When it becomes a person’s habit to look for the mistakes of others, he becomes sensitized to them and attracts them to himself like a magnet. This is a tendency found in the school environment, even in kindergarten, and in society as a whole. It stems from an error in aim and intent and a tendency for a person to think he has the right to declare what is correct and what is mistaken and then go overboard in observing and keeping tabs on others, waiting to pounce on any error. This tendency in a person is often compounded by a false perception of the inherent rightness of what he is doing.
Overlooking people’s mistakes is not a sign of stupidity or simple-mindedness. Nor does it mean a tacit approval of their mistakes. Someone who concurs with the mistakes of others is no more a person of discernment than one who actively seeks out their mistakes. A person of discretion is one who knows when to correct and when to overlook.
Striking the proper balance between overlooking mistakes and pointing them out is needed in all interpersonal dealings, even between a husband and wife. In the hadîth, we find a woman describing her husband as follows: “When he enters the home, he is a lynx, but when he departs from the home, he is a lion. He never asks what has taken place.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî
and Sahîh Muslim
Ibn Hajar discusses the meaning of this statement, saying: “It can imply praise in that he is very generous, easy to overlook things that are bad. He does not miss what is spent of his money. When he brings something for the home, he does not enquire about it later on. He does not pay attention to the shortcomings he sees in the home. He is tolerant and overlooks things.” [Fath al-Bârî
Often, people get carried away by their emotions, which dictate to them their words and actions, especially when it comes to matters of faith. Even then, people do not like to be slighted or taken lightly.
When Ibn `Abbâs deemed permissible the exchange of a gold coin for two gold coins, Abû Asyad al-Sâ`idî spoke to him very harshly about it. Ibn `Abbâs then said: “I would never have thought that anyone who knew of my close relationship to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) would say something like that to me.”
No one, except for those spared by Allah’s grace, is safe from having his judgments of others clouded by personal desires.
Sheikh `Abd al-Rahmân al-Mu`allimî mentions a personal experience of his in his book al-Tankîl
The problem of personal desires is generally too vast to comprehend. I have tested myself. Perhaps I might look into an issue claiming that I am free from the influence of vain desires and when a thought comes to me that I am pleased with, I resolve upon it and assert it. Then when another thought comes that puts the first thought in question, I become irritated with that unsettling thought and I come in conflict with myself trying to force an answer to counter it and then ignore any counterarguments.
This conduct on my part was merely because I had became biased towards regarding the first thought that pleased me as being correct. This happened in spite of the fact that nobody else besides me knew about my conclusions on that particular matter. How much more trying would the matter have been for me had I already announced my opinions publicly and then came across that which cast doubt upon my opinions? Worse still, what if I did not come upon the objections myself, but someone else came with them opposing my views?
This shows how subjective our thinking really is. Egoism is a natural human tendency.
Someone might have good intentions and motives behind his hunting for mistakes in others. It may have started as genuine concern and from a real sense that there is a need for goings-on to be supervised. However, this so often gives rise to a sense of authority superiority and superiority over others.
There is a curious story of a person who always used to recite Surâh al-Qâri`ah
whenever he led his colleagues in prayer. They would tell each other that he did so because he had scarcely memorized any other chapter of the Qur’ân. One day, he chanced upon his colleagues entering al-Haram and said to them: “Perhaps the imam will recite that chapter and make a mistake, so I can correct him.”
When we convince ourselves that someone else is in error, either in his beliefs or his approach, or his ideologies, then we go on to verify whether this is the case, we often feel happy when our belief about him is confirmed. This is wrong. We should feel sad to find that he is really in error.
When Dâwûd al-Zâhirî was debating with someone, the other person countered with: “If you say such-and-such, then you have fallen into unbelief, and may Allah be praised!”
Dâwûd al-Zahirî exclaimed: “There is no might or power except with Allah! How can you find joy in the unbelief of your Muslim brother?!”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) describes the state of a person who seeks out the mistakes of others while forgetting his own, though they may be far worse, by saying: “One of you sees the piece of sand in his brother’s eye and forgets about the stick of wood in his own eye.” [Sahîh Ibn Hibbân
– and uthenticated by al-Albânî]
When we attempt to weigh another person’s good and bad traits in the balance, we have a tendency to weigh down one side of the balance with our little finger so as to tip the scales in favor of our already biased opinion of that person.
Long ago, that wisest of jurists, al-Shâfi`î, said: “I never debated with anyone without hoping that Allah would make the truth manifest on his tongue.”
During the time that `Uthmân was Caliph, someone came to him and said: “People have assembled to engage in recreation, carousing, and licentiousness.”
He went to deal with the situation and found that they had already disbanded, so he praised Allah and freed a slave.
We should try to seethe good side of those who are in error, especially when we have an occasion warrants mentioning something about that person. The Prophet (peace be upon him) praised the King of Abyssinia, who was a non-Muslim at that time, by describing him a king in whose realm nobody is oppressed. He said this on the occasion of sending some of his Companions to immigrate to Abyssinia.
A woman who was engaging in Islamic work in one of the Muslim countries once say a woman wearing a proper headscarf and smoking a cigarette. She exclaimed: “Glory be to Allah! A covered woman smoking!”
Might she have rather said: “By Allah’s grace, in spite of the fact that she smokes, she observes proper Islamic dress.”
It is true that a person who has some visible signs of righteousness about him is still liable to be taken to task for his shortcomings like anyone else, if not more so. Nevertheless, we need to train ourselves to be balanced when weighing the merits and demerits of others, lest we give false measure.
Does this mean that we have to swallow everyone else’s mistakes and keep quiet? Not at all. We are supposed to correct mistakes. However, going to overboard in correcting others is itself a mistake that needs to be corrected.
The prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The believer is a mirror of his brother.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî
and Sunan Abî Dâwûd
– and authenticated by al-Albânî]
The mirror is a very eloquent and expressive metaphor here. When you look in the mirror, you see yourself as you really are with no alterations. Likewise, a Muslim sees in his fellow Muslim a good face that is enlightened by the truth just as he sees his negative qualities and deficiencies. This is not how some people have misunderstood the hadîth, thinking that it means we should go around exposing the mistakes and shortcomings of those we meet.