Give and Take? Six Questions Before Giving Advice and Four Tips to Take It
By Chad Earl
We often hear and read that giving advice to our brothers and sisters is a critical part of our faith. “Ad-din An-naseeha: Religion is sincerity” is often quoted to remind us of the importance of giving sincere advice to those who might take benefit from it (Naseeha can also mean advice). Yet, all too often, what we hear from brothers and sisters can be so harsh that it can scarcely be called advice.
I would like to mention some things to keep in mind when we find ourselves on the receiving end of some of that bad ‘advice,’ but first as a reminder let’s clarify what Naseehais and what it is not.
What is Naseeha?
Naseeha can mean both sincerity and advice, yet its meaning is much deeper than either of these terms. Imam Al-Ghazali(may God be pleased with him), defined an-Naseeha as:
“Wanting or hoping for the continuation of God’s blessing upon your brother Muslim from that which is beneficial for him (in his life and afterlife).”
Or as Imam Al-Khattaabi so eloquently stated:
“It is guiding them to that which benefits them in this life and the next, refraining from harming them, teaching them that which they are ignorant about regarding their faith by defining it through words and actions. It is preventing harm to befall them, and bringing good to them. It is commanding them to Good, and preventing them from Evil with gentleness, sincere affection, and loving care for them. It is revering the elderly among them, and being merciful to the young among them. It is leading them with beautiful preaching. It is abandoning all forms of dishonesty, deception, and envy toward them. It is loving for them what you love for yourself, and hating for them all which you hate for yourself. And it is defending their wealth, and honor.”
The Importance of Naseeha
In his famous work Risalat al-Mustarshidin, Imam Al-Muhaasibi succinctly shares the heart of advice, stating:
“Know that the one who gives you sincere advice surely loves you.”
“Never abandon giving advice to the Believers.”
Along that line, we are reminded of a saying attributed to Omar bin Al-Khattab (ra) which says:
“There isn’t any good in a people who don’t give sincere advice, nor good in those who don’t love sincere advisers.”
The companion, Jarir bin ‘Abdullah (ra), also reminds us of the importance that the Prophet (peace be upon him) put on Naseeha when he said:
“I pledged allegiance to the Prophet to establish prayer, to establish alms-giving, and to be sincere to every Muslim.”
Imam Al-Bukhari (ra) relates in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad that Al-Hasan Al-Basri (ra) said:
“‘By God, People never seek advice without being guided to the best possibility available to them.’ Then he recited part of the verse which praises the believers who practice mutual consultation (Shura) which is a form of naseeha, ‘And manage their affairs by mutual consultation’ (Qur’an 42:38).”
Lastly, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, one of the six rights that a Muslim has over another Muslim is that:
“…and when he asks for your advice, give it to him (sincerely).”
In conclusion, all of us value and cherish our personal freedoms. It’s normal to feel a little uncomfortable when we find other people intruding into our lives, but love for our brothers and sisters is at the heart of all sincere advice.
We should try to open our hearts to receiving advice from those around us, even seeking it whenever possible. Accepting advice, of course, doesn’t mean that we have to implement everything anyone tells us, but that we listen with an open heart and thank them for their efforts to make our lives better.
Want to Give Naseeha? Wait a Second…
All too often, we hear about “advice” that is so poorly given that it’s downright offensive, usually causing more harm than good. There are a number of reasons for this, one of the most important of which is acting without proper knowledge of how best to give someone advice. As Umar bin Abdul-’Aziz said:
“The works of one who acts without knowledge harm more than they benefit.”
So before you decide to come to someone’s rescue, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself first:
1) “Do I even know this person?”
If not, you’re probably better off not trying to “fix” their problem, especially without even properly introducing yourself and learning the person’s name. Only superheroes can get away with that!
2) “Do I have all the facts?”
We sometimes see things that don’t seem right, and we have this urge to do something, anything, to change it. It may be that we see someone doing something which seems wrong but is, in fact, completely Halaal (permissible). Even if considered Makrooh (discouraged) by scholars, that act would still be allowed, and can even sometimes be the most appropriate (or necessary) action that the person can do at that time and in that situation. Without knowing the full circumstances, we risk not only offending or bothering our brothers or sisters, we also risk making ourselves appear (or even becoming) narrow-minded or short-sighted by not trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. We may even restrict that which Allah (exalted is He), has purposely left open for us knowing the challenges we face in this life often require making choices which aren’t ideal.
3) “Is this the right time and place to talk about it?”
