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Pearls of Wisdom from al-Imam ibn Hazm: On Praise and Criticism


pearlsAlhamdulillahi rabb il-‘alamin, over the past few months, I have had the wonderful opportunity of studying the work of al-Imam ibn Hazm al-Andalusi (rahimahullah), entitled Kitab al-Akhlaq wa as-Siyar fi Mudawat an-Nufus (The Book of Morals and Right Conduct in the Healing of the Souls), under Sh. Isam Rajab of Arees Institute. As the book’s title implies, al-Imam ibn Hazm wrote this book as a treatise on Akhlaq. I have always held al-Imam ibn Hazm in high regard (especially due to the love for him that our dear Sh. Yaser Birjas instilled in us through his various AlMaghrib classes), however, after having studied just part of one of his works, I’m really beginning to appreciate the true genius that was ibn Hazm (rahimahullah). Insha’Allah ta’ala, I wish to, over the course of a few posts, share some of the amazing gems that we covered in his book.

On the concept of praise and criticism, from the section Al-‘Aql wa al-Rahah (Rationality and Peace of Mind)

Al-Imam ibn Hazm writes:

Whoever believes he can totally avoid people’s scorn and criticism is mad. Whoever examines matters carefully and disciplines himself to rely on the facts would enjoy people’s criticizing him more than praising him. This is because if they praise him justly and he becomes aware of their praise, it might make him vainglorious, and this would devalue his virtues. If they praise him unjustly and he becomes aware of their praise, he would attain happiness from that which is false, and this would be a grave fault.

On the other hand, if people criticize him justly and he becomes aware of their criticism, it might help him to avoid that for which he is criticized; and this would be a great fortune, which only the faulty would forsake. If they criticize him unjustly and he becomes aware of their criticism and perseveres, he would become more virtuous by his perseverance and forbearance.

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Here, ibn Hazm mentions the virtues of being criticized and the vices of being praised. Before mentioning this, he cautions the reader that it is impossible to completely avoid the criticism of others. Indeed, it is true that no matter what you do, no matter how noble and virtuous the act or effort, you are bound to be criticized by others for it. Therefore, it is fitting for the believer not to concern himself with pleasing the creation or avoiding its criticism, but to focus solely on earning the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

Praise or criticism can each be classified into just and unjust praise or criticism, and al-Imam ibn Hazm treats each of the four cases separately. As for praise, whether just or unjust, its effects on an individual can be detrimental. And the worse of these two is unjust praise, because it gives the individual a false sense of virtue, pride, and happiness. It would cause him to believe that he is upright and noble when this is not at all the case; the end result would be that he only delves further in his error, having mistaken it for virtue. As for just praise, it does contain benefit (as will be seen later), but al-Imam rightly concludes that, if the individual becomes aware of it, this runs the risk of causing him to lose the value of whatever virtues rightly earned him that praise in the first place! The very worst case would be if this happened in one’s ‘ibadah, in which case the individual may fall into the minor shirk of riya’ (may Allah protect myself and all others from falling into riya’. Amin!). I can’t help but recall a joke related to us by Sh. Yaser Birjas about a man who was praying in the masjid while some bystanders were observing. They began to comment aloud about the beauty of his salah: how excellent his khushu’ was, how perfectly still he stood, how moving his recitation was. Upon hearing these adulations, the man turned around (mid-prayer) and commented, “By the way, I’m fasting too.”

As for criticism, al-Imam opines that, whether just or unjust, the outcome of it is, insha’Allah, only good for the individual. If the criticism is just, then, after all, what more would the believer hope for than to be corrected by his fellow believer. As RasulAllah, sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is reported to have said, “The believer is a mirror for the believer.” When we receive just criticism, it will allow us, insha’Allah, only to improve in our character and deeds, so that we become aware of whatever error has rightly spurred such criticism and, insha’Allah, strive to remove it from our persona. If the criticism is unjust and undeserved, this is when many of us may get upset, however, al-Imam reminds us that this too is blessing. First of all, it is a confirmation for you that you are indeed upon good, that your enemies had to lie and slander against you in order to criticize you. And secondly, if we take this unjust criticism to be only a test from Allah, and we strive and persevere through that test, then it will only serve to increase us in virtue by means of our striving and perseverance. So either way, the effects will be good for the believer insha’Allah. One may think that this is the end of the benefits of unjust criticism, but even more than that awaits the believer insha’Allah.

Al-Imam ibn Hazm continues:

Moreover, he gains reward, because he receives some of the good deeds of those who criticize him unjustly. These deeds will count for him on the Day of Judgment, when he will be in most need to be saved; let it be by deeds of which he did not labor and by which he was not burdened. This is a great fortune, which only a fool would belittle.

If he is not aware of people’s praise of him, then whether they talked about him or were silent makes no difference for him. But that is not the case with their criticism of him; for he will be rewarded either way: whether he becomes aware of their criticism or not.

