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The Dangers of Judging People Based on Their Status Updates, by Ustadh Salman Younas

Do you find yourself painting a mental picture of someone based on their social media profile? Ustadh Salman Younas has valuable advice on how to keep a good opinion, especially if you disagree with them.

 

My personal rule is not to formulate judgments about people based purely on online interaction/information. This applies especially to those who I do not see eye-to-eye with on particular issues. There are exceptions to this rule but my personal experience demonstrates that perceptions formulated based on web-interactions are often highly deceptive and skewed. I’ll mention two examples here:

A Learned Scholar With Impeccable Character

My first experience was with Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Ninowy: Prior to meeting him, I would read and hear a lot of things concerning him and his views. His connection to X group of scholars, his views on such and such theological matter, or this and that prophetic tradition, and so forth. When I first had a chance to meet and spend a few days with him nearly a decade ago, the person I saw was a learned scholar with impeccable character, attentive and caring to those around him, generous with his time, always smiling, and very positive.

I remember holding the door open for him one day and he kept telling me to enter first. Later, I asked him about the issue of disobeying the commands of elders and scholars when it was done out of adab as Ali (God be well-pleased with him) had done with the Prophet (blessings be upon him). He laughed, held my hand, and simply said, “I am not the Prophet, Salman, and I pray to God that you will be like Ali.”

Graves, Music, and Miracle Stories?

My other experience was with Shaykh Nuh Haa Meem Keller. I always thought Haa Meem was a rather odd middle name. Being a Sufi did not aid my initial perception of Shaykh Nuh either, nor did the hadra, and nor the fact that Sufis were associated with graves, music, miracle stories, and a host of other practices and beliefs that seemed extremely odd at the time. I eventually matured and settled in Amman where I lived for nearly half a decade. To this day, I have never seen anyone more actualized in his spiritual state than Shaykh Nuh, nor anyone more attached to the sunna of the Prophet (blessings be upon him). There was no grave “worship”, no music, no giving your money to the shaykh, no constant miracle stories. All I heard was one message: realize tawhid, worship Him, trust in Him, be people of good and benefit, etc. He is the one who demonstrated to me that the notion of al-insan al-kamil (‘the perfect man’) was in fact a reality and continues to be a reality realized by some.

These are two examples from among many where the portrayal of someone on social media and websites turned out to be utterly deceptive and false. We have a tendency to be quick in formulating judgments about others based on some website setup against that person, or some limited exposure to certain views, or the polemics of certain people and groups.

Small Screen Projects Resentment

Among our own fellow brothers and sisters whom we may discuss and disagree with publicly on the internet, we fall into the error of reading anger, resentment, hatred, and animosity into their comments and stances. This projection on our part is amplified manifold by the small screen that stands between us. I have found that meeting people humanizes them; it brings about a more respectful, civilized, and beneficial relationship. Some of my closest colleagues today are people who are in some ways my polar opposites and who disagree with me on fundamental issues. I was fortunate enough to have actually had the chance to sit with them and discuss things like real people are meant to.

Don’t let the internet damage your relationships with others. Don’t let it allow you to fall into the sin of ill-will towards people, arrogance, hatred for your fellow brothers/sisters, animosity, backbiting, and the like. Recognize the potential of this medium to distort your perception and take the means to make sure that does not happen. When discussing with another, refer to him/her respectfully, thank that person for sharing their thoughts, make a supplication, and do not say things you would not say to someone in person.

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“Signs of the Scholar of the Hereafter” – By Imam al-Ghazzali & Translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Meem Keller

By Imam al-Ghazzali & Translated by Shaykh Nuh Ha Meem Keller in “Sea Without Shore”


[1] He does not seek this world by his religious learning, for at [the] very least a scholar is someone aware of this world’s wretchedness, triviality, sordidness, and ephemerality; and the next world’s magnificence, permanence, blessings, and vastness – and that the two are opposites.

[2] His deeds do not belie his words, and he does not tell anyone to do something without himself being the first to do it.

[3] He is devoted to knowledge beneficial in the next world, that which increases desire for acts of worship, and he shuns branches of religious learning that are of little benefit, or mainly debate and gossip.

[4] He is disinclined to luxury in food and drink, enjoyment of clothes, and embellishment of furnishings and housing, preferring less therein, emulating the early Muslims (Allah have mercy on them), and inclining towards the minimum in everything.

[5] He keeps as far from rulers as possible, never going to visit them as long as there is any way to evade them.

[6] He is reluctant to give formal legal opinion (fatwa), refrains from verdicts about matters unclear, and avoids giving opinions whenever he can.

[7] His main concern is knowledge of the inward and keeping watch over his heart, knowing the path of the next world and traveling it, knowing the path of the next world and traveling it, sincerely hoping to be shown it by combating his ego (mujahada) and spiritual vigilance over himself (muraqaba), since subduing the ego leads to beholding the Divine (mushahada).

[8] He perpetually strives to deepen his inward certitude (yaqin), which is one’s capital in religion.

[9] He is somber, subdued, bowed of head, and spare of words, the awe of the Divine being plain in his manner and dress, movements and rest, speech and silence. No one sees him without being reminded of Allah Most High, his mien bespeaking his works.

[10] He mainly seeks knowledge of spiritual works and what vitiates them, what disturbs the heart, what raises baseless misgivings (waswasa), and what provokes evil, for preventing evil is the basis of religion.

[11] He relies in his branches of learning upon genuine insight and what he knows from the bottom of his heart, not merely upon what he finds by reading treatises and books, or blindly repeating what he has heard another say. For the only one unconditionally followed is he who brought us the Sacred Law (Allah bless him and give him peace), in what he commanded and stated. The prophetic Companions are but followed because their deeds indicate what they heard from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).

[12] He shuns spurious matters in religion newly begun [such as, for Ghazali, purely speculative scholastic theology], even if a scholarly majority adopt them, being undeceived by what was inaugurated after the Companions (Allah be well  pleased with them); but rather dedicating himself to learning how they were, and what they did in their lives.”

(Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din [33], 1, 53-70])

Resources for Seekers:

Love & Balance: Following Our Scholars to Allah
The threat to religious guidance – the importance of Spreading Prophetic Light
Is the hadith: “The scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets” authentic? If so, what does it mean?