By Dr. Jasser Auda
A person, who learns of people’s secrets and does not have Godly mercy on them, brings upon himself great danger and disaster.
When one’s knowledge and awareness increase, he will find himself in situations and incidents where he learns of people’s secrets, faults, and problems.
This happens when one applies his mind to the study of the outward appearance of a thing with a view to understanding its real nature and its inner characteristics. One comes to know people’s secrets when he is consulted or becomes an arbitrator in a certain dispute on individual, family, and collective levels.
Learning people’s secrets and their weaknesses is a chance for practicing some influence on them. If you come to learn people’s secrets, you should treat them in the proper way. The Sheikh says: “A person, who learns of people’s secrets and does not have Godly mercy on them, brings upon himself great danger and disaster.”
One should not feel that he is authorized by God to act as a judge among the people or that he will establish justice among them. What one should do is to have Godly mercy on them.
Having Godly mercy on people requires that you should not reveal people’s faults because God is the One who conceals such faults. A man called Maiz came to the Prophet confessing his adultery. So the Prophet ordered that he be stoned as a punishment for his act. Hazzal came and said, “I ordered him to confess.” The Prophet then said, “It would have been better for you if you had covered him with your clothes, Hazzal.” (Abu Dawud)
It is a major sin to reveal people’s faults or take them as a pretext to harm them. The Prophet is reported to have said: “The servant (who conceals) the faults of others in this world, God would conceal his faults on the Day of Resurrection.” (Muslim)
Having Godly mercy on people also requires that you admonish people and call them to do good deeds with a view to correcting their faults. This is how the Prophet behaved with the hypocrites after God told him about what they hid in their hearts.
As for them – God knows all that is in their hearts; so leave them alone, and admonish them, and speak unto them about themselves in a gravely searching manner. (An-Nisaa’ 4:64)
When God Himself admonishes us He does so in the best manner. When He commands us to do something, His commandments are conveyed in a gentle way. God says in a hadith: “If they offer repentance, I will surely love them. If they do not repent, I will be like their physician (who helps them with their diseases until they are recovered).”
A physician follows a gradual course in treating people’s diseases. He also tries different medicines until a certain medicine works out. A good physician resorts to surgery, amputation or cautery only as the last option. Cautery is recommended only as the last treatment option as the Arabian proverb suggests.
Besides, having Godly mercy on people requires that you free yourself from your personal interests when you handle people’s secrets or information which you learn about. As we said earlier, learning people’s secrets gives one an authority to exploit them for his own interests. This contradicts the concept of Godly mercy which urges one to overlook his own interests and aims only at fixing and correcting people’s behavior.
The servant, who does not have mercy on people after learning their faults, might have a feeling of pride, conceit, envy and suspicion. All these traits are dangerous and destructive to our moral system.
Also, the one, who does not have mercy on people, will be doing injustice to them. Injustice is punishable both in this world and the world to come. Therefore, the Sheikh says: “A person, who learns of people’s secrets and does not have Godly mercy on them, brings upon himself great danger and disaster.” This word of wisdom is reinforced by the hadith in which the Prophet says: “No sin has a faster Divine punishment than the sin of injustice …” (Abu Hanifa)
The original situation is “do not spy upon one another” (Al-Hujurat 49:12) But if one finds himself in a situation where people’s secrets are revealed before him, he should have Godly mercy on them as the Sheikh says. Otherwise, he will be journeying backward not forward to God.
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda