Once, while sitting in a public venue, a young man was seated next to me who behaved quite strangely. He looked unbearably sad and distraught. He recoiled from everyone around him, as if he thought that everyone was out to cause him injury. It then occurred to me that this young man was closed off to any possibility of positive engagement with others. In order to reach out to this person, you would first have to know how to get through the barriers that he has erected around himself.
There may be a person who you want to do business with, or who you need to cooperate with in some scientific project or cultural event. Or you may want to call that person to righteousness, or protect that person from harm. Or maybe that person may be able to help you in some way and you wish to ask for help. Or maybe you know there is some way you can help that person.
This person you need to engage with on a personal level for one reason or another may be someone who is wealthy, or a great thinker, or highly educated, or dangerously misguided… This person may be many things, but one thing is for certain: before everything else, you are dealing with another human being.
At the day of his or her birth, none of those other attributes were in evidence. Allah reminds us: “And Allah brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers knowing nothing, and He gave you hearing and sight and hearts that perchance you might give thanks.” [Sūrah al-Nahl: 78 ]
He also says: “And behold! You come to us as bare and alone as We created you the first time: you have left behind you all (the favors) which We bestowed on you” [Sūrah al-An`ām: 94]
All human beings share the same essential qualities. Therefore, any type of contact or interaction you have with another person which disregards that person’s essential humanity is bound to fail. At the same time, it is good to know that you have a starting point. You are a human being too, so there is so much that you already know about the other person: those essential needs, sentiments, experiences and feelings that we all share.
This is why Allah, in His wisdom, sent Messengers to humanity from among themselves. Those messengers ate food, walked in the marketplaces, got married, fell ill, and suffered pain like everyone else.
Every person has unique sensitivities that must be respected and idiosyncrasies that must be negotiated. At the same time, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, respect, and sympathy.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Whoever wishes to be saved from Hell ad admitted into Paradise as desired, they should believe in Allah and the Last Day and treat other people the way they themselves would like to be treated." [Sahīh Muslim]
Here, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is giving us a beautiful approach for dealing with others. We should always put ourselves in the place of those we are dealing with and then ask ourselves what would make us happy if we were in their place? This is the way the Prophet (peace be upon him) related to people, and this is the model that we should follow.
For instance, we know that people like to hear good things about themselves. Everyone has some good qualities, and it is not necessary to flatter people with lies in order to say something good about them.
It is also generally good to let people know that you like them and regard them highly. This should be something we generally feel about all people in principle, since Allah has honored all human beings and chosen them above His other creations.
Allah says: "Verily we have honored the children of Adam. We carry them on the land and the sea, and have made provision of good things for them, and have preferred them above many of those whom We created with a marked preference. " [Sūrah al-Isrā': 70]
And He says: "We have indeed created man in the best of forms." [Sūrah al-Tīn: 4]
Look at the other person and smile sincerely. Have a pure heart and speak as a friend. Talk about good things in a simple way. Enjoy the conversation.
If you are dealing with people you wish to assist or give charity to, before handing over the money, show them respect. Treat them well and deal with them warmly. Allah says: "A kind word and clemency are better than charity followed by abuse." [Sūrah al-Baqarah: 263]
You should be this way with our spouse whom you live all your life, as well as with your children. Our children may have come from us, but we raise them to grow up into independent human beings, accountable directly to their Lord.
You should be this way with your co-workers, colleagues, and neighbors. If you have employees working for you, or you are in a position to have servants and drivers in your employ, show them the same respect you show other people. You should truly feel in your heart that if Allah has blessed you in this world to have greater wealth or social status than someone else, that does not mean you are better. Those others who possess less in this world may have greater status with Allah on account of their character or their piety, or some other quality you might be unaware of. Ultimately, they may enjoy a higher status in the eternal abode of Hereafter.
You should approach strangers in the same way. It may be the only time you meet. Leave them with a good impression. Remember, what they think of you personally will also influence their attitudes about the groups and affiliations they identify you with. Make sure the dealings they had with you were happy ones. Do good by them, and who knows how many of Allah's blessings your kindness will bring you in this world and the next.
Make the same positive attitude the basis for your dealings with those you wish to criticize for their faults or to advise in order to bring them away from their misconduct or guide them to what is right. You should be sincerely concerned for them as people, even if you disagree with them or disapprove of their conduct. You should always have their welfare at heart. Do not engage in making accusations or use insulting words that will ensure your failure to reform their errors even before you begin to try. Ahmad b. Hanbal advised: "Rarely will you make someone angry and then find them agreeing with you."
Those of us who wish to engage in teaching people or in calling others to Allah, or who wish to reform society should heed this advice. They need to consider it all the more. They should follow the Prophet's guidance and "treat other people the way they themselves would like to be treated." This is wisdom.