So, beyond the virtue that one would gain from persevering through the trial of unjust criticism, the believer will also receive the good deeds of the one who has slandered him, and if the slanderer has no good deeds left to give, then his victim will be able to unload some of his bad deeds on him on the Day of Judgment, insha’Allah. It is reported in Sahih Muslim that RasulAllah, sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, asked his companions, “Do you know who the bankrupt is?” His Companions replied, “The bankrupt among us is one who has neither money with him nor any property.” The Prophet (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The real bankrupt of my Ummah would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with much of prayer, of fasting, and sadaqah, but he will find himself bankrupt on that Day as he will have exhausted the funds of virtues–because he reviled others, brought calumny against others, unlawfully devoured the wealth of others, shed the blood of others, and beat others; so his virtues would be credited to the account of those who suffered at his hand. If his good deeds fall short to clear the account, their sins would be entered in his account and he would be thrown in the Hellfire.

There is a narration about al-Imam al-Hasan al-Basri, rahimahullah, who was told that a certain individual was speaking against him behind his back. The following day, al-Hasan al-Basri sent that individual a basket of fruit saying that he was recently informed that the individual had given him some of his good deeds, so he sent him this fruit as a token of his gratitude. Indeed, al-Imam ibn Hazm spoke rightly when he said that the believer will be in most need of these extra deeds on the Day of Judgment. And what better way to earn such deeds than without exerting any effort on our part?

Furthermore, as al-Imam explains, these good deeds will come to the victim of unjust criticism whether or not he becomes aware of the criticism, so he is benefited either way. But praise will only have an effect on an individual in the case that he becomes aware of the praise.

Al-Imam ibn Hazm continues:

If it were not for the saying of the Messenger (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) about praise: “This [the praise] is the worldly good tiding for the believer,” then it would have been incumbent upon the rational individual to desire to be criticized unjustly more than to be praised justly. But given this saying [of the Prophet (sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)], it is clear that the good tiding is obtained from just deeds, not from unjust deeds.

So, walhamdulillah, there is indeed benefit in just praise, as RasulAllah, sall Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who only speaks the truth, has informed us that praise is the glad tidings of this world for the believer. May Allah make us of those who give the just praise its haqq, treating it as an incentive for Jannah, and not allowing it to nullify our virtues. May Allah make us among those who only seek to earn His Pleasure, not seeking the praises of man nor seeking to avoid man’s criticism at the cost of displeasing our Rabb.

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  1. 'Uthmaan

    June 17, 2009 at 8:40 AM

    How amazing is the affair of the believer! :D

    JazakAllahu Khayran for this insightful and beneficial post.

  2. Ahmad AlFarsi

    June 17, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    In keeping with the theme of this article, I welcome all criticism, just or unjust :D

  3. MR

    June 17, 2009 at 10:40 AM

    May Allah protect our tongues from unjust criticism.

    A lot of scholars today are stacking those good deeds, mashaAllah!

  4. sister

    June 17, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Assalamualykum. JazakAllahukhar brother. I had a question could you please explain this I’m a little confused. Would someone still get another persons good deeds if they forgave the person who was unjust to them. I thought it was better to forgive those who have wronged you, would that be more beneficial for us on the Day of Judgment or for us to wait and receive someones good deeds in the Akhira? JazakAllahukhair.

    • Ahmad AlFarsi

      June 17, 2009 at 11:12 AM

      Allahu a’lam. Maybe one of our shuyukh can respond about that (i.e. would we still be rewarded with the good deeds if we forgave our offenders? Is the reward for forgiving even greater?)

      But, yes, I have also heard many shuyukh say that it is superior to forgive those who have wronged us.

    • Danish Hasan

      June 17, 2009 at 11:46 AM

      When I feel I have wronged someone I usually tell them to forgive me as well as ask Allah to give them a similar reward of deed.

  5. Danish Hasan

    June 17, 2009 at 11:43 AM

    Dude that was horrible,,,,,,


    that was nice alHamdulillah….

    the younger students from Houston would call me up or they would tell me over chat cool things they learned at Arees…..alhamdulillah…

    One of them gifted me a translation of the same book, Kitab al-Akhlaq wa as-Siyar fi Mudawat an-Nufus, by Taha Publishers. I think yall use the Translation by Arees though right? I read parts of it, it seemed awesome, it;s on my to-read list, right now jst engrossed in STEP1 material..
    May Allah forgive Him and have Mercy on him.

    i’ll see you at the masjid insha’Allah
    May Allah Forgive you, Have Mercy on you, and enter you into Jannah!

  6. Kanika A.

    June 17, 2009 at 12:45 PM

    Assalamalaikum !

    Jazzak Allah khair for this article … it brought back fond memories – I miss Sh. Isam and Arees classes so much…Cannot wait till summer is over and we start semester 2 inshAllah :)

    I highly encourage others to look into Arees Institute for university-level Islamic education – they have e-university online classes starting soon for summer quarter !

    The book that we use at Arees is called “In Pursuit of Virtue” by Ta-Ha publishers.

