Interpersonal Skills: Keeping a Secret

A famous old saying goes, “Any secret that passes beyond two is bound to spread.” Someone was asked, “Who are ‘the two’ being referred to here?” He pointed to his two lips and said, “These two!”

During the last few years of my life, I do not recall whispering into someone’s ear a secret, entrusting him therewith, except that that I made him swear an oath that my secret will remain in a bottomless well! Nor do I recall any of them saying to me explicitly, “Dear friend, please forgive me for I am no longer able to keep your secret.”

In fact, whenever you inform someone of your secret, he will place his hand on his chest and say, “By Allah! If they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, or a sword on my neck, to inform them of your secret, I would never do so!”

Then, when you feel satisfied and think you can trust him, you reveal your secrets to him. He patiently waits for a couple of months or more before revealing your secrets to others. Your secret begins to travel from person to person until it finally reaches you. You are the one at fault here since your secret should not have passed beyond your lips.

Do not overburden people with what they cannot bear.

When a man’s chest is too restricted to contain his own secret

Then even more restricted is the chest of a man entrusted with that secret

I tested many people in that regard and found them to be the same. The problem is that you only go to them for consultation. They first give you advice and then reveal your secrets to others, thereby losing respect in your eyes and becoming the most hated of people to you.

One of the most amazing things to happen in history is that before the battle of Badr, when the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) heard about Quraysh’s caravan approaching from Syria and decided to engage in a battle with the pagans, he marched out with his companions to intercept the caravan.

Abu Sufyan was the head of this caravan. When he came to know of the Muslims’ advancement, he paid a man called Dhamdham bin ‘Amr al-Ghifari and said, “Go and inform Quraysh of the news.” Dhamdham headed for Makkah. His journey to Makkah was to take a few days and the people of Makkah were unaware of any of the developments.

One night, ‘Atikah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib had a nightmare. The next morning, she called for her brother, al-‘Abbas bin ‘Abd al-Muttalib and said, “Dear brother, last night I had a terrible nightmare! I feared that it may be indicative of what calamities are to befall your people, so please keep to yourself what I am about to tell you and do not disclose it to anyone.”

He said, “Ok. What did you see?”

She said, “I saw a man mounted on a camel who came to the valley of al-Abtah and said in a loud voice: ‘March forth, O you who will depart to your own end in three days!'”

She continued, “I saw the people gathered around him. He then moved on until he entered the Mosque whilst the people were following him. Whilst he was still in their midst, he climbed on top of the Kaabah on his camel and said what he had said before: ‘March forth, O you who will depart to your own end in three days!'”

“He then climbed on top of Mount Abu Qays and said the same in a loud voice: ‘March forth, O you who will depart to your own end in three days!'”

“He then lifted a rock and threw it from the top of the mountain. The rock fell from the top of the mountain, and when it landed at the bottom, it broke into small pieces, and fragments of it entered into every house in Makkah.”

Al-‘Abbas was shocked and said, “By Allah, that was an astounding dream!”

He feared that the news of this dream may spread and cause harm, so he warned her saying, “Please keep it a secret and do not mention it to anyone.”

Al-‘Abbas then left with the dream on his mind. On his way, he met al-Walid bin ‘Utbah, who was his friend. He shared the nightmare with him and said, “Please keep it a secret and do not tell anyone!”

Al-Walid went off, met his son ‘Utbah and told him of the nightmare.

It didn’t take long until ‘Utbah disclosed it to some of his friends, and from there the news began to spread amongst the people of Makkah until it became the subject of discussion in the gatherings of Quraysh.

The next morning, al-‘Abbas went to the Kaabah to perform tawaf to find Abu Jahl sitting amongst a group of people from Quraysh under the shade of the Kaabah, discussing ‘Atika’s nightmare! When Abu Jahl noticed al-‘Abbas he said, “O Abu-Fadhl! Please come to us when you have finished your Tawaf.”

Al-‘Abbas became surprised as to why Abu Jahl would like to speak to him. He could not have conceived that he would ask him about ‘Atika’s nightmare. Al-‘Abbas performed his tawaf and went off to Abu Jahl’s gathering.

When he approached them and sat down, Abu Jahl said to him, “O Banu ‘Abd al-Muttalib, when did you have this new prophetess?”

“What do you mean?” asked al-‘Abbas.

Abu Jahl replied, “I am speaking of the nightmare ‘Atika had.”

