Thursday, January 9, 2014

Giving advice, and Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

We all impart advice and guidance on a regular basis, whether it be to our children, colleagues, spouse, or even strangers. And if done properly, it can be a virtuous act, for the Prophet  said, "Religion is sincere counsel." (Muslim), and Muslims have been commanded to "enjoin good and forbid evil" [3:104].

If done improperly, however, the act of giving advice, or enjoining good and forbidding evil, can result in more evil. If the advisor/admonisher is boastful, condescending, lengthy in speech (i.e., lecturing), causing embarrassment to others, backbiting, or presumptuous, the advice does more harm than good.

The art of giving advice, or enjoining good and forbidding evil, is to deliver it in such a way that the recipient is grateful for it and feels empowered, rather than feeling attacked, debased, unconvinced, and intruded...

Mu‘awiyah ibn al-Hakam al-Salami said: “Whilst I was praying behind the Messenger of Allah , a man sneezed, so I said ‘Yarhamuk Allah (may Allah have mercy on you).’ The people started staring at me, so I said, ‘May my mother lose me! What is wrong with you that you are looking at me?’ They began to slap their thighs with their hands, and when I saw that they were indicating that I should be quiet, I stopped talking (i.e., I nearly wanted to answer them back, but I controlled myself and kept quiet). When the Messenger of Allah  had finished praying – may my father and mother be sacrificed for him , I have never seen a better teacher than him  before or since – he  did not rebuke me or hit me or put me to shame. He  simply said, ‘This prayer should contain nothing of the speech of men; it is only tasbeeh and takbeer and recitation of the Quran.’ ” (Muslim).

Note how the Prophet  did not point fingers at anyone, kept his words brief, avoided comparison with other people, and did not express any disappointment or emotion. He didn't even say something like, 'Your worship didn't count'. Consequently, the narrator of this hadith - the intended recipient of the Prophet’s words , not only embraced the Prophet's message , but expressed his increased reverence for the Prophet .

“It is a mercy from Allah that you [O Muhammad] were gentle with them. If you had been rough or hard of heart, they would have scattered from around you.” [3:159]

Timing is also important when offering advice. Some people take pleasure in communicating advice or enjoining good and forbidding evil in every situation, at any moment, not taking into consideration the emotional and mental state of the recipient, the relationship with the recipient, the relevance of the advice to the situation, the mood of the environment, and other competing priorities. Poor timing can lead to ineffective delivery, and worse, more 'evil'.

For example,when people share their problems and concerns with others, their reason for doing so may not be to seek advice, especially if they haven't asked for it. Quite possibly, they may already know how to address their problems and concerns. What they are likely seeking is support, understanding, and compassion for what they are going through. In these situations, advice, no matter how sincere, comes across as an escape tactic to absolve one's self of investing time in fulfilling what the recipient is truly asking for - support, understanding, and compassion. Relationship issues can take fold as a consequence.

When the Prophet  returned home from the cave of Hira, traumatized by the encounter with Gibreel (upon him be peace), he told his wife Khadijah to cover him up. Later, when he settled down, he explained to Khadijah what happened to him. Khadijah remained quiet and only listened to the Prophet  - she did not interject with advice. It was only when the Prophet  questioned himself, that perhaps he had gone mad or been possessed, that Khadijah responded with the following beautiful words - a testimomy to her rank with Allah and the Prophet :

"Nay! But receive the good tidings! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you, for by Allah, you keep good relations with your kith and kin; speak the truth; help the poor and the destitute; entertain your guests generously; and assist those who are stricken with calamities." (Al-Bukhari) 

No advice, guidance, admonishment - just comforting, encouraging, and reassuring words - words that helped the Prophet  regain his composure. Sometimes, that's all people need. Allah Himself echoes similar words for His beloved:

"Nun. By the Pen and the (Record) which (men) write,- You art not, by the Grace of your Lord, mad or possessed. Nay, verily for you is a Reward unfailing: And you (stand) on an exalted standard of character." [68:1-4]


  1. Beautiful. To the point and a great reminder. Jazakallah for the post.

  2. Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.