We can’t resist a stealthy peek at our own reflection wherever we encounter it – while walking past a shop window or waiting in the lift.
What’s so irresistible about a mirror?
The obvious answer is that, as a disadvantage of having both eyes stuck on the front of our faces, we can’t see ourselves without a mirror. (Imagine having eyes attached to rotatable antennas hanging out of our heads instead.)
But it isn’t only about putting our clothes right or rubbing an ink stain off the nose, though it’s very important to us to have a clean nose.
According to psychologists, viewing ourselves in the mirror with a positive mindset helps us develop our very sense of self. There’s even something called the mirror exposure therapy which psychologists use to set right a negative body image in patients.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look at a very intriguing saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The Hadith About Mirrors
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
The believer is the believer’s mirror. (Abu Dawud)
It’s only three words in Arabic, but look closely and you’ll see glimpses of profound depth behind them.
If you want to be a true believer, you must act as a mirror to other believers around you, showing them the truth about themselves. This is backed by many proofs from the Quran and hadiths, such as Surat al-Asr.
But what does it mean to be a mirror?
What Makes a Good Mirror
Think about it: When selecting a mirror, what qualities do you look for?
1. It’s Clean and Spotless
A dirty mirror will paint dirt on your reflection. In fact, it will assume that it’s you who are dirty.
Likewise, a person whose heart is diseased will assume that it’s the other person who’s tainted.
When we catch ourselves assuming negative things about others based on shallow evidence, it could be a shadow of something negative festering in our own hearts.
For example, suppose a boy you know is walking holding hands with an unknown girl at a mall. You could interpret this event in different ways, but each interpretation would only be a reflection of your own level of morality:
“He must be having an affair.”
“He has probably secretly married.”
“She is probably his sister.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know it’s haram.”
So, to be a good mirror, the first thing we must do is cleanse our hearts regularly.
2. It isn’t Tinted
A true mirror reflects all colors equally. If you look into a mirror and your image is all green, it doesn’t mean you’re an alien (unless you have antennas with eyes hanging out of your head). It only means the mirror has a filter.
It’s not easy to point out someone’s faults. Thoughts like these make us hesitate:
“It might hurt their feelings.”
“They might hate me for it.”
“They might break ties with me.”
“What’s the point? They won’t listen anyway.”
But to a good mirror, none of these things matter. It shows you the stain on your nose even if it’s sure you’ll get mad at it for being so rude.
Conversely, a good mirror never hides the viewer’s beauty.
We often neglect this important aspect of advising others – showing them their own good points.
Satan has different strategies, and he selects from them based on his target. If his target is someone with low self-esteem, his game is to make it even lower. He makes this person blind to his own virtues, making him believe his heart is made of pure evil without a drop of goodness anywhere.
Satan pushes him into the dark pit of depression, and paralyzes him with self-hatred so he can’t help himself get out.
When someone is going through such a debilitating phase, the best thing you can do for them is show them their own beauty.
3. It’s Straight
Have you seen how the back of a spoon makes your nose look so much fatter, like you’re one of the seven dwarfs of Snow White?
A good mirror never magnifies or minimizes any part of the viewer’s reflection.
Every aspect of Islam has its own rank in the priority spectrum, and we must keep that spectrum in mind when advising others. For example, praying the five daily prayers takes precedence over wearing the hijab.
So when advising someone who neither covers nor prays, which aspect should you focus on first? If someone has a habit of backbiting and also doesn’t say bismillah before eating, which should you point out first?
4. It’s Well-lighted
A mirror is really no use if everything is dark. The more light there is, the better, the clearer you can see your reflection.
Allah calls the Quran and other forms of revelation light. (5:44, 7:157, 64:8) Revelation from Allah illuminates the believer’s path to truth. If this light is absent from our own lives, how can we act as mirrors? How can we show the truth to others, when we ourselves don’t know what the truth is?
5. It Doesn’t Record History
When you wipe away an ink stain on your nose, the spot is gone from the mirror too. Imagine if the mirror kept a snapshot of your inked nose and showed it to the next viewer, or if it reminded you two years later, “Remember how inky nosey you were that day?”
When people correct their mistakes and move on, we shouldn’t remind them of their past. How often past mistakes crop up when family members are having a fight? When someone has a grudge against another and can’t find a way to get at them, they often resort to digging things up that were buried long ago.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
If anyone covers up a Muslim (i.e. his sins), Allah will cover him up on the Resurrection Day. (Bukhari and Muslim)
6. It Reflects without Discrimination
It doesn’t matter if the mirror likes the viewer or not, it reflects him anyway. It even reflects someone who is striking at it with a stick, and keeps reflecting him, and the stick, until he shatters it to pieces.
It’s not easy to do good to someone who’s been hurtful to you. It’s also tough to keep advising someone who’s put their fingers in their ears. But if you’re a good mirror, you’ll keep reflecting anyway.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) continued reminding even the most stubborn disbelievers of Quraysh, those who were abusing him and his Companions. Allah told him:
So [Prophet] warn them: your only task is to give warning, you are not there to control them. (88:21-22)
The point is, you never know who is deaf and who isn’t. Someone who appears to reject what you say may ponder over your words when he’s by himself. Or he may remember your words years later and be guided by them.
After all, many of those who’d abused the Prophet and his companions later on accepted Islam and became distinguished companions. You never know.
7. It isn’t Emotional
The mirror shows you the stain on your nose without attaching any emotional value to it. It just gives you the plain facts without dramatizing.
Imagine if the mirror laughs at you while pointing at the stain, or sneers or calls you ‘filthy nosed’ or ‘nosey inky’, or tells you that it just proves how clumsy you are, or asks you, ‘How in the world did you end up having your nose inked?’
When correcting others, how you say something matters as much as what you say. That’s why the prophets were the most eloquent and soft-spoken people.
In fact, they were the best mirrors in the world.
Reference and Further Research:
Mufti Menk, A Believer Is A Mirror.