Why you should not doubt people’s motives

Why you should not doubt people's motives

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

 ‘Avoid (you people) suspicion for indeed suspicion is the worst form of false speech.’ [Agreed upon – narrated by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim]

Avoiding suspicion is part of having good character, while being suspicious of other’s motives a reflection of bad character.

The quick summary is that Allah Almighty mentioned in the Quran:

‘O you who believe avoid much suspicion, some suspicions are sins’ [49:12].

Suspicions that are baseless

This is because  some suspicions have no basis on evidence or the truth, and have nothing to support them. They are figments of imagination, concocted in one’s head, without evidence. Suspicions based on evidence, by contrast, need to be verified and dealt with.  

It is quite common that people hold negative opinions about others. This is often a default position in our practices; our norm in our thinking – to jump to the worst assumption. Sadly this mentality is quite widespread, so Islam is addressing it by saying instead of always jumping to the worst conclusion, assume the best about others.

Don’t assume the worst about someone

For instance if you pass by somebody you know and they do not greet you, or reply to your salam do not rush to think ‘O my God, they are so rude! They did not reply to me.’ Then building on this by wondering why they did this and coming up with reasons why they snubbed you, which may not be true at all. It could well be that they were in their own world and did not notice you. If you mention to them later that they did not reply, they might say, perfectly honestly that they did not even realise you were there. How often are we absorbed in our own thoughts or looking the other way? However if they assume it was deliberate, or indeed it has happened on a previous occasion as well, it can create animosity and you might ignore them next time out of anger that they did not reply to your salam. These are the whispers of the Shaytan, wating to incite hatred among people. Hence the Prophet (peace be upon him) is saying ‘avoid (you people) suspicion for indeed suspicion is the worst form of false speech’.

Moreover, if it is the case that they snubbed you, the sin is theirs and Allah will take them into account. If you assume well of them, you will sleep in peace, you will not be irritated by these whispers of the Shaytan and then when you meet them, you will do so with a pure heart towards them, without grudges or aby traces of malice. You will re-utter the salam and earn the reward of that. Therefore having purity of heart, gives you comfort.

If you assume that every single action, every single wink or word is said with the intention or hurting or insulting you, you will live in misery and make those who are around you miserable. At times I have witnessed the same event as others, but their interpretation of it leaves me shocked and dismayed. They have not just jumped to a conclusion they have leapfrogged over all reasonable possibilities to the most spite-ridden understanding of what happened.

As a Muslim our default position has to be to have the best-case scenario mentality, this is what Islam teaches us through the Quran and the Sunnah.

As Allah taught us in Surat Nur through the story of Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) who was the victim of false rumours about her chastity, the first thing you should think as a Muslim believer is the best case scenario:

‘they have thought good about each other’ [21:12]

Avoid prejudice

If you are going to meet a person whom you’ve been told negative things about, you will be suspicious of them, you will have doubts in your mind about them and you may discover later that these were unfounded and wrong. In fact they were a nice person and helpful but it will take a longer time to figure this out, because you are prejudiced against them and believed what you were told. Do not accept someone else’s judgement, make up your own mind about them.

I learnt this in a business environment, when somebody warned me that I would meet a man at a conference whom I should be wary of. I had never met him before, but when I met him and we shared the platform and he began making inaccurate statements, I did not correct him in the best way I could have. I was harsher than I might have been if I had not felt biased against him. I did not want to create animosity between us, but I felt charged against him from the outset. I should not have allowed those comments colour my perception, I could have figured him out myself.

If you opt for the worst-case scenario you might find yourself 90% wrong, whereas if you opt for the best-case scenario you might be 90% – which is the better outcome.  

Train your brain

It requires training. If one’s environment and their parents think in particular way, one imbibes this way of thinking. You feel obliged to go with the way others think, because this is what you know, this is how you live, this I how you’ve been brought up.

For instance if you have parents who are generous, you are not likely to be  stingy, if your parent are very kind more likely 99% you will be a kind person etc. The opposite is also true – if you have very stingy parents or family then it is likely you will follow their footsteps without even realising it. Thus if someone’s environment goes with the worst-case scenario mentality then they will pick this up.

Reign in your imagination and block the whispers and negative thought patterns

Unfortunately some people specialise in this and have a very fertile imagination. They can create a full story from nothing. The assumption can be far from the truth. If they were to see the reality for what it is, it would pop the bubble and shatter the illusion – when they put 2 and 2 together they produced 44. This is why Allah says, ‘avoid most suspicions’. Allah knows, He is our Creator, He knows that this troublesome mentality will disturb the peace and tranquillity which  Allah created in us.

Negativity leads to aggressive behaviour

Such a mentality makes one agitated and nervous. It propels people into a continual fight mode. You don’t need to fight – there’s no battle to fight. Such people have very few friends, because they think everyone is plotting against them or whispering behind their back, backbiting them, jealous of them etc. Everything they see is not rose-tinted by evil-tinted. Replace these lenses with the lenses that perceive goodness.

Don’t be naïve but seek the goodness in everyone

Of course we do not want to be naïve and cheated or manipulated by others. Of course we need to protect ourselves, and not drop all our defences. If there’s some proof, take it on board.

There is a goodness in everyone, and if not, then do not let the 10% ruin 90% of your life. Do your best to protect yourself without being over-protective and over analytical.

The summary is train your mind not to read things as the worst case scenario; If you take the worst-case scenario and you are wrong you are sinful. But if you take the best scenario and you are wrong, you will be rewarded for having a good opinion and if you are right your reward would be multiplied. It’s a win-win situation.

Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Hadith from the collection in Hajar Ibn Asqalani’s Bulugh al Maram – Sunday Hadith Class 18th July 2022

Transcribed by Rose Roslan


Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.