Defending Our Faith Comes First
  • Tue, 01/01/2002
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I receive many letters complaining that I do not like to defend myself against my detractors or respond to their accusations. They argue that this stance is not always right. The say that sometimes my accusers are confused about things that I say and understand me incorrectly, so if I would only make things clear to them, I could remove their confusion and put an end to a lot of problems.

No doubt, it is an individual's right to defend himself, but it is rarely his duty to do so. Defending oneself is time consuming and diverts the mind. It channels one's efforts away from more pressing issues that affect Islam and the Muslims.

It never extinguishes the fire of the detractors' rage or puts an end to problems. It only makes things worse by adding new fuel to the fire. They will no doubt respond to the defense and try to expose its weaknesses. By defending yourself, you reinforce the idea that there are two conflicting parties. Therefore it is better just to leave one group attacking and avoid conflict, keeping yourself busy with more important tasks. In the end of it all, what is right is right.

There are more than four billion people living on Earth today who do not have a correct understanding of their Lord. Many of them go so far as to deny His existence. Should we not busy ourselves with helping these people to understand?

There are also over one billion Muslims. Ignorance is widespread among them. Heretical innovations are rife. There are Muslims worshipping graves and praying to saints. There are Muslims engaging in wanton sexual behavior and trafficking in usury. Some Muslim lands are subjugated to the wrath and oppression of unbelieving rulers, like the Jews, Christians, and atheists, wherein Muslims suffer at their hands the ugliest forms of abuse. They are being slaughtered and their women are being raped. There are Muslims peoples in this world living a life far removed from Islam, a life steeped in errors and sins.

I am not disparaging of this nation that Allah has selected. The Muslims, with all their sins and shortcomings, are in our hearts and our sentiments, and we recognize their Islamic identity. Even those who have, in their ignorance, fallen into polytheism, we prefer to blame it on their ignorance and at least recognize the Islam that they are still on. Allah's mercy encompasses all things and we pray that we will not be cut off from His mercy on account of our sins. We do not wish that fate on any Muslim.

We hope that we will benefit from our detractors. We can benefit by having our attention drawn to any mistake made by any one of us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Every descendant of Adam is a sinner and the best of sinners are those who are penitent." [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2499) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (4251)]

If our critic is sincere to us, we say: "May Allah have mercy on a person who shows us our faults." If he loathes us, we say a poet once said:

A grace and a blessing are my enemies for me,
So may the Beneficent not distance them from me.

They seek out my errors so I can abstain from them,
And compete with me so I can aspire to excellence.


Some people respond to criticism by obstinately continuing in their mistakes or becoming even more absorbed in them. This is a defect of character and shows a lack of self-confidence. Others try to justify themselves, sidestep, or excuse themselves from what is right, even saying things that are blatantly wrong to protect themselves from the criticism of certain people. This shows not only weakness of character but a lack of integrity.

We also benefit from our detractors in that we become used to hearing criticism. We learn how to take insults and verbal abuse. We learn how to deal with accusations. This is good, because no one can live his whole life without experiencing these things. A person who is accustomed to hearing praise all the time will not be able to handle criticism when it comes, not even the most well-meaning and constructive criticism. Too much praise makes a person think too highly of himself. It fosters in his heart ostentation and pride.

What we want from our brothers throughout the world is for them to refrain from coming to the defense of anything besides their religion. They should not busy themselves with anything other than the truth itself. They should restrain themselves, even if they hear people fabricating lies and hurling accusations and even if they see other people believing them. This is a small thing. The issue of this person or that should not become a cause for disputes and arguments. It is best to refrain from such things.

We also prefer our brothers to engage in fruitful work, learning, teaching, calling to Islam, helping others, and effecting reform. We should affiliate ourselves with the Muslims generally and cooperate in all good works in all areas. We must develop our media capacity, our economy, and our society. We must develop our strengths, our skills, and our creative abilities.