  7. Abu Sabaya

    June 17, 2009 at 2:06 PM

    I just love Ibn Hazm, and this was an excellent exposition, akhi. Can’t wait for future sections you cover from this book.

  8. Ahmad AlFarsi

    June 17, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    Arees actually does have its own translation of Kitab al-Akhlaq wa as-Siyar fi Mudawat an-Nufus which is what Sh. Isam referred to in class and which I quoted in my post (with very slight editorial changes). However, the book by Ta-Ha Publishers (In Pursuit of Virtue) is also available, and contains the translation of this work and some other content as well.

  9. Amad

    June 17, 2009 at 5:01 PM

    we accept guest posts from our content guardians. Go ahead and spin your wheels…

  10. midatlantic

    June 17, 2009 at 7:13 PM

    Jazakamullah khair for sharing what you learned and giving us a taste of Ibn Hazm’s brilliant mind, rahimahullah.

    Your post has perked my interest in Arees. Perhaps you could write a post giving us your first hand experiences of it – and how it complements other courses that are out there mashaAllah.

  11. monkeynursemd

    June 17, 2009 at 7:48 PM

    hah! i love it…”i’m fasting too!”

  12. Pingback: single-payer system, dubai, praise v. criticism « Monkeynursemd's Blog

  13. Amad

    June 17, 2009 at 9:03 PM

    I love the voting option… the fly has the most negative points on the site… I think the silent majority can now make their voice heard ;)

    • Abû Mûsâ Al-Ḥabashî

      June 17, 2009 at 9:48 PM

      That’s not currently true; Dawud has that honour.

      • Amad

        June 17, 2009 at 9:58 PM

        ok I give you that.

        Currently the comment gets hidden at -10 points…

        what do you folks think? Is that too much, too little?

        I was thinking hiding should occur at -5 or something…


        • Amatullah

          June 17, 2009 at 11:59 PM

          Currently the comment gets hidden at -10 points…

          lol…That’s a slap in the face. Will this cause MM to lose their infamous comments now?

          Jazaak Allahu khayran br Ahmad for the article.

        • Maverick

          June 18, 2009 at 12:02 AM

          naw, keep the comments as is despite how many negative ratings they get. That way people can still see all sides of the debate, even the more absurd ones.

          • Dawud Israel

            June 18, 2009 at 11:07 PM

            Haha. I am soooo feeling the love. :)

            Doesn’t the rating system…go against the spirit of this post?

            Keep the rating system…experiment with it, I think it will get rid of some people and probably isolate everyone into their own views and most likely, set a fantastic (sarcasm!) example for adab but fear not, I am always here!

            Don’t you kids worry, I won’t ever shut up! :D

            (This is where someone says, “Gee Dawud…thanks?”)

          • Amad

            June 18, 2009 at 11:14 PM

            actually, rating systems are used by all major blogs and it is a way of letting the readers do the monitoring of comments… in other words, empower the audience to regulate and in some way moderate comments.

            I don’t think it should be looked as a way to create bias against others, because I should fear bias more than many :) … if you have a good comment, in general, I have faith that this “democratic” system will “reward” it, and if it is trollish or rude, etc., the opposite should hold true. I mean no one knows the “fly” from a roach, yet the comment itself took in 15 negative points, which I will call doughnuts from now on.

  14. Maverick

    June 17, 2009 at 9:41 PM

    -Edited as per comments guideline. Stay on topic.

  15. Ibn Masood

    June 17, 2009 at 11:06 PM

    Assalamualaikum Ahmad,

    JazakAllah khair for such a beneficial piece! MashAllah it’s always good to hear these gems and reminders.

    Btw is this book translated by any chance?

    • Danish Hasan

      June 18, 2009 at 7:37 AM

      In Pursuit of Virtue by Taha Publishers

  16. Danish Hasan

    June 18, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    as non-beneficial as that comment is….

    it tells us the President is willing to resort to violence if someone/something bothers/annoys him long enough.

  17. Umm Ibraheem

    June 18, 2009 at 10:53 AM

    Assalaam Alaykum

    I would also like an article on experiences of Arees Institute. After reading this article I have been inspired to enrol, went on the Arees website and signed up for an online course. I don’t really know what to expect from it but want to give it a try nevertheless as its seems to be one of the better online institutions.

  18. Solomon2

    June 19, 2009 at 2:24 PM

    Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to live in Ibn Hazm’s time and place? I didn’t realize today’s Muslims still studied his stuff – I thought it was out of favor.

  19. bakr

    October 15, 2012 at 5:51 PM

    good ……………………..

  20. Firassa Fakhoury

    April 11, 2015 at 12:10 AM

    Can you tell me what Ibn al-Hazm meant by :

    و لمت للعيان معنى لذا سأل المعاينة الكليم

    I know that al-kalim refers to Moses as Moses was known as al-kalim. Is he speaking of a subtle meaning and the question Moses asked of Allah?

    • Firassa Fakhoury

      April 11, 2015 at 12:12 AM

      sorry it should be
      و لكن للعيان معنى لذا سأل المعاينة الكليم

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