There’s been a trend in recent years in the American Muslim community of people invoking “Don’t judge” when they see fellow Muslims questioning certain speech and behaviors as being outside the Islamic bounds. In my anecdotal observations, the major swath of those primarily invoking this phrase come from the “Unmosqued,” meaning those who have a connection to Islam without necessarily having an attachment to institutions based upon inadequacies within their structures and/or behaviors of their members. While there is a tendency among too many Muslims to expect a monolithic understanding or practice of Islam, “Don’t judge” has also been used as a phrase to minimize certain matters that have been Divinely legislated in which there have always been consensus and as a means of paradoxically painting those who do not agree with their whims as being intolerant.
People are judges, but not the Ultimate Judge
“We judge with the outward while Allah is connected to non-apparent matters” – Prophet Muhammad (prayers & peace be upon him and his family).
We are not supposed to make judgments to assess persons’ human value, their intentions and their after-lives. Allah (Mighty & Sublime) gave all humans intrinsic dignity upon their creation; thus, none should dehumanize others. He (Mighty & Sublime) is also the All-Knowing who fully knows matters of the hearts, which are secrets between His servants and Him in which (wo)men can not totally ascertain. People also don’t know the status of others’ after-lives, for they can’t even be 100% sure of their own status once being lowered into their own graves.
We, however, are to make individual judgments as a natural function of intellect in order to advance, in a healthy manner, our own individual selves, families, groups and society as a whole. Likewise, we are to make judgments in order to keep ourselves safe from personal injury and that which causes harm to the common good. All societies have judges to enforce the law when people step outside of the boundaries of what has been legislated by governments compromised of (wo)men. These judges have criterion in which there are parameters that differentiate right from wrong.
Al-Qur’an, Prophetic Statements and Absolute Consensus of Early Muslim are Criterion
And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the ingrates – [Al-Qur'an 5:44]
And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the wrongdoers – [Al-Qur'an 5:45]
And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, they are from the transgressors – [Al-Qur'an 5:47]
The three ayaat stated above directly refer to the People of the Book but are also warnings for Muslims. Those who decided to act upon their own whims while ignoring or covering up what Allah (Mighty & Sublime) revealed are referred to as “Al-Kaafireen,” “Al-Thaalimeen” and “Al-Faasiqeen.” The word “Al-Kaafireen” or ingrates means those who covered the Divine truth given to them; therefore, they showed a lack of gratitude for that which was revealed to guide them towards success. “Al-Thaalimeen” or wrong-doers means those who have committed wrong because they took matters out of their proper places in which they were ordained to be. All three of these groups mentioned were those who professed belief in One Deity and had “religious” affiliations yet were spoken of in these terms. In these are signs that we can go astray from the path by not judging matters by what was Divinely revealed.
It is not befitting for a believing man or believing woman that when Allah and His messenger decree a matter that they have an opinion about it, and whoever disobeys Allah and His messenger have clearly gone into manifest error – [Al-Qur'an 33:36]
Oh you who believe! Obey Allah, obey the messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it back to Allah and the messenger if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and is the most excellent interpretation -
Though there is much room for interpretation on some issues, there are specific matters that are not subject to reinterpretation of permissibility, which have been made clearly unlawful in Al-Qur’an, by the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) and agreed upon by his pious family and descendants and righteous companions. Those who believe in Al-Qur’an are obligated to obey the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) on that which can be authenticated through sound transmission, which does not contradict Al-Qur’an. Similarly, the absolute consensus of the early community of how specific matters were understood that agree with these two are confirmation. It is only natural that the Muslims who recognize these authorities will base what is correct and incorrect within these parameters.
The Folly of Moral Relativism in Post-Modernity
“Don’t judge” is influenced by the post-modernist trend of moral relativism, meaning that individuals can claim that everyone has the right to individual “truths” and that these constitute a singular truth. In other words, everyone can have independent “truths” and to negate others’ “truths” is being dogmatic and judgmental. Hence, for those who state that anything that clouds judgment for non-medicinal purposes such as marijuana is forbidden according to Islam and should not be legalized, these are considered closed minded people. For those who say that they are not in favor of same-sex marriage because Qawm Lut received the greatest punishment including the wife of Lut (AS), who was a monotheist that did not take issue with that sexual behavior and lifestyle, these people are incorrectly labeled as homophobes. Thus, those who uphold the sacred, which does not jibe with particular worldviews based upon obtuse individualism’s right to define what “truths” should be accepted are deemed as being judgmental and intolerant people. This postulation is complete nonsense, for even those who put forth such claims make judgments about those who don’t accept their worldviews.
One of the greatest challenges to American Muslims is the erosion of particular values due to many of us compromising Islamic mandates and seeking to be accepted by the status quo and/or coming under the influence of secular post-modernism. Enjoining right and forbidding evil is a non-negotiable part of the Islamic faith, which is an individual obligation (fard ‘ayn) as well as a community obligation (fard kifaayah). We are not to desist from our morals and ethics due to changing public opinion polls and the rise of intellectual currents that seek to eliminate the sacred from the public socio-political discourse. We are to present an intellectual discourse based upon our text absent of hostility and harshness. This should be non-negotiable for all of us.