by Mohamedarif Suleman (Dar es Salaam, Tanzania)
So, I am thinking about social conversations today and how we tend to fit in or not, depending on the content we can contribute in that sitting. Of course, I am no thinking about a family that gathers, shares a little bit of fun and then some mutual advise, make memories and then part ways, creating a bond amongst them. Rather, the time spent with friends, and some family or colleagues in discussing the lives of others.
Here is a creepy story from a friend’s life. Belonging to a well endowed family, he once met a younger person in the neighbourhood, who said how he observed daily when this friend leaves ad comes home, the different cars he picks routinely, when he parks, etc. In short, there was complete and accurate knowledge about the foregoing that this younger person had about my friend. Stalking you would call today? Not sure what the term was in those days, but years later, when the tables turned and the younger boy landed more fortune than was now available to the friend, the relationship was totally different. The now-wealthy boy was contemptuous and spiteful as he addressed the friend for no apparent reason, except that he had made his ground taller than my friend’s. Wen did this become a contest anyway, one may wonder? It started, when locked in his small room, under the guard of restrictive, yet well meaning parents, this boy started harbouring envy towards someone he barely know, and who was most probably simply going by his day routinely.
Decades later, the officially institutionalised manner in which we carry other people’s information and then transmit it to others, may also be rooted in our own deeply ingrained insecurities or deficiencies. Needless to say, this form of envy is pretty harmful to the harmony of society, and not productive by modern standards that consciously re-label this as competition.
Sayyid Mahdi As-Sadr in his book The Ahlul Bayt: Ethical Role Models, writes: Talebearing is to inform against people matters that they dislike to divulge, for the purpose of entrapping them. The talebearer is in fact the meanest and most malicious individual since he is characterized by backbiting, betrayal, hypocrisy, spoiling the mutual amicability, and seeding divergence among people:
“Do not yield to one persistent in swearing, backbiting, gossiping, obstructing virtues, a sinful transgressor, ill-mannered, and morally corrupt or that because he may possess wealth and children. When Our revelations are recited to him. (68:14)”
“Woe to every slanderer and backbiter. (104:1)”
The Prophet (S) said: “May I tell you of the evilest of you? They are the talebearers who sow enmity between associates and stick defects to those who are acquitted of defects1.”
Imam al-Baqir (a) said: “It is forbidden for the revilers and the talebearers to be in Paradise2.”
Imam as-Sadiq (a) said to al-Mansour; the Abbasid caliph: “Do not accept the wording of those whom Allah forbid to be in Paradise and whom Allah decided to make Hell their eternal abode if they speak ill of your relatives and folks whose right is obligatory upon you. The talebearers are surely perjurers. They are the partners of Iblis in his efforts of exciting enmity between people. Allah says:
“Believers, if one who publicly commits sins brings you any news, ascertain its truthfulness carefully, lest you harm people through ignorance and then regret what you have done. (49:6)3”
In a recent piece on the Voice of America (VoA)website ‘Do you believe the Grass is always Greener?’ , the article explores how Americans spend a lot of time and money growing a yard full of green weed-free grass, even when they hardly use the space. And this results from the competitiveness of neighbours outdoing each other, to no end. This is yet another adverse consequence of such behaviour.
The sooner we stop gazing at the neighbour’s garden, the better it is for us and our societies.