A New Relation, Harm, Guilt and Shame

Issue 680 » April 6, 2012 - Jumada al-Awwal 14, 1433

Living The Quran

A New Relation
Al Imran (The House of Imran) - Chapter 3: Verse 102 (partial)

"Do not die except in submission."

Belief in God and His providence offers a feeling of security which cannot be made up for with anything else. Submission to God does not imply passivity as many people wrongly believe. Obedience to God excludes obedience to a human being. It is a new relation between human being and God and, therefore, between one person and another.

Submission to God is also a freedom which is attained by following through with one's own destiny. Our involvement and our struggle are human and reasonable and have the token of moderation and serenity only through the belief that the ultimate result is not in our hands. It is up to us to work, the rest is in God's Hands.

Therefore, to properly understand our position in the world means to submit to God, to find peace, not to start making a more positive effort to encompass and overcome everything, but rather a negative effort to accept the place and the time of our birth, the place and the time that are our destiny and God's will. Submission to God is the only human and dignified way out of the unsolvable senselessness of life, a way out without revolt, despair, nihilism, or suicide. It is a heroic feeling not of a hero, but of an ordinary human being who has done his duty and accepted his destiny.

Islam does not get its name from its laws, orders, or prohibitions, nor from the efforts of the body and soul it claims, but from something that encompasses and surmounts all that: from a moment of cognition, from the strength of the soul to face the times, from the readiness to endure everything that an existence can offer, from the Truth of submission to God. Submission to God, thy name is Islam!

Compiled From:
Islam: The Way of Revival,"Submission to God" - Alija Ali Izetbegovic, p. 63

Understanding The Prophet's Life


On the authority of Abu Saeed Saad ibn Malik ibn Sinaan al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, "There is not to be any causing of harm (dharar) nor is there to be any reciprocating of harm (dharaar)."

Ibn Abdul Barr says that dharar means to harm someone else. Dharaar on the other hand refers to harming someone in response to some harm that was received from the other person but not in the manner that is correct or just according to the law. Hence, dharaar refers to responding to someone's harm in an improper way that goes beyond the limits of what is right and just.

Since wrongdoing and harm are to be completely avoided, this automatically implies that their opposites are to be acted upon. In other words, a believer is to bring about benefit or, at the very least, perform a neutral act. Hence, a believer's every deed should either be positively beneficial or, at the very least, not causing any harm to anyone.

If someone is harmed by someone else then the person has the right to defend himself and repel that harm, even if he harms the perpetrator in the process. Such does not violate the principle of this hadith. But a person does not have the right to "take the law into his own hands." The harmed person has two choices: either forgive the perpetrator or take his matter to the proper authorities.

In the same way that one cannot harm others, he also does not have the right to harm himself, his body or those he is responsible for. This principle, then, should also extend to the animal kingdom and environment.

Compiled From:
"Commentary on the Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi" - Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo, pp.1142-1161


Guilt and Shame

Often, when we try to shame others or ourselves into changing a behaviour, we do so without understanding the differences between shame and guilt. This is important because guilt can often be a positive motivator of change, while shame typically leads to worse behaviour or paralysis. Here's why:

Guilt and shame are both emotions of self-evaluation; however, that is where the similarities end. The difference between shame and guilt is best understood as the differences between "I am bad" (shame) and "I did something bad" (guilt). Shame is about who we are and guilt is about our behaviours. If I feel guilty for cheating on a test, my self-talk might sound something like "I should not have done that. That was really stupid. Cheating is not something I believe in or want to do." If I feel shame about cheating on a test, my self-talk is more likely to sound like "I'm a liar and a cheat. I'm so stupid. I'm a bad person."

Guilt is holding an action or behaviour up against our ethics, values and beliefs. We evaluate that behaviour (like cheating) and feel guilt when the behaviour is inconsistent with who we want to be. Shame is focusing on who we are rather than what we've done. The danger of telling ourselves that we are bad, a cheat, and no good, is that we eventually start to believe it and own it. The person who believes she is "no good" is much more likely to continue to cheat and fulfill that label than the person who feels guilt.

Shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive behaviours than it is to be the solution. It is human nature to want to feel affirmed and valued. When we experience shame we feel disconnected and desperate for belonging and recognition. It's when we feel shame or the fear of shame that we are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviours, to attack or humiliate others or to stay quiet when we see someone who needs our help.

On the other hand, when we apologize for something we've done, make amends to others or change a behaviour that we don't feel good about, guilt is most often the motivator. Recognizing we've made a mistake is far different than believing we are a mistake. Of course, you can shame someone into saying, "I'm sorry," but it's rarely authentic.

Compiled From:
"I Thought It Was Just Me" - Brene Brown, pp. 13, 14