When we start to practice Islaam, it can become easy to tell people what is right and wrong but to lose empathy for the struggles they may go through in making that decision. We may give up on them in frustration prematurely, not giving that individual a chance wrongly assuming their sins to be too great to be forgiven and wrongly assuming our good deeds to be too great to be held to account.
Yunus bin Matta (as) was a Prophet who also called his people to worship Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'la) alone and abandon their sinful ways. Despite a long period of time, only a few people believed; finally in despair Yunus supplicated to his Lord to send His punishment upon his people. He was commanded by Allah to preach to his people for a further short period of time. When three days remained he proclaimed amongst his people that punishment would afflict them and fled:
“And (remember) Dhun-Nûn (Yunus), when he went off in anger, and imagined that We shall not punish him.” (Surah 21v87)
His people gathered together and agreed amongst themselves that Yunus was a person not known to lie and when they realised that he had fled and he must be telling the truth they repented, so Allah (swt) forgave them and showed them mercy.
“Was there any town that believed (after seeing the punishment), and its Faith saved it (from the punishment)? (The answer is none,) - except the people of Yûnus (Jonah); when they believed, We removed from them the torment of disgrace in the life of the (present) world, and permitted them to enjoy for a while.”(Surah 10, v98)
In the meantime, Yunus awaited news of what had happened to his people, and finally a traveller passed by him informing him that his people had become believers and the punishment had averted them. Fearing disgrace and being called a liar he determined not to return, and embarked upon a heavily laden ship. On its journey, the ship encountered a storm. To lighten their load the travellers decided to throw passengers off the ship and drew lots. The name of Yunus (as) came up. As they were reluctant to throw him off the ship and anger Allah as they deemed him to be pious they drew lots three times. Each time his name came up.
“When he ran to the laden ship, He (agreed to) cast lots, and he was among the losers,”(Surah 37, v140-141)
Upon being thrown into the sea, Allah (swt) commanded for him to be swallowed up by a huge whale.
“Then a (big) fish swallowed him and he had done an act worthy of blame.” (Surah 37, v142)
In the belly of the whale he realised his mistake. He realised he disobeyed Allah (swt) by abandoning his people and fleeing before being granted permission by his Lord and he realised that this was the actual cause of his trial.
“…But he cried through the darkness (saying): Lâ ilâha illa Anta [none has the right to be worshipped but You (O Allâh)], Sub’hanaka [Glorified (and Exalted) are You above all that (evil) they associate with You]. Inni kuntu minaz Zalimun [Truly, I have been of the wrong-doers]." (Surah 21, v87)
At-Tabari reports on the authority of Ibn Wahb that this dua appeared beneath the throne of Allah and the angels said that they heard a very weak voice coming from a strange land. Allah said, “Do you not know who that is? He is our servant, Yunus.” The angels said, “Your servant Yunus, from whom there has ascended to You an accepted prayer and an accepted deed?” Allah replied, “Yes” and commanded the whale to throw him out on the open shore.
“But We cast him forth on the naked shore while he was sick, And We caused a plant of gourd to grow over him.” (Surah 37, v147-148)
Once he regained his health, Yunus (as) returned to his people and informed them that Allah (swt) had forgiven them, and his people welcomed him with open arms.
“And We sent him to a hundred thousand (people) or even more. And they believed; so We gave them enjoyment for a while.” (Surah 37, v147-148)
So Sisters and Brothers why am I telling you this story? Because in this story Allah (swt) has sent for those who believe a lesson:
“So We answered his call, and delivered him from the distress. And that is how We rescue the believers (who believe in the Oneness of Allâh, abstain from evil and work righteousness).” (Surah 21, v87-88)
For me one of those lessons that I just realised is that no matter how practicing we are, we have no right to assume the sins that others commit will mean that they will not firstly repent and secondly that their repentance will not be accepted by Allah subhaanahu wa ta'la. It is perhaps this sin that will make this slave so remorseful that they repent to Allah (az) with such a sincere repentance that they achieve Jannatul Firdaus. And perhaps it is the same act of giving up on informing the people of the difference between right and wrong that may render us to be punished.
Look at the Prophet Yunus (as). Allah (swt) punished him even though his duas and deeds were almost always accepted. And look at the people of Yunus (as). When they realised their mistake and they repented then Allah (swt) accepted their repentance.
If we are those who enjoin the good and forbid the evil, be that by giving talks, or writing articles, or just simply being a positive role model to our communities and trying to forbid the evil and enjoin the good, then we have been blessed with an honoured position by Allah (swt):
"You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah." (s3, v110)
And if we neglect this obligation upon us then this will render us to become vulnerable to the punishment of Allah (swt):
The Prophet (saws) said: "I swear by Him in whose Hands is my soul, you will of a surety command what is good, and forbid what is evil, or else it is very possible that Allah will send upon you His punishment, so you will make dua to Him, and you will not be responded to".(Tirmidhi)
But with this opportunity and honour to enjoin the good and forbid the evil we must not assume that the person we are advising is beyond hope, that they will never change, that they are a lost cause. Nor should we become frustrate and give up on trying on advise them. One day Allah (swt) may guide them to accept their faults and to repent and to be the best Muslims. If we look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), his beloved companion Umar (ra) was someone into alcohol, with a fierce temper who killed his own daughter. After he repented and accepted Islaam, he became one of the ten companions promised paradise by the Prophet (saws), being second only to Abu bakr (ra).
It may be in fact when we wish the punishment upon others for their sins, Allah (swt) will bring upon us punishment for our sins. But if we forgive others for their sins particularly when those sins lead to us being harmed then inshaa' Allah Allah (swt) will forgive us.
"...and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? ..."(s24, v22)
So I give this advice firstly to myself: I realise now not to give up hope on those who we may see committing sins and wish for their punishment. Perhaps through Allah's (swt) Mercy and guidance they will one day be in a position better than me with Allah (swt) and I may be punished for my sins as with the example of Yunus (as) and his people. Instead I realise we should make dua for them that Allah (swt) forgives them and guides them and protects them from being punished for their sins so that Allah (swt) has Mercy upon us and forgives us for our sins.
The Prophet (saw) said:“The merciful ones will be given mercy by the All-Merciful. Be merciful to those who are on this earth, and the One in heaven will have mercy on you.”(Bukhari)
And perhaps if we ask Allah (swt) to forgive us in an effort to rescue us from our individual calamities, perhaps we ought to first make dua that Allah (swt) forgives and guides others and has mercy upon them.