This Ramadan… I will be exceptionally kind to others.
If you were to ask me why I’ve always considered Heba a good friend, I would tell you it’s because of how she’s always made me feel, since the first day I met her. She’s one of those people who’s outgoing by nature: talkative, cheerful, with lots of hilarious stories to tell. Full of life and ideas and ambitions, she has a way of making me feel alive, too. A pleasure to talk to and be around. Plus, she’s always been supportive. If I mention anything I’m working on, or a goal I want to accomplish, she tells me that I can do it; that she’s sure I’ll be great at it. The thing that strikes me most about Heba is her kindness: her warmth, her open affections. We’ve been friends for years, and although we rarely get a chance to talk now, I remember clearly how our friendship began. I had been going through a hard time at school, and one day (when things were particularly hard, and my distress was clearly visible), she decided to reach out to me. She sent me a short email, asking if I was ok. I replied back, something along the lines of yes I am, thank you for asking. She didn’t stop there. We kept emailing, back and forth, until it felt like we’d gotten to know each other, at least a little. I learned to look forward to the sight of her name in my inbox. And our friendship went from simple online communications to in-person interactions. We saw each other daily, even before this point; but shortly after her first email, we became almost inseparable during our free time at school.
Heba reached out to me during a time when I had felt incredibly lonely, but hadn’t learned to acknowledge that loneliness, even to myself. She gave me from her time and her attention, until my loneliness faded away. She took an interest in me as a person: she asked about my dreams and ambitions, and then she encouraged them. She gave me courage and confidence I’d never known before, just by being my friend. But it wasn’t just me. One of my fondest memories of Heba involves another classmate of ours. This classmate spent a lot of time alone. She kept mostly to herself, not speaking much to any of us. As we were all headed towards class on this particular occasion, Heba went up to her and started walking by her side. She affectionately took this classmate by the hand, and asked her how she was. It had been a while since she’d talked to her, and was everything going ok? It’s a scene that would imprint itself in my mind. In that moment, I wished both to be the recipient of such a friendly gesture, as well as to learn how to initiate such kindness.
Later, when I would learn about the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam and his behavior with his companions, this same scene would play across my memory. As we find in Bukhari, one of the companions narrates, We were with the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam when he was holding the hand of Umar ibn al-Khattab. Umar said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, you are dearer to me than everything except my own self!”
The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said: “No, by the One in Whose Hand is my soul, not until I am dearer to you than your own self.” So Umar said to him: “Now, by Allah, you are dearer to me than my own self.” The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said, “Now (you are a true believer), Umar.” While this hadith is often used as proof that our faith is not complete until we love the Messenger of Allah even more than we love ourselves, it’s also proof of the Prophet’s warmth and kindness with those around him, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, the extent of his noble manners. He held the hand of his companion until Umar couldn’t help but announce his love for the Messenger.
In other narrations, we learn that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam would greet a companion by pressing the companion’s hand between his own two hands. When a person came to him, the Messenger would shake his hand, not pulling his blessed hand away until the other person pulled his hand away first, not turning his blessed face away until the other person turned his face away first. The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam knew the situations of those around, and he took time to ask about them. Each of his companions felt like he was his most beloved friend, such was his warmth and attention to people when they were with him, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam. Part of their love for the Messenger, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, was the way he made them feel when he was around them. Allah addresses His Messenger in the Qur’an, saying,
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” [21:107]
And in describing himself, the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said, “The only reason I have been sent is to perfect good manners.” [Albani classified this hadith as sahih in as-Silsilah as-Saheehah]
In a time and month where many of us are striving to increase our worship and nearness to Allah, we shouldn’t forget that other people have rights over us, too. We go to taraweeh, hoping for a spiritual experience and time spent in khushoo’, only to be annoyed by the smell of the person next to us, and the sound of the child who dared to squeak during the third rak’ah, forever destroying our chances of concentrating in salah. We move between prayer and du’aa, reading Qur’an and making dhikr, sometimes pushing aside the needs of parents or children, as if fulfilling their rights isn’t also a part of Islam.
We meet sisters coming to the masjid without proper hijab, we interact with people who lie or gossip or curse, we find friends who openly sin during Ramadan – and we become angry that these people dare to violate the sanctity of the month. And it’s not that getting annoyed isn’t natural. It’s not that it isn’t important to spend time in seclusion and worship of Allah. It’s not that Ramadan doesn’t have a sanctity, and Allah’s religion doesn’t deserve us to feel protective over it – it does. It truly does. But we forget to make excuses for people, we forget the rights of those far away, and even those closest to us, and we forget that our anger rarely changes anything. Ramadan is a ripe time for giving da’wah to others, a ripe time for calling to Allah with wisdom and good words.
