Friday reflection: On Trust
By Muneeb Nasir
Trust is what makes our lives and relationships meaningful and rewarding and, as we have learnt during the pandemic, make us safe.
Damien Cave, New York Times bureau chief in Sydney, Australia, wrote in a recent article about how high levels of trust in a society save lives.
“The United States and Australia share similar demographics, but their pandemic death rates point to very different cultures of trust,” Cave wrote. .“If the United States had the same Covid death rate as Australia, about 900,000 lives would have been saved. But of greater import, interpersonal trust — a belief that others would do what was right not just for the individual but for the community — saved lives.”
What we have been reminded of over the last few years is that trust makes our communities and societies civil.
A breakdown or betrayal of trust leads to strained relations, discord and rancor and even unruliness and feuding.
Sectarianism is the result of broken trusts.
Friendships are strained when trust is wanting.
Trust is given implicitly or explicitly.
Trust is implicit in most relationships – it is established and mediated by the laws, values, and norms of a community or society.
When we go out into the streets we implicitly trust motorists to observe the traffic laws and not run us over.
When we go to the supermarkets, we implicitly trust suppliers of products to observe the regulations and provide us safe and sanitary food products.
When trust is explicit it is accompanied by a promise to fulfill or engage in certain actions or conduct. When this type of trust is broken it is a betrayal.
When your friend breaks a promise you have made it is most certainly a betrayal.
The Prophet Jacob speaks to his sons of their broken trust - ‘Can I entrust him to you as I trusted in you with respect to his brother (Joseph) before’ (Qur’an 12:64).
A willful betrayal of trust and fidelity is treachery.
The wives of the Prophets Noah and Lot are cited in the Qur’anic text as among those who engaged in perfidious acts and are offered as examples for those who disbelieve in God.
While believers in God (inheritors of Paradise) are described as ‘faithful to their trusts and pledges’ (Qur’an 23:8).
Sociologists who study conflict tell us that trusting relationships and the quality of those relationships prevent discord between people, prevent outbreaks of violence across the religious divide, between ethnic groups and within various groups in a society.
They found that the greater the intercommunal and interpersonal interactions and relationships are - the healthier a community or society is.
Trust among the faithful cannot be built by sermons but by modeling environments that nurture it.
Reading the reports of the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) interaction with people in the Madina mosque is instructive, not only for the pearls of wisdom he uttered there, but also for what it tells us about the nature of the institution and how he provided an environment to nurture trusting relationships among a vast diversity of people in the city.
Women and men of all ages, strata of society and faiths would visit the mosque.
They came to pray, to listen to the Prophet and be educated; they met, discussed and debated matters of faith, practice, politics, the economy, war and peace; they would fraternize, celebrate and entertain themselves and they would mourn their losses - they would do all this within these simple walls.
But the Prophet’s mosque was more than a busy intersection. He created an inclusive institution that nurtured trusting relationships.
Everyone was welcomed – including women, children, youths, and elders - at any time of the day and night and in whatever condition they came.
Some of the Prophet’s detractors came to criticize and ridicule him.
The mosque’s members would be livid at their audacity and threaten to expel them but the blessed Prophet would counsel restraint.
Some uncouth and unmannerly characters came and, out of ignorance, would desecrate the mosque. Yet, the Prophet would still refuse to expel or disbar them but looked at it as an opportunity to educate and instruct.
His message to his followers and all believers was that Muslim institutions and believers are to be open, inclusive and non-threatening.
‘Let them come’ was his approach. Yes, they may be untidy, poorly clothed, ungrateful and abusive, but ‘these are the people in need and that is the role of this institution.’
Inclusiveness and openness builds trust; exclusive environments and actions can engender mistrust in a society and among people.