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Among the most important means of building a healthy, faithful community is to keep good opinions of others built upon a sense of mutual respect and love. In a beautiful tradition, Imam Hasan (p) states, “Between truth and falsehood there are four fingers; what you see with your eyes is the truth, and what you hear with your ears is falsehood to a great degree.”1 We know that not every rumor or statement we hear is true. The purpose of this statement is to preserve communal peace—a sense of compassion and understanding. If we are communally in a state of offering others the benefit of the doubt, there is more opportunity to build unity and brotherhood. This concept is often known as goodwill.
What is goodwill in Islam?
Goodwill is to have a friendly or good-hearted attitude towards others. In the Islamic conception, it is to have good opinions of our fellow brothers and sisters. This requires having faith in God’s wisdom and a true desire for the well-being of others. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) states: “Goodwill [or assuming the best] comes from the best of faith and peace in the heart.”2 Goodwill is important because without it, we are infringing on the rights of other believers, one of which is the right to a good reputation. In the same way that we must respect the property, family, and life of a fellow believer, their reputation in the eyes of the community is also their right that we must not tarnish. In fact, ruining the reputation of a fellow believer can have far worse repercussions than that of ruining their property. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) states, “Beware of suspicion for verily suspicion is the worst of all lies.”3
As we learn from this narration, it is vital to always assume the best of others. This, of course, does not mean that people do not sin and transgress. However, what it does indicate is that peace and unity among a community takes priority over holding others accountable for their sins. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) states, “Find an excuse for your brother [in faith], and if you do not find one, make one for him.”4 We should give others the benefit of the doubt, because we are in no position to judge anyone.
One of the foundations of the religion of Islam is the belief in divine justice. If someone must be accountable for their sins, we must believe that God will take care of it. We are in no place to hold anyone accountable for their sins. We should stay focused on staying away from sins ourselves. Furthermore, a person may regret their wrongdoings and may have repented, in which case there is no reason to hold them accountable because God may have accepted their repentance and wiped their slate clean. Finally, the person may not have even committed the wrong-doing people are accusing them of. Therefore, we are in no place to judge anyone and speak ill of them no matter what the situation.
Of course, for sins committed publicly or witnessed by multiple people, different standards apply, but this, once again, is to preserve communal peace and prevent corruption in the public sphere. Public wrong-doing calls into play the concept of enjoining good and forbidding evil. Anything that happens in private, however, is not anyone’s business. Our job is to assume the best in others and preserve peace and unity between each other.
Bits of Advice
1. Do not believe everything you hear: If we hear rumors about our fellow brothers and sisters, it is important not to act based on conjecture. God says in the Holy Quran, “Believers, stay away from conjecture; acting upon some conjecture may lead to sin.”5 Even if a rumor is about a potential danger or risk, we should not act on such statements without first verifying things for ourselves and doing so in a manner that does not create suspicions about others.
2. Speak good of others and stay away from backbiting: Often, rumors start the backbiting of others. If we hear others backbiting in our presence, we should try to stop them, or if we are unable to do so, we should remove ourselves from the situation. God states, “Do not spy on one another or back-bite. Would any of you like to eat the disgusting dead flesh of your brother?”6 Much havoc is wreaked on lives when things that are untrue or private are spread in a community. To stop this corruption, we should not engage in speaking badly about others. Click here to read more about how staying away from backbiting can increase one’s sustenance.
3. Practice assuming the best intentions in others: Imam Ali (p) is reported to have said, “Assume the best [probable explanation] for your brother’s [obscure] matter.”7 We should assume the best about other people and be aware of how easily facts become twisted. In the end, we know that preserving Islamic goodwill is not only beneficial for others but for our own souls.
1. Mizan al-hikmah, vol. 1, p. 269.
2. Misbah al-sharia, 173.
3. Wasail al-Shia, vol., 27, p. 59.
4. Al-khisal, 622.
5. The Holy Quran 49:12, Muhammad Sarwar translation.
6. The Holy Quran 49:12.
7. Al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 362.
1. روي عن الإمام الحسن المجتبى (ع) أنه سئل عن الفرق بين الحق والباطل فقال “أربع أصابع، فما رأيته بعينك فهو الحق، وقد تسمع بأذنيك باطلا كثيرا”
2. روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): “حسن الظن أصله من حسن ايمان المرء وسلامة صدره”
3. روي عن النبي (ص): “إياكم والظن فان الظن أكذب الكذب”
4. روي عن النبي (ص): “اطلب لأخيك عذرا، فإن لم تجد له عذرا فالتمس له عذرا”
5. قال تعالى: ((يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ))
6. قال تعالى: ((وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ))
7. ورد عن الإمام أمير المؤمنين (ع): “ضع أمر أخيك على أحسنه”