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A mistake is one that is made by mistake (sic) and a crime is one that is done deliberately.
A mistake must obviously be forgiven. A crime is culpable but can also be forgiven. This is the peculiarity of Islamic Law that even a crime as serious as murder can simply be forgiven by the family of the deceased. Mercy is the driving force behind all forgiveness and that is because we all need it. We all need mercy of our fellow humans and we all need the mercy of Allahﷻ because we all make mistakes. The best of us makes mistakes and the best of us are those who make mistakes and seek forgiveness.
Anas ibn Malikt reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best of sinners are those who repent.” [Sunan Ibn Majah 4251]
Abu Hurairaht reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “By the One in Whose Hand my soul is! If you do not commit sins, Allahﷻ would replace you with a people who would commit sins and seek forgiveness from Allahﷻ; and Allahﷻ will certainly forgive them.” [Muslim].
Allahﷻ applauded those who forgive and advised forgiveness and said:
الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاء وَالضَّرَّاء وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
A’al Imraan 3: 134. Those who spend [chairty] in prosperity and in adversity, who suppress anger, and who pardon people; verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun (people who seek to please Allahﷻby acting with excellence)
Allahﷻmentioned the Bani Israeel and that they had reneged on the covenant with Him and disobeyed Him, yet He advised Rasoolullahﷺto forgive them and overlook their faults. He said:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
Ma’aida 5: 13. ….. But forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds). Verily, Allah loves Al-Muhsinun.
I decided to write this because recently there have been three cases where a scholar made a mistake in a speech and people attacked him, pronounced Takfeer on him and tried their best to destroy his reputation. All this in my view is a sign of our own ignorance and arrogance and a great loss to all of us. Who gains if one of our scholars is defamed and all his work is destroyed because he made one mistake? So, let us see why this happens and what we should do.
I am very fond of horse riding. Many a time while out riding cross-country over rough terrain, I have had my horse stumble. Once so badly that I was thrown off. However, not once did I shoot the horse because he stumbled. On the contrary I remind myself that the most common causes for a horse to stumble are that it is too exhausted (my fault) or that I was holding the reins too loosely (my fault) or that I was pushing the horse too fast over rough ground (my fault). I therefore pick myself off the ground, thank Allahﷻthat I didn’t break anything, check to see if the horse was alright, then mount up and off we go, now both of us wiser for the stumble.
Scholars, religious or not, are human. They are not infallible and I don’t know of a single one that claimed that he or she was. They make mistakes, like, believe it or not, we Jahiloon (I speak for myself) do. That merely proves the first point, that they are human. The difference is that since they dedicate their lives to studying, digesting, experiencing, understanding and then communicating knowledge to us, they and their mistakes are in the public space. Take the case of an Imam who makes a mistake in recitation or forgets the number of Raka’at. Which one of us has not done the same?
When a scholar makes a mistake while he or she is teaching, it is in the public space. They are vulnerable. Not because they are evil Shayateen who got caught in a trap. But because they took the trouble to study and teach us, while we were busy chasing dollars. Nothing wrong with chasing Halaal dollars but what about those who consciously give up that opportunity to do our work for us and to help us to learn our religion, connect us to Allahﷻ and Rasoolullahﷺand help us to be better human beings? I don’t know a single scholar who is so stupid that he doesn’t know that if he simply stopped teaching, he wouldn’t have to face what he is facing today.
Is that what we want? For all our scholars to retreat into a shell and leave us to learn whatever we can on our own? After all, to study the Deen is our personal responsibility and it is not the scholar’s responsibility to teach any particular group of people. As long as he is communicating his or her knowledge to the people; any people; he is fine before Allahﷻ.
What must we do when a scholar makes a mistake?
1. Remind yourself that the scholar is the horse that is carrying you over rough ground in the wilderness and he stumbled. (All scholars, I beg your forgiveness for giving this example).
2. Remind yourself that without the horse you will probably perish while the horse can run off and live happily ever after without having to carry you on his back.
3. Thank Allahﷻthat you are not standing in his place having to face the reactions of the likes of us for having made a mistake (for God’s sake!!)
4. Remind yourself that one day you and I will have to stand before Allahﷻwith a lot worse than whatever mistake the scholar made and will need, not Allahﷻ’s justice, but His Mercy and Forgiveness.
5. Remind yourself that Rasoolullahﷺtold us that Allahﷻwill show mercy to those who show mercy to the inhabitants of the earth.
