Keeping Secrets

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, took care to instil in children the etiquette of keeping secrets that had been entrusted to them. This lesson is important both for the child’s young life and future life, for developing maturity, and for the peace and safety of their family and community. A child who learns how to keep secrets also gains stronger willpower. Such a child can bridle their tongue, and will have less difficulty in hard times, being brave and reliable. This characteristic also inspires confidence in society.

One day Anas, who was a young servant in the Prophet’s household, was late in returning to his mother. So, she asked him, “Why are you late?” He replied, “God’s Messenger sent me to take care of something.” His mother asked, “What was it?” But Anas said, “I am to keep it secret.” On receiving this answer his sagacious mother said, “In that case, do not tell any secret of God’s Messenger to anyone!” [Bukhari, Istizan, 46; Muslim, Fadail al-Sahaba, 145, 2482.]

A secret is like an invincible army. It is akin to reputation and honour; one who guards a secret —whether it be their own or someone else’s— is guarding their integrity and thus their honour. The one who reveals a secret exposes their honour and dignity to shame, failing to properly esteem them. Likewise, when a person is going to entrust a secret to someone else, they should be as careful and sensitive as if they were entrusting their honour to another. A secret should never be entrusted to one who has an insufficient understanding of honour; to do so is to put a valuable thing in the hands of one who cannot protect it.

Being able to keep a secret, whether one’s own or another’s, is a human virtue that is related to willpower and comprehension. Just as someone whose will is weak cannot be expected to keep a secret, a person who cannot comprehend the consequences of their own words or actions is not discreet enough to be told secrets. While it is good on occasion to talk about what is happening in our lives, it is important to avoid pouring out our heart’s secrets needlessly. Those who injudiciously broadcast that which is hidden in their hearts risk being swept into danger one day when they say something that cannot be taken back; they should not underestimate this danger to both themselves and their community.

Every individual should be extremely careful about revealing personal and intimate things about themselves, particularly if these are repugnant or ungracious things which can bring no benefit to anyone. Doing so may create unbecoming situations which can embarrass friends and delight enemies. Some secrets involve individuals, others, the family, and still others, the community and even the nation. To reveal a personal secret is to compromise personal honour, to betray a family secret is to endanger family honour, and to divulge a national secret is to jeopardize national honour. If a secret is kept to oneself, it brings power to the keeper; but once it is given to others, it becomes a weapon that can be used against the one who revealed it. This is expressed by the Turkish proverb, “A secret is your captive; but if you divulge it, you become its captive.”

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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