It was the last day of classes at school, the last night before Finals Week. Some students decided to dance their stress away to music in a flash mob dance in the library, while many other peers watched with amusement, some of them video recording the semi-impromptu event. The “others” also included a few Muslim male students. On their way back home after the event, everyone was out with the customary postmortem. The dance was not good enough. The one last year was much better. The flash mob at this other school was way better. Among these was one that stood out – the ridicule on what in their view was a fundamental contradiction – a Muslim woman in a Hijab dancing with the group. The woman had been judged. Negatively.1
It is a phenomenon that is apparently universal within Muslim communities (this is indeed a universal phenomenon, but this article is specific to Muslim communities) – the presence of a section of people who spend great energies at finding “faults”. Of others, that is. As they go about their public fault-finding exercises with people, with organizations and institutions – often accompanied by ridicule and condescension – they leave behind a trail of ruined reputations and bruised egos. Backbiting, much?
Muslims, as the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, are like a mirror to one another(Bukharee, AbuDawood), helping each other introspect and helping each other stay on the right track.
For me, this process does not involve a holier than thou attitude. When a fellow Muslim has a fault, It does not call for public debasement of him/her, but rather, involves counseling in private.
Being such a mirror also involves showing each other the good that they have. How often do we find people who are verbose and let their hearts out when finding faults, but at the same time, who are miserly in praise and appreciation?
Fairness would demand that a whole body of work that makes a person be used to judge someone, if a person is being judged at all, and not the few moments of weaknesses, that everyone goes through. I would not be negatively judgmental about a person’s character despite seeing something that might challenge one’s perception of that person’s good nature, by giving them possible excuses and explanations.
The mirrors that some Muslims have for each other though, only reflect the bad. The apparent bad. Magnified.
While publicly reflecting the “bad” in others, many do not have the honesty to recognize the presence of skeletons in their own cupboards. An American author, William Wharton was known to have said “What we all tend to complain about most in other people are those things we don’t like about ourselves.”
Even if there were shortcomings in others, it is in one’s own interests to hide them, and as said earlier, counsel others privately. Muhammad (may peace be upon him) said : “The servant who conceals the faults of others in this world, God would conceal his faults on the Day of Judgement.”
Then there is also the case of double standards in the application of “morality standards” while making reflections of people – with one set of rules for themselves and another set of rules for others.
A corollary would be, as was also seen from the reaction to the presence of a female Muslim in the flash mob dance, all the load of “morality” is placed upon women, and women are blamed for the accusing men’s own temptations and weaknesses, while ignoring those weaknesses. The men from the story never blamed themselves for having stood there watching the dance for fifteen minutes, an Islamically questionable act in itself.
I considered it my obligation to defend someone whose supposed faults were being exposed and laughed about in her absence – we are obliged to defend anyone who people backbite, in their absence.
If you do not understand what went wrong there, most Muslim scholars discourage free mixing between men and women who can marry, when it is for purely socializing purposes. They also consider music from stringed instruments as forbidden, and dancing to it in such a social gathering would thus be forbidden. They also want to avoid any situation that would result in gawking and lustful stares at women, so women and men are supposed to be modest – a woman dancing in front of staring men wasn’t helping here.