The Artful Judger

Photo of a gavel, 'justice' scales and books.
Photo of a gavel, ‘justice’ scales and books.

Brooke Benoit takes a moment to ponder why people concern themselves with others’ choices.

“He converted for you?” they ask ‘Aishah. With their eyebrows raised and heads tilted it’s hard for ‘Aishah to believe that her sisters are just being naturally curious about this unique phenomenon. Her sisters think that they know many women convert for men, but it’s rare for a man to convert for a woman. ‘Aishah has heard the whispers: these kinds of conversions are insincere, the converts aren’t really Muslim, their marriage is haram, he/she will soon enough leave their spouse and Islam all together.

I see how hurt ‘Aishah is by these assumptions and judgements and I try to dismiss them with a Muslim maxim, “only Allah can judge you”. My words ring hollow, but I remain steadfast in my insistence that people’s judgements don’t bother me. “Sticks and Stones” sounds off quietly in my head. A few days later when someone angrily accused me of judging them I was flummoxed, but this time I saw that I am in need of a better understanding of why some of my sisters are so upset by perceiving that they have been judged or worse misjudged. I wondered, what’s the big deal about what someone thinks about me? We can’t control each other’s thoughts… We can’t control each other’s actions either, but that’s one of the many problems with erroneously judging others; judgements then become actions.

…misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

For ‘Aishah and her husband there are innumerous examples of how being misjudged affects their lives. Minimally, they are both seen as “lesser” Muslims, though some may go as far as to see them as deviants or even non-Muslims since they believe ‘Aishah’s husband converted only to marry her. Therefore, they believe that he is not a true Muslim and neither is she because she is married to a non-Muslim. ‘Aishah and her husband are often left out of mosque functions, including decision-making processes and educational resources, thereby effectively blocking their local access to the deen. They are largely left feeling alienated from their community and frequently hurt by other Muslims’ harshness, assumptions and ignorance about their personal lives.

 

Misjudgements in general can have lasting impacts on people’s lives. I now recognise that it was from a position of great privilege that I was able to so easily disregard how people may judge me. As a white female I am often misjudged or judged to my benefit. I am sometimes judged for various lifestyle choices I make (home-birthing, home-educating, converting, etc.) But these are usually superficial interactions that don’t have a lasting impact on my life aside from occasionally feeding my insecurities or fueling my determinacy. Misjudgements are often steeped in stereotyping and can lead to various forms of exclusion and ultimately forms of oppression. Aside from how ‘Aishah’s family is excluded from her community, misjudging people leads to serious social ills, such as rejecting suitable people for jobs, marriage, positions in decision making processes and so on.

 

The harm to the judges

Judging others is also harmful to the one doing the judging; it prevents personal growth and can be or lead to sinning.

 

  • Judging others is a distraction technique. We busy ourselves with casting judgement on others rather than to look at our own problems. Or as author Jarl Forsman explains, “most judgements of others are ego strategies to avoid uncomfortable feelings. However, if you lack the awareness of where they come from, they can lead to even more discomfort down the line.” Next time you judge someone, think of the judgement as a mirror and ponder what is going on in that area in your own life. Perhaps some of these people who judge ‘Aishah and her husband have insecurities about their own sincerity in their faith.

 

  • Judging other’s actions can stem from envy. There may be some aspect of the other person’s choices that the judge is jealous of and feels that they are not able to act on it themselves. Are ‘Aishah’s judges jealous that she was able to marry a man they never would have been able to consider based on personal, familial or cultural taboos?

 

  • Similarly, we may judge others from a position of intolerance, which is when we only accept our own personal values and are not accepting and respectful of other values. We can be bothered by other people’s lifestyle choices because again a mirror has been placed in front of us providing an opportunity to reconsider our own ideals, but often we would rather do the easier work of condemning than contemplating.

 

  • Misjudging others is essentially making an assumption about them based on an interpretation of superficial information. This practice is so dangerous that Allah (SWT) warns us not to heedlessly judge each other:

“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.” (Al-Hujurat:12)

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other and nurse no malice and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow brothers and servants of Allah.” [Muslim Hadith 6214]
  • Breeding negativity: notice in the above hadith we are not only warned about suspicion, but also not to harbour negative feelings for each other, such as malice, aversion and hostility. SISTERS’ own Positive Psychologist Saiyyidah Zaidi-Stone explains that “negative thinking drains your energy for positivity. Being negative becomes a habit. This rut results in individuals being unable to grow and develop themselves as positive individuals. If you consciously decide to have a positive mindset it does wonders for your psychological and emotional development, the same is true of negative mindset so be aware which one you focus your energy and attention on.” Ultimately, negative thinking is a projection of our own discontent.

Of course, there is always the possibility that these sorts of questions are being asked earnestly to make small talk, which can be a good and necessary tool to help establish commonality. The trick to help you distinguish what your intention is to listen to your own inner voice’s responses to your queries; if your responses are couched in negativity, then perhaps it is better to follow the sunnah of remaining silent until you get that under control.

 

I now have great empathy for ‘Aishah’s family and the adversity they face due to people’s false judgements of them. While there isn’t much I can do for ‘Aishah, other than reminding her that people are just projecting their own problems onto her, I am now more conscious when I hear my own inner critique lashing out at people. I can now stop and ponder, what am I actually saying about myself?

 

Brooke Benoit is an artist, mama to six, writer, editor, Islamic fiction champion and frequent baker living a greenish life in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of SISTERS magazine.

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4 thoughts on “The Artful Judger

  1. I really appreciate the example you chose. This was my personal experience where a man converted because he loved me and wanted to be able to be with me in a good way. That is not to say his Islam was deficient, as a lot of what we call “fitra” he was already exhibiting and in some ways a “better” Muslim than I was. But whereas a woman converting to marry a Muslim man may be looked at with some suspicion, she is still welcomed into the community and given some kind of support to grow in her deen, in my community no one would actually facilitate a marriage for us, most Muslims were openly hostile towards him and never greeted him even as they greeted me, and I was constantly being approached with other suggestions/proposals for marriage as if I was single. We were together for 8 years during which time my Islam was constantly in question and I was told I was living sin, but at the same time Muslims constantly tried to set me up into marriages with other men who had little to offer. Ultimately, it wasn’t lack of belief that pushed him out of practicing Islam, but complete lack of support and community. In the end he went back to a former wife from his own community, where he did not have the double edged sword of being judged by “my” community and by his own for converting, and where he did not have to deal with guilt that he had somehow led me astray according to most Muslims’ judgments. So while I am, like you, Brooke, one of those people who is obstinate and mostly doesn’t care about other people’s opinions, I must recognize that constant critique and judgment of a person builds up on them and can have very real damaging effects. Even when we think our judgment of them is small or shouldn’t matter to them, we do not know what kind of large chorus we are adding to that may be weighing that person down.

  2. assalaamu alaykum! is it judging if you think it’s another mom’s bad decision to feed their children junk and let them watch TV all day, because you deem it better not to feed junk and allow TV all day? or does it only become “judging” when you allow it to affect your words and actions to that person? I often wonder about this…

    1. Walaikum asalam, I think the key word there is “better” because you have already made the judgement, and then you will naturally act on it. So it’s best to recognize that each mom is doing her best in her circumstances. Insha Allah I am doing a follow up article about when are the very few times we should bother ourselves with judging others.

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