6. Seek forgiveness for the scholar with Allahﷻ.
7. And defend the scholar against those who seek to attack him because he made a mistake because we know that the good from that scholar far and away outweighs whatever mistake that he may have made.
8. And because we recognize that we need that scholar and all other scholars like him or her.
9. And finally, remind ourselves, that a mistake is made so that Allahﷻmay test our forgiveness. Otherwise it was in the power of Allahﷻto ensure that the scholar who was speaking about His religion, never made a mistake.
10. Therefore, when we don’t forgive and instead attack the person, it is we who have failed the test. A test based on which perhaps, Allahﷻwill decide to deal with us accordingly. I ask Allahﷻfor His Mercy and Forgiveness and protection from His anger.
Rasoolullahﷺ told us: “Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allahﷻ will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter.”
The matter of concealing the faults of others is mentioned in numerous Ahadith of Rasoolullahﷺ, like this one: “O gathering who believe with their tongues but faith has yet to enter into their hearts, do not backbite the Muslims. And do not search into their private matters. Whoever searches for their private matters will have Allahﷻ follow up his private matters. And whose private matters Allahﷻ follows, He will expose him even [if his act were done] in his house.” [Musnad Ahmad and Abu Dawood]
What must a scholar do if he or she makes a mistake?
Sadly, I have seen a lack of maturity and patience on the other side as well. Some scholars forget that they are human and that if they made a mistake that was the natural thing to do. So, instead of simply asking forgiveness, admitting unconditionally that they were wrong and moving on, they insist on finding all kinds of ‘proof’ (Daleel) for their mistakes. They waste time and energy in trying to justify the mistake, claim that it was not a mistake at all and the entire fault of misunderstanding lies with the listeners. Egos come in. Shaytaan has a field day and the vicious cycle begins.
Why does this happen?
1. Imam An-Nawawi advised us and said, ‘Not everything that is known, needs to be communicated. Not everything that is heard needs to be broadcast.’ One of the major reasons why scholars get into trouble is because they say in public what should be said in private to students who are capable of understanding it.
2. In the discussion on the Names and Attributes of Allahﷻ in Kitab ut Tawheed, Chapter 38 in Sahih Bukhari, Ali bin Abi Talibt’s advice is mentioned where he is reported to have said: “Speak to the people in a way that they can understand. Would you like that Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ be denied?”
Ali Ibn Abi Talibt advised teachers and scholars to guide people by speaking to them in a manner suited to their intellects in order that they may understand, and not to say things to them which may be above their level of comprehension which may confuse them, causing them to deny something from the Qur’an or Sunnah resulting in their falling into spiritual conflict and perhaps even committing Kufr (denying Allahﷻ or Rasoolullahﷺ) without being aware of it.
3. By implication, this is good advice to follow with respect to anything that we want to say in public. Speak at LCM; I call it. LCM = Lowest Common Denominator. Speak at a level where a secondary school student can understand you. That is the real mark of the scholar. To be able to simplify complex matters and make them understandable for everyone. Not to speak at such a high level of erudition that nobody understands what you say and many misunderstand it. In any case, trying to show off your knowledge is a serious lapse of Ikhlaas un Niyyah (sincerity of intention).
Remember Sayyidina Omar ibn Al-Khattabt when the woman corrected him in public. He accepted the correction and said openly and clearly, “Omar is wrong and the women is right.”
Okay, enough said. For a quick checklist:
1. Scholar makes mistake. Say, “Wow! He is human, just like me. Boy! Am I glad, I am not in his place! May Allahﷻ forgive him and guide him.”
2. Defend the scholar. Tell people, ‘Hey man! Lay off. It could be you or me in his place, if we’d had his knowledge and concern for us. Don’t punish the man for taking the trouble to work for all our welfare.”
Whoever relieves a believer’s distress of the distressful aspects of this world, Allahﷻ will rescue him from a difficulty of the difficulties of the Hereafter. Whoever alleviates [the situation of] one in dire straits who cannot repay his debt, Allahﷻ will alleviate his lot in both this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allahﷻ will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter. Allahﷻ helps a slave as long as the slave helps his brother. Whoever follows a path in order to seek knowledge thereby, Allahﷻ will make easy for him, due to that, a path to Jannah. No people gather together in a house of the houses of Allahﷻ, reciting the Book of Allahﷻ and studying it among themselves, except that tranquility descends upon them, mercy covers them, the angels surround them and Allahﷻ mentions them to those in His presence. Whoever is slowed by his deeds will not be hastened forward by his lineage.” [Muslim]
I ask Allahﷻ for His mercy.