"Every person I meet is my superior in some way ; and in that, I learn from them" —Ralph Waldo Emerson
A buddy of mine has a beautiful way of interacting with everyone he meets. He’s always friendly and affable — treating everyone with dignity, respect and an open mind. It seems like a simple standard to have but unfortunately it is not something we always see.
It’s very easy for people to become attached to monikers of status, such as certificates, degrees or nationality or other aspects that lead them to be self-righteous; and to consider themselves better than others.
Competition for more [worldly gains] distracts you — Qur’an 102:1
We often see that people compete with each other for this sort of worldly status. Ostentation and subtle competition over temporary things — this is clearly immaterial at the end of the day. On the Day of Judgement only our deeds will be weighed:
فَمَن ثَقُلَتْ مَوَٰزِينُهُۥ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُفْلِحُونَ
وَمَنْ خَفَّتْ مَوَٰزِينُهُۥ فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ ٱلَّذِينَ خَسِرُوٓا۟ أَنفُسَهُمْ فِى جَهَنَّمَ خَـٰلِدُونَ
As for those whose scale is heavy ˹with good deeds˺, it is they who will be successful. But those whose scale is light, they will have doomed themselves, staying in Hell forever. — Quran 23:102-103
Ultimately, after we have all passed onto the next life, all that will be left is our souls along with the good and bad deeds we accrued in this life. Our interactions with others will play a big part in this.
Treating every social-interaction as an opportunity for doing good and learning is a simple enough adage; but it speaks to the value of a humble life and an open-mind.
وَعِبَادُ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ٱلَّذِينَ يَمْشُونَ عَلَى ٱلْأَرْضِ هَوْنًا وَإِذَا خَاطَبَهُمُ ٱلْجَـٰهِلُونَ قَالُوا۟ سَلَـٰمًا
The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the ignorant address them [harshly], they reply [words of] peace. — Qur’an 25:63
There is always more to learn. In that regard we should always treat life like an "open book"— approaching the world with a mindset of learning and humility.
When people bring ego into the equation it is easy for them to approach social situations as a "zero-sum game". Trying to workout who is the best in terms of status and assuming the others are worth less; but life is rarely that linear.
Life is composed of a myriad of interconnected factors that make up the human experience. Even if someone knows that they are de facto smarter or stronger than someone else in one aspect of life — there will always be other aspects in which they can learn from them; even if that’s just in humility.
Regardless of what other people may look like on the outside, be that happy, smiling, placid or vacant — everyone has an entire life-story that lead them to be in the current moment in which you are witnessing them. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that. To think that we have nothing to learn from someone else would be arrogance and would only leave us bereft.
We are all people walking different paths on this earth, sometimes those paths intersect — and everyone brings their own insight to that juncture.
Recognising this depth and inherent nobility in people at a philosophical level is one thing but it’s another journey to implement this in practice and to go about learning from new acquaintances.
Nobility of Mankind
My friend always manages to spark the most inspiring and engaging conversation. He has one little trick he uses to get conversation flowing. He always sets out to "Try and learn something"; in line with his principles as a friendly respectful and interested person - he has a few tips on building a natural, respectful and authentic rapport.
Beyond asking the usual small-talk questions, genuine connection includes being really invested in a conversation and searching to learn something authentically. Over and above just asking about someone’s job-title, we can really take the chance to learn from an expert about what they enjoy.
More than just their job the same goes for anything that someone is invested in — be that work, parenting, their hobbies or their community engagement etc. Everyone has something that they are passionate about and once you find out what that is they normally love to tell you about it.
This ultimately rests on the fact that everyone is inherently valuable, knowledgeable, important and noble. Whether they acknowledge it themselves or not, Allah tells us that He has created us all as ennobled beings.
لَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا ٱلْإِنسَٰنَ فِىٓ أَحْسَنِ تَقْوِيمٍ
"Surely we created man in the best of statures" — Qur’an 95:4
In recognising this nobility in humankind my friend’s motto in life is "People > profit" (People more than profit). As individuals it is ultimately the other people we meet, and the souls that we connect with, that are more important to us than any amount of material wealth or profit.
When it comes to the Day of Judgement all of mankind will be gathered whilst our wealth is left behind. Our deeds and our limbs will testify as to what we did throughout our lives and the ways we treated other people. Will they testify that we were a good person? Or will they testify that we were obnoxious, perhaps even that we wronged people?
