Setting Standards of Social Morality
In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Allah does not love evil to be spoken openly unless it be someone who has been genuinely wronged. Allah hears all and knows all. Whether you do good openly or in private, or pardon others for evil (done against you), Allah is indeed Most lenient, Powerful.
(Women: An-Nisaa: 4:148-149)
As the Quran was being revealed, it undertook the process of establishing a new nation out of the scattered groups of people who were picked up from their little corners of ignorance. After their characters were re-molded by Islam, they were set up on their way to a much higher human standard. They were then assigned their great role of leadership of mankind. One of the elements which helped remold these characters was to give this community a pure conscience and to purify the general atmosphere of their new social set-up and to set for them a new moral standard.
When the new Muslim community attained that standard, its superiority over the rest of mankind in personal and social morality was equal to its superiority in idealogical concepts. The Muslim community was then able to accomplish, by Allah’s will, what he had determined for it, and assume its role as custodian of the divine system, and a guide to mankind.
Role of Leadership
Superiority of moral standards makes a nation naturally fit for the role of leadership. It provides the right foundation which enables that nation to achieve a higher standard of civilization and scientific advancement and formulate a better economic and political system. Superiority in these matters comes as a result of superior beliefs and moral values. Part of the purification of consciences at individual and social levels is represented by the two verses which provide the subject of the commentary: “Allah does not love evil to be spoken openly, unless it be by someone who had been genuinely wronged. Allah hears all and knows all. Whether you do good openly or in private, or pardon others for evil done against you, Allah is indeed Most-lenient, Powerful.”
Standard of Social Morality
Being highly sensitive, a human society needs to establish a proper standard of social morality. A word said unwittingly and a rumour intended against only one person may have highly detrimental effects on society, its traditions and values. Unless checked by conscience and by the quality common to believers, namely fear of Allah, it is very easy to use evil language, which will inevitably leave profoundly harmful effects on society. It often destroys mutual confidence among people, giving a general impression that evil has become commonplace. It also encourages those with evil tendencies to bring them out into the open. People tend not to express their disgust at hearing evil words, or indeed evil acts, when they become widely used or done.
Result of Evil Language
Innocent people are grouped together with those who are guilty, accusations fly around, psychological and social considerations which restrain people from using foul language become ineffective. The fact is that the use of evil words starts in the form of individual accusations, but it leads to social corruption and moral chaos. No individual or group of people are given their due credit and people have no confidence in each other, when baseless accusations circulate and scruples are totally disregarded. For these reasons, Allah does not like that the Muslim community should allow evil words to be common usage. The only exemption in this regard is given to a person who suffers injustice. It should be pointed out here, that such evil words which are allowed to be spoken openly originate with a particular person who has been wronged, for a particular reason, i.e, the wrong itself and leveled at one person in particular who is the wrong doer. The exemption given in this verse is justified by the end in view, namely to restore justice to a person who has been wronged.
To be sure, Islam does not allow libel in any form. It protects people’s reputation and integrity as long as they do not wrong others. If they do that, they relinquish their rights to be protected. By giving this exemption, Islam maintains a balance between its two desires, to maintain a high standard of justice which admits of no breach and a standard of morality which allows no violation of personal or social propriety. Commenting on the prohibition and the exemption, the Quran states: “Allah hears all and knows all.” The conclusion relates the whole matter to Allah’s law, after it has been given at the outset, within the context of what Allah loves and what He dislikes: “Allah does not love evil to be spoken openly.” This comment emphasizes to us that the evaluation of motive and intention as well as the truth of the words uttered and the accusation expressed is made by Allah who hears whatever is said and who knows what is in people’s hearts.
The surah does not stop at giving an order not to speak evil openly, it encourages the positive aspect of doing good generally and pardoning others for any evil. It reminds people that Allah Himself is Much-forgiving, Most-lenient, when He is able to punish offenders. This reminder also serves as an incentive to believers to follow, within the limits of their ability, Allah’s example in dealing with people: “Whether you do good openly or in private, or pardon others for evil done against you, Allah is indeed Most-lenient, Powerful.”
Refining Our Character
Here, Islam takes its followers, individual and communities, up another stage in educating them and refining their characters. In the first stage, it spoke to them about Allah’s dislike of evil being spoken openly. It gave a concession to a person who has been subjected to injustice, to speak against the person who had wronged him, in order to remove that wrong. In this second stage, it raises them all to the level of doing good. As for the individual who has been wronged, he is encouraged to pardon and forgive, when he is able to take a legitimate step in retaliation in order to remove that injustice. It is forgiveness given freely, despite the ability to retaliate. Needless to say, this stage of forgiveness is higher and more worthy of believers than that of retaliation. All this, helps good to spread in the Muslim community if it is done openly. If it is kept in secret, it helps keep hearts and souls pure. Good is beneficial when done in public or in private. When forgiveness becomes common, little room is left for evil words said in public. The only condition is that it should be forgiveness granted, when one feels able to retaliate in some other way. We forgive because we like to be forgiven by Allah, who though able to punish us, pardons us: “Allah is indeed Most-lenient, Powerful.”