about maintaining and promoting social harmony that it mentions, one by one, these irritants and urges man to shun them.
For curbing these the Qur’an goes a step further in asking man to be conscious all along of the All-Hearing, All-Seeing Allah and of the terrible consequences of such misdeeds in the Hereafter.
At the close of the verse these misdeeds, which harm fellow human beings, are branded as acts of wickedness. Muslims are reminded that after having professed belief, they should have nothing to do with any wicked act. As for those who refuse to pay any heed to these warnings and persist in such misdeeds, they are dubbed as wicked.
The note of warning is clear and emphatic. Little wonder then that one comes across several reports about the Prophet’s Companions that they made a point of shunning such behavior. `Abdullah ibn Mas`ud is on record as exclaiming: “I dread laughing at even a dog, lest I be turned into a dog.” (Al-Qurtubi)
Verse 12, “O Believers! Avoid suspicion as much as possible. For in some cases suspicion is a sin. And do not spy on and backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? You would abhor it. And fear Allah. Allah accepts repentance and is Most Merciful (Al-Hujurat 49:12), marks the extension of the same moral code.
The focus shifts to those weaknesses which generally creep into a community as a whole and its behavioral pattern. Once again, the objective is to promote good social behavior among members of the community and also towards others who are not part of the faith community.
The directive starts by striking a blow at the root cause of all quarrels and conflicts – suspecting others and ascribing bad motives to all of their actions. If one does not check this tendency, it might make one’s own life miserable.
While one should be on one’s guard regarding one’s interests and not act in a gullible way, one should not take everyone as an enemy. Suspicion breeds hostility which eventually results in severing ties and relationships.
The Qur’an dubs such suspicion as a sin for it prompts one to doubt someone else’s integrity and to interpret an action in the worst possible terms.
Closely related to suspicion is the human weakness of spying on others in order to find out their secrets. Also included under this heading are the following: “Bugging, reading someone’s letters, peeping into someone’s house, investigating someone’s financial, private and family affairs.”
Not only does Islam proclaim the sanctity of human life, property and honor, it also expects every member of the community to uphold the same. Accordingly, it forbids any interest in others’ personal and private lives. The Prophet brought home the above point thus:
“Do not speak ill of fellow Muslims. Do not look for their failings and weaknesses. For one who looks for their weaknesses, his failings are identified by Allah. Such a person is destined to be disgraced.” (Al-Qurtubi)
The Islamic norm that one’s personal life should not be probed unnecessarily is illustrated best by the following incident in the early history of Islam, involving a person of such exalted stature as the Caliph `Umar.
Once on his nightly inspection round the Caliph ‘Umar passed by a house, resounding with song and music. He jumped over the wall and found inside the house a man in a drunken state in the company of a woman who was playing music. Enraged, the Caliph asked the man to explain his misconduct.
However, the man retorted thus: “O Caliph, if I have committed one sin, you stand guilty of three. Allah has forbidden us to spy on someone. Yet you did the same. He has commanded that one should enter a house after securing permission. You have violated this. Moreover, you have invaded my privacy.” The Caliph realized that in his zeal to check evil he had not followed the social norms spelled out in the Qur’an. He, therefore, did not press charges against the person.
However, he instructed the latter to lead his life in accordance with Islamic morals and manners. The latter assured him that he would mend his ways.
The article is an excerpt from Abdur Raheem Kidwai’s The Qur’an: Essential Teachings, published by the Islamic Foundation, 2005/1426 H.