Recently I read a Facebook post that made me cry tears of sadness and joy. It started out quite sad, but then took an unexpected turn that made my heart swell with love for Islam. It was written by a non-Muslim woman whom I will call Susan. She explained that she had suffered severe dental problems due to neglecting her oral health for a long time.
“That’s what happens when you don’t take care of your teeth!” many people were quick to point out to her. It turns out that Susan had endured years of neglect as a child and then homelessness and financial instability as a young adult. These factors made taking care of her teeth and seeking professional dental care unusually difficult. She was also autistic and had extreme sensitivity to the sensations of brushing and flossing. The normal dental hygiene routine that most people take for granted felt like torture to her.
Susan finally summoned up her courage and gathered enough money to see a dentist. By now her pain and tooth decay were extreme. The dentist shamed her for waiting for so long to make an appointment and for taking such poor care of her teeth. He told her there was little hope for her oral health and made it clear that it was her own fault, due to her negligence. She left his office in tears, feeling deeply ashamed and even more hesitant to seek dental care.
Her severe pain compelled her to try again, though. The second dentist treated her much like the first one had, scolding her for her poor hygiene and telling her the situation was beyond hope. At this point Susan thought she could never bear to see another dentist, no matter how bad her symptoms got. But once more, pain drove her to seek help, despite her terror.
The third time, by coincidence, Susan saw a Muslim dentist. Reflecting on the experience in her Facebook post, Susan wrote movingly about how the Muslim dentist was extremely kind and gentle with her. The dentist did not know Susan’s backstory of neglect, poverty, and autism, but her inherent compassion led her to treat Susan carefully and patiently. The dentist addressed Susan’s problems and assured her that there was still hope for her teeth. She explained the steps Susan would need to take and offered helpful suggestions about how to accomplish those tasks more easily.
Concluding her post, Susan wrote to her Facebook audience, “If you are afraid of having your teeth cleaned, see a Muslim dentist! They are by far the gentlest and most understanding!”
Of all the people in the Facebook group who read Susan’s post, I might have been the only Muslim. There were people of many different faiths and some of no faith at all. So, for many of the readers, this was an introduction to Islam, or a perspective they’d never considered. Reading Susan’s words of praise for the third dentist, I instantly felt a rush of love for my sister in Islam – the remarkably kind woman whom I’ll probably never meet – who gave such a wonderful example of our faith through her compassion and gentleness with Susan. She didn’t know that Susan would share her story with hundreds of people on a Facebook group, or that her beautiful example would plant a seed of positivity in many non-Muslims’ minds.
Our Behavior Speaks Volumes About Our Faith
Susan’s post made me think of how each one of us is educating the world about Islam through our behavior, whether we realize it or not. No matter our profession or role in life, we represent Islam through our words, actions, and attitude. Whether we are someone’s colleague, neighbor, service provider, or casual acquaintance, our honesty, kindness, trustworthiness, warmth, and generosity will speak volumes about our faith. Of course, the opposite behaviors will send a very negative message about Islam, so we must be always conscious of our words and actions and strive to display the best adaab, Islamic manners. Of all the attributes we are supposed to exemplify as sincere Muslims, I think that gentleness speaks the loudest. I believe it is, in fact, one of our greatest tools for dawah, calling to Allah.
In reading Susan’s story, I was reminded of the story of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and how he dealt with the man who urinated in the masjid:
“While we were in the mosque with Allah’s Messenger, a desert Arab came and stood up and began to urinate in the mosque. The Companions of Allah’s Messenger said: ‘Stop, stop,’ but the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Don’t interrupt him; leave him alone’. They left him alone, and when he finished urinating, Allah’s Messenger called him and said to him: ‘These mosques are not the places meant for urine and filth, but are only for the remembrance of Allah, prayer, and the recitation of the Qur’an,’ or Allah’s Messenger said something like that. He (the narrator) said that he (the Holy Prophet) then gave orders to one of the people who brought a bucket of water and poured it over” (Sahih Muslim).
Here we have an example of unhygienic and impolite behavior. The Bedouin likely did not realize that urinating in a masjid was both unclean and inappropriate. Like so many of us in modern times would do, the people who witnessed the act were quick to rebuke the man. But the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), whose manners were the finest of all humankind, put a stop to their condemnation. He did not choose to shame the Bedouin, but rather dealt with the issue efficiently and quietly, allowing the man to preserve his dignity. He then spoke calmly with him to educate him about proper behavior in a masjid.
If the Companions had shamed or scolded the Bedouin harshly, would he ever be likely to return to a masjid again? Would he consider embracing Islam? Would he think well of Muslims? The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) knew that gentleness was the key to instilling a love of Islam in people’s hearts.
He (peace and blessings be upon him) was also gentle with his Companions, even when they made mistakes. When some of them committed the grave error of abandoning the battlefront against the Prophet’s orders, he (peace and blessings be upon him) did not punish or chastise them. In the Qur’an, Allah tells the Prophet: “It was by the mercy of God that you were lenient with them, for had you been stern and coarse of heart they would have dispersed from around you” (3:159). In fact, Ali (r) said about the Prophet (s) “…three things he stayed away from with regard to others — he did not find fault, lay blame, or seek to expose anyone’s weak points” (al-Tirmidhi, Shama’il).
In a world that is often quick to judge, shame, condemn, ridicule, and punish, gentleness says, “Pause. Reflect. There is a better way.” Harshness drives people away, but gentleness beckons them in. Ridicule makes people dislike themselves or want to hide in shame, but gentleness encourages them to come out of their shell, and to feel comfortable, safe, and open to new ideas. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah is gentle, and He loves gentleness in all matters” (Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari).
Finding Opportunities to Employ Gentleness
If we truly want to inspire others to love Islam and if we genuinely wish to follow the example of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and please our Creator, we should make gentleness the hallmark of our behavior.
Before we judge another person, we should remember that:
• Generally, we don’t know an individual’s life story and the cause of their behaviors. Often there is pain, suffering, or lack of knowledge behind a person’s undesirable actions.
• We, too, are imperfect and have flaws. We should work to improve ourselves instead of criticizing others.
• Shaming people does not help them improve.
• If we take the time to find out why a person is acting in a certain way, we will likely feel more sympathetic to their situation and be able to find productive ways to help solve their problems.
Imagine this scenario: a non-Muslim comes to us and expresses interest in Islam but admits to making many bad choices in his or her life. If we behave like the first or second dentist, we will tell that person, “It’s your fault you’ve led such a bad life. It’s too late now to change. You’re too flawed. You should have done something sooner to change. Shame on you!” This sentiment might not be conveyed directly in words but rather in the attitude and demeanor, but its negative effect is the same. Will that person be likely to investigate Islam further?
If, however, we act like the third dentist, we will tell the person, “It’s wonderful that you want to make positive changes in your life! Allah is the Most Forgiving, and He will always accept sincere repentance. Your past is over, so focus on the future. Becoming a Muslim will wipe away your sins. Let me help you learn about Islam. Remember: it’s okay to make mistakes. No one is perfect. The important thing is to keep learning and striving.” Imagine how a gentle response like that might inspire that person to love Islam!
Every single day we will find opportunities to employ gentleness. It will not always be easy because gentleness is often most necessary in situations that are fraught with frustration, disappointment, or drama. We might feel entitled to be harsh with someone who does not act the way we think they should. We might wish to hurt the person who hurts us. But before we react, we should try to remember that gentleness is absolutely fundamental to our faith. Allah is gentle and He loves gentleness. What better reason do we need to make this characteristic a priority in our life?