It’s a time, not just to be kind to others, but to be exceptionally kind. I can’t say that I’ve ever reached Heba’s level of kindness, and there is no one who even comes close to the compassion and gentleness of the Messenger, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam. But towards encouraging myself and others to perfect our manners during this month, I wanted to share three of my favorite stories illustrating the human capacity for goodness and gentleness:
Reaching Out to Others
The first of these is a famous story from the time of the sahaba radiya Allahu anhum, that illustrates the importance of reaching out to others. It’s narrated that a man named Zahir ibn Hiram was from the bedouins. He was one of the companions, and the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam loved him. Whenever he came to Madina, he would bring small gifts for the Prophet, and the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam would look out for him. Zahir, as the other companions described him, wasn’t very good looking. One day while in Madinah, Zahir was selling some things in the market, and the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam came and embraced him from behind, so Zahir couldn’t see him. One narration tells us that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam even put his hands over Zahir’s eyes, so he couldn’t look back and see. Not recognizing that it was the Messenger, Zahir said, “Let me go! Who is this?” and he struggled to turn around. Once he saw who it was, he relaxed and continued to press his back against the chest of the Prophet. (The scholars explain this as Zahir seeking the blessing of being close to the Prophet, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam.) Then the Prophet started joking with Zahir, asking the people around them, “Who wants to buy this slave from me?” Zahir said, “O Messenger of Allah, you’ll find that I’m not very valuable,” to which the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said, “But with Allah, you’re very valuable.” [Based on narrations in al-Bayhaqi and Musnad Ahmed. The hadith was considered sahih by Ibn Kathir in al-Bidayah wa Nihaya, and by al-Albani in Mukhtasar ash-Shamaa’il.]
Ask yourself: – When was the last time you reached out to someone? Do you keep an eye out for people in need? When you see the sister who comes to masjid iftars, but even at a table full of people, she looks like she’s sitting alone to eat; or the sister who comes occasionally to jumu’ah but never stops to talk because she doesn’t know anyone; or the sister who shows up at an Islamic event, looking out of place and uncomfortable in the scarf loosely draped over her heard – do you go up to these people and say salam? Do you find out who they are, and ask them how they’re doing? – Are you supportive of others? Do you genuinely care about people and their interests, do you look out for their well-being? When you meet a sister who’s insecure about her physical appearance, or who’s extremely shy, do you reach out to her, too? Do you find a way to assure people that nothing else matters, that as long as their status with Allah is high (and that’s what we should all be working on), they have nothing to worry about? And do you find ways to say this without embarrassing the person involved? – Have you ever gone just a little bit farther to let people know they’re loved? Held their hands just a little bit tighter, just a little bit longer? Touched them warmly on the shoulder or the arm? Given them your full attention, turning towards them, smiling? – In your general interactions and demeanor with people, how do you make others feel? Welcomed and supported? Loved and cherished? If not, what can you do in order to make people genuinely feel that way? We know how pleasant it is to be around friendly people, how good it feels to be cared for and asked about. We’re naturally attracted to people with open characters and warm personalities. But why not become the initiators of such beautiful gestures when around others, and why not reach out to people who might otherwise feel isolated and alone?
Dealing with Other’s Faults and Mistakes
The second story is about Abu Hanifah, rahimahu Allah, the great scholar and Imam who established the hanafi madhab. History tells of a beautiful story involving the Imam and one of his neighbors: Abu Hanifah had a neighbor who lived right by him; and had any of us been in Abu Hanifah’s shoes, we would have been annoyed and felt the right to do something about it. Every night, this neighbor would get drunk and sing loudly, and one of the things he would sing was a couplet, praising himself and blaming those around him, “They’ve let me go to waste, and don’t they know what kind of a man they’ve wasted? / I, who would have been useful to them in battle and in siege (i.e. would have made a great warrior).” This neighbor would sing and play instruments and spend his nights this way, while Abu Hanifah stood in prayer all night. But the Imam never said a word.
Then one night, Imam Abu Hanifah realized he hadn’t heard his neighbor’s voice for a few days. So he asked about him, and found out that his neighbor had been arrested for a debt he couldn’t pay. Abu Hanifah went to his neighbor, this man who used to disturb him. He went to the judge and paid off the man’s debts, and they left together, with Abu Hanifah escorting the neighbor to his home. Then Abu Hanifah said to his neighbor, “Have we let you go to waste, my good man?” referring back to the lines of poetry* he’d heard so often. “No,” said the man. “No, you’ve looked after me, may Allah reward you, and you’ve fulfilled the rights of your neighbor.” And without Abu Hanifah ever saying a word about it, his neighbor never went back to his drunken behavior again. Points to consider: – Calling to Allah, and giving advice, and correcting people’s mistakes are all important. But not everyone is on the same level in terms of their journey to Allah, and not everyone responds to the same types of da’wah.
