Thursday, 29 September 2011

Spiritual Schadenfreude

“Astaghfirallah, look at the way these so called Muslims are behaving!?”

“All these Muslims come for Eid prayer, but how many do you think even woke up for Fajr?”

“Look at these brothers with no beards and sisters with convertible hijabs, what’s the point in that!?”

Sound familiar? I know they sound familiar to me. I will own up to not only having heard them and let them go unchallenged, but having made similar statements myself. It’s something for which I seek forgiveness from Allah.

Schadenfreude is a term meaning to take pleasure in the misfortune of others. In its innocent form, it is why we enjoy watching movies and shows that follow a comedy of errors (remember Kenan and Kel anyone?). In its darker form, it is a step away from sadism.

There is something however I’ve noticed that I was indulging in, and not just me, but many others. That is spiritual schadenfreude - taking pleasure in witnessing and discussing the spiritual shortcomings of others (real or imagined).

This requires a lot of introspection. Think about when you last discussed something like the above. Perhaps you were discussing the ‘backward’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘ill-educated’ behaviour of the mosque uncles. Or, having seen the mosque full of people for Eid prayer, commentedd at how many prayed Fajr that morning? Or talking about that heretic group of Sufis/Salafis/Barelwis/Shi’is (delete as appropriate) and how misguided they were with a group of friends.

Now think carefully, did you feel sad about it? Did you feel worried about those who missed Fajr? Did you feel saddened by the behaviour of the uncles? Did you feel genuine concern for those who were ‘heretic’ and did you desire sincerely for them to receive Allah’s guidance? If so, Alhamdulillah, thank God for your sincere heart and feel free to stop reading this blog.

But if, like me, you discovered that in actual fact you took some perverse pleasure in discussing these topics… That like me, you felt somehow better and more superior when talking of those who were wrong or astray… If you found that these discussions inflated your ego instead of making your heart grateful to God for being saved from misdoing… Well then, maybe it’s time to have of a self-reflection.

These conversations are much too similar to backbiting. Even when the subjects remain anonymous, it is often all to clear who is being discussed and most importantly, you know who is being discussed.

The Quran, as ever, teaches us a better way: -

“Believers, no one group of men should deride another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should deride another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive terms for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do net repent of this behaviour are evildoers”.
Surah al-Hujraat, Verse 11.

If we find others who have spiritual shortcomings, who behave in contradiction to their faith, who to our understanding are misguided or heretic, than this should distress us. “Love for your brother what you love for yourself” – as our Prophet (peace be upon him) taught. We should approach the topic with mercy, compassion and above all, humility. If, like me, you find that sometimes that those feelings of superiority and pleasure at discussing the faults of others returns, then follow another piece of advice from our Beloved (peace be upon him) – “speak good or remain silent”.

Hadith References:
“Love for your brother…” – Bukhari 13
“speak good…” – Nawawi 15

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