In part one we looked at the principle of aiming for our private actions to surpass in quality to our public ones. This is because often our public image is the best version of ourselves, whilst our default in private is not as good. If our default was to be at the level of our public or better even, our Akhlaq would God-willing be supremely improved.
Part two proposes the principle that when you notice a fault in a person, this should be enough of a lesson for yourself to take note and ensure you do not practise that act yourself. This principle is mentioned in the hadith by Imam Mohammed al-Baqir (a) who stated: “Sufficient is a person’s own defect (in himself) that he tries to pick and look for faults in other people when he himself has those same faults in himself (and does not recognize them.” كَفى بِالْمَرْءِ عَيْـباً أَنْ يُبْصِرَ مِنَ النٌّاسِ مٌا يَعْمى عَنْهُ مِنْ نَفْسِهِ
It is often the case that when a person does a bad act we notice it. It can be anything like how a person reacts to traffic on the road, or whether they keep in touch with their family members, a face they make when asked to do something, or how they eat. All of these may be innocuous acts but they do not go unnoticed by ourselves and in fact may make us wish they did not act like this. However, it is also the case that more often than not we also have the same or similar trait – but just don’t realise it!
The Qur’an tells us not to laugh at others nor fault find:
O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not fault find amongst yourselves” (49:11). يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا يَسْخَرْ قَوْمٌ مِّن قَوْمٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُونُوا خَيْرًا مِّنْهُمْ وَلَا نِسَاءٌ مِّن نِّسَاءٍ عَسَىٰ أَن يَكُنَّ خَيْرًا مِّنْهُنَّ وَلَا تَلْمِزُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ
Expanding on this verse, narrations warn us about keeping company with fault-finders. For example: “I warn you about keeping relations with people who look for faults in others, since surely there is not a single person who will be safe from such people.” إِيٌّاكَ وَ مَعٌاشِرَةَ مُتَتَبِّعِي عُيُوبِ النٌّاسِ! فَإِنَّهُ لَمْ يَسْلَمْ مُصٌاحِبُهُمْ مِنْهِم
This narration warns us that whilst we are targeting our fault finding at another person, the moment we leave that group, we will be targeted by their ridicule and fault-finding just as we were doing earlier.
Although we are commanded not to fault find, it is natural that when a prohibited, insensitive, or inappropriate action is performed we would notice it. This is because Allah (swt) has placed within us a nature that dislikes evil. This innate moral compass is a blessing and divine evidence [Hujjat] for us.
The narrations however emphasise how easy it is to find that we dislike something in others but in fact perform that very same act ourselves! For example:
The person who busies himself looking into the faults of others should start by looking into the faults of his own self (first).” مَنْ بَحَثَ عَنْ عُيُوبِ النٌّاسِ فَلْيَبْدَأْ بِنَفْسِهِ
One of the great scholars was addressing his students telling them, “If you see in me any error I demand that you point it out to me.” He then began to tell a story about how easy it is to dislike in someone an act yet find yourself doing the same. He continued, “One day on pilgrimage I walked toward the door to enter. Yet standing there was a man blocking the crowds entrance causing a nuisance. I was annoyed and in my mind wondered how this person could be so oblivious to the right of others. No sooner had he moved, I found myself doing exactly the same act of standing at the door engaged in my own thoughts but also blocking others from easy entrance and exit! We do not realise how quick we are to do what we dislike in others!”
The scholars of Akhlaq add the following prescriptions to remedy or navigate this sort of heedlessness. When a person see’s an act they dislike, either they truly do perform that act themselves or truly they do not.
i) In the case where they do not, they should first thank Allah (swt) for having purified them that they do not commit that act. This is because guidance success is from Allah (swt) in the first place and so He is the prime cause of one’s goodness. In sincerely thanking Allah (swt) he would keep you protected from this and improve you even further, as He states:
If you are grateful, I will surely increase you further [in favour]”
If one is not humble to this, certainly they will soon fall foul and perform that act themselves.
ii) In the case where they do perform such an act, it is most likely that Allah (swt) has covered that act such that most people will have never seen it performed. Allah (swt) indeed is the concealer of defects. The books of supplication are replete with lines of du’a that should be recited at this moment. For example:
يَا إلهِي فَلَكَ الْحَمْدُ، فَكَم مِنْ عَائِبَةٍ سَتَرْتَهَا عَلَيَّ فَلَم تَفْضَحْنِي
My God, so to Thee belongs praise! How many of my flaws Thou hast covered over without exposing me!
وَكَمْ مِنْ ذنْبِ غَطَّيْتَهُ عَلَيَّ فَلَمْ تَشْهَرْنِي
How many of my sins Thou hast cloaked without making me notorious!
وَكَمْ مِنْ شَائِبَة أَلْمَمْتُ بِهَا فَلَمْ تَهْتِكْ عَنِّي سِتْرَهَا
How many faults I have committed, yet Thou didst not tear away from me their covering.
One may entreat Allah (swt) to remove that practise in themselves for just as you dislike to see it in others, you should dislike it for your own self.
It is normal to notice and dislike a bad trait or reaction in someone else, this is a sign of a healthy consciousness and an awareness of inappropriate behaviours. However, it is just as normal that although we dislike something in others, we may find that same practise in ourselves. This noticing it in others and our own reaction to it should be sufficient as a means of self-improvement.
After noticing it in others and in our own selves, the aware and God-conscious (Muttaqi) person takes himself to account greater than he would take another person to account. He holds himself to a greater responsibility for removing that action before expecting another to stop it. In this way he is more focused on his own development than finding faults with another.
InshaAllah next week we will build on this principle with another Akhlaqi formula.