Beliefs, Featured

Role Models in Islam and the Dangers of Idealism


This article has been reproduced from Islamic Revival.

Allah ‘Azza Wa Jalla has made every Nabi from the Anbiyaa’ (Prophets) whom He sent, the highest example or model for his people. After the death of the Prophets and the death of their miracles along with them, the Hikmah (wisdom) of Allah ‘Azza Wa Jalla willed that He send our master Muhammad ﷺ and made him the seal of the Prophets. He made his miracle everlasting as long as the heavens and earth remain and made him the high model or example for all the people, during his life and after his death. Allah created the human and created within him the tendency towards perfection. He is therefore constantly striving towards elevation and towards nearing perfection. For that reason, he likes to see upon the earth an example or model to follow. Allah did not efface this tendency in a manner that would conflict with his Fitrah (nature). Rather, He designated for him an example and obliged him to follow him. That was by making our master Muhammad ﷺ the highest model for all of mankind. Allah Ta’Aalaa said:

لَقَد كانَ لَكُم في رَسولِ اللَّهِ أُسوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَن كانَ يَرجُو اللَّهَ وَاليَومَ الآخِرَ وَذَكَرَ اللَّهَ كَثيرًا

You have an excellent model in the Messenger of Allah, for all who put their hope in Allah and the Last Day and remember Allah much.

(Al-Ahzaab: 21)

In the case where the Messenger ﷺ is no longer a living example before the people, then that drives them to seek an example that is present so as to imitate or follow him. They draw from such a model the resolve and determination to do that which is demanded or requested from them to do and they make the one who resembles the conduct of the Nabi ﷺ or the Sahaabah, may Allah Ta’Aalaa be pleased with them, the measure in respect to him being a high model or example for them. Therefore, whoever resembles the conduct of the Nabi ﷺ and the Sahaabah, is from the people of righteousness or uprightness in their view and someone like him is suitable to be a model. As for the one who’s conduct is in conflict with them, then no, he will not be taken as a model by them.

And from among them, there are those who scratch out or write off an example from their list due to the simplest of violations whilst others are lenient in respect to that and do not write him off unless his violations are numerous. This is the type of example or model that is being examined in this chapter’s discussion. That is because when the people say that so and so a person is my example or model, it means that he does not accept for himself or others except to be like the one he has taken as a high model or example.

The matter of having examples or models is like other issues which the person must subject to the Hukm Ash-Shar’iy. Is the person right when he erases people from the lists of the people of virtue, just because they have erred or sinned here and there? And is the person right who is more lenient in respect to the setting of examples and accepts some errors from himself and others and only removes such a person from the list of ideal examples if these errors were many?

The answer to that is that when idealising a model is within the limits of the tendency towards perfection, then this is a matter which Allah has made natural within the creation of the people and it is commended or praiseworthy. If such an example did not exist, then the human would not attempt to imitate anyone towards elevation ever. If, however, this idealising of a model meant that people sifted upon the idealistic basis, where they would write off those who are contrary to the ideal model and not give credence except to the one who matched the example, then this is blameworthy and indeed very dangerous. If this was to take over a particular person, then he has been taken over by the most dangerous of that which can take him away or remove him from his Deen.

That is because it is Allah ‘Azza Wa Jalla who created the humans and it is He who revealed to them a Deen and made it obligatory upon them to adhere to. It is therefore He who accepts and does not accept from Zaid what he did or did not do. And it may be the most obvious of statements that it is obligatory upon the people “all of the people” to accept what Allah has accepted from other than them. That is so that they do not make themselves appear to have even greater concern than Allah for His Deen and His creation.

From the truths that are not open to discussion or debate is that Allah has specified the Anbiyaa’ (Prophets) alone from amongst mankind with Al-‘Ismah (infallibility), above the fact that he specifically chose and selected them in origin. If the possibility or capability to commit errors was not possible in respect to them, then they would not have been in need of their infallibility or protection granted to them to prevent them from sin. And if the possibility of sin was possible in respect to those whom Allah had selected and chosen specifically from the people and they were those who had the greatest Imaan, then by greater reason it is possible, on a wider scale, for this to be possible in respect to other than them. The Shar’a has established and affirmed this truth and it has been indicated to in the many Aayaat which discuss the matter of seeking forgiveness and requests that from the believers. If the matter of error (or sin) did not exist then there would be no need for seeking forgiveness and discussing it as much as it has been.

Even clearer than that is the speech of the Messenger ﷺ:

كُلُّ بَنِي آدَمَ خَطَّاءٌ وَخَيْرُ الْخَطَّائِينَ التَّوَّابُونَ

“Every son of Adam errs (or sins) and the best of those who err (or commit sins) are the Tawwaabeen (those who turn regularly or often in repentance)”. (Ibn Majah)

The errors mentioned here means many errors or sins and it comes from the verb Khati’a, Yakhta’u, Khit’an and not from the verb Akhta’a, Yukhit’u, Khata’an. The first means the deliberate error whilst the second refers to the opposite of being right, like the one who targets a matter but does not hit it or misses it. The evidence for that is the Qawl of the Messenger ﷺ: “And the best of those who err or sin are the Tawwaabeen” and Taubah only occurs in respect to the sin and the one who commits the Khit’an a lot is called Khattaa’ (i.e. someone who often commits sin).

Therefore, the texts of the Shaari’ (Legislator) have indicated in a manner leaving no doubt that the Insaan (person) makes a lot of sins and that this is Maqbool (acceptable) to Allah, even if the person’s sins are numerous, as long as he does not persist upon the sin. Based upon this it is obligatory upon the Muslim, in obedience, to accept that which Allah ‘Azza Wa Jalla has accepted from His slaves. If he does not do that and remains measuring in an idealistic manner, then he will spend his whole life searching for an ideal model to follow and never find him. That is particularly when the formation of the ideal model is based upon his own imagination, whether some of it or part of it. That is because angels do not walk upon the earth and those upon it are humans who act rightly and commit sins.

