The Islamic Etiquette of dealing with people

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Islamic teachings put great emphasis in how we deal with people in our daily lives. The prophet (S.A.W.S.) summed up his message by stating: “I have been sent to perfect the best of manners”. As Muslims, we, therefore, have to be aware of how each one of us deals with people in our circles. Our good dealings not only will ensure that we are not violating other people’s rights but can also make us accepted, loved and appreciated by others. Luqman once said to his son, “O my son: Let your speech be good and your face be smiling; you will be more loved by the people than those who give them provisions.” – (Mentioned in the stories of ibn Kathir.)

Experience shows that life becomes pleasant when we can manage our work and relationships well. Quranic wisdom and the example of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h)’s dealings with people should help us steer our relationships and keep them on the right track. This post highlights certain essential principles of Islam that guide us in this matter.

Not showing pride and arrogance

 

It is so easy to get carried away by whatever we may possess of wealth and the good things of life. It is so easy and common to credit ourselves with our achievements and feel proud of them, and then, as a matter of course, to look down upon others who haven’t been able to make the same effort or reach the status we might have achieved. What makes all this happen is our own ego and the ever opportunistic Satan who knows our vulnerability. And so The One Who cares for our well being the most, Allah the Most Merciful, has warned us against falling into the trap of pride and arrogance.

He Says in the Quran (interpretation of the Arabic meaning):

 

And turn not your face away from men with pride, nor walk in insolence through the earth. Verily, Allah likes not any arrogant boaster. (Surah Luqman:18)

The way to avoid pride and arrogance is to remember Allah as much as we can till it becomes a habit to instantly thank Him for any good that comes our way. Thankfulness to Allah creates humility in us and makes us aware that we’re not entirely responsible for all the good things of life. We wouldn’t have gotten them if He hadn’t willed them for us, nor can we retain them if He decides to take them away from us.

 

Not to mock others

 

We often see people taking pleasure in making fun of others or mocking them. Is it that the ego craves for the satisfaction of proving oneself better than others by looking out for others’ weaknesses and laughing at them? But Allah admonishes us:

 

O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former. Nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former. (Surah Hujrat, 11)

Allah tells us that our knowledge is restricted by our limited perception. Since we’re not aware of any one’s real worth, wouldn’t it be foolish to laugh at those who might actually be better than us? We can curb this tendency by opening our eyes to the fact that when we think that others deserve to be ridiculed, we’re actually fooling ourselves and no one else (though we might find a few thoughtless and insensitive people to give us company in our foolish pastime).

Not addressing people with undesirable titles

 

A general misconception about sense of humor is the so called ‘ability’ to make others laugh. Giving nicknames to others on account of some negative characteristic that is noticed in them or even some disability that they might be suffering from is a crude form of entertainment. Making fun of those who stammer, or are very short or lean, is obviously some form of indecency practiced by callous people, and enjoyed by others who lack sensitivity to human feelings. Allah warns us against such behavior and practices. He says:

 

. . . Nor defame yourselves, nor insult one another by nicknames. Evil is the name of wickedness after faith. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed wrongdoers (Surah Hujrat: 11)

Refraining from ‘tajassus’ (spying)

 

Imam Al-Nawawi (rh) said that scholars have differentiated between ‘tahassus’, which means ‘snooping’ and listening to other people’s conversations, and ‘tajassus’, which means ‘spying’, seeking out other people’s faults and looking for secrets. Both activities are considered evil and have been forbidden. Allah Says:

O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicion is sin. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And have Taqwa of Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful. (Hujrat 49:12)

Is it for want of a better activity to keep ourselves busy, that we enjoy peeping into others’ lives?

Seeking out information about other people’s state of affairs, searching and disclosing their secrets has been strictly forbidden. (Hence, to eavesdrop upon somebody while hiding or pretending to sleep is like spying on others.) Spying done with the intention of exposing the faults or unveiling the secrets of others, is a sin. It also leads to backbiting which is Haram. Allah has closed every door that leads to the evil of backbiting and has made spying Haram.

Abu Huraira (RA) narrated that the Prophet (p.b.u.h) said:“Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!). (Bukhari)

Our relationships should always have only a positive outcome. That’s the only way to seek Allah’s favor when in the company of others. We should say what’s good or refrain from saying anything. We should also have the moral sense and courage to stop others from backbiting for even if we don’t contribute to it, we become guilty of the sin by being silent listeners and participants. The best means of avoiding it is by changing the topic or saying sensibly that we don’t really know the whole truth of the matter so that we shouldn’t be unfair to any one.

