Sometimes Muslims can be amongst the absolutely harshest of people, especially when it comes to fearing that any part of our faith is potentially being questioned. Even when it comes to correcting other Muslims, our community frequently pushes away people in our zealous and often incredibly harsh efforts to ‘correct’ one another, instead of teaching with kindness and ease.
In another experience I once had, when I was in college, an unknown campus member came into one of our Muslim Students’ Association meetings unannounced.
She was livid, her body language expressing anger, annoyance and mistrust. I was the President of the MSA at the time, and I approached her to welcome her at the end of our session. Most students had already left, but a friend was with me as I introduced myself. The woman started speaking aggressively immediately, and as she pointed to the scarves on me and my friend’s heads, she shouted: “…and with that piece of CRAP on your heads!”
My friend, a passionate and strong woman, immediately took a step up, her hands out, demanding: “What are you calling crap?!”
I stopped her, asked her to step aside and take a breather, and I ignored the woman’s comments. I calmly acknowledged her different perspective and gently invited her to speak with me about her concerns. Because the only information she knew about Muslims was from the media, I welcomed her to continue to attend our meetings so she could get to know real Muslims for herself.
She left still visibly hostile, but she had calmed down a little. I didn’t see or hear from her until the next week, when she entered our meeting. It was as if she was a completely different person. She was calm, she smiled, she even participated.
By the end, she came up to me and she said: “I want to apologize to you for my behavior. It was rude of me to come in before, the way I did, and to call what you wear crap.” I was moved by her change of heart, and she continued: “If you had responded the way your friend did when I said something offensive, I don’t think I would be here. But you showed me that even when I was being disrespectful towards your religion, you could still be respectful towards me. And that taught me a lot about Muslims.”
Imagine if my friend and I had both reacted in the moment, our emotions flaring, our voices raised! What would her impression of Muslims have been, in addition to the stereotypes she already had?
The Quran specifies how we should interact with those who outwardly offend us. Allah states:
(Among) the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk gently on the earth and when addressed by the ignorant ones, their only response is, “Peace be with you.” [Sûrat Al-Furqân, 25:63]
This ease, this gentleness, are marks of people of faith. And that kindness earns us the mercy of Allah. As the Prophet œ taught:
Whoever is kind, Allah will be kind to him; therefore be kind to man on the earth. He Who is in heaven will show mercy on you. (Abû Dâwûd).
He œ also encouraged:
Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished. (Bukhari)
Make things simple and do not complicate them. Calm people and do not drive them away. (Bukhari)
When a person reacts in a certain way to us, let us not immediately make the assumption that it’s due to their perceived thoughts on our religion unless that obviously is the reason. Maybe they’re going through a rough patch in their life. Maybe they’re very shy and have difficulty expressing themselves. Let’s allow people excuses. Let’s be gentle in our interactions. And even when we do feel offended (unless it’s within a legal or business situation and we can pursue it with the management, etc.), let’s remember that sometimes the best response is a kind, calm, and composed response.
As the Prophet œ taught us:
Shall I not tell you whom the (Hell) Fire is forbidden to touch? It is forbidden to touch a man who is always accessible, having a polite and tender nature. (Tirmidhi)
Let us strive to be of those whom the hellfire is forbidden to touch because of our characters.