If it’s something bigger than “Brother, your shoes are untied,” you might want to think about the best time and place to talk about the issue. If it’s really something wrong, then perhaps it would be best to invite the brother or sister for coffee or lunch to discuss it. Not only would this give you a chance to talk about the matter in detail, it shows you actually care about them, which is all too often lacking from these kinds of scenarios where we generally just show how much we care about their “mistakes.” As Imam Ash-Shaafi’i said:
“Shelter me with your counsel in private, and avoid advising me in public.
For, indeed, advice amongst the people is a kind of scolding I’m not pleased to hear.
But if you differ and disobey my words, then don’t be sad when you’re not given obedience.”
4) “Are my words and actions displaying my concern and love for my brother or sister, or just scaring them?”
Patience, kindness, love, and gentleness are all qualities which should be at the core of the Muslim’s personality, yet are often discarded out of “zeal” for the truth.
If we think we’re going to make positive changes in this world without these noble characteristics, we are in for a rude awakening. In fact, when we ask a lot of Muslims who don’t generally frequent the Mosques as to why, we find it is these traits that we’ve decided aren’t worth taking with us which are scaring people away. Yet this is the complete opposite of what our Prophet (peace be upon him) told us to do when he said:
“Make things easy and do not make them difficult, cheer the people up by conveying glad tidings and do not repulse (them).”
In another tradition he said:
“Allah is kind, gentle and loves gentleness. He gives for gentleness what He does not give for harshness.”
A harsh approach is so unpleasant and displeasing to Allah (swt) that He revealed to our beloved Prophet, who was a Mercy to the Worlds, the following verse:
“So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].” (Qur’an 3:159)
5) “Is my advice realistic?”
If you’re dealing with a complex or difficult situation it is very easy to oversimplify the problem and offer advice that just doesn’t offer real solutions. If you can’t come up with answers that can really be implemented, perhaps they’ve also been trying to deal with it and have run into the same dead end. A good friend might be able to use this as an opportunity to help brainstorm, offer support, and make du`a’ (supplications) for the person, but in any event we should respect personal boundaries and remember that they are the ones who will have to live with the choices that are made and whatever consequences come from it, not you.
6) “Will my advice be received well?”
At the end of the day, even if we say all the right things in all the right ways, with all the best intentions, the other person just might not want to hear it. When this happens we should try to have a little empathy and patience. Maybe it’s a problem they’ve been dealing with for a while, or have received similar advice from countless others and they feel pressured and overwhelmed. Besides, it’s wise on our part to know whom we can and can’t reach. As Imam Ash-Shaafi’i said(Diwan Imam As-Shafi’i, Dar Al-Fikr, Lebanon):
“Surely don’t give your opinion to someone who does not want it,
‘Cause you won’t be praised and your opinion won’t benefit them.”
This is not to say that we completely abandon advising our brothers and sisters just because we know they’re most likely not going to listen. Yet, we should try to have more tact and empathy in doing so, especially amongst the youth when we see them go astray from time to time, knowing that they know better. We should make du`a’ for their guidance and well-being in this life and the next, and be there as friends and brothers/sisters to support them whenever possible to get them back on track. If and when the time is right to offer them advice we should be ready to give it from the heart.
How to Deal with Bad Naseeha
As we have seen in the first two parts of this article, the word Naseehameans both sincerity and advice, which gives us a very clear understanding of where our starting point should be when we engage others to offer them advice. It is also where our starting point should be when we are on the receiving end of someone’s advice; poorly worded or expressed beautifully, wanted or otherwise.
When a brother or sister offers us advice (yes, even the really bad kind that gets your blood pumping), we should try to assume they mean well, even if we disagree with 100% of what they have to say. Knowing that the true Muslim only wants good for his brother or sister should empower us with enough patience to listen respectful and to hold our tongues from telling them, “Mind your business,” on those days when we just are not in the mood to hear it. Although easier said than done, this virtue is of the highest order, as ‘Aisha (ra) said about the Prophet (Peace be upon him):
“He did not avenge a bad deed with a bad one, but forgave and let it go.”
This was in keeping with the command he was given from His Lord:
“[…] But pardon them and overlook [their misdeeds]. Indeed, Allah loves the doers of good.” (Qur’an 5:13)
So next time you find yourself in this situation, try to do a few things to the best of your ability:
1) STAY CALM!
2) Listen until they’re finished. When they stop, tell them Jazaak allahu Khaira (May Allah reward you), and try your best to actually mean it. Even if their delivery needs some major changes, we should remember that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “Whoever doesn’t appreciate people, doesn’t appreciate Allah.”
