Opinion: Fostering empathy, maintaining friendships and avoiding jealousy

26th November 2021

Sophia Rajpoot, Primary School Teacher, Calgary, Canada 

“Speak a good word, or remain silent”. (Sahih al-Bukhari)

From a young age, we were told phrases like, “Be kind”, “Say sorry”, and, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Many in society do not fully grasp the importance and complexity behind showing compassion and empathy to fellow human beings.

If you take the time to analyse your life and really think about the friendships you have had, I’m sure you would be able to think of some people who have hurt you. It is not uncommon to be hurt by the words and actions of others, especially by those who you once called your friends. 

Islam is a religion that truly emphasises the importance of not just being kind but being a good friend. Having empathy is not just about not being a bully – it’s about being a good person. It’s about not backbiting, not degrading others, not judging and not seeing others as competition or a threat. It’s about treating people the same way you would want to be treated. 

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa reiterated the words of the Promised Messiahas, during his closing address at Jalsa Salana UK 2021:

“[…] when someone makes an oath of friendship with me, I cannot sever ties with him no matter what happens. Therefore, friendship is a very precious jewel that must be appreciated and valued.” (www.reviewofreligions.org/33449/address-at-the-final-session-of-jalsa-salana-uk-2021-fulfilling-the-rights-of-others-official-summary/). 

He advised that friendship established for the sake of Allah was a true, lasting friendship and that true friendship was a strong bond between two people and to honour the rights of friends. Developing a true friendship takes empathy, understanding and loyalty.  

So why is it then that despite being taught this from a young age, and it being constantly reiterated to us throughout our lives, we still encounter people who were once our friends now gossip about us, betray our friendships and overall try to put us down. The answer is quite simple, it is because once we become adults we begin to prioritise climbing the social ladder of “acceptance” and “status”. While climbing this ladder, we forget what it means to be a good friend to the people we care about. The friend we used to once care for is now our competition. 

The Holy Quran states in chapter 49, Surah al-Hujurat, verse 12: 

“O ye who believe! let not one people deride [another] people, who may be better than they, nor let women [deride other] women, who may be better than they. And defame not your own people, nor call one [another] by nicknames. Bad [indeed] is evil reputation after [the profession] of belief; and those who repent not are the wrongdoers.”

The words of the Holy Quran are always true and relevant, as they are the direct words from God Almighty. The phenomena of gossiping seems to be more prevalent these days. People of today tend to focus on who has the best clothes, best job, best children, best lifestyle etc. And instead of wanting to better themselves for Allah the Almighty and for the sake of staying on His path, people tend to be more driven to better themselves for the sake of being better than the others. 

As women (and for men), instead of being competitive with one another regarding social status, we should strive and “vie, then, with one another in good works”.(Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.149) 

Perhaps, jealousy may be the driving factor in what steers us away from being compassionate.Hazrat Abu Hurairahra relates that the Holy Prophetsa said:

 “Beware of the fire of jealousy, because it consumes good deeds just as fire consumes wood and straw.” (Sunan Abi Dawood)

Jealousy is not only a major sin in Islam but a powerful emotion that can rid one of their goodness. Prophet Muhammadsa was asked,“Who are the best people?” He replied, “The one with a clean heart and truthful tongue.” He was asked that a truthful tongue was understandable but what did a clean heart mean? Prophet Muhammadsa answered, “It is the heart of one that is pious, pure, and is free of sin, transgressions, hatred and jealous.” (Ibn Majah)

As women, we are so capable of being peacemakers; therefore, it is crucial that we strive to“be amongst those women and girls who light up the world through their sincerity and morality”, as Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaasaid in the 40th Lajna Imaillah Ijtema UK.(www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2018/10/head-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-concludes-40th-lajna-imaillah-ijtema-uk-inspiring-address/)

Western culture has also begun to understand the importance of teaching kindness and unity amongst people. I am a second grade teacher, and in the last few decades, teaching empathy and kindness to students has been prioritised. Educators used to say “I don’t need to teach compassion as that is common sense”, or, “I have so much other material to teach so I don’t have the time to teach kindness”.  This shift in this particular teaching philosophy has occurred because now researchers have discovered that empathy has been directly correlated to intelligence and academic success. (Romanelli et al, 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1636947/)

Empathy isn’t just about hugs, pats on the back and being friends with everyone. It is a skill that can make young people more productive in work environments that require cooperation, and in a global economy that becomes more complex with each passing day. It is what turns today’s students into future leaders and peaceful citizens. (www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2012/09/26/why-we-should-teach-empathy-to-improve-education-and-test-scores/?sh=41a1d24427c4

Therefore, teachers have now prioritised instilling kindness and being just within their students not only because it fosters a peaceful classroom environment; but it also ensures that students develop open-mindedness, self-reflectiveness and critical thinking skills. These things all would in turn help students become more emotionally and academically intelligent. Fostering a peaceful community amongst students will translate over into their everyday lives as adults. 

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa states: 

“At times, emotional hurt is much greater than any physical wound and everyone should be mindful of this to maintain societal peace. We should be careful about what we say to each other.” (www.alislam.org/friday-sermon/2016-01-29.html

Islam has always emphasised the importance of being good to others. Not only does it instil societal peace, but it is also a great act of worship to God Almighty. 

The Promised Messiahas once said:

“To love mankind and to show compassion to others is an immense form of worship to God Almighty and an outstanding means of attaining his pleasure and rewards”. (www.alislam.org/articles/should-islam-really-be-feared/

In closing, I will leave you with a quote from an Urdu poet, Khwaja Mir Dard, who wrote:

“Mankind was created to develop compassion for one another; Otherwise Angels were enough to fulfil obedience to God Almighty”. 

Therefore, being fully obedient to God also requires that we show compassion and fairness to others. Indeed, “God has no mercy for him who has no mercy for his fellows.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

source https://www.alhakam.org/opinion-fostering-empathy-maintaining-friendships-and-avoiding-jealousy/

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