Being Religious Without Being a Jerk


“There is nothing that has gentleness in it except that it is beautified, and there is nothing that has harshness in it except that it makes it ugly. So be calm, O Aisha!”

The above words were spoken by our beloved Messenger ﷺ to his wife, `A’isha radi allahu `anha (may Allah be please with her). A group of people had passed by the Prophet ﷺ and our Mother `A’isha, and said to him: “As-sa’amu `alaykum” (death be upon you).”  It was a wordplay on “As-salaamu `alaykum (peace be upon you)”, with the intent of ridiculing the Prophet ﷺ. `A’isha (ra) became so angry that she rose up and began yelling at them that death should be upon them, and the curse of God, and so on.

At this, the Prophet ﷺ turned towards her, and spoke these words, telling her to calm down, and not to lose her composure, even in the face of personal insult. This man, our Messenger ﷺ, was the pillar of tranquility in an ocean of chaos. Our mother Aisha (ra), did this out of a pure, sincere, and unyielding love for the Prophet (saw). Not out of any arrogance or pride. For her it was an anger rooted in love, a desire to protect her Prophet from those who hated him. May Allah be pleased with her.

Unfortunately however, many of us react with harshness when faced with religious differences, especially WITHIN our own ummah – not out of love, but out of arrogance. When we examine ourselves today, especially those among us who are students of religious knowledge or believers striving to better ourselves, a tragic observation can often be made: Religiosity often turns people into jerks.

Many have witnessed this story: A young man or woman who used to be friendly, well-mannered, who treated people well, sadly turns into someone who shows mild annoyance upon meeting people who follow a different religious opinion. He shows anger when presented with arguments against his or her own point of view. Finally, he or she begins to pronounce judgment against others—pronouncing minor differences in opinion as proofs of disbelief.

When told to calm down, to stop being judgmental—the response comes in one of many flavors:

  • “Brother, I am enjoining the good and forbidding the evil!”
  • “We are defending the Sunnah!”
  • “When people are harsh against the Sunnah, we will be harsh in defending it!”

And so on.

Over what kinds of issues? Not the serious lack of counseling services in the community. Not the difficulty that our youth are having in protecting their faith from intellectual attack. Not the issues of domestic abuse, poverty, family breakups or homelessness afflicting non-Muslims and Muslims around us.

But the length of our pants and whether or not they are above our ankles, the lengths of our beards, etc. Perhaps one’s adherence or lack thereof to a group or organization. What we think about pseudo-philosophical concepts about the essence of God’s attributes.  Such meanness and harshness occurs not over what is physically affecting people, but over a disagreement between opinions in our minds. Over varying textual interpretations that result in different legal opinions or a creedal points unknown to the majority of the world’s Muslims.

Why does this happen to us when almost nothing is more important in our religion than the subjugation of our egos to the Power and Oneness of God?

The Remedy

“Islam takes us and throws us so we fall totally in love with The Creator. Yet, somehow some of us turn it into a way to look down upon the creation.”

This happens because somewhere along the line in striving to love God, the ego—the innermost part of our soul which continuously wishes to be glorified and exalted over others—made our religiosity a means of doing just that. The religion exists to crush the ego, and enslave it towards the worship of its Creator.

When we say AllahuAkbar (God is the Greatest), the true meaning of this, when one explores Arabic grammar, is “God is the Greatest Above All Things”—including our loves, our hates, our desires, our weaknesses, our dreams, our hopes, our very essences. Success in reaching our desires is only through His permission, and the power to overcome our weaknesses is only through His Mercy. This phrase is formulated to remind us of Allah’s greatness over ourselves and over every element of our lives. It acknowledges the overwhelming power that is Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

On the ego’s path to enslavement and the realization of recognizing Allah (swt) alone as the sole object of adoration and love, our ego sought a way out so it would not have to undergo such tribulation and destruction; so that it would not have to give up its position as the one that is praised and feels valued.

That ego essentially hijacks the religiosity of the individual and takes it on a detour. What is that detour? Rather than letting Islam be Islam and allowing the soul to get lost in the wonders of Allah’s power, the limitless nature of His love, the magnanimous breadth of His Mercy, the immeasurable depth of His knowledge, the care and affection that He showers upon His creation—the ego detours the soul into LOVING ITSELF.