يَوْمَ تَجِدُ كُلُّ نَفْسٍ مَّا عَمِلَتْ مِنْ خَيْرٍ مُّحْضَرًا وَمَا عَمِلَتْ مِن سُوٓءٍ تَوَدُّ لَوْ أَنَّ بَيْنَهَا وَبَيْنَهُۥٓ أَمَدًۢا بَعِيدًا ۗ وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ ٱللَّهُ نَفْسَهُۥ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ رَءُوفٌۢ بِٱلْعِبَادِ
The Day when every soul will be presented with whatever good it has done. And it will wish that its misdeeds were far off. And Allah warns you about Himself. And Allah is Ever Gracious to ˹His˺ servants — Quran 3:30
The Day of Judgement
The only thing that will truly matter on the Day of Judgement will be the good deeds we have amassed and our scale of righteous actions from our life. Who did we help, who did we honour, who did we speak well to? From His mercy, may Allah accept any of our good deeds and forgive us for all of our shortcomings.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱعْبُدُوا۟ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَكُمْ وَٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O mankind, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may become mindful ˹of Him˺. — Qur’an 2:21
In this life, everything that Allah asks us to do is to gain taqwa and mindfulness of Him. Ultimately we are striving for God consciousness at all times. Fasting, prayer, charity, our sole reason for living is to know Allah, worshipping Him as He has asked us to worship Him, and through doing that to know Him, to love Him and to grow in nearness to Him.
We do this through many forms of personal worship such as prayer, reading the Qur’an, fasting and performing dhikr (remembering Allah). But more than anything we do for ourselves, we draw close to Allah and worship Him through our service of others.
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ (ﷺ) "كُلُّ سُلَامَى مِنْ النَّاسِ عَلَيْهِ صَدَقَةٌ، كُلَّ يَوْمٍ تَطْلُعُ فِيهِ الشَّمْسُ تَعْدِلُ بَيْنَ اثْنَيْنِ صَدَقَةٌ، وَتُعِينُ الرَّجُلَ فِي دَابَّتِهِ فَتَحْمِلُهُ عَلَيْهَا أَوْ تَرْفَعُ لَهُ عَلَيْهَا مَتَاعَهُ صَدَقَةٌ، وَالْكَلِمَةُ الطَّيِّبَةُ صَدَقَةٌ، وَبِكُلِّ خُطْوَةٍ تَمْشِيهَا إلَى الصَّلَاةِ صَدَقَةٌ، وَتُمِيطُ الْأَذَى عَنْ الطَّرِيقِ صَدَقَةٌ".
The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said: “Every person’s joints have [an associated] charity due each day in which the sun rises: to reconcile between two people is a charity; to assist another by helping him onto his mount, or lifting his merchandise onto it for him, is a charity. A good word is a charity. Each step one takes to the prayer is a charity. And removing a harmful object from the road is a charity.” [Sahih]
Servitude and doing good onto others is at the heart of our religion; be that through earning a good income for our families, serving our community and even through providing goodness (and value) to others through our work.
When the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) first received revelation he returned to his wife Khadijah who gave him with the following words of reassurance:
كَلاَّ وَاللَّهِ مَا يُخْزِيكَ اللَّهُ أَبَدًا، إِنَّكَ لَتَصِلُ الرَّحِمَ، وَتَحْمِلُ الْكَلَّ، وَتَكْسِبُ الْمَعْدُومَ، وَتَقْرِي الضَّيْفَ، وَتُعِينُ عَلَى نَوَائِبِ الْحَقِّ.
“Never! By Allāh, Allāh will never disgrace you, for you keep good relations with your family, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously, and assist the deserving people who have been afflicted with calamity.” [Sahih]
The Human Condition
None of this is specific to Muslims alone. Allah doesn’t enjoin us to be good to just other Muslims. Rather He commands us to do good for others, good to all of mankind.
وَتَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْبِرِّ وَٱلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا۟ عَلَى ٱلْإِثْمِ وَٱلْعُدْوَٰنِ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ
Cooperate with one another in goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate in sin and transgression. And be mindful of Allah. Surely Allah is severe in punishment. — Quran 5:2
There is a shared human condition that we all experience as people walking on this Earth. Every one of us has to eat, sleep and interact with others. We all feel desires and emotions.
Human emotions are some of the most powerful forces that we feel and these are a universal part of the human experience. These emotions, experiences and feelings are often manifested through a different cultural context but at its core the human experience remains the same.
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind, indeed We have created you all from male and female, and made you into races and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are the ones most mindful of Him: Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware. — Qur’an 49:13
Perhaps through interaction and striving to know one another we can elucidate something of what it means to be human. Spreading peace and joy while striving to leave the world a better place than we found it insha’Allah. Through service to one another we aim to please Allah and ultimately serve and know Him as intimately and as best we can.
We ask Allah to guide us to the straight path and to help us to rectify our intentions. May He allow us to know Him and love Him intimately and sincerely and may Allah accept any of our good deeds, grant us success in our efforts and forgive us for all of our shortcomings.
"Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day…" - https://sunnah.com/nawawi40:26