Be nice, for God’s sake!
When was the last time someone did something nice for you, or conversely, you did something nice for someone else, just “because”? Most of us have an almost Pavlovian response to certain ‘days’ -- birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s Days – when we let the milk of human kindness flow free for a stipulated length of time perfunctorily, before tightly putting a lid on it; as if it were a precious nonrenewable resource that would dry up if we used too much in our everyday dealings.
Secular organisations like The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and The Kindness Campaign are attempting to institutionalise the dying art of human kindness, before it disappears like the dodos and dinosaurs. The Random Acts of Foundation has a newsletter called 'KindTimes' that carries news about the latest in kindness activities around the world, a discussion forum where members plan their next move and recount success stories, and they have a standing offer to host free Kindness Websites for members, that outline a community project in kindness. Similarly, The Kindness Campaign, works towards making communities, schools and workplaces better places to be in; their tagline is: 'Spread Kindness: It's Contagious'
As Muslims, we don't have to be kind to others just "because".
We ought to be kind, because kindness has been enjoined upon us by the words and example of the man who brought us the guiding principles of our religion, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam; who has been called “the best example” for humanity, by Allaah Himself.
If the character of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, were to be described in one word, it would be that he, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was unfailingly, overwhelmingly, all-encompassingly, kind. Narrated Ata bin Yasar: I met ‘Abdullaah bin 'Amr bin Al- 'Aas and asked him: "Tell me about the description of Allaah's Apostle which is mentioned in Torah (i.e. Old Testament.") He replied: 'Yes. By Allaah, he is described in Torah with some of the qualities attributed to him in the Qur’aan as follows: "O Prophet ! We have sent you as a witness (for Allaah's True religion) And a giver of glad tidings (to the faithful believers), And a warner (to the unbelievers) And guardian of the unlettered. You are My Slave and My Messenger (i.e. Apostle). I have named you "Al-Mutawakkil" (who depends upon Allaah Alone). You are neither discourteous, harsh nor a noise-maker in the markets, and you do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.” [ Saheeh Al-Bukhaari ]
There are numerous instances where the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, enjoined kindness upon his companions.
Narrated Asma' bint Abu Bakr , may Allaah be pleased with them: My mother came to me, hoping (for my favour) during the lifetime of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. I asked the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam: "May I treat her kindly?" He replied: "Yes."
Ibn 'Uyaina said: "Then Allaah revealed: 'Allaah forbids you not with regards to those who fought not against you because of religion, and drove you not out from your homes, that you should show them kindness and deal justly with them.' [ Qur’aan 60:8]
It is reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may Allaah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allaah, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam observed: ‘He who believes in Allaah and the Last Day should either utter good words or keep silent; and he who believes in Allaah and the Last Day should treat his neighbour with kindness.’
It is narrated on the authority of 'Abdullaah bin Mas'ood , may Allaah be pleased with him: “I asked the Messenger of Allaah, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, which deed was the best. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: ‘Prayer at its appointed hour.’ I (again) said: ‘Then what?’ He (the Holy Prophet) replied: ‘Kindness to parents.’”
Ibn 'Abbaas, may Allaah be pleased with them, reported: “Allaah's Messenger, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and his Companions came to Makkah and the fever in Madeenah had weakened them. Thereupon the polytheists (of Makkah) said: ‘There would come to you a people whom the fever has made weak and they have suffered severely from it.’ They sat in Al-Haatim. Thereupon, Allaah's Apostle, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, commanded them to walk quickly in three circuits and walk (in four) between the two corners, so that the polytheists could see their endurance. The polytheists then said (to one another): ‘You were under the impression that fever had emaciated them. whereas they are stronger than so and so.’ Ibn ‘Abbaas said: He (the Holy Prophet), sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, did not command them (the Muslims) to walk quickly in all the circuits out of kindness to them.
Jaabir bin 'Abdullaah, may Allaah be pleased with him, reported : My maternal aunt was divorced, and she intended to pluck her dates. A person scolded her for having come out (during the period of 'Iddah). She came to Allaah's Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and he said: Certainly you can pluck (dates) from your palm trees, for perhaps you may give charity or do an act of kindness .”
