Wherever a Muslim community exists, a system of social relations between its members comes into being, one that amazes outsiders by its strong ties, cohesion, absence of selfishness, and frank and genuine dealings.
Indeed, Muslims themselves wonder at their own model of community relations because it is exceptional, unique, and very much related to the degree of their own commitment to Islamic life.
As it is the case between people and all other philosophies and religions, communities may vary in how far they implement the Islamic code of living, how strongly they hold Islamic values, and how far they put Islamic principles into operation.
It is in the nature of Islam to make a person’s conscience very sensitive, so that it objects to any violation of moral values. It is perhaps worth remembering here that there are values shared by all communities and philosophies.
For example, speaking the truth is praised in all cultures, philosophies, and religions. We may find differences in how violating this principle is seen. For example, certain cultures speak of a “white lie” with a degree of acceptability, especially when such a white lie will bring some benefit to the person who says it and bring no harm to no one else. This represents a rather complacent approach to the vice of telling lies.
Islam does not accept such complacency. It wants its followers to always say the truth and considers telling a lie in any circumstance, apart from two or three specific cases, to be a punishable violation of Islamic virtues, or to use the Islamic terminology, a sin.
While all communities and philosophies try to maintain strong social relations, Islam makes that a duty of the individual. It works to that end through the establishment of a host of values that complement one another and give the individual a sense of responsibility to maintain close and sound relations with the rest of the community. This means that everybody will be pulling in the same direction.
When something or someone works against this setup and tries to undermine it, this incurs very strong censure. The perpetrator is viewed in a bad light and is warned against heavy punishment.
For example, backbiting is considered repugnant by all human societies. However, Islam describes it in terms that make it appear extremely repugnant to the person who contemplates backbiting and much more so to those who listen or are forced to listen to him. Backbiting is defined as talking about your brothers or sisters in Islam in their absence in a way that they dislike. Muslims are warned against this in the Qur’an:
(Do not backbite one another. Does any of you wish to eat the flesh of his brother when he is dead? You certainly hate that.) (Al-Hujurat 49:12)
There is another sort of backbiting that is even more hateful because its effects are even worse. That is to go about in society spreading tales that are certain to spoil relations.
If a man comes to you with a tale about one of your friends suggesting that he does not respect your friendship and that he speaks ill of you in your absence, you are bound to be upset. You may decide to have as little dealings with that person as possible. You may take such a decision when you realize that you have no means of proving whether what you have been told is true or not.
Now, assume that this very person goes to that particular friend of yours and tells him that you have been telling tales about him and that you do not respect his friendship and you speak ill of him in his absence, he is bound to have the same attitude toward you.
The net result is that your friendship is spoilt, broken, and replaced by a hostile attitude toward each other. This sort of telling false tales and spoiling social relations is viewed very seriously in Islam.
Asmaa’ bint Yazeed quoted Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) as saying, “Shall I tell you who are the best among you?” When the Prophet’s Companions requested him to give them that information, he said, “Those whose appearance reminds you of Allah. Shall I tell you who are the evil ones among you?” Again the Prophet’s Companions said, “Please, do.” He said, “Those who go about telling tales about people, spoil relationships between intimate friends, and bring affliction to innocent people” (Ahmad).
This hadith tells us that those who go about telling tales about other people are certainly evil ones.
Indeed, this is an apt description because such tales are bound to bring hostility, instead of close relationships, within a community. It replaces the feeling of unity within the community with division. People become weary of one another and unwilling to trust those who are close to them.
Indeed, they try to weaken the very fabric of society. They may feel that they stand to gain as a result of spoiling certain relationships. If this is the case, then they are exhibiting a degree of selfishness that cannot be tolerated by any community.
They place their own interest above that of the community. While individual and community interests should be accommodated as far as possible without encroaching on either, it is totally unacceptable for a person to try to spoil relations among people in order to ensure his or her own personal gain. When individual benefit means that close friendship is replaced by hostility, such person’s sinful action appears in a light that makes it extremely repugnant.
Such sinful action is described by the Prophet as one that seeks to bring affliction to innocent people. So it is their aim that other people, innocent as they may be, will be afflicted.
Scholars have explained such doings as trying to facilitate sinful actions for people who would otherwise have refrained from them. Fornication and adultery are particularly mentioned in this context, which means that a person who makes it easier for another to persuade him or her to commit adultery or fornication is indeed a very evil person. This is certainly true because such a sinful action can bring affliction only. On the other hand, the person who is so persuaded or led to commit such a grossly indecent act may have otherwise refrained from it.
On the other hand, the best people are described as those whose very presence reminds one of Allah. This is either a reference to the fact that they are very pious, highly praised for conscious implementation of Islamic rules, and always abiding by Islamic moral values, or to the fact that when they talk to people, their discussion is always directed to encourage them to implement Islam and conduct their lives according to Islamic principles.
So, it is either because of the example they provide of how a Muslim should live or because of the advice and counsel they give to people, their very presence becomes associated with the remembrance of Allah. This means that they are indeed people who bring goodness with them wherever they go.
They are certainly the best of people, as the Prophet describes them. The contrast between such people and the other ones, described by the Prophet as the evil ones, is complete.
It is perhaps useful to mention here that the first type of people, that is the good ones, help maintain community ties at the strongest level. That is what Islam wants of its followers.
Moreover, when people remember Allah, they remember their obligations towards one another and when they try to fulfill these obligations as best as they can, that is certainly conducive to improving their ties.