Based upon this the danger of setting idealistic models or examples is apparent because the one who does that is subject or exposed to be taken away from his Deen when he does not find within the people that which he was expecting to find. It also paralyses the person from engaging in the work as he spends his time searching for that which does not exist and does not undertake actions unless he finds a model to emulate. At the end of all of this he will never find anything other than despair and frustration.

Idealism does not assist the spread of the virtuous acts within the society. That is because the one who does not accept the sin and Taubah of others only represents a source of problems for them. The Saheeh Hadeeth from the Nabi ﷺ, which mentions within about a man who killed ninety-nine people, is well-known and it observed how when the man learned that there was no Taubah (repentance) for him, that he killed the one he asked, due to his feelings that there was no difference between killing one hundred and killing one thousand. Then when he learned that Taubah was open to him after asking another, he moved in the direction of the believers and ceased his killing. As such, the acceptance of the Taubah plays a part in the spread of the virtuous acts and goodness, whilst the opposite brings an opposite result.

This idealism also plays a part in respect to fragmenting the Ummah if it was able to take a hold over the collective. That is because the majority of its individuals would employ this idealism and naturally each would see the corruption of the other upon that basis leading to the division of the hearts and splitting apart of the people.

It is necessary to turn attention to the fact that most of the people say with their tongues that the ideal model, according to the concept of the one who searched for, is an incorrect concept. However, even though they have said that with their tongues, they nevertheless go against their statement by their actions. So, for instance, if a particular Zaid from the people committed a sin, they don’t find it enough to just remove his name from the list of the people of virtue and good, but rather they make themselves appear as if they wear the cloak of prophethood and infallibility, in exaggeration and fraudulently, as if they do not sin greater than his sin. That is because, as we have stated earlier, they in the search for Ar-Riyaa’ (i.e. to be praised by others), get taken over by it, to repel the deficiency within them and to draw fake praise and commendation amongst the people. As they are bankrupt in their own actions, then a particular Zaid from amongst the people committing a particular sin, represents a golden opportunity for them to prove themselves, in the case where the self of such a person cannot be proven through correct or valid causes (or means).

The Sahaabah, may Allah be pleased with them, understood the danger of this idealism and they would keep as far away from it as possible. They used to embrace the one who erred, exhort him and remind him in a kind and mild manner without exaggeration or seeking praise (Riyaa’). That was due to their knowledge that something even greater in sin could possible happen from them. Contraventions from them in their capacity as individuals is a well-known matter and yet despite that, these contraventions, including some which were great, did not malign the fact that they were from the people of virtue and that they were the best of generations of man, as has been verified in the speech of Allah ‘Azza wa Jalla related to them. If they were the best of generations and yet as individuals they perpetrated major sins, then the possibility of sin, by greater reason, is possible in respect to those who live in the generations which are lesser than theirs.

The correct view which must dominate over the individual within the collective, is his feeling that he is less than other than him and not better than them. That is because every individual is aware of his own flaws whilst he is not aware of what someone else may have in terms of deficiencies or flaws. As such, we see such a person viewing others as being better than him. If this viewpoint dominated over the individuals within the collective, you would inevitable see a society in which every individual strives to catch up to others from one perspective and from another perspective you would see a society that does not pounce upon the flaws of people, and if the flaw of a certain Zaid or ‘Amr was discovered, then kindness and gentleness would be dominate over the society, and they would take him by the hand so that he stands upright upon the path, without them attempting to find self-satisfaction in chiding him and exaggerating his faults.

In summary, when the person sins, whatever his situation was, it is not permissible to disavow or repudiate him unless he is insistent upon that. Judgment is not passed upon him in that his Nafs is corrupt but rather he is accounted according to the level of his sin. He is advised and taken by his hand so that he does not sin again and so that his Nafs elevates and draws as close as possible towards perfection. Whoever claims that he does not err or sin, or indeed that he does not sin much, then he is not truthful in his claim, and whoever seeks the infallible upon the face of the earth, then he will never find them through his whole life.

Therefore, whoever is taken over by idealism, has been taken over by the most dangerous of that which can take him away from his Deen, because he will never find upon the earth that which he aspires for; neither within himself nor in others. And if believes that his envisaged or conjured model exists within some people, then it will quickly become apparent to him that he is wrong when the one whom he viewed to be a model sins or errs. He will then keep moving from one model to another until he is overcome by despair whilst he will not be protected from that except by the correct concepts emanating from the Islamic Aqeedah, so that Islaam becomes his mentality by which he reasons or comprehends, and his desires proceed according to what the Ahkaam Ash-Shar’iyah have brought. He would then not formulate from his imagination an angelic picture of humans, because they cannot possibly be angels. He would realise that every human sins or errs and that the virtue is not negated from the one who errs. If he was to negate virtuousness or merit from the one who errs and then went to look at history and Seerah, he would find many errors and sins coming from the Sahaabah and those who followed them, which would oblige him to negate or remove the Fadl (favour, merit or virtue) from them, and in doing so he would be in opposition to the testimony of Allah ‘Azza Wa Jalla in respect to them.

The stating of these words and repeating of them, as we have previously stated, is not an unprecedented art, as all the people repeat them. However, the problem lies in the practical application of this understanding or concept. So how do we pass judgement upon the one who is confirmed to us that he has lied or committed Zinaa or stole or cheated? This is the art which the Nafs has to be conditioned upon, and it represents the ground which is virtually inaccessible.