Thursday, July 28, 2011

Complaining again

The Prophet (peace and blessing be upon Him) said, “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one except the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Muslim)

Complaints can be categorized into two types – complaints about things that we have control over, and complaints about things that we don’t have control over. In my previous post on responsibility, I was referring to the first type of complaint as a sign of being irresponsible. Usually such people subconsciously believe themselves to be incompetent or incapable, and so, at a conscious level, they portray themselves as competent or capable through bringing down someone else by complaining. As the saying goes, “Small people try to make themselves bigger by making other people feel smaller.” On the other hand, great people make themselves bigger by elevating others. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) was so great that he cultivated a set of desert nomads into becoming the champions and leaders of civilization.

Deviating from the topic of this blog for a moment, I think there is a lot of wisdom in the preceding point for people in positions of authority. A lot of the problems between managers and subordinates, or parents and children, stem from leaders (i.e., managers, parents, husbands, etc) focussing more on asserting their authority rather than on exercising that authority responsibly to help their flock grow and flourish. For example, when imparting advice, the leader will implicitly or explicitly elevate him/her self and/or bring down the other in that ‘advice’. People don’t appreciate advice when it is accompanied with pride and belittlement. Advice through corrupt delivery can be more detrimental than silence. But more on this issue some other time.

The second type of complaint, complaining about things that we don’t have control over, is worse than complaining about things we do have control over, because we are effectively showing disappointment over something whose outcome has been decided by Allah. We cannot complain about the weather. We cannot complain about a traffic jam. We cannot complain about a computer that decides to freeze. We cannot complain about how difficult physics class is (by the way these examples are coming from experience). The complaint is not going to change the circumstance. It will just make the complainer feel more miserable, and invariably the complainer will spread his misery to others (I end up feeling rotten within a few minutes of interaction with people habituated to complaining).

The habit of complaining also veils one from engaging in gratitude for all of Allah’s blessings upon him. It is a sign of neglect towards Allah. Hence complainers find it difficult to recognize “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one except the believer”. I remember at a hajj seminar, the teacher said something very precious that went a long way in making my hajj a positive experience. He said, “Never utter a word of complaint about your hajj. Recognize the greatness of the One who invited you. Recognize that He is escorting you to His home. And recognize that you don’t deserve any of that.”

In summary, the correct response to undesirable circumstances is what the Prophet said in the above hadith: “If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.”

Of course I am not in any way promoting passivism. There is a clear difference between complaining, and speaking out for one’s rights, standing up for justice, and upholding the truth. The former is inherently unproductive while the latter is a way of taking action.

Complaining has become a widespread phenomenon in the modern world because we have become so habituated to instant gratification and selfishness. If that internet site doesn’t load instantly, we become frustrated and start cursing the internet provider. Or if things don’t happen our way, then we start enumerating all the sacrifices we had to make for the ‘other’ way to happen.

To eradicate the habit of complaining, Will Bowen has founded a movement called “A Complaint Free World.” I encourage you to check out his website and especially recommend the set of videos there.


  1. JazakAllahu Khairan Katheeran for the excellent advice on this topic. May Allah (swt)reward you and may He (swt) enable us all to live complaint free lives.

  2. Mashallah very encouraging and great advice....

    Gohar Ayub