Negative Assumption

BD/ 1 – Having a negative assumption of someone without just cause

So to kick off the bad deeds, the first is the prohibition of having a negative opinion of someone without just cause. The asl (default) of dealings between Muslims is that they think good of each other, unless there is an evidence to suggest otherwise. This is because Allah (swt) has made the blood and honour of a Muslim sacred as indicated by various aḥādīth.

We live in a world where it’s common for people to make quick judgements of others in order to stay ahead of the game. The brother who doesn’t give you salām when you see him (will come back to this), the media reporting a hijabi going to a nightclub, a guy drinking good old irn-bru and it being claimed he was drinking alcohol (yes, I have seen that myself!) etc etc. In any case, Allah (swt) makes clear;

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

“O you who believe, avoid much (negative) assumption, indeed some assumption is a sin”. (Al-ḥujurāt:12)

Imām al-Suyūṭi succinctly clarifies the above saying ‘(Negative assumptions) cause one to sin and there are many forms such as thinking ill of the people of goodness, and these people are many (in number). In contrast to corrupt individuals, there is no sin if the suspicion is matched by their outward actions’ (Tafsīr Jalālayn). 

Here, he mentions how good people are many and so our default should be a good opinion of them (of course if there is nothing clearly impermissible). As for those considered to be corrupt, then we go on their outward behaviour and there is no sin in calling them out.

Therefore, making excuses for our brothers/sisters in times of ambiguity is a safe default. 

Yes, it’s not a ḥadīth per se, however the statement of Ja’far Ibn Muhammad holds true:

إذا بلغك عن أخيك الشيء تنكره، فالتمس له عذرًا واحدًا إلى سبعين عذرًا، فإن أصبته، وإلا، قل: لعل له عذرًا لا أعرفه

“If something about your brother reaches you that you dislike (find difficult to reconcile), then seek for him between 1 – 70 excuses. If you cannot, then say ‘perhaps he has an excuse that I am not aware of’ (Shu’ab al-Imān).

To give a light practical story on this – many years ago, I once went into a masjid before the Jum’ah Khutbah and saw an old friend sitting listening to a translation of a talk beforehand. 

I motioned a salām to him and while looking straight at me, his face was completely blank. No smile, no nod of the head, no greeting, nothing! I tried again but to no avail. 

I thought this is ajeeb and to an extent a bit rude. Anyway, a few months later I saw him at a gathering and I asked (in a friendly way of course) ‘Did you not recognize me in the masjid that day?’. He said ‘SubhanAllah, I’m really sorry. On that day I wasn’t wearing my contact lenses and could not see anyone!”. That excuse did not even cross my mind, but taught me an important lesson!

Finally, it’s important to qualify the above that this doesn’t mean we are silent on everything. If something is relatively clear – someone doing a sin publically, assisting those who harm the Muslims, or calling to evil etc, then in this case they *should* be advised accordingly and as necessary. We should try to be balanced, but also careful in times of doubt.