When the soul begins to love itself, it becomes dissatisfied with not only God, but with God’s creation. It sees its own knowledge, opinion, and worldview as superior to all others. In order to maintain its false notion of being humble, it will even fake humility to those on the outside: “I’m nobody, I’m not knowledgeable”—while secretly harboring contempt for all those who follow different opinions or ideas about Islam. It is easy to recognize this tendency in ourselves. It happens when our religious discourse, our religious speech, and our religious vocabulary become less about loving God, adoring his Messenger ﷺ, bettering ourselves and more about creedal disagreements, legal fine points, and how one group is bad or another is good.

When religion becomes more about how one person does not practice the way that pleases us  (even if we are correct in expressing the opinion of orthodox Islam) than about how we can please God, the religion has essentially turned into a tool to make us feel better about ourselves.

This does not mean we should turn off legitimate criticism in religious discourse. Enjoining the good and forbidding evil means that we must take an active interest in our communities, and in striving to develop our communities and our religious practices in a way that is healthy, natural, and allows Muslims from all backgrounds to be included and non-Muslims to feel welcome.

Rather, it is time we examine our deeper motives and feelings when we criticize and put forth negativity: “Am I criticizing and putting forth negativity because my criticism and the way I am putting it forth will actively help to prevent harm and bring benefit? Or am I criticizing to ridicule, make myself feel better, and make others see me as superior?”

Answering this question correctly and being sincere is the difference between the religious jerk and a servant of God.

Print Friendly

87 Comments

  1. Waseem says:

    This article reminds me of the one (saw) who said: Inna mal amaalou bin Niyaat” i.e “Whatever you do is based on its intentions”… May Allah always guide us to the path of His pleasure. Ameen

  2. Maryam says:

    SubhanAllah this was a much needed article!
    I seriously act like a jerk when i ask my lille brother not to listen to music. I forget how i was a year ago, i should tattoo that on my mind and start doing things with love.

    Love solves everything. I can be a jerk and say those words or i can be sensible, emulate the kindness and mercy shown by Habeeb Allah sallallahu alyhe wa sallam and say those words with love.

    jazakAllah khayr!

  3. Mohamad says:

    Salam,

    Thanks for the article and may Allah bless your efforts. However, can you please clarify from where the hadith at the beginning of the article originates? I find it hard to find on the net. I even came across a similar speech but for a different event and occasion completely.
    I am sorry, I don’t mean to find faults, but I liked the story told about being gentle and would love to share it, but without a proper source, it is dangerous as we may fall in the category of people whom is deemed as ‘lying in the name of the Messenger PBUH).

    Salam and may Allah bless us all.

    • Shams says:

      The hadith is from various sources including Sahih Muslim. In Sahih Muslim, the Prophet (saw) says this to our Mother in response to some harshness towards a camel; subhanallah!

  4. afsara says:

    it is a beautiful article…it reflects the reality…and in today’s world it is am common thing…thnx for writing such an exceptional piece..may Allah swt bless u…

  5. NayiMuslimah says:

    Salaam!

    This was a fantastic article mashAllah that really hit home for me. But, I have a question regarding destruction of the ego in favor of remembering “Allahu Akbar.” I suffer from my ego as everyone else does, but I also sometimes put myself down too much and completely reject my own needs in favor of a group, etc.

    Does anyone have suggestions as to how to find a middle path on this issue: subduing the ego enough to remember Allah is greatest while still remembering the uniqueness of myself as a creation of Allah (without thinking badly of myself)?

    JazakAllah khair

    • k says:

      ”Does anyone have suggestions as to how to find a middle path on this issue: subduing the ego enough to remember Allah is greatest while still remembering the uniqueness of myself as a creation of Allah (without thinking badly of myself)?

      JazakAllah khair”

      The way I understand it is that you either feel like you are self obsessed or completely self oblivious. Try to be kind to yourself…if you find something difficult, then don’t harm yourself in the process, just do a little, what you can. And if you feel that you have been blessed with piety, then show gratitude by being consistent’
      the little good done consistently is pleasing to Allah, by whose mercy alone will we be saved.
      hope this helps…:)

  6. Haseena says:

    Salam. Thank you for posting this article. I have a friend who is encountering this problem this very minute and it’s hurting us all.

    It started a while after she first wore the hijab. I remember in another article (Taking Off The Hijab) that the author mentioned about an ‘iman rush’ that Muslims encounter when starting a new practice in Islam, for example wearing the hijab. I used to think I was a bad person for noticing her ‘iman rush’. I was confused between what was real and what was only inside my head…until I read your article. I’m not stereotyping this situation to all the Muslimah’s out there, but I just wanted to point out that it is something -real- and it does happen to people in -certain- circumstances.

