We can say that just as earth, air, water, and their constituents have an influence on the development of a plant, so do thoughts and intentions have an influence on the development of the ethical conduct and character in a person. As flowers flourish from seeds and birds hatch from eggs, lofty souls and perfect characters are nurtured by beautiful thoughts and pure intentions. Moreover, those who live as if they constantly breathe a heavenly atmosphere thanks to their noble thoughts and sincere intentions begin to send out the fragrance of the same climate around them in time. They turn their surroundings and other people’s hearts into gardens of Paradise. As for those possessed by ugly thoughts or evil intentions, they virtually cause people to drink poison even in heavenly atmospheres.
Good Opinion is a Form of Worship
Being constantly filled with considerations that are welcomed by the conscience and cherishing positive views about another person is termed as having a “good opinion” (husnu dhan) in religion. As a religious term, good opinion denotes good intention, positive thinking, and perception of the beautiful; this reflects a person’s inner purity and faithfulness. It is most becoming for a righteous believer to maintain good intentions and take everything from the positive when making evaluations about persons or events.
Holding negative thoughts about someone is called having an “ill-opinion” (sui dhan), and this is based on suspicion. God Almighty reveals the evil of suspicion about other people in the following verse:
O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a grave sin (liable to God’s punishment); and do not spy (on one another), nor backbite (against one another). Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it! Keep from disobedience to God in reverence for Him and piety. Surely God is One Who truly returns repentance with liberal forgiveness and additional reward, All-Compassionate (particularly towards His believing servants).
Likewise, God’s Messenger counseled against suspicion, since suspicion is the worst of lies. He also warned us against prying into others’ affairs, eavesdropping, feelings of rivalry or jealousy, rancor and turning our back against others; he counseled God’s servants to be brothers and sisters. He warned us against suspicion and all behavior that might harm brotherhood. In addition, God’s Messenger stated that a person’s having a good opinion of others is because that person is a good servant of God. The Prophet Muhammad considered sincere intentions, positive thoughts, and beautiful perspectives to be a sign of maturity in Islam, a deepening in faith, and soundness brought by living with the awareness of constantly being seen by God. The Prophet not only took an oath of allegiance from his Companions, he also received their promises about having good intentions toward all believers.
Said Nursi listed the four great spiritual handicaps, and he also mentioned the possession of an ill-opinion of others alongside hopelessness, self-pride, and vanity. He emphasized the importance of having good opinions. A person should not see all other people as superior to themselves, nor should they project the weakness or ugliness that is in their own person on others through suspicion or make the mistake of criticizing certain attitudes and acts of others without knowing the underlying reasons. At this point, I would like to mention a serious mistake related to the subject. Disapproving of certain attitudes of the early generations of Muslims who followed the Companions (salaf al-salihin) without knowing the wisdom behind is also an ill opinion. Ill opinion is one of the devil’s traps that harms society in terms of both material and spiritual life.
It is our duty to cherish good opinions and we must always think positively, particularly about believers. Imam Khadimi, the author of Bariqa, says that “even if you see a believer committing adultery, do not rush to make a judgment about him, wipe your eyes and say ‘My God, that person does not commit such an ugly deed, I must have seen wrong.’ Turn back and look again to make sure. If that is really him, then say ‘I have probably seen mistakenly again.’ One more time disbelieve your eyes, wipe them and look again. If you become certain that the person you have seen is the same person you thought, then say ‘There is no strength or power except with God Almighty’ and pray for that person: ‘O God, save him from this ugly state, and save me from falling into such a sin also’ and move away from there.” Although I do love Imam Khadimi and have deep respect for him, I find some excess in these words; we do not need to wipe our eyes and look back time and again and inquire into that deed. Because, we still have some doubt after the first look and that doubt can be the means for dismissing any negative thoughts about the other person. Inquiring into the matter further might serve to verify the negative possibility. Therefore, when we witness ugliness, we should immediately walk away without spying into the affair, identifying, or verifying it, before the unpleasant sights flow into our heart and take the form of a judgment. We should say “O God, grant guidance to your sinning servants, and forgive me,” and then forget what we have seen.
The person who has committed that sin may have fallen once but they may have then repented instantly, washing away his sins with tears, and he may have been forgiven. However, the person who witnessed the case and verified it through spying into it cannot help thinking about that ugly deed every time he remembers it and therefore cannot get rid of their mental contamination, unable to free themselves from the damage of ill-opinion.
