the gist and all-inclusive element of islam is constant refined manners, constant so that they do not alter, and refined so that they do not deteriorate. faith, action, worship, judiciary activity, and many other things are only multiple, diverse ways, tools, and approaches to constant refined manners. for example, what is the underlying principle of fasting? it is refined manners. here is the evidence in the form of statements of the prophet:
a .“when someone does not refrain from false statements and from actions based on them, god has no need for him to give up his food and drink.”
b. “fasting is not [refraining] from eating and drinking. fasting is rather guarding oneself from falling into error and obscenity. if someone swears at you or abuses you, say, ‘i am fasting! i am fasting!’”
therefore, manners should be an element taken into consideration in every matter that concerns human beings, because when such matters are discussed without reference to manners, they seem to leave their objectives and purpose behind and divest the subject under discussion of its meaning and usefulness, turning it into a form without content or a layer of painting with no surface behind it.
hurricanes katrina and rita hit a number of states in the u.s.a. people have come up with many religious and secular explanations that try to find reasons for these events. it is the right of people to ask “why?” when a universal or a human event occurs. man is curious, investigative, and eager by nature, and nobody has the right to suppress such human characteristics. as it is the right of people to ask, it is a scientific and ethical duty to try to offer a correct answer.
gloating over the misfortune of others has never been a correct response, a sound acknowledgment, or a satisfactory ethical conduct in reaction to such disasters.
i. the decent or normal thing to do is to wish for the good and happiness of people, all people. otherwise, why are missions assigned and messengers sent? god has no need for people. therefore, be sure that religion is for the good and happiness of people, to extend mercy to them and relieve them of any grief. undoubtedly, to gloat at the misfortune of some people, when some misfortune has happened to them, is a type of behavior that is incompatible with how people should normally react or with that great religious purpose.
ii. the prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, used to start his day with this delightful, human-divine prayer that expressed penitence: “god, whatever gift is enjoyed by me or any other of your other creatures this morning is from you alone, who has no partner. thus, praise and thankfulness are due to you.” this merciful, tender, and gentle prophet, whose heart is big enough to admit all humanity, thanks his lord on behalf of all people and all other creatures for all the gifts god has bestowed on them. for the phrase “or any of your other creatures” encompasses all people, which is the first purpose of the prayer—yes, all people, muslim or non-muslim. for god is the lord of all human beings, not of muslims alone. every human being has his own share from the godhood in that he is created, has supplies, and gifts bestowed on him. the prophet is certainly the most eloquent of all speakers, so when he says, “or any of your other creatures,” it is exactly and specifically the denotation of humanity in general that he means by the phrase. the expression of thankfulness to god for the gifts he bestows on all human beings is but an honest expression of wishing for the well-being, and happiness of all mankind. could then this prophet, who thanks god for all gifts granted to all people, gloat at a misfortune or a hardship suffered by anyone? the answer is a most definite no. a heart that is so pure and so merciful has no room for gloating or rejoicing at others’ misfortunes. combined with this is a profound philosophical implication, namely, that rejoicing at every gift bestowed by god on any human being is concomitantly associated with its antithesis in feeling, conception, and purpose, and that is hating to see people suffer any distress, misfortune, or misery. moreover, overflowing mercy and gloating cruelty cannot exist side by side in the same heart.
iii. speaking of mercy brings to mind the prophet’s tradition in which he says, “god has no mercy for any one who shows no mercy to others.” in explaining this tradition, ibn battaal, as quoted in fatth al-baari, says, “it signifies encouragement to extend mercy to all creatures, and that includes muslims and non-muslims; and beasts both owned and free.” it is universally acknowledged that mercy towards people and gloating at their misfortune, which means feeling happy to see them grieve, are irreconcilable, mutually exclusive opposites.
iv. rescuing and saving people is one of the moral precepts in the islamic system. no person who gloats over the misfortunes of others can be characterized by such sublime, radiant, and useful moral values, because his logic and his attitude consist in refraining from relieving a non-muslim in distress and waiting until he perishes or comes to harm to gloat at his misfortune. if a non-muslim catches a disease, such a person would offer him no treatment, but would rather wait till the disease gets more critical so that he may have the joy of gloating at such suffering. if a person of that type is an experienced swimmer or diver, he would not try to save a drowning non-muslim, but would rather let him drown to gloat at his death. if you are of this type, do not offer assistance to an orphan who is in a dire need for help, but enjoy watching him in his condition, because that is how you gloat at his adversity. all this would be contrary to the instructions of quran verses on rescue and assistance. these include, for example, the following verses: “yet he would not scale the ascent. • would that you knew what the ascent is. • it is the emancipation of a slave, • or the feeding, on a day of famine, • of an orphaned near of kin, • or a needy man in distress” (al-balad 90: 11-16).
