Remembering the Higher Virtues
In the midst of social strife, one of the hardest acts to practice is remembering the virtues in the aggressor-—the virtues he possesses in spite of his wrong. It is as though we undergo some kind of amnesia. Our hearts and minds are tuned to our pain only, only our hurt, and every good memory with the aggressor, every favor they gave, fades like flowers cast in shadow. That singular act of wrongdoing comes to define them. And that is why we read Qur`ān. In it are stories of messengers and their men who hurt from all forms of aggression, the verbal and the physical, yet they learned to sublimate pain, to affirm their aggressors’ positives, to give credit where credit is due…
My favorite example is that in surat an-Nur.
The surah pivots on a series of events that took place during the slander of ʿĀ`isha [رضى الله عنها]. When the rumors cleared and the slanderers recoiled to their homes and our Prophet’s family returned to their routine, Abu Bakr swore to action: he decided to withhold his charitable donations from Misṭaḥ ibn `Uthāthah, a relative involved in the rumors. “By Allah,” he said, “I will not spend on this man even a penny!” This relative was a young man. A migrant by status, a believer by faith, impoverished by social standards, he was plucked into the prattle and spoke ill when silence would have been better for him. And what he said of ʿĀ`isha would have roused any of us to fury.
Though we all suffer from some minor degree of slander, we cannot grasp ʿĀ`isha’s grief, nor her father’s, when the rumor reached them-—when they learned that their very own kith and kin spew a rumor while shamelessly swallowing their charitable donations. But with an empathic imagination, we can slip into Abu Bakr’s shoes and try to understand. We can understand when hurt inhabited his heart; when it sprawled out as a justified act of redress. He merely removed Misṭaḥ from receiving charity. We understand, because we would have done the same-—or, more accurately, much worse (I am sure we would have done much worse). So our Rabb revealed: “And let not those of virtue among you and wealth swear not to give [aid] to their relatives and the needy and the emigrants for the cause of Allah, and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”
ولا يأتل أولوا الفضل منكم والسعة أن يؤتوا أوْلى القربىٰ والمساكين والمهاجرين في سبيل الله وليعفوا وليصفحوا ألا تحبون أن يغفر الله لكم والله غفور رحيم
Parce this verse with me and see how our Rabb speaks of Misṭaḥ; there are details in the diction that warm the heart. While encouraging Abu Bakr to retract his oath, our Rabb mentions Misṭaḥ not as the slanderer, not as the sinner, not as the mistaken-—though He rightfully could have used any of those terms-—but rather, as a qareeb (a dear kin) and a muhājir (an emigrant sacrificing everything for Allah and His prophet). He (swt) reminds Abu Bakr of the man’s higher virtues, encouraging him not to let a man’s moment of weakness wipe out his lifetime of integrity.
This story breathes meaning into our own relationships. So as we go forth, with friendships and foes, remember that your brother’s story has chapters. Some stained, others polished. It would be an injustice to allow the stained pages to wipe out the polished ones.