Moreover, even though legal witnesses play a role in maintaining law and order in a society, there is no duty to reveal people’s vices in Islam. There is no such ethical rule that requires us to investigate the faults of others, to divulge them, or to embarrass these people. On the contrary, searching out faults and mistakes, divulging sins, and humiliating others are considered to be immoral in Islam. In this respect, even if a person has ten attributes of unbelief and only one sign of faith, we must keep as good an opinion of them as we can. That person is supposed to fear for himself and worry about his afterlife. However, we must never see him as a hypocrite. We need to remember the principle that being wrong in a good opinion is better than proving right an ill opinion, and we must act according to this. Naturally, we can be more cautious about whether we should give certain duties or responsibilities to people who have attributes of unbelief for the good of servitude on the way of God. We should remember the principle Said Nursi teaches us to adhere to when dealing with such people: “good opinion, non-reliance.” In order to let them have a share in the blessings of serving the faith, we can give them certain duties, but refrain from entrusting them with critical responsibilities. Thus, we will avoid serious mistakes and we will carry out the requirement of holding a positive opinion, thus allowing these people to rid themselves of ugly traits and to become sincere believers. Nevertheless, we should not forget that good opinion and trust are among the essential components of those who are devoted to the same cause and we should never fail to trust one another because of some piece of information that is not based on certain facts, or be misled by trivial reasons, suspicions, or the devil’s whisperings. We need to avoid over-generalizing the principle of “non-reliance.”
Avoid raising suspicion!
In addition, in the same way that it is essential to hold a good opinion of others, it is also a very important principle to refrain from behavior that might raise suspicion. Some people fail to avoid acts and conditions that might possibly lead to ugly thoughts about themselves arising in the minds of other people. They might sometimes present behavior that can be open to criticism in terms of their personal lives, businesses, or social relations. Thereby, these people trigger negative feelings and ugly considerations in some people who are prone to suspicion or ill-opinion. However, everybody should review their own condition and refrain from raising suspicion, while constantly maintaining a good opinion of others.
It is not possible to approve of situations which might lead to suspicion, particularly today; at the present time what is prevalent is a collective spiritual identity rather than spiritual individuality. The attitudes and behaviors of every Muslim can be ascribed to this spiritual identity and it can be generalized to all believers. Therefore, one of the prayers I consider to be very important is “My God, do not humiliate our brothers and sisters because of my attitudes and behaviors, do not let them be embarrassed because of my personal mistakes.” Nowadays, an unmannerly act by a single individual might cause all believers to lose credit. A person with inconsistent behavior can lead to negative aspects being attributed to all Muslims. In this respect, it is even more important to act in accordance with the warning of the Prophet and we should avoid those places that might leave us under suspicion. In the same way that we need to avoid such “slippery ground”, places that might leave us under the suspicion of potential sins, and to avoid situations that might trigger feelings that could lead to such sins, we should also keep away from the dangerous territory that might distance us from our essential values through the attraction of a single word, through eavesdropping, or spying on others. Likewise, we should avoid heedless behaviors that might raise suspicions about us and we should not let negative thoughts emerge. The following example will guide us in this issue:
One day, when God’s Messenger was at his habitual retreat in the mosque for the last ten days of Ramadan, his wife Safiyya visited him and asked for permission to go home after having stayed for a while. God’s Messenger, who was a paragon of kindness, came out to see off his respectable wife. At the moment, one or two Companions who were passing by, saw them and walked away. The Prophet Muhammad, the Prince of both worlds, stopped them immediately and said “Look, this is my wife Safiyya,” raising the veil of our mother Safiyya. Upon this, the Companions responded in humility, “God forbid! O Messenger of God, how can one ever expect an evil deed from you?” The Prophet replied as follows: “The devil continues to circulate through the blood vessels of people.”
As the devil does not leave us alone; he can whisper various suspicions and evil thoughts into our ears. He might lead even the most decent people to ill thoughts in various unexpected ways. So, one should try to maintain good opinions and avoid situations that might lead to ill opinion as much as possible.
The good opinion of God Almighty
On the other hand, while believers should always maintain good opinions about others, it is unthinkable for them to express discontentment that denotes an ill opinion of the Creator’s deeds. Above everything and everybody, a believer must hold a good opinion of God Almighty. As expressed in a hadith qudsi by the Prophet, God’s treatment of a servant depends on that person’s opinion of God. This reveals how important it is to cherish a good opinion of God, and how great a means to salvation this is.