Consider the level of the person you’re talking to, their knowledge and their background. Deal with people in ways you think they’ll respond. And if they don’t respond right away, try something else. The point is for the message to reach people. Getting angry while repeating the same words over and over, raising our voices, becoming increasingly harsh in our tones (easy to do online), doesn’t mean we’re actually delivering the message. We become so fixated on “making our point,” all the while forgetting that the only thing we’re doing is creating hard feelings and resentment. Islam – this beautiful message we’re calling to – deserves that we deliver it in a more beautiful way. – I’m a big fan of direct da’wah, and talking to people honestly and openly.
Sometimes that doesn’t work though, and we have to be patient. Our good manners with people, our kind words and our compassion, are all important precursors to talking to people about Islam – and at times (like in this story of Abu Hanifah), they can even serve in place of talking to people about Islam. – Our compassion for others should never stand in the way of the truth. We take it easy with people, we talk to them on their level, we let them grow slowly. But we never sacrifice the truth. Imam Abu Hanifah spent a long time being patient with his neighbor’s behavior, because of the rights of neighbors, and maybe because he knew that talking to the man directly wouldn’t help. But he also never told his neighbor that what he was doing was ok. He never watered down the truth or made it seem like any aspect of the haram was acceptable. So when Abu Hanifa came to his neighbor’s rescue, the man still had a very clear picture of right and wrong; now, he was just in a better position to follow it. –
There is a book in the Arabic language titled, “Da’wah to Allah is Love” (الدعوة إلى الله حب). I know nothing about the book except its title… but da’wah to Allah is love. Da’wah is to love Allah ta’ala, and to want to call to His religion. Da’wah is to love Islam, and to want to sacrifice for it. Da’wah is to love people, and to want good for them. To give da’wah, we put our pride and our egos aside. We’re patient beyond where we initially thought patience was possible. We call to the path of Allah with compassion and love and gentleness. Allah tabarak wa ta’ala says in the Qur’an to His Messenger,
“And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you.”[3:159]
Repelling the Bad with Good
This last story is brief. It’s a story I heard recently and could not shake. It’s about a brother back in the 90s, in one of the Arab countries, who was collecting donations for a drive going on at the time. He was knocking on people’s doors, asking for monetary help. When he got to one door, he knocked, and a man opened up. And this brother raising funds said to him, “Give something from the wealth of Allah that He’s entrusted you with. We’re collecting donations for the poor of such-and-such a country.” Instead of donating or saying a single word, the man spit in this brother’s face. What did the brother do? He was asking for money for the poor, so he just wiped the spit from his face and said, “This [the spit] is for me, and I’ll take it, I’ll forgive you… But what will you give for Allah?”
And the other man was so moved by his reaction, that he stepped forward and embraced this brother.
Reflections: – Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “And the good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better; then the one whom between you and him is enmity will become as though he was a close and devoted friend.” [41:34] The principle of repelling evil with good is a powerful one, but how far are we willing to take it? Reacting calmly to someone spitting in your face can’t be easy… but are we even able to deal with lesser insults? Are we able to witness someone’s bad behavior, and not only be silent, or pause, or hold ourselves back… but actually respond with something good? – When somebody wrongs us, how willing are we to forgive them? Do we hold onto grudges, or do we ask Allah to clean out our hearts and help us to let go? (The hardest people to forgive, the most difficult situations to get past… sometimes, these are the things we need to let go of the most.) – Imagine doing something sincerely for the sake of Allah. You ask someone for help (or maybe it’s even the very person you’re helping), and this person insults or demeans you. This moment is a test of our sincerity. How will you react? Do you respond sharply? Do you restrain your anger? More importantly, do you continue to do good, sincerely for the sake of Allah? Do you carry on, because the work you’re doing is more valuable, and the message you’re calling to is worth more than your own ego and pride?
There is a line of Arabic poetry** which roughly translates, “Be good to people, and you will capture their hearts. For how often has goodness held humans as captives!” Ramadan is on the verge of leaving us… and even as you put in your last and final attempts to worship Allah ta’ala as much as possible, even as you double your efforts during the last ten days… remember to be good to people.
Be loving and compassionate, and gentle and affectionate with people. Fight your own self and soul to be good to people. The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said, “Allah is Kind and loves kindness; and He rewards for kindness in a way that He does not reward for harshness or for anything else.” [Muslim]
And he said, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, “Kindness does not become a part of anything except that it beautifies it, and harshness does not become a part of anything except that it disfigures it.” [Muslim]