Resolving differences with people

According to Abu Hurayrah (RA), the Messenger of Allah (p.b.u.h) said:

The gates of Paradise will be opened on Mondays and on Thursdays, and every servant [of Allah] who associates nothing with Allah will be forgiven, except for the man who has a grudge against his brother. [About them] it will be said: ‘Delay these two until they are reconciled; delay these two until they are reconciled.'” [Muslim (also by Malik and Abu Dawud)]

As long as we nurture any kind of enmity in our heart and prolong any conflict with a Muslim brother, we’re giving evidence of the weakness of our faith. For Faith in Allah is expressed through obedience to Allah. And Allah has said this in the verses of the Quran:

The believers are but a brotherhood. So make reconciliation between your brothers, and have Taqwa of Allah so that you may receive mercy. (Surah Hujrat:10)

So have Taqwa of Allah and settle all matters of difference among you, and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you are believers. (Surah Aanfal:1)

Whatever be our differences in opinions or feelings, we’re expected to set them aside and maintain good relations with each other. Ego ‘nafs’ is never to be allowed to supersede true faith. The whole purpose of our life is to prepare ourselves for the hereafter, and with this long term goal in mind we have to overcome pettiness and trivialities. Our constant struggle is with two real enemies. One is Satan who keeps making the world and worldliness more and more alluring for us. The other is our own ego that inflates our importance in our eyes beyond any sensible measure. It is these that cause conflicts and misunderstandings.

 

Controlling your hands and tongue

 

How do we resolve differences that have unwittingly or even intentionally cropped up? The best way is to control our tongues and hands that might be too eager to express those feelings! Discretion in speech and actions is the hall mark of a sensible person. We need to consciously practice patience; we need to learn to talk to ourselves, to introspect, before we give freedom to our tongue to have its way. Especially when it comes to speaking about others or voicing our opinion about them, we need to be extra careful that we don’t mislead anyone. Speaking thoughtlessly, or on hearsay, amounts to slander about which we have been warned strictly. Allah Says:

And those who abuse believing men and women, when they have not merited it, bear the weight of slander and clear wrongdoing. (Ahzaab33:58)

Giving the benefit of doubt – Attributing positive motives to others’ actions

 

It would help to keep away form slander if we could cultivate the habit of thinking well of others so that even when we hear something negative about them we don’t just get carried away by it but try to see what could have gone wrong. Attributing positive motives to others’ actions helps in understanding them better. Let us also remind ourselves whenever we attempt to judge others, that no one is perfect. We too have our own drawbacks which we wouldn’t like being mentioned or discussed. Hence fairness requires that we do unto others what we expect them to do to us. Moreover, we’ve been assured protection and covering of our faults by Allah the Most Merciful on the Day of Judgment, if we’ve been careful to cover the faults of a Muslim brother / sister here on earth.

 

Expressing gratitude to others

 

Expressing gratitude for favors done and help rendered is not only the basic requirement of social etiquette but has far reaching effects. It strengthens our relationship and adds warmth to it. On the other hand, taking others for granted, however close the relationship might be, causes disappointment and conveys the impression that we don’t know how to value people, that we just know how to use them! Thanks and appreciation expressed sincerely with a smile gives off a bright glow which is felt by the heart.

 

Smiling at others is charity

Allah All Knowing considers smiling at others a charity. We know very well what a smile can convey – absence of ill feeling, acceptance, warmth, and the willingness to share our time or space. Let us not be miserly about brightening our face with a cheerful smile.

 

Visiting the sick

 

Great merit has been attached to the act of visiting the sick. The Prophet (p.b.u.h) showed concern for a (Jewish) woman who’d throw waste on him whenever he passed her house. The day she failed to throw it, he enquired about her and came to know that she was sick. He tended to her through her sickness and when she recovered she instantly accepted Islam, seeing what character it develops in its followers.

Being kind, gentle, caring and concerned

The prophet (p.b.u.h) has given us excellent examples in forgiveness, kindness and tenderness. An old woman who intended to leave Makkah since she did not like the idea of a new religion being preached by a young man named “Muhammad” didn’t realize that he was the one helping her by carrying her belongings and accompanying her till the outskirts of the city. Complaining all the way about a new faith being preached, which required giving up old customs and practices, she finally asked the Prophet his name just before parting. On coming to know that this was the man on account of whom she was about to leave Makkah, she not only retraced her steps and changed her decision of leaving, but also accepted Islam seeing its exemplary representative and a living ideal!

Conclusion

Bad habits picked up over the years in dealing with people can sometimes be difficult to let go and may not even seem that bad. However, we need to strive in changing the undesirable so our families, friends, peers, and others can see the better of us.

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