It was the handcuffs that attracted people’s attention. I do not know what the three of them had done, but being handcuffed to one another in a crowded streetcar was what attracted the gaze of every single passenger.
You could almost feel the condemnation that was focused on these three men. “I wonder what they have done,” one could imagine people thinking. Whatever they had done, the streetcar was packed, and I ended up standing next to the three of them.
“As-salamu `alaykum,” I said. You could feel the weight of condemnation being lifted off their shoulders by those words. Imagine being stared at by everyone, let alone not knowing where you were being taken to or what lay in store for you. We talked about nothing for a minute or two, and then I had to get off at the next stop. “As-salamu `alaykum,” I said again, and the encounter was over.
I was not interested in what the three men had done. Maybe they had robbed a bank or deserted from the army — who knows? Whatever crime they had committed, justice should be done, and they should take responsibility for their deeds. It should end there, shouldn’t it? Being punished for a crime should be the end of having committed one, but as human beings, we often do not let it end there. In the case of these particular three, they were being judged by everyone in the tram without knowledge of a single thing about them. All of them were condemned because of their handcuffs!
We are always told never to judge a book by its cover, aren’t we? Yet, if any of us goes into a bookshop, it is not the dull-looking books that first attract our attention. We dismiss those as uninteresting. It is the glossy books with lots ofphotographs that we go for first. We are exactly the same with people by the way we treat them, whether they have done any wrong or not.
In this life, we have all been given different things to do. Some are kings, and some are paupers. All of us should thank Almighty Allah for what we have, because we are simply stewards in this world of His gifts. How then can we be so cruel to others? How can we speak harsh and unkind words to others because their station in life is, at the moment, less than ours? How can we judge people so heartlessly without knowing anything about them?
We stand next to someone in the mosque for Friday prayers. At the end of the prayers, we give them the time of day or return their greetings in the street. Surely, when our foreheads are touching the ground in prayer, we realize that we are nothing and that what little we have comes by Allah’s grace. Who do we think we are when we can treat other people as less than us? The cemetery is full of important and “indispensable” people. Those who thought they were so important in this world had to journey to the grave with those who had nothing.
What makes us important is the goodness of our deeds. Driving a big, fancy car or having lots of shoes in the wardrobe will not prevent our journey to the grave. Once we are gone, people will not mention how many holidays a year we took or what job we had. They will mention that we were good fathers, husbands, sons, mothers, wives, or daughters. They will say if they can that we were faithful to prayer and that we were kind to the poor.
[O humankind, we have created you male and female and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the greatest of you in piety. Surely Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware](Al-Hujurat 49:13).