By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
“When you are hurt by people not showing you favor, or by them directing their criticism towards you, then return to Allah’s knowledge of you. If His knowledge does not satisfy you, then your misfortune through your dis-satisfaction with Allah’s knowledge is worse than your misfortune through the presence of their harm.”
— Ibn Ata’Allah al-Iskandari
What is image? Image is our perception either of ourselves or of others. It lacks understanding, depth, and breadth – it’s just a snapshot, if you will. Carl Jung said perception is projection. What does this mean? We all have a shadow self, a hidden personality that we do not like. When we are listening and engaging others in a reflective mode, we are aware of that personality and don’t disown it. We work on it continuously and repetitively — that’s what Ramadan invites us to do and take with us the rest of the year.
However, when we disown parts of our personality, we project them onto other people, in a scapegoating way, in order to feel better about ourselves and to avoid any spiritual growth.
When we obsess or become fixated on a particular group or individual, and use that image to engage them, that is projection. We must stop and ask ourselves the following six questions:
- Do I know them beyond that perception?
- How much effort have I made to know them as human beings?
- How much of my time is spent psychoanalyzing the other’s flaws?
- How often do I find myself pointing out their flaws to fix them?
- Do I find myself feeling good after fixing their flaws?
- How well do I receive advice from this “other?”
Now pause and reflect: How are the flaws that characterize this “other” representative of you? How much of the bad that you see in this little-known other, if you were to be really honest with yourself, exists in you?
Sometimes in our clash with others, there are many messages or lessons that support our own growth.
Hwaa Irfan, a healer I deeply admire and respect, said it best in one of her counseling responses to an individual. The underlined part is my emphasis.
Throughout life we are always discovering ourselves, because we learn about ourselves through others – it is through others we learn to reach our higher selves. By this I do not mean their perception of us, but the lessons, and challenges through interaction helps to stimulate and awaken our compassion, understanding, and intuition, our ability to give unconditionally, and sacrifice. We can learn where to invest our energy, where not to, and when to be a little patient, because everyone has their own struggle.
To give you an example, one time when I was being finally served, the cashier was being really cold, to the extent he wished that I did not exist. I asked myself, I did not do anything to this man, and he does not know me, then just like that I asked him if I have done anything wrong. He suddenly “awoke” from whatever state of mind he was in, and heard someone (me) communicating with him as if he was a human being. He then proceeded to tell me what had upset him.
One thing I learned from healers’ counseling advice is that the oppressor is obsessed with his or her own image. The obsession is so strong that such a person goes to great lengths to protect the image, disregarding the damage done to their soul. The possibility that they could be wrong or contributing to a problem becomes hidden and ferociously resisted. They put themselves in a position where they can only give advice but not receive it.
Such individuals do a lot of talking, and plotting and planning behind the scenes. A genuine conversation is not just making loud noises in the air or behind walls, because conversation requires reciprocity to have impact. An honest conversation requires all parties to be open to their contributions, if any.
What does honor have to do with image?
If you feel a sense of honor in your own eyes, that is egotism that will be bound by the ego and fossilize. If you seek honor in the eyes of others, that is inferiority, as you will be bound by the crowd, and you will seek acceptance over growth. However, to do honorable deeds without seeking praise from one’s ego or others is experiencing true honor. This is the honor Islam teaches and the Prophets practiced. To arrive at this stage, you must graduate from the first two stages and recognize the true experience of being honorable.
This does not mean that we should disclose our sins, as Islam teaches us to hide them. However, we should repent and know repentance genuinely and authentically took place when we don’t become fixated or obsessed with a particular group or individual who we see as flawed or inferior such that we project our sins onto them to feel good about ourselves.
At times, as human beings we err, fall and clash with each other. Problems arise. When we engage others through the process of reflection instead of projection, without holding onto any negative feelings, biases, prejudices or assumptions – the event as it actually happened manifests to us. The chaos of everything around will settle and each will see how the clash happened and how each contributed to the situation.
Hwaa Irfan described the process in the following manner:
We can learn much about ourselves from the challenges that bring out our impatience, our bigotry, our lack of compassion, our need to control or to be a victim of circumstance, our ability to give and receive, and our ability to accept our own selves thus others. We are presented with an opportunity to realize what is really important, and that we are not perfect, and that we have a few issues of our own that we need to work on, or to better ourselves so that we may help others. If we are impatient for example, we ask ourselves why are we so impatient, but we do not ask and answer the question ourselves. How can we answer the question, when we still think, and perceive as before. When we think and perceive a situation without change, nothing actually changes, so we must wait for the answer to present itself to us. This will come to us in many ways, but in that process changes will be taking place within us to ready us for the answer, and to be open to that answer. By doing so, we learn more about ourselves, and are more ready to for the next stage in our jihad an nafs (struggle of the soul)!
At times, the clash turns enmity to a new friendship, or the friendship blossoms. Other times, some obsess with their image and choose to remain where they are at and one has to decide to forgive, move on and wish them well.
What does reputation have to do with image?
Reputation is what people expect us to say or do. What you do when no one is looking is in reality your true reputation. Moreover, what you do or say to another, that no one will call you to account for, is also a reflection of your reputation.
A case in point is interfering in the private lives of others. When you interfere in the privacy and personal lives of others, your reputation is harmed, albeit with your own hands.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings said, “Verily, from the perfection of Islam is that a person leaves what does not concern him.” And if we do not project, we engage in spying, false assumptions and distort what we see and hear.
In a story regarding one of the righteous rulers, Umar ibn Al Khattab, it was reported that he spied on Muslims by entering their home without permission and caught them engaging in an activity not accepted by Islamic teachings. Umar accepted the reprimand by the Muslims that he engaged in three sins: entering the home without permission, spying, and not saying salaam or peace. In today’s terminology this translates to violation of one’s civil, privacy and human rights. I will expand on this in a future article in regards to the NSA surveillance and countering violent extremism (CVE) program.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings said, “Verily, if you seek out people’s faults, you will corrupt them or almost corrupt them.”
As much as we want to and like to rationalize spying on others for religious or security reasons, we must realize it does more harm than good. How one treats fellow human beings is a true reflection of their reputation.
Oppressors in essence are more obsessed with their image than being truly honorable before God. They can give advice, but unlike Umar, a truly honorable ruler before God, they cannot take it from others or in particular, from people they see as their inferiors. That is not honorable at all.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. Currently, she lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.