By Naila Naiyyar
A lot of problems arise among families, relatives, in-laws, colleagues, and neighbors, simply due to having negative thoughts of them. Allah has clearly stated in the Holy Quran to avoid such negative assumptions, calling it a sin.
“O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (Quran; 49:12)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!”) (Bukhari)
Perhaps you see a friend online regularly updating on social media, but isn’t replying to your messages. Instead of jumping to a conclusion like she is ignoring you, fancy the thought that she may be too caught up with things and just needs a gentle reminder to get back to you.
That person who passed by you not replying to your salaams, possibly didn’t hear you.
That colleague who snapped rudely at you might be facing something terribly bad at home.
And even if you don’t know why the driver behind you overtook your car so dangerously, supposing that he might have an emergency to rush to will let you stay calm on the road and give you peace of mind, instead of letting it affect your mood adversely, which you would ultimately take back home or to work.
Developing a positive opinion of people does NOT mean ignoring danger signs or being careless and unguarded; rather, it means not to paint every one with the single brush of negativity; it means to not let stereotypes affect our judgment, and not to let other people’s personal experiences or opinions bleak our sense of rationality.
To put it briefly, having good opinion of people implies:
- Thinking positive of others
- Avoiding suspicion and wrong assumptions of others
- Giving others the benefit of the doubt
The first step to eradicating negative thoughts of others is to acknowledge the problem. Next, is to work through it. In order to do that, we need to identify why we think the way we do. What could be the underlying factor for thinking ill of others? Some possible reasons are enlisted below. Identifying which one(s) affect us most would be able to help us in resolving our issues more effectively.
Reasons for thinking the worst of others:
1) Polluted heart
The first and foremost reason is having a polluted heart – a heart low in eeman (faith) and taqwa (fear of Allah). The heart which is not clean will not be able to see nor seek the good in others. Such a heart weakens the eeman and pollutes the mind, with this pollution extending to our everyday-dealings with other people.
We all have our own criteria of thoughts and beliefs based on which we judge people and events around us. However, external factors like family, peers, and society too condition this outlook of ours towards the world. This is where stereotypes come into play. We can reduce harboring bad opinion of people simply by not following stereotypes. Always objectively analyze the person or event in a particular situation before forming opinions. This would help us in being non-judgmental.
For example, a very common stereotype has to do with the mother and daughter-in-law dynamics, wherein a mother in-law is considered to be someone who is always against her daughter in-law. Even though a wife-to-be may not know her mother in-law well enough before marriage, she could step into her new family with preconceived ideas based on all the things she has heard about mothers-in-law in general. In doing so, she fails to realize that her husband’s mother is just like any other mother – including her own, who would only be eager to start a beautiful relationship with her new daughter-in-law.
A wise person will always think reasonably and avoid jumping to conclusions.
3) Lack of empathy
Empathy is a quality that helps us connect with people especially when they are going through tough times, and creates a bond of trust between two people. When we lack empathy we are unable to feel the other person’s situation. This leads to forming bad opinions about them when what they actually need from us is understanding and support.
4) Not being able to accept others’ achievements
This factor has a lot to do with being envious or jealous of others for their achievements. Some strategies to deal with envy are mentioned in our blog post here.
5) Difference of opinions
This refers to considering ill of others because they don’t agree with us in certain instances.
We need to realize that everyone has different approaches to life, and so our view will not necessarily be the same as that of another person. Since we are more prone to form wrong opinions about people when we don’t get along with them, we must be more mindful in such cases.
Benefits of having good opinion of people
1) The heart remains pure and free from wrong assumptions, malice, or rancor, instead is full of love for others.
2) It breeds positivity, promotes unity, and fosters love and respect for fellow human beings.
3) We are more concerned about improving our lives, instead of making others miserable.
4) We earn the Pleasure of Allah.
How to develop good opinion of people
1) Ask Allah to purify your heart. Raise your prayers to the One who answers.
2) Be constant in focusing on yourself and how you can improve your own life. It is not befitting of a Muslim to be unnecessarily concerned with others’ lives, following their every move.
As mentioned in the hadith, “Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him.” (Tirmidhi)
3) Be open-minded and try to understand each person’s situation. Get more clarity into the situation by looking at it through different angles.
4) Feel happy for others achievements. Force it, if you have to. Allah will rush to your help when you put in your efforts, and soon the feelings of happiness would come to you naturally.
5) Always give others the benefit of the doubt. Give him/her a chance to put forward his opinion too. We need to keep in mind that no one is free from making mistakes. Hence, it is not fair to ignore the good deeds and focus only something they erred on.
6) Filter the information you get before forming an opinion. Instead of creating stories in your head, it is better to directly communicate with the other person in a civilized manner.
7) Understand and respect the differences of other people.
8) Always put yourself in the other’s situation and ask yourself how you would feel if people have prejudice in their hearts against you.
Why, when you heard it, did not the believing men and believing women think good of one another and say, “This is an obvious falsehood”? (Quran; 24:12)
Good opinion about kids in the home and at school
Having good opinion of children is crucial to help build their self-confidence. When adults have a good opinion of them, they feel good about themselves they will tend to perform well in all areas of life. But if adults assume that they are ‘just kids’ and so won’t be able to complete even a simple task then they are already setting the child up for failure. The same is the case with teachers. If a teacher believes that a student is and will always remain a C-grade student, then that’s just how the student will perform. Instead, when the student is given the confidence of excelling, s/he will actually begin to strive for it.
On the flip side, it is also important for us to be very clear and open about our own actions, and avoid things that will raise suspicion among those around us either through our facial and body gestures, or our actions. We should be careful not to leave room for conceivable suspicion from others. A very beautiful example can be found in the following hadith:
Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) wife Safiyya visited him one night when he was observing I’tikaf. When it was time for her to leave, he stood up to bid her goodbye. During this time two men passed by them. When they saw Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) with a female they began to walk away swiftly. So he (peace be upon him) said, “Walk calmly, she is Safiyya, daughter of Huyyay.” Both of them said: “Messenger, Praise be to Allah. We cannot conceive of anything doubtful even in the remotest corners of our minds.” He (peace be upon him) said: “Satan circulates in the body of man like the circulation of blood and I was afraid lest it should instill any evil in your heart or anything.” (Muslim)