Self-Criticism

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He was driving down the road the wrong way. He watched the cars pass him by on either side, gong in the opposite direction. Then he heard the voice of a police officer over a loudspeaker proclaim: “There is a car here going the wrong direction.” He turned his head and looked to the police and complained: “It would be good if it were only one car. All the cars on the road are going the wrong direction!” 

I told this story to my daughter. Then I told her about a man who complained to his friend that his wife is hard of hearing. His friend suggested to him that he should speak to her form far away. Then he should move closer and closer to her a little at a time and speak to her at various distances. In this way, he can figure out just how weak her hearing is. 

He took his friend’s advice and spoke to her at a distance, asking about dinner. He heard no reply from her. He came a little closer and asked her again. He did this repeatedly until he was standing right over her, and asked her again what was for dinner. She replied: “I’ve told you five times that there is chicken in the oven!” 

It had never occurred to him that he was the one who was hard of hearing. 

When your friend calls you and hears interference on the line, he automatically assumes the problem is with your phone or with the reception tower near your house. 

We are happy when we describe our troubles to someone and they support us and throw the blame on others. We consider it a betrayal if that person gently suggests that we might be partially to blame and the solution might lie with us. 

When Allah says in the Qur’an: “Say: It is from yourselves.” [Sūrah Āl `Imran: 165], we assume it refers to people who share with us our faith or nationality. We never take it to be referring to our particular selves as individuals. 

People like to listen to those who criticise, insult, and expose the faults of their enemies and rivals. This is how we feel about our enemies. However, we get all bent out of shape when someone starts speaking critically about our character and conduct, or points out some of our bad habits, even if those things are detrimental to our lives and to our families and communities. 

We sometimes take a few steps in a certain direction and feel emboldened enough to say sportingly that we welcome criticism with an open heart and inSelf-Criticism fact prefer those who criticise us to those who flatter us with praise. Then we fall back and rally to our stance, decrying the excessive criticism and arguing that we have been more than sufficiently self-critical. 

Self-criticism is good. However, we sometimes use the term incorrectly. It is used to evade the truly penetrating criticism that makes us uncomfortable and forces us to face up to our shortcomings. 

Those who criticise our opponents have common ground with us. They are taking no risks in speaking. However, they are in danger of overstating their case and divesting us of any blame that we actually deserve. As for those who expose our faults, they are taking risks, but they are also showing us our vulnerabilities. 

Our enemies arrows cannot harm us unless we have already made ourselves vulnerable. Allah says: “If you are patient and God0fearing, their schemes will not harm you in the least.” [Sūrah Āl `Imrān: 120] 

The state of the Muslim world today, whether we speak on the level of individuals, families, communities, or nations, is best described as a state of “backwardness”. So why do we try to gloss it over, defend it, justify it, and advocate for it? Why do we accuse those who wish to get us out of that state of being hostile? 

When we choose to criticise something about our state of affairs, pointing out our ailments and shortcomings, why do we immediately turn around and act like we are not part of the problem? Does my criticism of the problem exempt me form responsibility for it? I need to realise that when I criticise the state of the Muslims, I am including myself personally in that criticism. Otherwise, my criticism will be meaningless. It serves only to make me feel that I am above everyone else. 

Criticism does not heal my wounds or clear my account. It is rather the way we figure out how to solve our problems, but that is only if we are sincere and willing to accept the truth. We need to start with ourselves, and not try to exempt ourselves from anything. We should not try to place ourselves above the general circumstances we are living in, as if we are some impartial external consultants. 

Allah says: “But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion of good.” [Sūrah Fussilat: 35]


Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

Source: en.islamtoday.net (Jan. 15, 2015)