    Back to my story, it all started sometime after she wore the hijab. She started to be more interested in knowing Islam in general. I noticed that she read up on materials relating to ibadah and she started reading a lot of hadith too. Maybe it was because of this iman rush that, unfortunately, she started becoming really insensitive towards people’s feelings when advising them.

    The examples are endless. Calling people/their choices unIslamic..criticizing people on Twitter..and even sounding a little ‘holier than thou’ on certain occasions.

    I must say that her attitude is also a result of immaturity. Maybe she is still emotionally immature, therefore cannot tell when her opinion sounds like a criticism, or when an advice sounds like, well, bashing.

    I plan to tell her soon about her attitude. I already scripted some of the things I want to say to her.. yes, gotta be prepared! and maybe even use this article to help me in the process. So again, thanks brother for this article. InsyAllah it will help bring the best out of this predicament of mine.

  7. Mohammed Aljazeera says:

    What about the people with too much pride to take in criticism? To me they are the ones who should lose the ego and change, and not the one respectfully telling him he is wrong

    Also, Assam alaykum does not mean “death” be upon you, it means poison be upon you. Let it be clear to all the non Arab readers, not misleading

    • Ayesha says:

      Br. Mohammed, that’s what the article means here, be respectful when you tell somebody that they are wrong, when you are respectful there’s no question of pride from the other side and even if it’s there that person will go home and feel sorry about it.

      When we want to guide people to what is right we need to have lot of patience, just the way Prophet(peace be upon him) had.
      May Allah guide us to what is right.

    • Abu sahl says:

      Assalaamu alaykum warahmatullah wa barakaatuh,

      just read this wonderful article a couple of mins. ago and was surprised to find this comment on the meaning of “Assam” . According to the classical arabic lexicon the meaning of as-Saam is infact death.

      معنى السام في قاموس المعاني. قاموس عربي عربي

      السَّامُّ – سَامُّ:
      السَّامُّ : كلُّ ذي سُمَّ كالثعبان . والجمع : سَوَامُّ .
      وسامُّ أَبْرَصَ : ضربٌ من الوَزَغِ .
      وتقول : سوامَّ ، دون أَبرص ، أَو بِرَصَة وأَبارِص ، دون سوامّ .
      \ 45 .
      المعجم: المعجم الوسيط -
      السَّامُ – سَامُ:
      السَّامُ : الموتُ .
      و السَّامُ الذَّهَبُ .
      و السَّامُ عروقُ الذهب والفضة في الحجر والمعدِن .
      و السَّامُ السبيكة من الذهب والفضَّةِ .
      و السَّامُ .
      الخيزرانُ .
      واحدته : سَامَةٌ .
      المعجم: المعجم الوسيط -
      السّام :
      الموت .
      المعجم: عربي عامة -
      اللّبْلاب السّامّ :
      ( نت ) نبات ذو أوراق مركّبة وأزهار خضراء صغيرة وثمار بيضاء ، يسبِّب طفحًا جلديًّا عند لمسه .
      المعجم: عربي عامة -
      والسَّامَّةُ الموتُ، نادر، والمعروف السَّامُ، بتخفيف الميم بلا هاء.
      وفي حديث عُمير بن أَفْصَى: تُورِدُه السَّامَّةَ أَي الموت، قال: والصحيح في الموت أَنه السَّامُ، بتخفيف الميم.
      وفي حديث عائشة، رضي الله عنها: قالت لليهود عليكم السَّامُ والدَّامُ
      Hope this clears the issue.
      req. your Duas

    • Kirana says:

      Maybe so, but whether they lose their ego and change, or not, shouldn’t be the focus or excessive concern of someone who is religious for God’s sake. If you start to get angry or resentful, or contemptuous or have these kinds of strong emotions when someone does not change following your advice, EVEN IF that advice was correct, then *something* is wrong about your inner motivation. that’s what the article is saying. because correct motivation will not result in any of these emotions in such situations, but instead will result in emotions of hope, compassion, love, concern, worry-sadness, just like the Prophet experienced for his people.

  8. D says:

    I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty judgemental myself when it comes to religious ‘jerks’. Mostly because I think the majority of people (or atleast those I met) who are very religious tend to be obnoxious and have found myself actually not wanting to associate with anyone who looks too religious because of it. It’s crazy since my own mother wears a niqab and is quite religious. I know it’s wrong of me to be this way since I’m sure some of them are wonderful people to know but there you have it. It’s human nature for people to be repelled by such behaviour.