Al-‘Abbas became alarmed and said, “What nightmare did she have?”

Abu Jahl said, “O Banu ‘Abd al-Muttalib! Isn’t it enough that your men are claiming Prophethood. It seems that now even your women are doing so! ‘Atika claims that she saw in a dream a man saying: ‘March forth in three days!’ So we will wait for three days, and if what you say is true, then we will see it happen. But if three days pass by and nothing happens, then we will write a declaration saying that you are the most untruthful family in speech amongst the Arabs!”

Al-‘Abbas became worried and did not say anything in response. He also denied knowledge of the nightmare, and denied that she ever saw a dream.

They then left the gathering. When al-‘Abbas entered his house, every single woman in the Banu ‘Abd al-Muttalib family came to him in anger saying, “You’ve allowed this evil and wretched man to insult your men, and now he begins to insult your women and you simply sit there, listening to all of this! Do you not have a sense of honour for your people?”

Al-‘Abbas became zealous and excited and said, “By Allah! If Abu Jahl says that again, I will do this and that!”

Three days after ‘Atika’s nightmare, al-‘Abbas entered the mosque in anger. Upon entering the mosque he saw Abu Jahl and decided to go to him to respond to his words. However, he noticed Abu Jahl leaving the mosque in hurry and was surprised. He had been ready to argue and quarrel with him. Al-‘Abbas said to himself, “What is wrong with him? May Allah curse him! Is he rushing out because he is afraid that I will insult him?”

However, Abu Jahl had heard the voice of Dhamdham bin ‘Amr al-Ghifari, who was sent by Abu Sufyan to seek the aid of the people of Makkah. Dhamdham was shouting from the valley, mounted on his camel. He had inflicted injury on the camel’s nose such that it was bleeding. He had torn up his shirt and was shouting, “O Quraysh! The merchandise! The merchandise! Your merchandise is with Abu Sufyan, which is going to be intercepted by Muhammad and his companions! I don’t see you coming to their aid in time!” He then shouted at the top of his voice, “Help! Help!”

The Quraysh then prepared for the battle and marched forth, and the defeat and the humiliation they endured in the end is something well known.

Consider how a secret was spread in the blinking of an eye, despite of all the efforts to keep it a secret!

Another story about disclosing the secrets is when ‘Umar – may Allah be pleased with him – accepted Islam and wanted to spread the news far and wide. He approached a man who was well known for spreading news.

He said, “O so-and-so, I am going to tell you a secret, so please keep my secret!”

He said, “What is your secret?”

‘Umar replied, “I have accepted Islam, so be careful that you do not inform anyone!”

As soon as ‘Umar left him, the man began to go from people to people saying, “Did you know that ‘Umar has embraced Islam? Did you know that ‘Umar has embraced Islam?”

How bizarre! He was like a mobile news agency!

One day, the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) sent Anas to do something for him, and on his way he passed by his mother.

His mother asked him, “What did the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) despatch you for?”

He said, “By Allah, I will never reveal the secret of the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam).”

Therefore, the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) would teach his Companions to keep secrets so that they be responsible people. This is how serious Anas was in keeping secrets, even when he was very young. Perhaps you may not find anyone like Anas today!

‘A’ishah – may Allah be pleased with her – said,

“Fatimah once came to us walking as the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) would walk. The Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) said to her, ‘Welcome, my dear daughter!’ He then sat her down, either to his right or left and told her a secret which made her cry. He said to her, ‘Why are you crying?’

He then told her another secret and she laughed. I thought to myself, ‘I have never seen joyous feelings mixed with sadness in a person like this!’

‘I asked Fatimah about what the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) had told her.’

She said: ‘I will not reveal the secrets of the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam).’

When the Prophet (Sallallahu alayhi wassallam) passed away, I asked her about it and she said: ‘He told me in confidence that Jibril revises the Quran with him once a year, but this year he revised it twice. I see it as an indication of my death. You will be the first of my household to join me.’

‘When I heard this I cried. He then said to me: ‘Wouldn’t you like to be the leader of the women of Paradise or the leader of the believing women?’

When I heard this I laughed.'”

You are valued by your ability to keep secrets, for then the people will trust you and open up their hearts to you. Your status will increase in their eyes and they will look at you as a trustworthy person. Hence, train yourself to keep your own secrets and that of others.

It is said:
The one who knows your secrets enslaves you.

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