v. the quran tells us that gloating and rejoicing at the misfortunes of others is a characteristic of abnormal persons who are mentally sick and whose standards are so muddled that they make a habit of rejoicing at the misfortunes of others: “when good fortune comes your way, it grieves them; and if evil befalls you, they rejoice” (aal ‘imran 3: 120).
how can muslims be superior in their ethics and manners if they imitate such aberrant people in this shameful, strange feeling, the feeling of exaltation at the calamities of other people and of dejection when god bestows one of his gifts on other people.
vi. gloating at others’ misfortunes incurs the malicious implication of envy. abu hamed al-ghazaali says, “this is the worst type of envy. when you are hurt by some one for one reason or another and he opposes you over something in one way or another, your heart may fill with anger at and hatred for him, and you may develop a strong grudge against him. a grudge calls for wishing to see him suffer and avenging yourself, and if you are unable to make him suffer yourself, then you would wish that fate would make him suffer.” if this happens, you may believe that god, the most sublime, has honored and vindicated you. whatever disaster befell your enemy would please you, and you would believe it to be a reward from god to you for hating that person, and that it happened only for your sake. while whatever blessing befell him would displease you because it would be against your desire.
it is well-known that islam rigorously forbids envy, its motives, forms, and purposes. therefore, even if gloating at others’ misfortune had no implication other than envy, a muslim should free and purify himself from it, both in the way he feels and in expression.
vii. inviting non-muslims to islam has special psychological and moral keys and approaches. foremost among these is flexibility, kindness, and refined and noble human compassion; promising words that carry good tidings; smiling and cheerfulness; warm affection; and great concern for, and honest interaction with, people’s problems and worries. a person who gloats at misfortune is definitely devoid of these refined qualities and gifts. thus, he is incapable of inviting others to god’s religion, because he actually drives them away from it by blocking the entrances and portals through his harshness and insensitivity.
viii. the prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, once told mother of believers ‘aisha, may god be pleased with her, some of his memories of painful times in makkah. he said, “i suffered a lot at the hands of your people. the worst suffering i experienced was on the day of ‘aqaba. i approached ibn abd kilaab with my message, and he declined to accept it. i went my way, with concern showing on my face. i regained my composure only when i was in qarn al-th’aaleb. i looked up and i found a cloud giving me shade. as i looked at it, i saw in it gabriel, peace be upon him. he called me and said, ‘god, the most sublime, heard what your people said to you and how they answered you. he has sent you the king of mountains and you can command him to do to them whatever you wish.’ the king of mountains called me and said, ‘muhammad, god heard what your people said to you, and i am the king of mountains. god sent me to you to do what you bid me. if you wish, i can clamp down the akhshabain, [two great mountains in makkah,] and squeeze your people in between.’ i said, “i rather wish that god will bring out of their loins people who worship him alone, and nothing else with him.’”
the prophet received the support of the elements of nature at a time of hardship. he had the opportunity to take revenge against his oppressors and those who were unjust to him. it would have been expected of him, under such circumstances, to have wished for the destruction of these people. but being a man with lofty ideals, who came to bring life and happiness to people, he was unwilling to have his antagonists perish. he could rise above the desire to see them dead and the inclination to gloat at their misfortunes while they perished, because he, being mercy itself to mankind, knows only mercy, whatever the case may be.
ix. muslims are commanded to speak to others in an amiable, kind manner:
a. “tell my servants to say that which is best” (al-israa 17: 53).
b. “contend with what is best, and then the one you have been at enmity with behaves as a close supporter” (fussilat 41: 34).
c. “speak kindly to people” (al-baqarah 2: 83).
it is certain that gloating over other people’s misfortune is not conducive to speaking in an amiable, kind manner, which islam makes obligatory for muslims in dealing with others.
x. islam forbids any feeling of joy when others suffer harm, even if those others are non-humans, i.e. animals. it is thus not permissible in islam to rejoice at the distress of oxen, dogs, or cocks when they fight and suffer pain. could islam then forbid rejoicing at the harm suffered by animals and yet sanction feelings of joy at the harm, distress, calamities, hurricanes, and other causes of human suffering?
xi. the highest aspects of monotheism are two in number:
the worship of god alone with no partner, and charity towards his creatures, human beings and others, and wishing good and happiness to mankind at large. there is no charity to people whatsoever in gloating at their misfortune; it is rather an offense to them. therefore, it is a terrible decline from a high aspect of monotheism and faith. the integrating link of the two aspects is realized through the coupling of fear of god (“fear god wherever you be…”) with charity to people (… and deal with people in a nice manner”). the two aspects are combined in one of the traditions of the loving prophet.