A Modern Culture of Insults

Shaykh Salman al-`Awdah

Some people are disposed to be rude and abrasive. They speak harsh words that show no strength of argument or evidence, but are full of insults and abuse.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Those who habitually curse will not be among the intercessors and witnesses on the Day of Judgment." [Sahîh Muslim]

Likewise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "A believer is neither a habitual curser nor a habitual accuser. He is not vile nor is he obscene." [Sunan al-Tirmidhî]

Anyone who loves the Prophet (peace be upon him) and wishes to be gathered in his company on the Day of Judgment should follow his good example. This means that he should safeguard his tongue from uttering anything other than what is good. The Prophet's advice was that "…whoever believes in Allah and in the Last Day should say something good or remain silent." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

May Allah have mercy on a person who either says something good and earns a reward or keeps quiet and thereby remains safe.

There is nothing wrong with people disagreeing and arguing with each other, especially in these troubled and confusing times. However, the way to handle disagreements is with lucid arguments and temperate speech. A person's mode of discussion should show the purity of his intentions, the strength of his intellect, and the nobility of his character.

It is apparent to everyone that the Muslim world is being stifled by numerous crises. It is like a ship being tossed about in a storm and the people on board are afraid that they will drown. Their voices all mix together. Some voices are merciful and concerned. Some are calm. Others are angry and seething. Then there is that voice that spews forth curses and insults left and right – but that voice always spares itself. But how can this voice possibly curse itself? For is it not the voice of the one who will save everyone, the voice of that trustworthy, concerned and committed individual who will set everything aright? Is it not the voice of the one who will arrange the affairs of everyone else when they give up, turn their backs, succumb to weakness, and sell their religion for worldly gain? Nay… indeed the worst possible person is the one who sees only good in himself and evil in everyone else. Our brothers and sisters are part of ourselves, and we need to esteem them with the same regard that we esteem ourselves.

Allah says: "Why did not the believing men and women, when you heard it, think well of their own people?" [Sûrah al-Nûr: 12]

Allah also says: "Neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoever does not repent, such are evil-doers." [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 11]

The Internet has provided us with a new way to insult and defame each other – the electronic insult. Now people can disseminate their insults and slanders free of charge and without any accountability, and have their names published along with their choice of words. Those who engage in this behavior openly are truly flaunting their own sinfulness, and indeed the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "All of my community are pardoned except those who publicize their sins." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

The Internet also provides the opportunity to be anonymous, to hide behind a false name, and this allows the slanderer to forego all of his inhibitions. Unfortunately, sensible and balanced speech is often not much of an attention-getter. The electronic slanderer, on the other hand, is encouraged by the attention that he gets, both from those who support him and those who criticize him. He might even fool himself enough to think that he is making history!

Another new opportunity to spread insults, slanders, and defamations is provided by the cellular phone, by way of text messages. With the anonymous SMS, the vilest and most offensive statements can be flaunted to the world. Some of those who do so regard their behavior as brave and daring. Indeed, it shows daring – in the same way that the burglar shows daring when he breaks into people's homes. It is the daring of someone going headlong into ruin.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The parable of myself and the people is that of a man who starts up a fire. When the fire illuminates his surroundings, moths and other insects that are attracted to the flame start falling into it. He starts taking them out, but they overwhelm him and plunge into it. Likewise, I am pulling you by your coattails away from the fire, but you are rushing right into it." [Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim]

This abuse of the electronic media is unscrupulous and unprincipled. Those who exhibit such behavior expose themselves as people bereft of values, people who are controlled by their basest passions and by the blindest of anger, and who are motivated by petty spite. Those who think that they are upholding the truth or defending the faith by behaving in such a way are only the more deceived.

This technology has provided a way to insult someone – and make the injured party pay for it. A friend of mine recently received an SMS from someone requesting him to call him urgently. It was an international call. My friend called the number and spent over an hour on the phone listening to the other person insult and abuse him. When my friend told me about it, I laughed and said: "He insults you and you pay the bill for it."

