It is really easy to criticize people we don't know--and for some reason, people at the mosque are prime targets. I think I know why--because they are at the mosque, maybe people assume they ought to be paragons of virtue. It's simply not the case, as people make mistakes. And when we don't fully understand them, we might jump to conclusions about their behavior.
I, for one, like to encourage people to be friendly and welcoming at the mosque, especially if they see someone who is new. That's because I have been new, and understand what it's like to not know where the bathrooms are, which direction is the qiblah, where the women pray or the location of the imam's office. So I try to make a conscious effort, if I see someone who looks like they don't know where they are, to try to be helpful, to give salaams and lead the way.
And I think I have also turned a hard eye towards people who were not helpful for one reason or another. And that wasn't fair of me, since I didn't know their situation exactly--how could I make assumptions about their intentions? I hope those people who I have criticized, even in my own thoughts, can forgive me.
Lately I see some people at my mosque, or in the general community, being criticized. And I think this time I would like to take their defense, in encouraging people to make excuses.
For example, I recently heard a story about a woman at the mosque for her marriage, and while standing in the hallway she offered salaams to over a dozen passing sisters, less than half of whom responded. The same sister visiting the mosque on another occasion remarked that while her husband was greeted by many brothers, no sisters came up to meet with her. Because of her experience, the woman began to feel like an outcast.
Let me say at first that I do feel bad for the sister, and wished someone had been around who could help her out, since she sounds like she needs a friend. And secondly, what I have written above is pretty much all I know of the story--I don't know whose it is, nor are the assumptions I describe below necessarily a part of it. I just want to use this as an example.
Reading the story, I felt it easy to assume first of all that the women to whom she offered salaams deliberately ignored her. Is it possible? Sure. Are other things possible as well? Yes. For instance, maybe the sisters didn't hear her; maybe they didn't see her or know she was greeting them (instead of someone else.) Maybe they didn't understand her greeting, or maybe they were afraid to respond because they don't speak any English and fear starting a conversation they can't maintain. So I would just like to avoid assuming the worst, and give the sisters some excuses, because we don't know the full story. How can we then criticize them?
I don't mean to say it's okay to ignore a person's salaams, not at all. But I am afraid that some people are being held up to certain unreasonable standards.
Here is another example--a person accused a particular sheikh of being rude when answering a question he had asked him. We might hear that and criticize the sheikh, who should know better and whose manners ought to be beyond reproach. But did we stop to consider all the circumstances? That the sheikh, for instance had just finished leading the taraweeh prayer. He had awoken early that morning to pray and eat something small before the time for fajr came in, and he had led the fajr salaah and then spent the day, while fasting, teaching his regular classes. Then as the time for iftar arrived he could only take a bite before leading the maghrib salaah and then eat only a tiny bit more before leading isha and taraweeh. And so, exhausted after such a day, he was a little bit short with a questioner--do we really have the right to criticize him?
I don't think so...
Of course, we should try to hold ourselves to the highest standards of conduct, but when we see failings in others, maybe it's better to excuse them, instead of criticizing?