Does Islam allow us to judge others?

Judging a person is to have a certain perception about him or her within our minds, which could be beautiful or rather ugly. The fear of being judged or misjudged is often felt in many members of a community and can sometimes end up affecting a person’s actions.

Islam not only addresses how believers are to act towards one another, but even to the extent of how they should secretly think about one another! Truly, the emphasis of Islam is not just on the superficial acts but more so towards the spirituality and deep intention behind the acts.

How Does Islam Expect Believers to Think of One Another?

“O you who have faith! Avoid much suspicion. Indeed some suspicions are sins.” [Surah Hujurat:12]

A suspicion being a negative thought or feeling about a believer is discouraged, in fact even prohibited in this verse. Furthermore, the Holy Prophet (saw) has said,

“Certainly Allah has made sacred the blood, property and respect of a Muslim (from another Muslim) and he must not even entertain bad thoughts (about the other Muslim).”

A believer must feel secure from not only physical harm but also from the bad judgment of another believer – how beautiful and far-reaching is Islam’s scope of guidance for us!

It’s natural to ask: “So if I see a person commit open haraam (sin), how can I possibly not think badly of them?” The answer is simple; we just don’t have the tools to make judgments. There are thousands of parameters that make a person act a certain way, perhaps we could be worse if we were in their shoes. To think or claim that we truly know someone’s deep-down intentions is far from the truth. The conclusion is simple – a believer protects his/her mind from being polluted with pessimistic thoughts about another believer.

The One Who Judges

Perhaps the greater harm of harboring negative thoughts and feelings about another believer is to one’s own self. It tarnishes the soul and according to traditions, is a sign of lack of ‘aql (intellect). On a side-note, it is important to realize here that the ‘aql (reason or intellect) is not synonymous with intelligence and smartness of an individual. One may be the most intelligent and accomplished individual (in the worldly sense) but may or may not possess ‘aql (intellect): a higher merit thoroughly described in the Holy Quran and traditions of the Ahlulbayt. We can seek explanations from our respected scholars on this subject.

In an important and famous tradition, Imam Baqir (as) has said, “For God’s worship there is nothing superior than the reason (‘aql). A believer is not wise until and unless he possesses the following ten characteristics.” The tenth and final characteristic pertains most to this topic,

“The tenth characteristic which is more important than all is that while seeing others he must say: ‘He is much better and more pious than me.’

There are several scenarios that come to mind when reflecting on this tradition. For example, if someone sins openly, how can we consider them to be pious? However, the bottom-line and spirit of this tradition is that humility is the goal when it comes to how we think of one another. Without this type of humility, one cannot reach wisdom and true servitude towards the Creator!

The Fear of Being Judged

Sometimes, when a person tries to perform the obligatory duty of advising against evil or bad actions, people take it to mean that they are being judged. Thereby they get offended and upset. There is a fine line between judging someone and advising them to do the right thing – however they are not the same. We are not allowed to judge, however we are also obliged in Islam to counsel one another! This obligation is not something exclusively assigned to the scholars but is expected to be fulfilled by everyone in the community. It is in fact also one of the rights of a Muslim upon his believing brother or sister (as defined by the Holy Prophet (saw) in his famous tradition of thirty rights of a believer).

We need to make sure we realize the difference between judging versus advising and not deter growth in the society through refraining from counseling and helping one another spiritually. If a person tries to advise a brother or sister to correct a certain fault, provided the right rulings and etiquettes in doing so are abided by, this act should be taken as a blessing and not a sign of being judged.

If we find ourselves sometimes judging others negatively, we can help ourselves to get rid of this habit through focusing more closely on our own deficiencies. With practice and strong will, it will become possible to be one of those who the Imam (as) describes as owners of ‘aql and wisdom!

The ultimate change that we like to see within our Ummah must start right from within each one of us. We have the most excellent examples and ethical role models in the Ahlulbayt (as) and have no other path of reaching ultimate perfection save through them.

by Rabab Jaffery

Resources used:

1) “Self Building” by Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini

2) “The Islamic Moral System: Commentary of Surah al-Hujurat” by Ayatullah Ja’far Subhani

3) “A Divine Perspective on Rights: A commentary on Imam Sajjad’s “The Treatise of Rights”” – Dr. Ali Peiravi

4) Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar’s lecture #8 from Ramadan 2013 series on “Exploring the term aql [intellect] from the Quranic and Traditional perspective”


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