What will the people say? Will they approve of it? Will they laugh at it? It seems that
such concerns influence our actions --especially our public conduct-- more than anything
else. Social pressure is a powerful force. It works by appealing to our desire not to be
insulted, ridiculed, or criticized. In a righteous society it could also be a force for
good, as some people will avoid a bad name more than they would a bad action. But in the
real world out there it mostly turns into an evil force, pressuring people into doing
things they know are wrong or keeping them from doing what they know are right. The
question of right and wrong is changed into a question of acceptable and unacceptable to
this evil force.
In some cases we recognize it easily. Nearly every parent in the West today seems to be
concerned about peer pressure, especially on the teenagers. There is hardly a sin that
attracts teenagers -- drugs, violence, lewdness, fornication, gangs -- that does not have
peer pressure as its main or major cause. Countless lives have been turned upside down or
totally destroyed by it. But is the teen peer pressure an anomaly in an otherwise healthy
society? Obviously not. It attracts our attention because of the scale of destruction it
causes but the general trend is not different in other segments of the society.
In many cases the same Muslim parents who are genuinely worried about the teen peer
pressure, themselves seem to be giving in to the pressures for conformance. Some trade
their names for meaningless but more "acceptable" constructions. Some will
participate, say, in the office Christmas party, so that they are not discovered. Some
admit to being Muslim but an "open- minded" one. ("Actually Islam is a very
progressive religion. It allows us to do everything that the society asks us to do. Too
bad most Muslims are so ignorant about their own religion.")
The phenomenon is not limited to the Western world either. Unfortunately today most
Muslim countries at many times seem to be putting their weight on the side of wrong.
There, un-Islamic traditions, innovations (bidaat), and outright evils flourish under
social pressures. The most visible symbols of an Islamic life are generally also the
favorite targets of this pressure. Thus we see that in many Muslim countries even such a
simple act as growing beard (or observing hijab for women) are treated as crimes
punishable by public ridicule! (Of course in a country like Egypt, the same act calls for
investigation, on pain of torture, by secret agencies. But that is an altogether different
story). To go beyond that and challenge any of the established un-Islamic practices
qualifies one to be labeled as a fanatic!
Actually there is nothing new in all of this. This psychological warfare is as old as
the struggle between good and evil! The Qur'an tells us that all the Prophets were
insulted and ridiculed by the very people they were trying to save from the eternal
punishment. They were called liars and sorcerers; they were ridiculed for being "too
pious"; they were laughed at for being "crazy."
The story of Prophet Noah is so telling here. His final act of building the ark was
considered proof-positive by his people of him being out of his mind. Building a ship in
an area nearly a thousand miles away from the sea! What could be crazier than that! The
Qur'an mentions: "And he was building the Ark and every time that the chieftains of
his people passed by him, they threw ridicule at him. He said:
"If you ridicule us now, we in our turn, can look down on you with
ridicule likewise'." [Hood, 11:38].
They were having a great time, making fun of Prophet Noah. Little did they realize that
soon the Flood would wash away all of their ignorant self-assurance. One can imagine their
horror when the end finally came, for it must have been in proportion to their delusion
till that point.
Such is the story of the struggle between Truth and Falsehood. Truth will eventually
triumph. But Falsehood has great fun before that, ridiculing the Truth. That is why Truth
attracts people with foresight and patience, courage and determination. They have their
eyes set on the final outcome. They are not deterred by the flood of insults and false
propaganda that they are sure to face. That is why the Qur'an mentions that one of the
qualities of the believers whom Allah loves and who love Allah is that
"They fear not the blame of any blamer." [Maida 5:54].
That must be so because we must realize that the most ridiculous thing would be for
anyone to leave the Straight Path for fear of being ridiculed by those who are happily
rushing on their path to eternal doom. The most laughable act is to trade truth for
Falsehood for fear of being laughed at. The craziest deed would be to knowingly disobey
Allah for fear of being called crazy!
The Qur'an assures us, and history confirms it, that it is not a reasonable goal for a
believer that he or she should be able to go through life without ever being subjected to
mockery and ridicule. Such expectations produce failure at the first instant, when the
rubber meets the road, and apologists personify such failure. Unfortunately, but
understandably, in the age of the mega propaganda machine we see too many of them.
When their laughter becomes too loud, we should remember that the chieftains of the
people of Noah were also laughing at one time. But who had the last laugh?
"The guilty used to laugh at those who believed. And whenever they
passed by them, used to wink at each other in mockery. And when they returned to their own
people, they returned jesting. And whenever they saw them they would say: `They have gone
astray.' But they had not been sent as keepers over them. But on this day the Believers
will laugh at the Unbelievers." [Mutaffifeen, 83:29-34].