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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Concealing the Faults and Weaknesses of Others

abridged from "Freedom of Expression in Islam" by Kamali

Avoiding harm to others and concealing the weakness of one's
fellow human beings is a prominent theme of the moral teachings of the
Quran and the Sunnah. The message here is conveyed in a variety of forms,
context and ideas, all of which are indicative of Islam's emphasis on
the honour and dignity of the individual, and of his or her right to
privacy safe from the encroachment of others.

Thus according to a hadith:

"If a person conceals the weakness of another in this world,
Allah will conceal their weakness in the hereafter" [Al Nawawi, Riyad al
Salihin p 135, Hadith no 245; al Ghazali, Kitab Adab p 344]

A variant version of the same message is reported in another
hadith, which states:

"Whoever protects the honour of his brother, will have Allah
protect his countenance from the fire on the Day of Judgement" [Al Nawawi,
Riyad al Salihin p 488, Hadith no 1530]

In yet another hadith we read:

"Do not harm Muslims, and do not revile them, nor pursue their
imperfections. For verily, whosoever pursues the imperfections of his
brother shall have his own imperfections pursued by Allah" [Sunan of al
Tirmidhi, as quoted in Principles of State and Government in Islam, p 85]

Concealing the faults of, and respecting the privacy of others is
again the theme of the following hadith:

"The Muslim who helps another when the latter's honour and
dignity are under attack, shall be helped by Allah, Glorious and Sublime is
He! - at a time when he would wish for Allah's help. But he who forsakes
a Muslim whose dignity is under attack, shall have Allah forsake him at
a time when he would wish for Allah's help" [Al Ghazali, Ihyaa Ulum al
Din; Kitab Adab al Suhbah p 369]

It was reported that one night when Caliph Umar was patrolling
Medina, he saw a man and a woman committing adultery. The following day
the caliph informed other Companions and asked them whether he should
enforce the prescribed penalty (hadd) for zina (fornication) on the basis
of his own observations. To this Ali replied that the law of Allah
stated clearly that four witnesses were required to prove zina, and that
this provision was to be applied equally to the caliph. Other companions
are also reported to have concurred with Ali's opinion.

While quoting this report, al Ghazali observes that this is
strong evidence that the shariah demands the concealment of sins (satr al
fawahish); it also discourages spying on or reporting the private affairs
of others. [Kitab al Adab p 345-6]

It is noted that concealment (satr) is recommended only with
regard to persons who are not generally known to engage in corrupt and
harmful activities. As for those who are notorious, it is recommended that
their evil is not concealed and that the matter is reported to the
authorities.

Exposing the faults of others by casting aspersions, or spying on
them, is particularly reprehensible. Thus according to a hadith, people
are warned:

"Beware of suspicion. For suspicion is the most untrue form of
speech; and do not spy upon one another and do not revile one another."
[Sahih Muslim, Kitab al birr wal silah, Bab al nahy an al tajasus]

Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal was once asked about the correct meaning of
the following hadith:

"When you hear something form or about your brother, ascribe to
it the best interpretation until you can no longer do so"

To this, he replied:

"Find an excuse for him by saying, 'Maybe he said this, or maybe
he meant such and such'"

It is further reported in another hadith:

"Whoever is offered an apology from a fellow Muslim should accept
it unless he knows that the person apologising is being dishonest"
[Mishkat al Tabrizi, Vol III Hadith no 5052]

Commenting on these hadiths, Tuffah has rightly observed that,
despite the occurrence of the word brother (akh) therein, they are of
general import, and their scope is not confined to Muslims, the reason
being that in Islam justice and benevolence (adl wa ihsan) are not
confined to Muslims alone. The question of the way people treat fellow
citizens in society, their brothers and sisters in humanity, is closely linked
with the Quranic concepts of adl and ihsan, and these do not admit if
any restriction that would compromise their objective application.
[Tuffah, Masadir pp 89-90]

This indeed is the main point of the following Quranic text:

"And let not the hatred of a people harm you into being unjust.
Be just, for it is closet to piety (taqwa)" [Surah 5: verse 8]

Furthermore, Hasan, the son of Ali is reported to have said:

"If a man abuses me in one ear and then apologises to me in the
other, I shall accept his apology" [Al Maqdisi, al Adab, I p 341]

Thus it is evident that silence takes priority over speech when
it comes to exposing the faults and weaknesses of others.

'One should not talk about the defects of others even if one is
asked about them. One must try to avoid prying and asking personal
questions about the private lives of others" [Al Ghazali, Kitab Adab pp
242-43]

For tolerance and forgiveness are necessary in order to encourage
an atmosphere of fraternity in the community.

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