Those of us who wish to keep on the straight path in this culture of insults need to do the following:

1. We can turn away from such behavior and from those who exhibit it. This s precisely what the Qur'ân tells us to do:

"Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; but turn away from those who are ignorant." [Sûrah al-A`râf: 199]

"And when they hear idle talk they turn aside from it and say: We shall have our deeds and you shall have your deeds; peace be on you, we do not desire the ignorant." [Sûrah al-Qasas: 55]

"Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers, and who shun foolish conversation." [Sûrah al-Mu'minûn: 1-3]

One of the Prophet's characteristics was that other people's ignorant behavior only made him behave more gently.

2. We can respond with something better. This means that we can pray to Allah on behalf of the other person and beseech Allah to forgive him. We can say something nice and counter a bad word with one that is good. This approach is also quite often recommended by the Qur'ân:

"Repel evil with that which is better." [Sûrah al-Mu'minûn: 96]

"And speak kindly to the people." [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 83]

"These shall be granted their reward twice, because they are steadfast and they repel evil with good and spend out of what We have given them." [Sûrah al-Qasas: 54]

3. We must keep our composure and stay calm. Life is a long road, and we need rest and tranquility.

Allah says: "He it is who placed tranquility in the hearts of the believers" [Sûrah al-Fath: 4]

And about the Prophet (peace be upon him) Allah says: "And then Allah sent down His tranquility upon him." [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 4]

Allah says to the Prophet (peace be upon him): "Endure patiently (O Muhammad), for your patience is but from Allah. Grieve not on their account, and be not in distress because of that which they devise." [Sûrah al-Nahl: 127]

Live your domestic life in contentment and serenity. Carry out your livelihood – be it commerce, industry, Islamic work, management, or whatever else Allah appoints for you in this world – quietly, serenely, patiently, and with a cheerful countenance. Do not pay any mind to those voices that seek to bring you down.

4. We should not waste time responding to and refuting what they say. Leave that to others. Not everything that we say is necessarily correct, and not everything that others say is wrong. We should spare ourselves the insults and abuses.

Somebody once asked me: "Why don't you write a rebuttal against so-and-so who spoke badly about you in the newspaper?"

I replied: "I have things to do and I choose not to become busy with that. But suppose I were to reply to him. Then he would write a reply to that. Should I then abandon all my productive efforts and devote myself to a battle of words? Or should I stop then and make it seem that my opponent had won?

Then I started thinking about those disputes that raged between individuals thirty or forty years ago – not to mention those that happened centuries ago. What was their ultimate effect? What did they achieve? Would it not be better for me to expend my limited effort in something more enduring and worthwhile?

5. We must never let our animosities and other's disrespect goad us into denying the truth, uttering falsehood, or persisting in an error. We must make self-assessment and self-correction our habits.

Yes, people often criticize the apparent meaning of what you say without appreciating all aspects of it. However, on occasion someone might have an insight into something that you overlooked, an insight that could assist you in achieving a sharper, more balanced understanding of things. In this way, one's opponents are actually of benefit.

6. We should remember that we have committed mountains of sins. We have looked at forbidden sights. We have said things we should not have said. We have been neglectful in our duties. Allah, in His kindness towards us, chooses for us the easier afflictions of this world to expiate for our sins or to elevate our status or to bring us to heights that we could never have reached with our good deeds alone.

Allah decrees for us those whom we deem to be our opponents, but in reality they are our helpers through whom we achieve Allah's blessings. This does not mean that our reward comes at their expense. Allah is most generous. Our opponent might earn Allah's blessings for his honesty – even though he may be wrong - while we are rewarded for our patience. We must not see our own advancement at the other's expense. Instead, we should constantly beseech Allah's forgiveness, for whoever does so will find that Allah will grant him relief from every worry and way out of every difficulty, and He will provide for his needs from whence he could never have imagined. Indeed, Allah is with those who exercise patience.

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