    This really became worse when I went to the middle east for university. Example of my run ins with the ‘religious folk’: You go into a taxi, and if the driver has a long beard, and one of your friends isn’t wearing a hijab, he’ll put in a cassette of a sheikh talking about how women are now dooming the Ummah. I have been in so many of these taxi’s, even though I am a hijabi, but for some reason most of the time, the islamic lectures they’re listening to, talk about how horrible women are nowadays.

    The niqabi’s at uni, (usually the least sociable you’re ever to come across, and who refuse to speak to guys at all and will turn around and walk off rudely if a fellow male student asks them a question) will give out flyers or cards to non hijabi’s, that will talk about how they will be dragged to hell for not wearing a hijab. They forget that so many of our youth don’t even pray…but religious jerks have never been good with priorities.
    Alot of the friends I made are more ‘moderate’, and pass this same harsh judgement on anyone even seemingly religious. People are divided because of it. I became a broken record telling people not to judge so harshly and that being religious IS a good thing, but that these people can’t truly be religious if they have this higher than thou attitude. Rationally I know this is the truth, but it’s very easy to forget when you encounter such a person.
    I found just one sister who restored my faith during my time there. She was the only one who did not judge, go around making criticisms and tell you what was right and wrong. I know technically we should warn against evils and such, but to be honest I’ve found her method much more effective. She was the nicest purest person I met, noor would radiate from her face and I found myself wanting to be a better Muslim just by knowing her.

    Sorry for ranting…I’m only human, hehe. May Allah guide us all to what’s right.

  9. Shabab says:

    One of the most AWESOME articles that I ever read! JazakAllahu Khoiron Katheera!! :D

  10. SANA says:

    AS-SALAM-WALAIKUM,THE ARTICLE IS SUPERB IN ISLAM THERE SHOULD BE MAJORITY AMONG MUSLIM.MUSLIM SHOULD NOT DO PARTIALITY HELPING ONE AND DESTROYING THE OTHER THIS IS HOW WE BREAKUP WITH THE PEOPLE IN ISLAM IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG SHOULD FIND OUT HOW THEN TAKE ANY DECISION IN ISLAM WE SHOULD NOT GIVE TOO MUCH IMPORTANT IF HE OR SHE IS OUR RELATIVE,FRIEND ETC.BECAUSE EVERY HAS THE SAME RIGHT TO LIVE IN ISLAM AND WOMENS ARE OUR PRECIOUS JEWELS WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SEE WOMEN WITH A BAD INTENSION ITS A VERY BIG SIN ISLAM IS VERY DELICATE RELIGION IF WE FOLLOW IT PROPERLY-THIS IS HOW WE FIND JERKS IN ISLAM.JAZAKALLAH KHAIR.

  11. SANA says:

    NOWADAYS THERE ARE HARDLY SOME MUSLIMS LEFT WHO FOLLOW ISLAM SINCERELY.
    YA- ALLAH PLEASE BLESS OUR UMMAH AND THOSE WHO HELP OUR UMMAH SAVE OUR MUSLIMS FROM DOING SINS AND IMPROVE OUR AKHIRRAH.

  12. SANA says:

    AAMEEN SUMM AAMEEN DUA OF THE DAY.

  13. Kawthar says:

    Subhanallah-I LOVE this article. It’s amazing how Allah plans things for you :) I am a “student of knowledge” per se, and I attend a DarulUloom program-anyone heard of these? Basically, though the whole thing is run by Salafis who although shine in some areas…I disagree with them on a lot of things. I don’t wear niqab,I watch movies, I don’t think that talking about something other than our books and lessons is completely useless, I don’t think that eating at a table and chairs is a sin(I know!) etc,etc. At the same time I believe that music is haram(after finally finding a saheeh hadith to prove it) and I’m pretty strict about what I wear,and I know that I need to follow the sunna more,and I follow a pretty regular schedule every day in my islamic actions.
    Anyways…I’m actually not an adult( early teens) and that’s pretty much the age range of my 3 other classmates…and,like, I agree completely with D. D,you and I are kindred spirits,honestly.When I entered the program I believed that everything in it was 100 percent true. I will not point out specific examples because everyone has already seen some of them. The more I told my mom about some of the more…stricter stuff the more upset she got. My mom is an easy-going convert who doesn’t really agree with this program in several things,and even with me.Not to blame my mom but eventually I started getting really fed up with some of the more AARRGGGHHH aspects of this program. I mean up till now(I’m in my third year)it was just my mom pointing out these negative things but eventually I started recognizing them for myself,and would’ve gotten sick of them eventually whether she was there to do it or not.And so..now I am really very prejudiced against a lot of my program. I kind of have a negative sunglasses kind thing and I know it’s not good,I get upset at myself when I think stuff like “Well, no duh,obviously EVERYTHING that they do they makje sure to do it the hard way” or “That lady’s Indo-Pak and goes to the Indo-Pak masjid next door. She is DEFINITELY a Hanafi follower,no doubt,who believes that a good Muslim girl should stay at home,not work and serve her husband only.” Things like that.