3) Take some time later to reflect not on the experience, but on what was said. Ask yourself: “Could they be right?” Or, “Is there anything positive that I can take from it?” Often, someone from the outside brings a different perspective, so we need some time to really think and reflect on it to get the most benefit.
4) Remember that we’re all human, and we’re all growing in our knowledge and practice of our faith. Sometimes, we hear things which seem strange and don’t make sense only later to come to the understanding that they were right from the beginning. We should never deceive ourselves into thinking we have all the answers to our own problems, or anyone else’s either, nor should we ever forget Allah’s words (swt):
“[…] We raise in degrees whom We will, yet over every possessor of knowledge is one [more] knowing.” (Qur’an 12:76)
The recommendations in this article are in no way a complete or perfect guide for every situation, yet I pray this work as a whole will be of benefit to you dear reader, and I pray that I can be guided to apply my own advice before giving it to others. As Allah (swt) tells us:
“O you who have believed, why do you say what you do not do? Great is hatred in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.” (Qur’an 61:2-3)
And as Abu ‘Uthman Al-Hiri said:
“An impious man commanding people to piety: A doctor giving treatment, yet the doctor is sick.”
When I was first assigned to write for this column, in a way so as to appeal, to the young readers of this magazine, I was going nuts finding different ways and technics that could hold on your attention.
I wrote and re-wrote but nothing to match the expectation, you see it’s been long since I crossed my adolescence and entered into adulthood, and moreover adolescent years aren’t easy, there’s lots happening both within us and around us, to cope with.
The race we indulge in to be among the peers, and those unavoidable situations where we turnout be the odd man out, naturally brings along frustration and agitation. This is the age when we begin to feel the hardships of relation, dad doesn’t like what we do, mom trying to peek at your personal stuff, etc. Relationships suffer at home while you try to build your rapport with friends. While parents still want you to be that little-one holding their hand, you see yourself as an adult, wanting to explore the world by your own-self.
However, these things should not make us despair and fall into those depths of darkness, from which it is tough to get back. That is, we should not do any such thing for which we may have to regret later. Allah (swt) has set limits and boundaries for us which is called halal and haram, and we should stay within these boundaries.
In sha Allah, we’ll talk about these boundaries and limits in our subsequent articles in this column, as for now, let’s discuss about how we can monitor our speech and tone to be in par with the command of our Creator.
Here’s what you can do:
Little kindness and politeness in the speech combined with care and consideration for others, may work wonders in having a pleasant and healthy relationship, both with family and friends. Let’s do a case study.
“Mom! Where the hell is my tie”, shouted Abdul as he was getting ready for the school in the morning. This was unlike him, he never used to get angry and agitated so often, and that too for trivial things.
Perhaps it’s the mood swings of adolescence, or the over whelming studies of the higher grades, or could be the peer pressure he has been dealing with. He does feel guilty for being rude to his parents at times, but then only for that moment. Parents do feel sad and hurt, but they shew away their sadness because it’s their own son.
Should Abdul’s politeness and good behaviour at home be based on his mood, performance in the class or the peer acceptance? The answer is ‘NO’, but it’s the other way around. His politeness with parents, siblings and the elderly in the family will definitely make things easy for him.
Now, how do we get that politeness in our speech when our mind is agitated, and how do we find relief when there is frustration in the heart? The importance of this is well-illustrated in the following anecdote.
Wise Man’s Advice:
Once, a wise man worked as a shepherd for his master, and he was ordered to slaughter the sheep and bring the two best parts from it. He brought the tongue and the heart of the sheep. He was once again ordered to slaughter the sheep and bring the two worst parts from it; the wise man once again brought the tongue and heart of the sheep.
His master was baffled on seeing the same two parts again, he called his shepherd to know the reason. The wise shepherd replied, “My master, if heart and tongue are good, then they are the best parts of the body, if heart and tongue are bad, then they are the worst parts of the body,”meaning, thereby, that if the heart is free of all the negative thoughts, and the tongue is used to speak only that which is right and good, then they are the best parts of the human body, similarly if heart is filled with negativity and tongue is habituated to impolite speech, then they are the worst parts of the human body.
Having said that, in order to possess the best heart and tongue one needs to practice patience, that is, not react instantly to any situation, because thoughtful reaction is from Allah ta’ala and hasty decision is from Shaita’an. The more deliberate your action is, lesser is the anger involved in it. More over the situation may not be as bad as it appears to be at the first instance.
Share your thoughts:
Please write to us your suggestions, and the topics you would recommend for us to write in this column at firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject ‘The Pen Pal’.