“A believer who mixes with people and tolerates their abuse is better than one who neither mixes with people nor tolerates their abuse.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab, Al-Mufrad and Al-Tirmithi).
What the Prophet (Pbuh) is referring to here is mixing with people who are not good believers, because a believer does not abuse another.
It is often mentioned that a believer is an advocate of his faith. It is required of every Muslim to make Islam known to other people. That was the role of Allah’s last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), since the task of a messenger is to convey his message. The Prophet certainly did that in an exemplary way, devoting all his time and effort to the task he had in hand. He has left nothing Allah wants us to know without telling us about it. He conveyed his message completely, intact, clear and free of ambiguity. He received the testimony of his companions when he addressed them during his pilgrimage. He asked them repeatedly during his speech: “Have I conveyed this (meaning the principles of his message) to you?” They all replied time after time in one voice: “ Yes, indeed.” Every time, he raised his eyes to heaven and said: “ My Lord, be my witness.”
Every believer is required to do the same, i.e. to convey Allah’s message to people and to call on them to believe in it. That is because the message of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) is the final, ultimate and complete version of Allah’s message to mankind, conveyed by earlier prophets and messengers. The central points are the same, although there are some differences of detail. The teachings of the Prophet, the duties he has outlined to us and the prohibitions he has emphasized provide a complete picture of the sort of way of life Allah wishes us to implement for our own happiness. Allah benefits nothing by our obedience nor does our disobedience affect Him in any way. The benefit is all ours. In order to convey the message to the people, a believer must mix with them and know them in their different situations and circumstances. He has to share with them much of their activities, and care about their fortunes. One who does not mix with people cannot convey anything to them. It is only through being in their midst that one can hope to be influential among them. A believer does not seek influence with people in order to achieve any personal gains, but only to make his word acceptable to them when he tells them of Islam and what Allah requires of them with regard to their beliefs and to their behaviour.
Sometimes, mixing with people is felt to be undesirable, specially when one is at the receiving end of people’s abuse in word and deed. Many people prefer to be alone because that spares them much trouble. What attitude should a believer adopt? Abdullah Ibn Umar (RA) quotes the Prophet (Pbuh) as saying: “ A believer who mixes with people and tolerates their abuse is better than one who neither mixes with people nor tolerates their abuse.” (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab, Al-Mufrad and Al-Tirmithi).
What the Prophet is referring to here is mixing with people who are not good believers, because a believer does not abuse another. It is well known that Islam inculcates the feelings of brotherhood among its followers and that believers do feel their brotherhood to be real. Therefore, even when they differ, they treat one another with mutual love and respect. But those who abuse a believer do so because they dislike the message he calls on them to adopt. He mixes with them in order to have a chance to convey it to them. When he does, then they may abuse him. It is such a person that the Prophet describes as better than one who prefers to isolate himself from people so that nothing of evil comes his way from them. However, if one feels that he will not be able to tolerate any ill-treatment he may receive, and that his attempt to repel such treatment may lead to more trouble, he may adopt an attitude of aloofness, provided that he continues to be with the Muslim community, attend congregational prayer, exchange greetings with believers, and fulfill his duties towards them, such as visiting those who are ill and attending funerals and so on.
The Prophet (Pbuh) also points out an important quality of a believer, namely tolerating abuse. Abdullah ibn Massoud (RA), a companion of the Prophet, reports that he overheard a man from the Ansar describing the distribution of the spoils of war by the Prophet, in these words: “By Allah, this is a division which is not intended to please Allah.” Abdullah thought that he should tell the Prophet of this. He says: “I came to him when he was sitting with a number of his companions and whispered my report of the incident to him. He took it very hard and it showed in his face. He was so angry that I wished I had not told him. He then said: “Moses suffered even greater abuse than this and he was patient and tolerated it.” (Related by Al-Bukhari and Ahmed). We should understand that there was some gap between the last expression by which the Prophet declares that he should not seek to retaliate against the person who made that remark, and the time when he felt so angry. As soon as he cooled down, he decided that he would not take any action against the man.
An even more telling example is the Prophet’s (Pbuh) own description of how Allah treats people. We should remember that human beings give every affront to Allah, without even thinking that they are in need of Allah’s grace and mercy every moment in their lives. Nevertheless, they give Him the most offensive of actions and remarks. He still grants them His grace and mercy. Abu Musa Al Ash’ari, a learned companion of the Prophet quotes him as saying: “There is no one who tolerates offensive remarks which he hears with his own ears more than Allah, the Almighty. They attribute to Him having a son and He still cures their illnesses and provides them with sustenance.”(Related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim and others). We need not comment on this fact. There is nothing more offensive to Allah than the false allegation that He has taken a son to himself. Yet, people claim that and still expect that Allah sends them rain and cures the ill and provides them with the goods of this life. He certainly does so and gives them a chance to correct their attitude. If they do, He gives them more of His grace. When we consider the Prophet’s (Pbuh) attitude and how Allah treats people, we realise that to be patient and to tolerate abuse which is showered on us because we advocate the message of Islam, is the proper attitude to be adopted by every Muslim.