To possess husn-i zann (a good opinion) is to think positively, to hope for the best, to distance oneself from negative thoughts and having a bad opinion or bad thoughts. As long as Muslims succeed in harbouring a good opinion of others they will be protected from falling into error.
The following verse from the Holy Qur’an closes all doors that lead to having a bad opinion of others:
‘You who have faith! Avoid most suspicion. Indeed some suspicion is a crime. And do not spy and do not backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat his brother’s dead flesh? No, you would hate it. And have taqwa of Allah. Allah is Ever-Returning, Most Merciful.’(Hujurat, 49:12)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has said:
“Beware of suspicion. Because suspicion or unfounded accusation is the most dishonest of speech. Do not eavesdrop on what other people say, do not search for other people’s faults and do not boast and brag to each other. Do not envy one other, do not spite one another and do not turn away from each other. O slaves of Allah! Be like brothers just as Allah has commanded you…”(Muslim, Birr, 28-34)
Another hadith of the Prophet is as follows:
“Let no one from my Companions come to me with conveying the faults of another. I want to appear amongst you with a sound heart.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 28/4860)
To have a good opinion of others is no bother nor does it burden one with any load. On the contrary it frees one from responsibility and weariness. The fourth Caliph, Ali , has said:
“Have a good opinion of the servants of Allah. If you do so, you will be freed of much tiresomeness”.
In order to have a good opinion of those who have passed away, Muslims must believe that they will be forgiven. To think the opposite is of no benefit to anyone.
One should have a continual good opinion of everyone and everything without losing one’s control. When the entire reality of a situation is not known, it is a principle of the Muslims that they act with a good opinion and think positively about each other. Because we will be held responsible for our negative opinions. In contrast, even though we may be mistaken in our good opinion, we will not be taken to account for it. Our entire loss will merely consist of being mistaken as a result of our good intention. However if we have a bad opinion of someone or we are suspicious of someone we will be forced to give an account for our actions.
Scenes of Virtue
According to a narration by Abdullah ibn Amr (r.a), during one of the circumambulations of the Ka’bah, the Prophet addressed the Ka’bah as follows:
“How pure you are and how beautiful is your scent! How lofty you are and how great is the esteem in which you are held. I swear by the All Glorious Being Who holds the soul of Muhammad in His hands, that the worth of a believer in the eyes of Allah is even greater than your worth. The value of the property and the blood of the believer are the same. We have nothing but a good opinion of the believers” (Ibn Majah, Fitan, 2).
Thus for the believers to harbour a good opinion of others is a crucial principle of Islam.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) suffered much distress and agony as a result of the event of Ifk which came about due to the mischief and discord of the hypocrites. The Prophet consulted with his wife Zaynab ibnt-i Jahsh (r.ha) and Barira , the slave-girl of Aisha (r.ha) and asked for their opinion about Aisha . Both of them bore witness of her righteousness. Aisha (r.a) has the following to say about this matter:
“When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was investigating this matter he asked Zaynab ibnt-i Jahsh (r.a) her opinion of me:
“O Zaynab, what do you know of this matter, and what have you seen?”
“O Messenger of Allah! I am ever protecting of what my ears have not heard and my eyes have not seen. I know nothing other than good about Aisha”
Amongst the wives of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh), Zaynab was one who, due to certain virtues could be considered to be a rival to me. (Having had the chance, she could have disparaged me in the eyes of the Prophet in order to make herself more favoured with him). However because of her piety and religion, Allah protected her from being amongst my slanderers” (Bukhari, Shahadah, 15, 30; Muslim, Tawba, 56).
What a beautiful example of husn-i zann… While many people could have fallen into error, Zaynab took refuge under the umbrella of husn-i zann and was saved from the divine punishment that befell the slanderers of Aisha. Later verses were revealed that cleared Aisha of the slanders. Verses too were revealed that contained a terrible warning for the slanderers and those who abandoned their good opinions along with them. It made known that had Allah not been forgiving, they would have all been destroyed in a terrible way. The fact that these warnings and threats were repeated several times is enough to show how ugly an act is suspicion and false accusation. The verses have the following to say:
‘Why, when you heard it, did you not, as men and women of the believers, instinctively think good thoughts and say, ‘This is obviously a lie’?’ (Al-Nur, 24:12).
‘Were it not for Allah’s favour to you and His mercy, both in this world and the afterlife, a terrible punishment would have afflicted you for your plunging headlong into it’(Al-Nur, 24:14).
It was again during the time of the incident of Ifk, when Ummu Ayyub (r.ha), the wife of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari asked her husband:
“Have you heard what people are saying about Aisha?” Abu Ayyub replied:
“Yes I have. But they are all lies and fabrication”
Then he asked his wife:
“Would you do such a vile thing?” She answered:
“No! By Allah I would never do such a thing”
Upon this Abu Ayyub (r.a) said to her:
“By Allah! Aisha is much better than you are”. (Ibn Hisham, III, 347; Wakidi, II, 434).
