Answered by Usatada Shazia Ahmad
According to the Shafi`i madhhab I would like to know how the principle of Husn Al-Dhann is applied and the term used for having a bad opinion or giving a bad opinion on unproven elements or on a simple imagination. Do these detractors have the right to doubt the intention of a person who clearly expresses the motivation for their action?
`Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Munazil (Allah have mercy upon him), one of the early Muslims, said, “The believer seeks excuses for their brethren, while the hypocrite seeks out the faults of their brethren.” [Sulami, Adab al-Suhba]
It says in the Reliance of the Traveller:
SLANDERING ANOTHER IN ONE’S HEART
r2.14 Entertaining bad thoughts about others (su’ al-zann) is as unlawful as expressing them. Just as it is unlawful to tell another of the failings of a person, so too it is unlawful to speak to oneself of them and think badly of him. Allah Most High says, “Shun much of surmise” (Koran 49:12).
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Beware of suspicions, for they are the most lying of words.” There are many hadiths which say the same, and they refer to an established conviction or judgement in the heart that another is bad. As for passing thoughts and fancies that do not last, when the person having them does not persist in them, scholars concur that they are excusable, since their occurrence is involuntary and there is no way to avoid them.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “For those of my Community, Allah overlooks the thoughts that come to mind as long as they are not uttered or acted upon.” Scholars say this refers to passing thoughts that do not abide, whether of slander, unbelief (kufr), or something else. Whoever entertains a passing notion of unbelief that is a mere fancy whose occurrence is unintentional and immediately dismissed is not an unbeliever and is not to blame. The reason such things are excusable is that there is no way to take precaution against them. One can only avoid continuing therein, which is why persistence in them and the established conviction of them in one’s heart is unlawful. Whenever one has a passing thought of slander, one is obliged to reject it and summon to mind extenuating circumstances which explain away the appearances that seem to imply the bad opinion.
Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali says in the lhya’: “A bad thought about someone that occurs in one’s heart is a notion suggested by the Devil, and one should dismiss it, for the Devil is the most corrupt of the corrupt, and Allah Most High says, “‘If a corrupt person brings you news, verify it, lest you hurt others out of ignorance and then regret what you have done’ (Koran 49:6). It is not permissible to believe Satan, and if the appearance of wrongdoing can possibly be interpreted otherwise, it is not lawful to think badly of another.
The Devil may enter the heart at the slightest impression of others’ mistakes, suggesting that one only noticed it because of one’s superior intelligence and discernment, and that “the believer sees with the light of Allah,” which upon examination often amounts to nothing more than repeating the Devil’s deceit and obscurities. If a reliable witness informs one of something bad about another, one should neither believe it nor disbelieve it, in order to avoid thinking badly of either of them. And whenever one has a bad thought about a Muslim one should increase one’s concern and respect for him, as this will madden the Devil and put him off, and he will not suggest the like of it to one again for fear that one will occupy oneself with prayer for the person.
“If one learns of a Muslim’s mistake by undeniable proof, one should advise him about it in private and not let the Devil delude one into slandering him. And when admonishing him, one should not gloat over his shortcoming and the fact that he is regarding one with respect while one is regarding him with disdain, but one’s intention should rather be to help him disengage from the act of disobedience, over which one is as sad as if one had committed it oneself. One should be happier if he desists from it without being admonished than if he desists because of one’s admonishment.” These are Ghazali’s words.
r2.15 We have mentioned that it is obligatory for a person with a passing ill thought of another to dispell it, this being when no interest recognised by Sacred Law conduces one to reflect upon it, for if there is such an interest, it is permissible to weigh and consider the individual’s deficiency and warn others of it, as when evaluating the reliability of court witnesses or hadith transmitters, and in other cases we will mention below in the section on permissible slander.
[Usatada] Shazia Ahmad
Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqida, fiqh, tajweed, tafsir, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She later moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.