Think Well of Others

One’s etiquette in social situations is the key foundation to having strong relationships with others. This article is the third in a series taken from the On Demand Course: Discussion on Sulami’s Adab of Keeping Company.

When keeping good company, give their blameworthy qualities, faults, and mistakes a good interpretation whenever possible. Consider their intention. They may have done the wrong thing, yet had a good intention. 

Perhaps they overstated a matter about you, but the correction itself has a point.“They wanted the good for me.” Recognize their concern. Rather than defending oneself, one thinks of good interpretations for the other. 

Sometimes in online communication, another may come across as being harsh but they are may just be pointing a correction out. This often happens in workplaces. Someone may appreciate your work, but they ask for changes.

Another’s Perspective

You may feel hurt. Perhaps they were not good at expressing their appreciation. See it from their perspective. They are not trying to be critical. 

If someone makes an actual mistake, is there an alternative explanation? If a man leaves the house wearing shorts that appear above their knees, what if they were below their knees, but they got hiked up unwittingly?

There is a hadith that mentions a companion was seated and his thigh got uncovered while seated, and he just covered it up. It is a mistake, but not deliberate. 

You still advise where necessary. Correct where necessary, but give it a good interpretation.

Excuse Your Brethren

It is related from Abdullah ibn Manazil. “The believer actively seeks out excuses for their brethren and the hypocrite seeks out the faults of their brethren.”

A mistake may remain a mistake. How would you deal with a mistake? Make an excuse. If someone always comes late, maybe they have a lot on their hands. It may also be that they struggle with time management. Do not give them a hard time. With that, think about how you can help them (in a good way) with that. 

Hold one another in a good opinion. If you feel someone has let you down, always hold that person in a good position. Make seventy excuses for that person rather than considering another as being arrogant, conceited, or full of pride for example.  

When thoughts come, trace them back. Then consider, who would want you to think that way. Who would want you to have a negative opinion of your brethren? The devil. His goal is to break ties between believers. 

Could a person seemingly letting you down be a call for help? Many people may be hiding depression or mental issues. Try and be there for them. If we can bring others up when they are showing signs of distress, it makes for a stronger building and a stronger society.

Overlook Mistakes

Overlook their mistakes and leave pointing them out without need.  

Allah says:

فَٱصۡفَحِ ٱلصَّفۡحَ ٱلۡجَمِیلَ

“So turn away and pay no mind to what they do with perfect assurance.” [Quran, 15:85; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Overlook beautifully. Overlooking is frequently related to something they did towards you or something annoying that happened to them. Unless there is a clear need to mention it, there is no need to point it out. 

When there is not a significant point of speech and another makes a mistake, let it slide. For example, if one accidentally mentions the wrong year a car model came out, do not rebuke them. 

If someone makes a mistake towards you, do not hold it against them. If someone bumped into you whilst walking, getting upset will not rewind time. If for example, a person keeps bumping into you at work, then it may require correcting. One of the great early Muslims, Al-Fudayl Ibn Iyad, remarked, “Chivalry is to overlook one‘s brethren‘s errors.” 

This is not when the other is sinning. There we command the good and forbid the wrong. If the issue needs advice, give advice. But one should not simply pick on the faults. 

Time and Place

You have to use a certain degree of wisdom when talking to others. There is a time and place. If a friend is wearing an orange shirt to work for example and one remarks that it does not look good on him. Especially to say it in front of others, one could have sinned by doing that because you hurt their feeling. 

If there is something that merits correction, then consider how to correct it. You do not point out mistakes, you beautifully rectify them. That is part of overlooking beautifully. The heart of the matter is constant concern about the hearts of other believers. Always think about would could harm them and avoid it, and would help them. 

Be mindful of the words you speak. Some of the early Muslims said, “Whoever makes themselves forget the faults of their brethren, their love remains.” Consciously or Unconsciously, people do not like to have their faults pointed out. At the same time, if done well, you can draw the people together. It is very beautiful. 

When to Disagree

To agree is agreeing with them in the permissible, disagreeing only in the wrong. Basically: be easygoing. If you are going out with your friends for pizza and they all prefer one topping that you are not a big fan of (but not allergic to) just agree with them. In another case, if you are traveling and would prefer not to take a break your friend would then stop for a break. 

Love for your brother what you love for yourself. Agree in that which is permissible but not in that where there is harm. There is a beautiful way to approach a situation where someone is suggesting something wrong or even where they do wrong. Distinguish between the wrong action and the intention. 

Praise Good Intentions

Recognize that every action has two parts. The action itself and the intention. Having a good opinion of someone when they make a mistake is to assume that they had good intentions, but they acted wrongly. Assume a good intention. Of course, correcting may still be required.

Recognizing the good motives may facilitate being able to correct them (if correcting is needed). Our master Ali reportedly said, “Whoever fails to praise others for their good intentions, will fail to praise them for their good actions.”

Actions arise from intentions. You will not be able to recognize the good in others until you can recognize good intentions.