Petty squabbling and trivial accusations should not command the least of our attention. They neither stimulate the mind nor improve the quality of our thinking. They have no constructive purpose whatsoever. They neither foster love between Muslims nor bring about positive reform.

If a Muslim decides to spend his life cursing and criticizing the leaders of unbelief - people as notorious as Pharaoh and his lackeys or as bad as Abû Jahl or Abû Lahab - he should be rebuked for wasting his time, neglecting his duties, and being heedless of the remembrance of Allah. A Muslim might spend his whole life until he dies without ever knowing about those people and attain the highest rank in Paradise. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Do not curse the dead and cause discomfort for the living." [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (1982) and Musnad Ahmad (18210)] In another narration, he said: "…because they have already attained what they have earned." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1393)] A'ishah explained that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said this in reference to Abû Jahl, the "Pharaoh of the Muslim world".

A person who busies himself with the failings of others, who collects their mistakes and errors to use in attacks against them, is a sick person. Fire ultimately consumes itself if it cannot find something else to consume.

A person can do severe injustice to himself by depicting others in a narrow framework of mistakes and errors. Every person is a complex, multidimensional being. Every person has some good qualities that, if cultivated and encouraged, can bring about a lot of good for others. Therefore, reformers must focus on this potential and try to awaken the latent good that exists within everyone. This can be achieved through deserving but moderate praise.

We can see this in the praise that the Prophet (peace be upon him) gave to different individuals, tribes, and regions. He used to take care not to injure the prestige or status that people enjoyed in their communities. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) said on the day he entered Mecca: "Whoever enters the house of Abû Sufyân will be safe." [Sahîh Muslim (1780)]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: "Pride brings about the rejection of truth and the contempt of others." [Sahîh Muslim (91)]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was a modest man who did not try to put himself above everyone else. This is why the he said: "May it be easy upon you, for I am not a king. I am but the son of a woman who ate dried meat." [Sunan Ibn Mâjah (3312)]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) would readily accept the truth, even if it came from a dubious source. He once said to Abû Hurayrah: "That man had spoken the truth to you, though he is an ardent liar. Do you know who you were talking to these three nights, O Abû Hurayrah? It was Satan." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (3275)] On another occasion, the Prophet (peace be upon him) confirmed what a Jewish man said about the punishment of the grave. [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (1372) and Sahîh Muslim (586)]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was made happy by the successes of others. We should not feel that their success is on our account. The scope for success is wide and there are many opportunities.

The most open enemies of Islam are achieving great successes in many ways, often at our expense and at the expense of our faith, but this does not seem to bother us, or at the very least, we do not show our discomfort. But here is where we should be expressing our concern, for here we are confronting pure and unadulterated falsehood. On the other hand, the faults of our brothers that we are so ready to expose and criticize, are at the very worst truth soiled by error.

I feel that the Muslim youth are in dire need of correcting their outlook and their way of thinking. Errors in a person's thought processes lead a person to erroneous conclusions. Therefore, correcting errors of this sort should take priority over correcting mistakes in particular issues. If a factory is set up incorrectly or is poorly integrated, then its production will be stymied and the quality of production uneven. It is imperative to make changes to the factory itself. It would be utter foolishness to divert the company's resources into repairing each unit of production as it comes off the line.

I wish to take the liberty to anticipate a possible objection that some brother's may have to this article, so that I may respond to it now. They might feel that I am rejecting the very idea of defending the honor of one's Muslim brother. This is not the case. That is not what I am trying to say. I am talking about avoiding fights and squabbles that waste time, cause confusion, and inspire within our enemies feelings of malicious joy. I prefer that we avoid such unscrupulous conduct and busy ourselves with what will prove to be of greater profit. There is nothing wrong with a Muslim coming to the defense of his brother's honor.

I have been as brief as I believe possible in discussing this matter and have avoided a lot of detail. I hope, however, that I have made a small contribution to improving our way of thinking, the "factory" of our ideas.