    To the point.. Two of my friends in this program have very recently begun on an “islamic betterment’ program.Which is supposed to be good. But I feel like lately they’ve become more judgmental..especially the older one-one of them even told me that I HAD TO,HAD TO get married whether I liked it or not,I got so mad I went home,my mom interrogated me,I had to cry and she called the teacher.Both of them,especially the younger one who turned 13 about a month ago,are obsessed with marriage and want to get married at the age of 19.Both think that going to college and high school,rather than this program,is very very wrong.The older one… my relationship is becoming more and more strained with her every day, she thinks to laugh is wrong but smiling is sunna,and so gives me see-through smiles and tries to help me with my bags, and when she hears the new ten year old recruits laughing or something she goes and tells them to “do something beneficial.” Both girls have been getting on my nerves lately but I keep my mouth shut in order to avoid World War III, both get so worked up when you disagre with them and attack you with sayings of our pious predecessors and ahadith till you have no choice but to agree. I feel that ever since they’ve gone on this whole islamic betterment thing,MY Islam has paid the price,and MY iman has been going down.

    In short. I just needed to vent,but at the same time I can’t backbite…I love,love,this article,I need it too cuz lately my mom thinks I am getting more arrogant-but it’s going to be a huge source of relief to me in the months to come,at least till I go to highschool.

    And that’s that..Sorry folks..Move on with life! Nothing to see here! Salam WRWB and JAK!

  14. Adam says:

    Salaam Brothers and sisters!

    Firstly what a great article! Definitely one needed! And Sister Kawthar I can understand that feeling – you feel soo condescended and small, that no matter what you do for these sorts of people, they’re going to belittle you in subtle ways or quite overtly.

    When I was in my late teens, I was fascinated to do martial arts, and I thought best thing to do is to go to a Muslim martial artist. So off I went thinking things will be smooth and exciting. I reach there, and he has 2 students with him. One of his students told me he did jihad in Bosnia…I thought nothing of that and said “cool”. When he started speaking to me, he told me his style of martial arts is Mongolian-based. He said “To enhance our bone density we could either condition our bodies to make them rigid and tough (by kicking against a hard bamboo tree for example) but obviously that will take ages and years, OR we could take (and hear this) a serum of elephant’s testicles and apply it on our skin, and the cost of that will be £30,000″. I felt uneasy by what he said, for one thing the price was a bit too expensive if you ask me, and secondly I didn’t want to apply semen of an elephant onto me (just in case it attracted a female elephant from afar!). So I left, and being a muslim I called him up and kindly declined to become a member of his club (can’t understand how those other students managed to fork up that amount of cash!). He immediately started insulting me! Then he said “Its because of people like you that the ummah is weak!…your family are shaitaans!” then he had the audacity to read verses from the Quran and belittle me! I was soo furious that I wanted to swear at him, but he put the phone down on me! Appearance-wise the guy had a beard and wore the Islamic cap. I was soo upset by this guy’s reaction. Interestingly I did end up doing martial arts but in a non-muslim’s club, and you know what he acted much more better and with respect to me, than that foolish brother who insulted me!

    Now onto something else, we might have brothers and sisters getting a bit too self righteous to those who don’t have beards or wear hijabs etc etc. but there is a flip-side to that – where, brothers and sisters who don’t have beards, hijabs etc etc, looking down on those with beards, hijabs etc…assuming these people have become extremists or become too self-righteous in the process. So it is safe to say one party could be reacting just the same way as the other. If that is so, then certainly Iblis is performing well because he not only focuses on our weaknesses but also on our strengths. Arrogance has no place in Islam and certainly shouldn’t be in us. We as an ummah have become disintegrated not due to non-muslims kicking our backsides but because we judge each other harshly.

    It is about time we stop that!

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

More in Islamic Character, Prophet Muhammad, Seeking Knowledge, Youth (170 of 377 articles)