As an example of how good opinions about the All-Merciful Lord are turned into a decree of forgiveness in the other world, the Prophet narrated the following event: a certain servant is called to account. Alongside his good deeds there are many sins. When both are weighed, it turns out that the scale of good deeds is lighter and the man deserves punishment. The condemned man is seized and is dragged toward punishment in a wretched condition. He keeps turning and looking back, as if he was expecting something. God orders the angels to ask him why he keeps looking back (this “looking back” should not be taken literally, it is unthinkable for God Almighty to be confined to a place or direction). The poor man says, “O God, my good opinion of You is not like this. Yes, I have brought along sins while others came with good deeds; but I have never lost my faith or trust in Your Mercy. It has been my hopeful expectation that You will treat me with Your Mercy and forgive me also.” These considerations and the man’s good opinion of God Almighty opened a door to his salvation. Consequently, the man gladly heard the divine order to be taken to Paradise. In a similar way, after Abu Sahl had passed away to the realm of eternity, certain people saw him in their dreams, and he told them that he was enjoying indescribable blessings. They asked him, “O master, how have you been able to attain this exalted rank?” Abu Sahl answered “Thanks to the good opinion I cherished about my God.”
As a matter of fact, a believer should always maintain a good opinion about God Almighty in every phase of their life, and they should constantly live with this hope. They should say, “I may be a sinner, and I am hung by a thread to Him. Therefore I might slip and fall at any moment. However, He forgives the sins of His servants, and is All-Compassionate, particularly toward His believing servants (Ghafur and Rahim). I have firm belief that His Immense Forgiveness will include me as well,” and cherish the hope of being forgiven. Nevertheless, this good opinion and hope for forgiveness should not lead one to commit more sins. A sincere believer is supposed to avoid sins like they avoid poisonous creatures. Even if they were to commit a sin, they should immediately take refuge in repentance, and ask forgiveness with the hope of being pardoned. A very delicate balance is concerned in this issue; a fine balance exists between refraining from sins and not giving in to hopelessness after a temporary lapse, since hopelessness is a greater danger in comparison to a sin. Saying “There is no more hope for me” and totally giving up, indulging in the swamp of sins, and finally being seized by pessimism, finally committing suicide is a greater transgression than the sins which lead to such a state. No matter in what condition a person finds themselves in, given that we are servants of the All-Merciful God who reveals His attributes of Mercy and Compassion in the Qur’an, Who even addresses the people who waste their lives as “My” servants, then why should we be hopeless? Actually, one should be able to say “it is unbecoming to commit sins before the great Compassion of my Creator. Then how can I dare to commit transgressions again!” Therefore, one should not give in or become hopeless. Particularly in old age and at the moment of death one should even more enthusiastically take refuge in hope and be filled with beautiful considerations while returning to God. Similarly, God’s Messenger warned us against dying without a good opinion of God Almighty.
Moreover, we should not restrict our understanding of the hadith about our opinion of God and His treatment of us; we need to evaluate this hadith from a broader perspective. It really is an expression of good opinion to say “I have an All-Merciful Lord who makes me happy with His various blessings, guides me to righteousness, Who forgives my lapses, and pardons my sins.” However, there is the belief that everything that happens in our lives has been arranged for our own good (e.g. an illness is seemingly bad, but it can be a means of blessings for our afterlife if we abandon being patient and thankful) and that everything in life is tailor-made just for us. Our good opinion about our Lord depends on the existence of this belief. If God Almighty wills, He exiles us, puts us to another test, puts another person to prison… but no matter what He does, it is always for our benefit. Each case is meant to direct us, to guide us to a certain destination and help us to reach eternal bliss. From the worship for which we are responsible - such as the daily prayers, fasting, Hajj, and alms of zakat-to the apparent troubles and misfortunes, everything we become and everything we are subjected to is planned for our advantage. Having sincere faith in this truth is the peak of our good opinion of God Almighty.
To conclude, good intentions, positive thinking, and perceiving the beautiful are signs of a person’s purity of heart and the immensity of their conscience. If a person starts to judge others, no one will be left behind. If we do not hold on to good opinions from the beginning, we cannot help but judge everybody and everything. Therefore, when an individual is performing self-criticism-given that they do not give in to hopelessness-they should be harsh. But when other people are concerned they should hold on to good opinions. We must remember that it is better to be mistaken in a good opinion than being proven right with a negative opinion.