Mirrors

Bismillah. The Prophet, peace be upon him, taught: al-mu’min mir’at al-mu’min – “the believer is the mirror of the believer.”

This morning, I read a mind-boggling commentary on this teaching from Ibn ‘Arabi, of which more later.

But first, here is a traditional explanation of the hadith, adapted slightly from Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar Hasan in his Way of the Prophet:

In this Hadith, a believer has been declared to be the mirror of another believer. This is a profoundly meaningful comparison. Keeping this comparison in mind, the following aspects of a believer’s relationship with another believer become apparent:

 (1) A mirror reflects only those spots and stains that actually exist. It neither reduces nor enlarges them.

(2) The mirror only reveals spots and stains when the face is present. If the person goes away, the tongue of the mirror is silenced.

(3) We have never heard of anyone becoming annoyed or angry at seeing their spots and stains in the mirror. On the contrary, we see that people gratefully keep the mirror in a safe place so that it may used when needed later.

(4) The mirror only reveals the spots and stains when it is level with the person’s face. If the mirror is above or below the face, it does not serve its essential purpose.

Instead of simile and metaphor, it can be stated in plain words that through the comparison with the mirror, the Messenger of Allah (may God bless him and grant him peace) has given us four pieces of guidance:

(1) If there is a need to mention a person’s defect, it should only be described as far as it exists.

(2) The defect should be mentioned in the person’s presence, not behind their back.

(3) If someone informs us of a defect or criticises us, we should be grateful to them instead of being annoyed with them.

(4) When a sincere adviser or critic criticises, he should neither show himself as greater and higher, nor use flattery and sycophancy [to be lower].

Now onto Ibn ‘Arabi: al-Mu’min (the Source or Guardian of Faith) is also a Name of God [Qur’an 59:23]. Hence, the hadith also means:

a) “The believer is the mirror of God” and

b) “God is the mirror of the believer.”

Explanations:

a) A person of pure faith has annihilated the ego and inculcated godly or saintly qualities such that the person’s heart and being is filled with (faith in) God, so God and other people only see a reflection of God in the person.

b) Since the World (the Universe or Nature) is also a locus or place of the reflection of God’s Names, and the human is a microcosm of the universe (the macrocosm), the believer learns about himself/herself through experiencing life, looking at the world and God’s action in it.  This teaching is related to the one that “a believer sees by the light of God”: s/he also sees by the multiple, renewed reflections of God’s light.

 

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