The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, forbade the practice of cutting tails and manes of horses, of branding animals at any soft spot, and of keeping horses saddled unnecessarily. [Saheeh Muslim]. If he saw any animal over-loaded or ill-fed he would tell the owner: "Fear Allaah in your treatment of animals." [ Abu Daawood ]
A companion came to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, with the young ones of a bird in his sheet and said that the mother bird had hovered over them all along. He was directed to replace her offspring in the same bush. [ Abu Daawood ] As the Prophet’s army marched towards Makkah to conquer it, they passed a female dog with puppies. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, not only gave orders that they should not be disturbed, but posted a man to see that this was done. He, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, stated: "Verily, there is heavenly reward for every act of kindness done to a living being."
The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, did not enjoin upon us earthshaking, impossibly larger-than-life acts of kindness; he emphasised everyday acts of consideration, charity, generosity of spirit.
How many of those do we see everyday?
When was the last time we ruffled an orphan’s hair, shared our food with the poor, went out of the way to visit the sick and injured and prayed for suffering fellow Muslims? When was the last time we enquired after someone who injured us; talked gently with someone who addressed us harshly or ignorantly; made ourselves available to the needy; greeted someone who had turned away from us first; kept quiet when we had nothing nice to say? When was the last time we entertained guests, neighbours and colleagues; kept up ties of kinship; honoured our parents, relatives and elders; and were affectionate towards our spouses, children and friends, for the sake of Allaah, which was the Sunnah of the Prophet, sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam?
A survey conducted in several cities around the world by American Scientist, a magazine published by Sigma Xi The Scientific Research Society, found that New Yorkers were the least likely to help strangers in trouble. The New Yorkers whom the magazine spoke to gave many good reasons for their reluctance to help strangers. Most had been taught early on that reaching out to strangers can be “dangerous”.
The survey says: “Some also expressed concern that others might not want unsolicited help, that the stranger, too, might be afraid of outside contact or might feel patronized or insulted. Many told stories of being outright abused for trying to help. One woman described an encounter with a frail, elderly man with a red-tipped cane who appeared unable to manage crossing an intersection. When she gently offered assistance, he barked back: "When I want help I'll ask for it. Mind your own (*******expletive) business."
Others told of being burned once too often by hustlers. One non-helper commented that: "Most New Yorkers have seen blindness faked, lameness faked, been at least verbally accosted by mentally ill or aggressive homeless people. This does not necessarily make one immune or callous, but rather, wary."
Over and again, New Yorkers told us they cared deeply about the needs of strangers, but that the realities of city living prohibited their reaching out. People spoke with nostalgia for the past, when they would routinely pick up hitchhikers or arrange a meal for a hungry stranger. Many expressed frustration—even anger—that life today deprived them of the satisfaction of feeling like good Samaritans.’”
A lot of us often use similar rationalisations while trying to explain the lack of niceness in our everyday dealings. One Muslim teenager once eloquently expressed the view, which, going by the prevalence of ‘smack talk’ (conversations amongst youngsters that seem to be almost entirely composed of trading barbs and insults), one suspects is shared by many others: “Niceness is for wonks, wusses and wimps.”
That quote is just a reflection of our collective state as a community; where we have neglected the virtue of being nice to the extent that we might feel uncomfortable being nice to others, simply because it may be construed as being fake, or a weakness in one’s personality; instead of the expression of faith and right guidance, that it really is.
The American Scientist survey goes on to say: “The bulk of the evidence indicates that helping tends to be less dependent on the nature of the local people than it is on the characteristics of the local environment. And investigators have demonstrated that seemingly minor changes in situation can drastically affect helping—above and beyond the personalities or moral beliefs of the people involved.”
In other words, it’s easier to be nice when it’s the norm and not the exception.
That means, if we take our manifestations of love for the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and our emulation of his blessed example, beyond scrubbing our teeth to the point of dental attrition with a Miswaak, or celebrating his birth anniversary with songs and speeches, we could actually have happier, stronger-knit Muslim communities.
Believe me, that’s not Utopia. That’s the Sunnah.