The tiniest spark

Today I felt a discomfort in my soul, like on another day a week or two ago. There was no reason for it really, but for a moment, seeking something in common with my peers, I complained aloud about my Project Manager. I fed upon my own boss’ cynicism about her abilities and complained that the translation that I was supposed to be working from was incomplete, and that she had written for me a note of what I had already explained for her on a yellow post-it note on my folder. ‘How stupid,’ was my implication. Ten seconds later, having said it, regret filled my mind. I felt like sending an e-mail to a brother. ‘I’m becoming no better than a kaffer [disbeliever].’ I didn’t write it. I questioned my intention. But I thought it. ‘I should know better. Maybe that makes me worse.’

A week ago, it was about my boss. It wasn’t a complaint, but a description of a question he had asked me. An almost accusing question which had slightly offended. Returning from the production room, I engaged in pointless chatter with the Office Manager. Then, as if it were a release, the unnecessary repetition slipped off my tongue. There was no need to pass on what he had said to me. No need at all. Regret, again, struck me, this time as I said it. ‘What am I doing?’

I remember in days gone by when I would study the Bible, there were words in the Letter of James which I could appreciate so well. I had seen their example in action; felt the pain and the misery which grew from the tiniest spark. ‘…think of a ship,’ wrote James, ‘large though it may be and driven by gales, it can be steered by a very small rudder on whatever course the helmsman chooses. So with the tongue; it is small, but its pretensions are great. What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark!’

I believe in it so strongly. I have been cast aside because of rumours. I have been dismissed because of words. I have seen and felt it all. And yet, here am I tonight, examining my own soul, noticing that I too will drop a spark when it suits me. Because that is always how it is: it happens when it suits us. We fear alienation from our colleagues, so we join in with their games. We have been done down, and we want to get back up. We have been slandered, so we want to get revenge. Or maybe it is more subtle than that. Down in the roots of our intentions. Maybe we want respect; surely words will win that prize. Maybe we hate being despised; surely a word will cure all that.

Perhaps I feel like sharing this because I know I’m not the only one who falls into Shaytan’s [the devil] trap. I have been looking at feedback columns on the internet; reading the thoughtless rantings of brothers [this the way Muslims refer to one another] responding to words which didn’t need to be said with more words which don’t need to be said. I listen to brothers telling me about such and such a brother, speaking words which need not be uttered. We sit with our friends and take in everything they say to us, because they are our friends. We accept slander of our enemy, because he is our enemy. ‘These sisters, they’re no good, because they did this and this…’ ‘Don’t trust that brother. He did such and such!’ ‘Don’t talk to him, he’s no good.’

Do we ever stop and ask, ‘How do you know?’ Or do we just accept it because our companion told us so? Do we stop and say, ‘I don’t want to hear this. I’m abandoning your company until you desist’? Do we ever enquire? Do we verify our facts? Will we find out one day that our witness, only actually heard it from his friend, who heard it from his friend, who overheard it from some people talking one day, who heard it from a friend, from a friend who wasn’t even Muslim and wasn’t even there? Will we find out that our confidante has never even spoken to the sister she deconstructs and scrutinises for our benefit? Will we discover in the end that the brother who we convicted kaffer, was in fact more sincere and pious than the best of us? Will we one day find out that we have learned nothing, except that we learned nothing about our companion?

It is shocking how perfect a metaphor we have in that tiny, insignificant, glowing yellow spark. Something to think about.

I write all this in the hope that somebody may learn a lesson from the mistakes I have made. Do not go there. Do not be tempted to say a word of ill-intent, no matter how small it may seem. When you feel isolated, alienated from the crowd, seek refuge in Allah and let that be sufficient for you. Do not seek an escape by turning to mischievous words. Be careful, thoughtful, and guard your tongue.

As to the words I uttered this morning, seeking to ally myself with my colleague; those ‘harmless’, private words; I am horribly reminded of a hadith:

Abu Huraira related that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “The servant speaks words, the consequences of which he does not realise, and for which he is sent down into the depths of the Fire further than the distance between the east and the west.” (Al-Bukhari in Kitab ar-Riqaq and Muslim in Kitab az-gharib)

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