Why we are tempted towards deriding other people (DW# 913)

We are exploring verse 11 of Sura Hujarat which says: O you who believe! Let not one people deride another; it may be that they are better than they. Nor let women deride other women; it may be that they are better than they. [Holy Quran 49:11]
Let us give some background to the revelation of this verse. There were some righteous companions of the Holy Prophet (saw) who were beloved by him and therefore incurred the jealousy of others. This verse was revealed when some of the closest companions of the Holy Prophet (saw) were mocked and made fun of. Ammar, Bilal, Suhayl, Salman and Habib were used to be ridiculed by the people of Bani Tamim for their not having sufficient means of livelihood.

The people did not stop at the companions either. One of the wives of the Prophet (saw) Safiyah, was laughed at contemptuously and reminded that she was "merely" the daughter of a Jew.

This used to really upset her. When she complained to the Prophet (saw), the Holy Prophet (saw) in a beautiful narration asked Safiyah to say: "Yes, my father was Harun and my uncle was Musa, the messengers of Allah, and my husband the last Prophet of Allah."

Human beings are frequently tempted to judge others who may be different from themselves. We find something different about somebody and automatically assume that the difference signifies that they are below us in some way. (The way people dress, look, keep house, eat and more – any of these can be a target of derision).

Scripture teaches us on the other hand, that to respect differences is to respect the God who made us all so unique. Each one of us is special in the way we think, talk, act, behave . . . Diversity adds to the richness of the world. The All Mighty in His infinite Wisdom chose to add excitement and challenge to our lives by making everyone so different. The purpose of diversity, we are told elsewhere, is to get to know each other (and by extension, learn from each other).

Mocking and making fun of other people is problematic for several reasons:

  • The truth is that while human beings judge and mock each other on the apparent, the obvious and the optics, God looks at their hearts, their conscience and consciousness. When this verse says that "they may be better than you", it refers to what we cannot see and not aware of. We need to mindful of the possibility that the person we are making fun of may be closer and more pleasing to Him than we are. This verse is a strong reminder that we need to refrain from mocking others and remind ourselves that those we are looking down upon may well have a higher status with the All Mighty than we do and that in fact, we are bringing our status down with the All Merciful by mocking His beloved creation.
  • Mocking is one way to show contempt and contempt is a toxin that poisons relationships and erodes intimacy between people. You cannot really be close to anyone or establish a relationship if you are aware that they are looking down on you. Mocking therefore goes against the Islamic principle of establishing harmonious relationships with others.
  • Even if you see something we don’t like in someone, you may be guilty of the same thing, but are less likely to see it in yourself. In fact, psychologists explain that the reason you notice something undesirable in another person is because it is an unacknowledged, unexplored and unaccepted part of yourself. OUCH!
  • By focusing on making fun of another, we are closing the possibility of getting to know them and the positive aspects of their personality. Abraham Lincoln famously said: I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better, reminding us that by getting to know someone better we will learn all the good that they have inside.
  • Mocking others turns the focus away from ourselves and onto other people. When we are tempted to mock others, hoping to make others laugh as well, we might want to ask ourselves why we are feeling the need to do this. Is it because of an inadequacy that we see in ourselves? Do we wish to deflect attention from attending to our own issues? Is it that we don’t feel so good about ourselves and can only soothe that through putting others down? Do we think we can gain popularity and respect from others by putting people down?

All these are hard to address within ourselves but let’s consider that if I am at peace with who I am, I am not likely to waste precious moments of my life by putting others down.

Let us end today’s discussion of this verse with the wise teaching from Imam Zain ul Abedin (as) which taught us to see every person we meet as better than ourselves. If they are younger, they have had less opportunity to displease God. If they are older, they have more good deeds and more opportunity to please Him. If they are the same age, there is much we don’t know about them while we are painfully aware of our own sins and shortcomings.

What a beautiful way to show appreciation and strengthen relationships!

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