A Scathing Critique
Allah does not create a human isolated from others; He expects them to live with and among others. This means that a human will give and take, love and hate, be happy and angered, be kind and recompense, buy and sell, gift and be gifted, reject and be rejected. All this is intrinsic to human life and nature, and the way it is dealt with makes a person honourable or dishonoured. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“A believer who associates with others and endures the annoyances that comes from them, is better than the one who does not mingle with people and does not endure their harm.”
Every sensible person agrees that it is impossible for all people to accept the ways and dealings of each other wholeheartedly. Nor is it possible for any single person to please and win the hearts of everyone. This is because understandings and styles of expression differ; sources and tastes are not to everyone’s liking; and the means, skills, cultures and lived experiences of people aren’t ever identical, so all these factors contribute to the perceptions people have of others, positive and negative.
As a natural consequence, there are bound to be reasons and circumstances where people need to judge others, and thus there is bound to be criticism directed back and forth. It is inevitable; no matter how much we try and hide behind modern slogans like ‘I don’t judge’, the fact is that we all judge each other in different ways every single day. It’s natural; we just need to do it right.
Islam gives us two principles upon which we should base any criticism or judgement: knowledge and fairness.
The first principle is that a person exhausts every avenue in determining the truth of the matter before coming to any conclusion. This includes resorting to the correct sources in gleaning information, not relying on mere speculation, rumours in circulation, or falling prey to influence or propaganda through social media or click-bait. Allah says:
‘O you who believe! If some transgressor brings you news (that requires taking action), verify it carefully (before you believe and act upon it), lest you harm a people in ignorance and then become regretful for what you have done.’ (49:6)
Fairness and Justice
The second is that in our conclusion, we are governed by justice and fairness, not bias or influence from other factors despite knowing the facts. This could be in the form of personal interests or sentiments, or previous negative or even positive experiences we may have had with the other party. All this can influence our judgement towards error. Allah says:
‘O you who believe! Be steadfast in your devotion to God and bear witness impartially: do not let hatred of others lead you away from justice, but adhere to justice, for that is closer to awareness of God. Be mindful of God: God is well aware of all that you do.’ (5:8)
The message is that we should not allow the hatred we have for a person or group get in the way of upholding justice; we should be fair and just, be it at the expense of or in favour of a friend or enemy. In fact, Allah goes a step further in ayah (5:2) when he implores the believers to be fair even to those people who prevented them from visiting Al-Masjid al-Ḥarām in Makkah. Despite their blatant oppression at the time, Allah commands that they should be treated fairly and that their previous crime should not be retaliated for by not upholding justice in their favour. Allah’s command to uphold justice still needs to be followed for one and all.
Furthermore, it is the right of others on a Muslim that when he/she directs criticism or blame at them, it is free of false blame, exposure, malice, revenge, or that it feeds into cancel culture, irrespective of the nature of the criticism and its legitimacy. That is why boundaries need to be set to filter and shut out the critique of the haters, the jealous and their ilk, as their criticism is founded on enmity and a desire to appease their underlying resentment, not in the interest of justice and fairness. These people would only be satisfied with total dismissal of any goodness on the part of their counterparts, and would rather they apologise for even their good, which they regard as evil. It is difficult to remedy these people; in fact they become isolated and solitary figures susceptible to obscurity, influencing only the simple-minded. If the door to criticism therefore was left wide open, it would be open season for every malicious critic and accuser to do as they please.
Bearing that in mind, we should be conscious that we do not end up like those who always criticise others. Ibn Taymiyah said:
“Some people you will only see critiquing faults; turning a blind eye to the good of groups and people, mentioning only their defects. They are like flies that leave the healthy parts and land only on the open wound. This is due to the evil of their souls and corruption of their nature.”
On the other hand, it is imperative to remember that others are not immune from error, nor from erring even in educated and informed opinions, or from slip-ups. They are humans just like us; they are influenced by the likes of the beautiful and the ugly, the anger and the pleasure, the right and the wrong that also influences us. It is thus necessary to remember the reality that a sporadic mistake or two dissolves in the sea of other things that they have done right, as Allah says:
‘Surely good deeds wipe out evil deeds. That is a reminder for the mindful.’ (11:114)
An analytic look at the nature of the error and its consequent impact and harm, considered in comparison to the general good that hides and dissolves the error, is definitely a means to overlooking and forgiving that mistake. After all, perfection is unique to Allah alone, and only the Prophet ﷺ is ultimately immune, while the rest of us are all prone to err, with those who repent and apologise being the best of those who err.
On a final note, in the [lack of] interest of fairness, it is common to witness people making sweeping statements in their criticism of other people or groups. This is a grave wrong, because in most cases it defies fairness and honesty. The increasing allure of meme culture and social media have sadly normalised this generalisation in criticism. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“When a person says, ‘The people have become corrupt!’ he is the most corrupt of them.”
This is because by sweepingly criticising the whole group of people, he is slandering a large portion of them who in reality were innocent and upright, thereby falling into multitudes of major sin. May Allah protect us from such!
People also try justifying their sweeping criticisms by explaining that they don’t *actually* mean each and every individual, but by that time the arrow has left the bow and inflicted the wound.
We ask Allah to make us from those who are fair and impartial in our judgements. Āmīn