What a nice example of the good opinion of that model generation of people…
Ibn Mas’ud (r.a) narrates the following:
“When you see your fellow brother committing a sin, do not be a helper of Satan saying things like: “O Lord! Degrade him. O Allah! Curse him”
Rather say: “O Lord! Forgive him and direct him to the straight path”. As Companions of the Prophet Muhammad we would never say anything about anyone that we did not know in what state they died. If his life ended well, we would say “He has met with good”. If he died in a bad way, we would fear saying anything about him” (Abu Nuaym, Hilya, IV, 205).
A visitor to Abu Dujana who was ill in bed saw that his face was radiant with light and asked him:
“Why does your face shine so?”. He answered:
“I have two deeds:
“One is that I remain silent about matters that do not concern me, and the other is that my heart is distant from thinking negative thoughts about the believers. I have a good opinion about all believers” (Ibn Sa’d, III, 557).
Jalaluddin al-Rumi explains with a metaphor, the ugly and destructive traits that lurk in man’s inner world, such as suspicion, envy, and jealousy:
One time a Sultan bought two slaves. In order to perceive the level of their reason and their heart, he began to converse with the first slave. The slave gave such answers to the Sultan that other people would have had to have thought long and hard about the answers. The Sultan was very pleased with the understanding nature, intelligence and sweet words of this servant. He then called the other slave to him.
The second slave appeared in the presence of the Sultan. The slave’s breath smelled bad and his teeth were black from negligence. Though the Sultan was not very pleased with the outer appearance of this slave, he yet began to converse with him in order to understand his state and character and in order to understand his inner world:
“With your appearance and your bad breath, stay a little way away, but not too far away. Let us first find a cure for your mouth; you are a pleasant person and I am a skilled physician. It does not become us to regard you with disdain nor to disgrace you. Sit down, tell us a few stories and let us understand the degree of your reason”
The Sultan then turned to the first slave and said to him:
“Now you arise, go to the hamam and have a good wash”
After his friend left, he addressed the second slave, whom he wished to make speak and said to him in order to test him:
“This friend of yours whom I just conversed with said many things about you. But I see that you are not as he says. That envious one tried to make me dislike you. Your friend said about you: “He is a thief. He is not honest. He sits with criminals and he is undignified”. What do you have to say about him?”
The second slave replied to the Sultan:
“I cannot say about such a one who is reasonable and speaks the truth that he is crooked. On the contrary, as a result of his words, I would try to reform myself, thinking that I may have such faults. My Sultan! Maybe he has seen many faults in me that I am not aware of”.
The Sultan said to the slave:
“Just as he has told me about your faults, now you tell me his faults”. The slave replied:
“My Sultan! He truly is my good friend. My heart prevents me from disclosing his faults. This is why all I have to say is this: In my opinion his faults are not faults but rather virtues. He is a model of love, loyalty and humanity. His state is one of uprightness, intelligence and true friendship. He is generous and he helps the needy. He is so generous that he would give his life if necessary. Another trait of my friend in fate is that he is not arrogant. He is good with everybody and is against only his own soul”
The Sultan then said to the slave:
“Do not exaggerate in your praise of your friend and do not try to praise yourself while praising him. Because I will test him and then you will regret your words”
The slave then said:
“No indeed. I was not exaggerating in my praise of him. The virtues of that friend of mine are many times better than I have said. I have told you about the character of my friend. However, o my noble Sultan. What can I do if you do not believe me? My heart necessitates that I speak so”.
When the first slave returned back from the hamam, the Sultan called him to him and said:
“May you be given health and unending bounty. However how much better it would have been for you if you did not possess the evil traits that your friend told me you had. Then those who saw your beautiful face would be pleased and happy. Then it would have been worth the entire treasure of the world to look at you”.
The slave said to him:
“My Sultan! Would you please tell me what that tactless one had to say about me?”
The Sultan replied:
“He told me first of all about your hypocrisy. He said that though you looked like a cure, you were in fact misfortune itself.”
Hearing these words from the Sultan, the first slave became filled with rage, he began to foam at the mouth, and his face turned red with anger. The slave began to criticise his friend, setting no limit. He said:
“At first he was a friend to me, but then I found that he had a very foul mouth. He was like a dog in times of famine. He would eat rubbish a lot of the time”.
The first slave began to toot like a horn in order to criticise his friend. He began to reveal the ugliness that lurked within his inner world. The Sultan then said to the slave: “That is enough”. And he put his hand over his mouth saying to him:
“I have now seen the difference between the two of you. His mouth smelled only because of a physical illness. However your soul reeks of bad odour. O soul who reeks. Distance yourself. Your friend will be your commander and you will be under his command. You will learn from him good manners, humanity and how to speak. Take a lesson from his virtuous nature. Abandon suspicion and envy. You are a pitiable soul who is like one who has tied a rock to his stomach; you can neither swim nor walk with it”.
The second slave who harboured a good opinion about his friend became subject to both spiritual and material bounties due to his being at the peak of virtue. On the other hand, the first slave who bore negative thoughts and succumbed to his anger without learning the truth of the matter was disgraced and reviled and met with great loss.
In essence then, to harbour good feelings about people is a fruit of the virtue of being able to look upon creation from the perspective of the Creator. To wish for the best for people and to see their good side is a very important trait that will lead one to the pleasure of Allah and to people’s love.
. This event involved a slanderous accusation against Aisha, the prophet’s wife, made by the hypocrites (Translator’s note).
. Bukhari, Shahadah 16