Saturday, January 7th, 2017, marks the birth anniversary of Imam Hassan ibn Ali, al-Askari (p),…
Imam Hassan al-Askari (p) is reported to have said,
“Whoever criticizes his brother or sister privately, has adorned them and one who criticizes them openly and publicly has degraded them.”1
In society, we see a major issue that is prevalent among all age groups, genders, and ethnicities: finding faults with others and admonishing and rebuking them openly. We see that the eleventh Imam (p) has advised us to first go to the person in private and speak to them about their faults and shortcomings. Unfortunately, we find that many people do not take this precautionary step, rather they choose to publicly defame the other person.
We must remember that in Islam we are part of a brotherhood united by faith in God, belief in His Prophet (pbuh&hp) and the Holy Household (pbut). People who engage in this activity of finding faults have lost sight of the fact that we, as believers, are one family. Would we want someone to publicly expose the shortcomings of our parents or siblings, for example? So, with this in mind, let us be careful not to publicly expose the faults of others, paying special attention to our elders and the youth of the community, because elders should not be disrespected, and the youth should be encouraged.
We must first take the proper steps to approach them in a polite way so as to advise them privately with the hope that they receive guidance and repent for their shortcomings. When reading the Quran, we find that even the tyrant Pharaoh was addressed with kindness and not in a harsh, impolite tone. We see that God instructed Moses (p) and Aaron (p) to address Pharaoh in the following way:
“Both of you must speak with him in a gentle manner so that perhaps he may come to himself or have fear (of God).” (The Holy Quran 20:44)
This shows us the great morality that God has instructed us to embody regarding admonishing even His enemy. So, if this is the case when admonishing the enemy of God, how should we behave when advising our brothers and sisters in religion? God says to the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp):
“Only through the Divine Mercy have you (Muhammad) been able to deal with your followers so gently. If you had been stern and hard-hearted, they would all have deserted you a long time ago. Forgive them and ask God to forgive (their sins).” (The Holy Quran 3:159)
Our beloved eleventh Imam (p) is reported to have said,
“The best of your brothers and sisters is the one who forgets your mischief and remembers and mentions your favor upon them.”2
Here, we see that Imam al-Askari (p) has instructed us to look at the positive things that an individual has done and to forgive them of their shortcomings. Some of us, on the other hand, sometimes have the tendency to do the opposite by magnifying the shortcomings of others while belittling, or even negating, the good they have done. Some take this act of fault-finding lightly and may justify doing so as a good service, but in fact this is not the case. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is reported to have said that this type of behavior of fault-finding will even result in leading one toward disbelief: “The closest to being faithless is when a person takes another as a brother in faith while keeping count of his lapses and mistakes so that one day he may reprimand him (by those lapses and mistakes).”3
We should strive to encourage others by helping one another out, not by putting one another down. If one is stronger in a certain aspect of life and notices that the other person is weak, one should strive to help them overcome that fault through beautiful and kind advice. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) guided others through his sublime morality, and we should do our best to follow in his example.
Imam al-Sajjad (p) gives us a very important lesson about how to interact with people, which if implemented would bring us honor in this world as well as the next. Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) is reported (p) to have said: “The right of your neighbor is that you guard them when they are absent, honor them when they are present, and aid them when they are wronged. You do not pursue anything of theirs that is shameful; if you know of any evil from them, you conceal it. If you know that they will accept your advice, you advise them in that which is between them and you. You do not forsake them in difficulty, you release them from their stumble, you forgive their sin, and you associate with them respectfully.”4
We should seek to guard each other’s honor and not seek out each other’s faults. If we do happen to notice a fault of a fellow believer, then we should conceal it and go to the individual privately to advise and admonish them in a kind and polite way. We should seek to help them overcome this fault and pray for them with the hope that God would forgive them and help them overcome their shortcomings. This is just some of the beautiful advice that we can gain from the lives of the Infallibles (pbut) and may God bless us to be able to implement this advice in our daily lives.
1. Abu Muhammad al-Hassan ibn Ali ibn al-Hussain ibn Shu’ba al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-uqul.
2. Alam-ul-deen fi sifat-il-mumineen
3. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, p. 355.
4. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Risalat-al-huqooq