Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done; and Allah is He who hears and knows all things.” [Sūrah al-Nisā’: 148]
This verse gives us the Islamic ruling about complaining against the wrongs and injustices perpetrated by another person. Ibn `Abbās says: “This verse was revealed because one man oppressed another. Therefore, it is permissible for one who has been wronged to mention the other person regarding the wrong the he has committed without adding anything more.”
It is also related from Ibn `Abbās that the verse is speaking about the permissibility of supplicating to Allah out loud against the wrongdoer. These two interpretations are not mutually exclusive, since both activities are permissible.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Two people who insult each other will have the sin of what they say, but the sin will be entirely upon the one who initiated it as long as the wronged party does not transgress bounds.” [Sahīh Muslim (2587)]
Abū Hurayrah relates that a man approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) to complain about his neighbor. The Prophet told him: “Go home and be patient.” The man returned with his complaint two or three times, whereupon the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Go home and throw your household affects out in the road.”
The man did as he was told, and people came up to him asking him what he was doing, so he told them about his neighbor’s bad behavior. Upon hearing this, the people began cursing that neighbor, saying: “May Allah do this and that with him.”
Soon, the neighbor came out of his home and said: “Go inside. You will never again see from me anything that you dislike.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd (5153)]
Once, a shawl was stolen from `Ā’ishah, so she began invoking Allah in prayer against the thief. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said to her: “Do not make things lighter for him (by your invoking prayers against him).” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd (1497)]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) also said: “It is an act of oppression when a person of means puts off honoring his debts. If he refuses to pay, his reputation can be tarnished and he can be punished.” [Sunan Abī Dāwūd (3628)]
Ibn al-Mubārak – who is one of the hadīths narrators – explains to us that “tarnishing his reputation” means to accuse him and rebuke him for his wrongdoing and the punishment refers to imprisonment.
This evidence shows us that it is permissible for someone who has been wronged to speak against the wrongdoer to the extent of his wrongdoing. He cannot make up anything else, exaggerate his grievance, or mentions anything unnecessary against the other party. He will be sinful for everything that he says that goes beyond his legitimate grievance.
Ibn al-`Arabī, in his commentary of the Qur’ān, claims that this ruling only applies to people who are social equals or near equals. He claims that people of base character cannot behave arrogantly about those who are of noble character, but that they should simply demand redress without making accusations of oppression or showing a display of anger. He claims this is supported by the textual evidence.
I disagree with this idea. The verse is quite general in its language. It applies to everyone who has been wronged. I have not found any textual evidence to afford special treatment to people of noble character with respect to others. They are the same with respect to their right to express their grievances against those who wrong them.
Still, in cases where speaking out publicly against the person who wronged you will lead to consequences that are worse than the original wrong, either to the aggrieved individual or to society at large, then it is best to refrain from doing so. For instance, this can be the case when the one who committed the wrong is a ruler who might bring great difficulties upon someone who speaks out against him. It is also the case where speaking out might lead to public unrest and civil strife. In such cases, it is best to refrain from speaking out publicly against the wrongdoer, not because of his noble status, but because of considerations of what is in the best interests of the aggrieved party.
Is Speaking Out Contrary to the Dictates of Patience?
Sometimes it is best for the aggrieved party to speak out against the person who wronged him. This is when it has the affect of prohibiting wrongdoing or preventing others from coming to harm. It is also best when it is hoped that the wrongdoer might change his ways and act properly in the future.
Sometimes, remaining quiet about the grievance is not allowed, like when it leads to emboldening the wrongdoer to continue in his iniquities against others. In some cases, it can be the cause of great reward – the reward of striving in Allah’s cause – when the wrongdoer is a person of strength or power and speaking out against him will lead to preventing him from abusing the people.
Therefore, it is not always laudable to suffer in patient silence. Sometimes it is best to speak out. However, it can often be a virtue to bear patiently someone’s wrongdoing instead of speaking openly about it. This is the case where the person who did the wrong is a good person and he perpetrated the wrong unintentionally and without planning. We can consider, for example, an honest judge who misjudges a case due to the insufficient evidence presented to him and not due to any maliciousness. It would be wrong to publicly malign him.
We have already mentioned that it is best to bear wrong patiently when speaking out against it leads to severe consequences instead of redress. Such considerations differ from one time and place to another.
And Allah knows best.