Saturday, February 12, 2011

Interpreting Others: the Price and the Debt

Bism Illah wa as salaamu alaykum wa Rahmat Allah wa Barakatuh.

When your brother or sister in Islam says or does something and instantly a bad interpretation pops into your mind, think about the price and the debt. 

We can so easily think of negative and ill-willed interpretations of others' words and actions, but where do those interpretations come from? They are, most surely, shaytaan's whispers. The price of thinking the worst is ill feeling, hurt, and a great deal of thought as to why they said or did something bad. It damages your relationship and makes you reconsider its value. It is work to be hurt or upset by someone. It is work to harbour bad feelings in your heart about someone. It is work to have enmity in your life. You also run the risk of misjudging or misreading what they said or did putting the sin of slander on your account.
'Abd Allah said, "Sometimes a victim of robbery will become so suspicious [of everyone around him] that he will become worse than the thief."* (Bukhari)   
*In other words, his suspicions will lead him to doubt everyone until he has destroyed every one of his relationships.
Abu Huraira, r.a., reported that the Prophet of Allah, upon him be peace, said, "Be careful of suspicion, for it is the most mistaken of all speech. Do not spy on others, compete among yourselves, envy one another, or despise one another. Rather, be servants of Allah and brothers!" (Bukhari and others)
However, the price of taking the good interpretation is actively seeking and finding some good and/or benefit in what they said or did. It also means forgoing bad feelings about that person and focusing on all the good you know in them. It isn't hard work and it doesn't cause you pain, ill feeling, or damage the relationship.

The debt you have to the person who said or did that thing is to find a good interpretation. You are not supposed to be looking for faults in them.
It was narrated from ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he said: “Do not think badly of a word uttered by your brother, when you can find a good interpretation for it.”
Although considered  weak hadith, there are a couple of narrations that I always have in my mind.
From the words of Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims..

"If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves [ibid]"

And the words of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq , “If you find see something you don’t like in a brother, try to find 1-70 excuses for him. And if you can’t find an excuse, say ‘There might be an excuse, but I don’t know it.’ “
When you take the bad interpretation, you cannot fulfil your debt to Allah...
'Abd Allah reported that the Prophet of Allah, upon him be peace, said, "A believer is not a fault-finder and is not abusive, obscene, or coarse." (Bukhari)
Why are we commanded to find excuses and take a good interpretation? Because if we take the good and the person intended it as good, then we have strengthened the trust and bonds of brotherhood/sisterhood with them. If the person intended something bad by what they said or did, and we look for the good interpretation, we give them da'wah. Nothing brings inner shame to a person more than knowing themselves that they are not worthy of another person's esteem and positive interpretation of their actions. We give them an example of how beautiful their intentions could be, and how we trust and expect them to be. Nowadays it has a fancy term called empowerment.  This is psychology at its finest. Never forget, Allah created Freud, Bandura, Adler, Jung, Maslow, etc. but He has the most perfect and intimate knowledge of His creation and how to bring them to the good.  

Subhaan Allah wa bi hamdihi, subhaana Rabbi al atheem!


  1. Masha Allah! Nice topic.

  2. assalamu alaikum,
    masha allah, once again a nice post. Once you get over thinking ill of others, you start loving everybody. Life becomes very beautiful and peaceful, of course.