I recently attended a Spirituality Retreat at the Princeton-Blairstown Center in New Jersey with sixty other young Muslims, many of them members of the MSAs at the their respective universities. As a group, we had many thoughtful discussions about how to find a purpose in life and navigate our own spiritual journeys. We also talked about how we could develop and strengthen spiritual communities, particularly on our campuses. One student put forth a beautiful comment about his experience with two students from his MSA coming out as homosexuals, and how he was totally okay with it because they were such nice individuals with exceptionally beautiful character, far better than his own. He did not believe that the fact that Allah had chosen to reveal a particular sin of theirs to him was enough justification to condemn them. How could he do so, when it was only out of Allah’s mercy that He chose to hide so many of his own sins? Thus, the distinction was made between condemning the sin and condemning the sinner. Yes, homosexual behavior is forbidden in Islam, but that doesn’t bar anyone from treating a homosexual with utmost compassion. Yet the gap between this standard and the way Muslims treat and talk about “open sinners” is rather laughable. Perhaps it isn’t funny at all.
If you or I have any faith at all, let us always recognize that we did absolutely nothing to deserve it. It is 100% a gift from Allah. Don’t think that you are Muslim just because you were born into a Muslim family. There are a fair number of individuals who are born into Muslim families and completely deviate from the path of Islam. So avoid the folly of arrogance and give credit to where credit is due. Faith is a gift you received for free, and to forget that reality and feel responsible for your Imaan as soon as you come across someone’s sin and judge them is simply fooling yourself. As the Blessed Prophet once said, “Be prompt in doing good deeds (before you are overtaken) by turbulence which would be like a part of the dark night. A man would be a believer in the morning and turn to disbelief in the evening, or he would be a believer in the evening and turn disbeliever in the morning, and would sell his Faith for worldly goods” (Reported by Muslim). Thus, Allah could take away your faith at any moment, so why let it get to your head? Because it gets to so many Muslims’ heads, the love and compassion that should define the Muslim community is largely absent.
And people can tell. People can feel it. It’s not just non-Muslims who feel uncomfortable, but even Muslims often feel unwelcome in the presence of their own brothers and sisters in faith. We see someone sin, and sometimes we only hear about them sinning, and then we throw down the gavel and deem them unworthy of the same respect and compassion we like to show ourselves. It was narrated by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab that one day, a man was brought before the Blessed Prophet to be punished for his excessive wine-drinking. One of those present said: “O Allah, curse him. How often he is brought!” The Prophet said: “Do not curse him. I swear by Allah that I know he loves Allah and His Messenger” (Reported by Bukhari). Only Allah, (and His Prophet in some cases), the All-Knowing and the All-Aware, is familiar with what lies in people’s hearts. So let Him take care of the judging. As for our part, we should treat everyone we meet as a potential intimate friend of Allah, regardless of their current situation. Does that sound ridiculous to you?
Here’s why it isn’t. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, who buried his daughter alive in the pre-Islamic days and eventually intended to kill the Prophet Muhammad by his sword, was a most ignorant man and a vehement enemy of the religion in its early days. Yet, by the time of his death, he was the greatest follower of Prophet Muhammad, second only to Abu Bakr. In fact, the Prophet once said, “If there were to be a Prophet after me, he would be ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab” (Reported by Tirmidhi). Who could predict that ‘Umar would go through such an extraordinary transformation in state and status? None of us. Because we don’t see like Allah. We don’t know like Allah. We are just human beings, with very limited scope and total reliance on Allah for every good or bad deed we perform. If Muslims could overcome their egos and treat every single person they meet like a potential ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, whether they are Christian, Hindu or atheist, then the world would be unrecognizable from what it is today. People react positively to love and compassion. It makes them feel safe. And if the day came when people could actually seek refuge with the Muslims, regardless of their political stance or their sexual orientation or what have you, then Islam would more easily affect people’s hearts and positively impact the world, where Islam merely means loving Allah and His Prophet. Let the Muslim who truly loves Allah and His Messenger, then, have hatred in his heart toward transgressions against God but wide open arms for the transgressor.