“There is nothing that has gentleness in it except that it is beautified, and there is nothing that has harshness in it except that it makes it ugly. So be calm, O Aishah!”
The above words were spoken by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to his wife, Aishah when a group of people had passed by them, and said to the Prophet: “As-sa’amu alaykum” (death be upon you).
It was a wordplay on As-salamu alaykum (peace be upon you), with the intent of ridiculing the Prophet. Aishah became so angry that she rose up and began yelling at them that death should be upon them, and the curse of God, and so on.
At this, the Prophet turned towards her, and spoke these words, telling her to calm down, and not to lose her composure, even in the face of personal insult. Prophet Muhammad was the pillar of tranquility in an ocean of chaos.
Aishah did this out of a pure, sincere, and unyielding love for the Prophet. Not out of any arrogance or pride. For her it was an anger rooted in love, a desire to protect her Prophet from those who hated him.
Do Most of the Muslims Apply This Teaching in Their Lives?
Unfortunately, however, many Muslims react with harshness when faced with religious differences, especially with other Muslims, not out of love, but out of arrogance.
When Muslims examine themselves today, especially those who are students of religious knowledge or believers striving to better themselves, a tragic observation can often be made; religiosity often turns people into jerks.
Many have witnessed this story: A young man or woman who used to be friendly, well mannered, who treated people well, sadly turns into someone who shows mild annoyance upon meeting people who follow a different religious opinion.
They show anger when presented with arguments against their own point of view. Finally, they begin to pronounce judgment against others, pronouncing minor differences in opinion as proofs of disbelief.
When told to calm down, to stop being judgmental, the response comes in one of many flavors:
“Brother, I am enjoining the good and forbidding the evil!”
“We are defending the Sunnah!”
“When people are harsh against the Sunnah, we will be harsh in defending it!” And so on.
Over what kinds of issues? Not the serious lack of counseling services in the community. Not the difficulty that the Muslim youth are having in protecting their faith from intellectual attack. Not the issues of domestic abuse, poverty, family breakups or homelessness afflicting both non-Muslims and Muslims.
But the length of their pants and whether or not they are above the ankles, the lengths of their beards, etc. Perhaps one’s adherence or lack thereof to a group or organization. What Muslims think about pseudo-philosophical concepts about the essence of God’s attributes.
Such meanness and harshness occurs not over what is physically affecting people, but over a disagreement between opinions. Over varying textual interpretations that result in different legal opinions or creedal points unknown to the majority of the world’s Muslims.
Why does this happen to Muslims when almost nothing is more important in their religion than the subjugation of their egos to the power and oneness of God?
Islam takes Muslims and throws them so they fall totally in love with the Creator. Yet, somehow, some of the Muslims turn it into a way to look down upon the creation.
This happens because somewhere along the line in striving to love God, the ego—the innermost part of one’s soul which continuously wishes to be glorified and exalted over others—made some Muslims religiosity a means of doing just that. The religion exists to crush the ego, and enslave it towards the worship of its Creator.
When a Muslim says Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest), the true meaning of this, when one explores Arabic grammar, is “God is the Greatest above all things”- including one’s loves, hates, desires, weaknesses, dreams, hopes, or very essences. Success in reaching their desires is only through God’s permission, and the power to overcome the weaknesses is only through God’s Mercy.
This phrase is formulated to remind Muslims of Allah’s greatness over themselves and over every element of their lives. It acknowledges the overwhelming power that is Allah the Almighty.
On the ego’s path to enslavement and the realization of recognizing Allah alone as the sole object of adoration and love, one’s ego sought a way out so it would not have to undergo such tribulation and destruction; so that it would not have to give up its position as the one that is praised and feels valued.
That ego essentially hijacks the religiosity of the individual and takes it on a detour. What is that detour? Rather than letting Islam be Islam and allowing the soul to get lost in the wonders of Allah’s power, the limitless nature of His love, the magnanimous breadth of His Mercy, the immeasurable depth of His knowledge, the care and affection that He showers upon His creation- the ego detours the soul into loving itself.
When the soul begins to love itself, it becomes dissatisfied with not only God, but with God’s creation. It sees its own knowledge, opinion, and worldview as superior to all others. In order to maintain its false notion of being humble, it will even fake humility to those on the outside: “I’m nobody, I’m not knowledgeable”—while secretly harboring contempt for all those who follow different opinions or ideas about Islam.
It is easy to recognize this tendency in one’s self. It happens when the religious discourse, religious speech, and religious vocabulary become less about loving God, loving His Messenger, bettering one’s self and more about creedal disagreements, legal fine points, and how one group is bad or another is good.
When religion becomes more about how one person does not practice the way that pleases Muslims (even if we are correct in expressing the opinion of orthodox Islam) than about how to please God, the religion has essentially turned into a tool to make them feel better about themselves.
This does not mean Muslims should turn off legitimate criticism in religious discourse. Enjoining the good and forbidding evil means that they must take an active interest in their communities, and in striving to develop their communities and their religious practices in a way that is healthy, natural, and allows Muslims from all backgrounds to be included and non-Muslims to feel welcome.
Rather, it is time that Muslims should examine their deeper motives and feelings when they criticize and put forth negativity: “Am I criticizing and putting forth negativity because my criticism and the way I am putting it forth will actively help to prevent harm and bring benefit? Or am I criticizing to ridicule, make myself feel better, and make others see me as superior?”
Answering this question correctly and being sincere is the difference between the religious jerk and a servant of God.