I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.
In the name of Allah, most compassionate most merciful.
“Is not Allah the best of judges?” (95:8)
An incident from my trip to Italy during March of 2007 still affects me to this day. My husband and I had just returned to Milan after a long train ride from Venice and were starving. We ended up in a McDonald’s restaurant, not so much for its culinary delights, but more so out of necessity as all other nearby restaurants were closed at that time of the night. While my husband lined up at the counter to order our food, I took a seat and waited anxiously for him to return. My eyes came upon a man who appeared to be in his early fifties, eating his food with some really poor table manners.
My thoughts were somewhere along the following:
“That man is really disgusting! Look at him stuff his mouth with all those fries at one time. Good God! And why in the world are the fries drenched in ketchup? That is so childish. Only kids do that kind of stuff. I really can’t stand looking at him anymore because he is grossing me out.”
But for some reason, before I could turn my gaze away from him, Allah SWT opened my eyes and made me really observe him. I noticed that the man was dressed shabbily and saw the growth of stubble on his face. He only had a small order of fries on his table. He also seemed a little mentally unstable, either due to intoxication, a mental illness, or a mix of both. Guilt flooded my mind as I realized that the man was extremely hungry but could only afford to buy small fries and perhaps lathering them with ketchup helped make him feel more full than eating them plain.
Then my heart broke to pieces as I watched the restaurant manager walk up to him, grab him by his collar while saying something in Italian to him, and then dragged him to the door, finally giving him a firm push out the door. I wish I had had the courage to speak with the manager about the way he handled that man. He was after all a paying customer and I did not notice him bother anyone. But I made excuses to myself that night, ranging from, “what if he doesn’t speak English” to, “what if he throws me out of the restaurant” to “this is none of my business, so I should just eat and then go to the hotel room and sleep.”
My biggest regret is about how I judged the man so harshly. I was quick to decide that he was disgusting. And I was quick to cringe at the sight of him pushing those fries in his mouth, not stopping to wonder why. It scares me when I think that had it not been for Allah’s grace and mercy, I would never have considered to try to understand what made him behave that way.
I failed my test, but not in vain. My mistake has taught me that we live in a very big and complex world. There are a multitude of people whom we cross paths with and don’t even realize how different their lives are from our own. That night, Allah SWT temporarily popped the bubble I had built around myself. I saw a person who shared this earth with me, and yet lived in a very different world. But regardless of what world he lived in, it was wrong of me to judge him. It taught me a lesson on the importance of compassion. I learned that when we meet or see someone so different from ourselves that we cannot understand them, then the least we can do is respect them as a creation of God.
I hope that this incident inspires you to reflect on your own life and think about the time you made the mistake of judging someone too harshly or too quickly. Then push aside the cloud of guilt, and consciously decide to improve your way of viewing others. And the first step to that is always a sincere repentance for your past errors followed by a heartfelt plea to Allah SWT to strengthen you with His loving and perfect guidance. Maybe, if we make an effort to be caring and respectful towards those different from us, Allah SWT will bless us in return by making others compassionate and understanding towards us.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations be upon him) said, “ Should you become eager to mention another’s faults, recall your own. “ (Ar-Rafi)