04.17.07

“Only God can judge me”

Posted in Ethics at 1:26 am by Haider

We often use phrases or statements intended to express one meaning, but end up implying other meanings that we would rather not express. Take this post’s title as an example: “Only God can judge me.”

The intention behind this statement is to assert that it’s wrong to judge others, since judgement belongs to God. And while it seems to be a defensive statement, where one seeks to defend himself from the judgement of others, it is an attack on others at the same time!

Where is the attack?

The attack is on man’s right and ability to judge. When one judges another, he does not do so for the sake of, or at the expense of, the one being judged. He does so in order to defend his own values and to judge his own actions. A man who believes that bullying is wrong will naturally consider the actions of a bully as immoral. The judgement he has made is to apply his principles on the actions he sees being committed around him. To say that one can hold principles, but is not allowed to judge others according to them means that his principles should not serve any purpose, beyond intellectual entertainment.

It is a moral necessity that a man judges others so that he does not allow himself to commit the same act as well. To condemn a wrong act means that one does not wish to see himself committing the same act. It is pointless to suspend judgement until he falls into the same trap, then end up judging himself for committing that act. We learn from the mistakes of others so that we can avoid them. As the saying goes: “An intelligent man learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

If we are unable (or not allowed) to judge other people’s actions, then we cannot distinguish between a good action and a wrong action. Or, at least, we’ll severely limit our learning ability, because we will only be able to learn from personal experience. One of the greatest benefits the study of history offers us is the ability to recognize the consequences of people’s actions, and to evaluate them based on their consequences, so that we can determine what decisions we should make, and what behaviours we should avoid. Neither experience nor study will be of any use if we suspend our ability to judge.

I doubt that anyone who believes in the opinion that “only God can judge him” would not consider the likes of Hitler or Saddam as evil men. If we suspend our judgement of them, we justify their crimes. And if we justify their crimes, it is irrelevant who committed the crime itself: we would have a share in it. This is an important lesson to learn from the story of Prophet Saleh’s people. Prophet Saleh’s miracle was that God created for him a she-camel that was not born, but appeared from the mountain. His people, seeking to oppose his message, wanted to kill the she-camel so that his miracle would be destroyed.

Allah recounts the story of Prophet Saleh (peace be on him) with his people in the Holy Koran, in Surat Ash-Shams (the Chapter of the Sun, no. 91). He says:

“… When the most wicked of them [the people of Saleh] went forth, and God’s messenger said to them: ‘She is the she-camel of God and that’s her drinking place!’ But they rejected his instructions and slew her, so Allah doomed them and rased their dwellings…”

Imam Ali (peace be on him) commented on this incident and said: “The person who committed the crime was one, but Allah punished the entire people because they consented to the crime.”

What goes mostly unnoticed in the opinion that “only God can judge me” is that it’s extremely hypocritical. It implies that judging others is wrong, which is a judgement in itself. So, if I judge others, that would be wrong according to that opinion, which means that the person holding that opinion has judged me and, therefore, contradicted his own principle!

This is natural for principles that contradict reality, and promote values that we should not uphold. To regard judgement in and of itself as wrong is to disregard the human need for judgement, which will inevitably lead those with a false principle to contradict the principle themselves. A false principle sets the one upholding it on the path to failure, and it’s only a matter of time before reality reveals the falsehood of his principle.

In closing, I wish to point out two issues related to this opinion that deserve some attention:

1) One of the most beautiful things about Islamic law is that God has revealed to us the principles by which He will judge us. On the Day of Judgement, God will use these same principles, rather than surprise us with an entirely different criterion. This is part of God’s justice, and His mercy, in that He has allowed us to benefit from His wisdom on earth, rather than discover it once it’s too late.

Having said this, I must also point out that I disagree with the vast majority of the readings of Islamic law. It’s not as simple as grabbing a verse from the Holy Koran and stating that this is God’s judgement. Many, many scholars have totally missed the point of Islamic law, and are misrepresenting it in every sense of the word. The issue of understanding Islamic law is very complex, and deserves multiple posts dedicated to this topic. But it’s clear that God wanted His judgement to be known by us, and so it is Islamically wrong to assume that judgement is reserved for God (i.e. those who hold on to that opinion don’t even know, or care to find out what God’s judgement is!)

2) One of the valid criticisms this opinion has of judging other people is when a person’s sole (or primary) focus is to judge others. This is a very corrupt and corrupting attitude. At the end of the day, what we are responsible, and will be held accountable, for are our own actions. To shift our focus from our actions to the actions of others, without realising how to learn from other people’s mistakes, is hypocritical and a betrayal of the principles by which we judge others.

Not only is such judgement morally corrupt, but it usually paves the way for the judger committing the same act that he is condemning others for doing. This is something I’ve witnessed over and over again, and I usually caution people against judging others when it becomes their way of directing their focus away from themselves. It is easier to point out other people’s failures than to overcome one’s own.

The nicest advice I have come across to discourage people from pointing out the faults of others is the saying of Imam Ali (peace be on him): “If you point a finger at others, you are pointing three fingers at yourself.” (look at your hand when you point, and you’ll understand what the saying means :) )

Judging other people should be a means by which we can reform our own actions, and no one can deny people their God-given right to judge.

2 Comments »

  1. mohammad alkazemi said,

    April 25, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Absolutely fantastic. I really enjoyed reading it and found so many true facts.Well thought out and written keep it up cous.

  2. Haider said,

    April 25, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Thank you for your kind words.

    Our late night discussions have been a major inspiration for my writings :D

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