Question: What is the norm in terms of social interaction among Muslims? To narrow the first question slightly, what are the respective merits of gentleness and harshness in discourse and debate?
Answered by Sidi Yahya Birt
To answer this, I append the following quotation:
[Source: Imam `Abdullah ibn `Alawi al-Haddad, Knowledge and Wisdom, trans.
and introduced by Mostafa al-Badawi (Chicago: Starlatch Press, 2001), pp.
[Imam `Abdullah ibn `Alawi al-Haddad (may Allah cover
him with His mercy), the great Hadrami Shafi`i scholar and saint of the 18th
Know that gentleness is required in all things. It is encouraged and
approved by both Sharia and reason. Things can be achieved through
gentleness that cannot even remotely be done through severity and
force. Gentleness is the attribute of the wise and the compassionate
among those servants of God whom He has selected. God the Exalted
described His Prophet, the master of mankind, may blessings and peace
be upon him, as thus:
It was by the mercy of God that you were lenient with them, for had
you been stern and coarse of heart they would have dispersed from
around you. (Qur'an: 3:159)
Keep to forgiveness, enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant
ones. (Qur'an: 7:199)
And the servants of the All-Merciful are they who walk upon earth
gently, and when the ignorant ones address them, they say, "Peace!"
The Messenger of God, may blessings and peace be on him and his
family, said, "God is gentle and loves gentleness in all things."
And, "Gentleness never enters into anything without embellishing it,
and it is never taken out of anything without disgracing it."
Gentleness is to manage things with subtlety, ease, dignity and
deliberation. `A'isha said that [the Prophet], may blessings and
peace be upon him, was "never given to choose between two things but
that he chose the easier, so long as it was not sinful, but when it
was sinful, he was the remotest of people from it."
Those who most particularly need to use gentleness are those who
occupy high positions of either religious or worldly responsibility.
With it they are to treat people well and win them over, and thus
become supported by the majority and gain many followers, so that the
people are able to take from them in abundance. In contrast, leaders
who set aside gentleness and take to harshness and force can never
enjoy wide support. Even when some appear to have such support, it
can be no more than superficial, while inwardly there will be hatred,
revulsion, and feelings of oppression. Thus gentleness is entirely
good, and intelligent men should apply it to all things, especially
in dealing with people, first of all with one's family and servants,
then with everyone else. It should never be neglected, and it always
yields the required results, even if not immediately. On some rare
occasions, however, gentleness may be found ineffective, especially
in dealing with certain mean and ignoble natures. To treat such
people with gentleness would be harmful to them; they should be
treated in an apparently harsh and severe manner, but with the
intention of reforming them and correcting their behaviour. A certain
gnostic said, "Some people are only shells devoid of reason. If you
do not overpower them, they will overpower you." Not far removed from
this is al-Mutannabi's saying:
Generosity wins the loyalty of the generous,
but with the vile it breeds insolence.
For to place liberality where the sword should be
is as remote from excellence as the reverse.
But these are rare instances, involving deviant people of weak
intelligence who have little good in them, being ignorant and
foolish, with vicious natures and beast-like souls. They are the only
ones to be treated harshly with the aim of reforming them and as a
protection against their viciousness. In this way, one should
understand why, on certain occasions, and with certain people, great
men of God are rigorous. Thus, gentleness is the essence and the rule
except when it is feared that a worker of corruption may thereby step
up his corruption and transgression, and it is felt that he can be
stopped only by a certain amount of severity and harshness. The
Messenger of God, may blessings and peace be upon him and his family,
enjoined gentleness and behaved gently in most situations. This is
known to anyone familiar with his history, hadith, and his pattern in
teaching the ignorant and dealing with the near and far. One example
of this is the well-known hadith of the bedouin who urinated in the
mosque. Another is that of the other bedouin man who when given a
donation by the Prophet, may blessings and peace be upon him, was
discontented, and uttered things that he should not have said, at
which the Prophet's Companions started toward him, only to be stopped
by the Prophet, who then gave the man more and went on giving him
until he was satisfied and spoke gracious words. The third is that of
the young man who said to the Messenger of God, may blessings and
peace be on him, "O Messenger of God! Grant me permission to commit
adultery!" The Prophet replied, "Would you like this to happen to
your daughter?" He answered, "No!" So he said, "Likewise other people
do not like it to happen to their daughters." And he passed his hand
over the young man's chest and prayed for him, and from then on
nothing was more abhorrent to [this man] than adultery. There are many
other such stories that have been narrated from him, may the
blessings of God be on him, as well as about the leaders after him,
the scholars, the virtuous among our rightly-guided predecessors and
those of their successors who emulate them; it is blessing and its
consequences are good.
But none are granted it save those who are patient, and none is
granted it save one who is greatly fortunate (Qur'an: 41:35)