Give and Take?


https://www.flickr.com/photos/pninsule_acadienne/7051323617

Photo: Ginette

By Chad Earl

6 Questions Before Giving Advice and 4 Tips to Take It

Part 1: Intro

We often hear and read that giving advice to our brothers and sisters is a critical part of our faith1 .Ad-din An-naseeha: Religion is sincerity”2 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 advice3 . 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 naseeha is 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, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), defined an-naseeha as:

( إرادة بقاء نعمة الله تعالى على أخيك المسلم مما له فيها صلاح )

“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)”4 

Or as Imam Al-Khattaabi so eloquently stated:

أما نصيحة عامة المسلمين.. فإرشادهم لمصالحهم في آخرتهم و دنياهم , و كف الأذى عنهم , فيعلمهم ما يجهلونه من دينهم , عينهم عليه بالقول و الفع.. و دفع المضار عنهم , و جلب المنافع لهم , و أمرهم بالمعروف و نهيهم عن المنكر برفق و إخلاص , و الشفقة عليهم, وتوقير كبيرهم و , رحمة صغيرهم و , تخولهم بالموعظة الحسنة , وترك غشهم وحسدهم , وأن يحب لهم ما يحب لنفسه من الخير ويكره لهم ما يكره لنفسه من المكروه والذب عن أموالهم وأعراضهم وغير ذلك.. الخ

“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.”5 

The Importance of Naseeha

In his famous work Risalat al Mustarshidin6 , Imam Al-Muhaasibi succinctly shares the heart of advice, stating:

( و اعلم أن من نصحك فقد أحبك)

“Know that the one who gives you sincere advice surely loves you.”

And:

( و لا تدع النصيحة للمؤمنين)

“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:

( لا خير في قوم ليسوا بناصحين و لا خير في قوم لا يحبون الناصحين )

“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 ﷺ (peace be upon him) put on naseeha when he said:

( بايعت النبي، صلى الله عليه وسلم، على إقام الصلاة، وإيتاء الزكاة، والنصح لكل مسلم‏ )

“I pledged allegiance to the Prophet to establish prayer, to establish alms-giving, and to be sincere to every Muslim”7 

Imam Al-Bukhari (ra) relates in his book Al-Adab Al-Mufrad8 that Al-Hasan Al-Basri (ra) said:

( وَاللَّهِ مَا اسْتَشَارَ قَوْمٌ قَطُّ إِلاَّ هُدُوا لأَفْضَلِ مَا بِحَضْرَتِهِمْ، ثُمَّ تَلاَ‏:‏ ‏{‏وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُم‏}‏‏ )

“‘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 ﷺ said, one of the six rights that a Muslim has over another Muslim is that:

(وَإِذَا اسْتَنْصَحَكَ فَانْصَحْ لَه)

“…and when he asks for your advice, give it to him (sincerely).”9 

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.

Part 2: 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 good10 . 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:

( من عمل على غير علم , كان ما يفسد أكثر مما يصلح )

“The works of one who acts without knowledge harm more than they benefit.”11 

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, subhanahu wa ta`ala (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:

تغمدني بنصحك في انفرادي     و جنبني النصيحة في الجماعة

فإن النصح بين الناس نوع       من التوبيخ لا أرضى استماعة

و إن خالفتني و عصيت قولي       فلا تجزع إذا لم تعط طاعة

“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 words12 , then don’t be sad when you’re not given obedience.”13 

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. If 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 ﷺ told us to do when he said:

( يسروا ولا تعسروا وبشروا ولا تنفروا )

“Make things easy and do not make them difficult,

cheer the people up by conveying glad tidings and do not repulse (them).”14 

In another tradition he ﷺ said:

( إِنَّ اللَّهَ رَفِيقٌ يُحِبُّ الرِّفْقَ وَيُعْطِي عَلَيْهِ مَا لاَ يُعْطِي عَلَى الْعُنْف )

“Allah is kind, gentle and loves gentleness.

He gives for gentleness what He does not give for harshness.”15 

A harsh approach is so unpleasant and displeasing to Allah (swt) that He revealed to our beloved Prophet ﷺ , who was a Mercy to the Worlds, the following verse:

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ ۖ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

“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 awhile, 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:

وَلا تُعْطِيَنَّ الرَّأْيَ مَنْ لا يُرِيدُهُ         فَلَا أَنْتَ مَحْمُودٌ وَلا الرَّأْيُ نَافِعُه

“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.”

 ((Diwan Imam As-Shafi’i, Dar Al-Fikr, Lebanon))

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.

Part 3: How to Deal with Bad Naseeha

As we have seen in the first two parts of this article, the word Naseeha means 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 ﷺ:

(لا يَجْزِئُ بِالسَّيِّئَةِ السَّيِّئَةَ، وَلَكِنْ يَعْفُو وَيَصْفَح)

“He did not avenge a bad deed with a bad one, but forgave and let it go.”16 

This was in keeping with the command he ﷺ was given from His Lord:

( اعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاصْفَحْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِين )

“[...] 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 Jazaakallahu Khaira (May Allah reward you), and try your best to actual mean it. Even if their delivery needs some major changes, we should remember that the Prophet ﷺ said:

( مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرِ النَّاسَ لاَ يَشْكُرِ اللَّه )

“Whoever doesn’t appreciate people, doesn’t appreciate Allah.”17 

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 theoutside 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):

( نَرْفَعُ دَرَجَاتٍ مَّن نَّشَاءُ ۗ وَفَوْقَ كُلِّ ذِي عِلْمٍ عَلِيم )

“[...] We raise in degrees whom We will,

yet over every possessor of knowledge

is one [more] knowing.” (Qur’an 12:76)

Conclusion

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:

( يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَ تَقُولُونَ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ﴿2﴾كَبُرَ مَقْتًا عِندَ اللَّـهِ أَن تَقُولُوا مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ )

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:

و غير تقي يأمر الناس بالتقى         طبيب يداوي و الطبيب مريض

“An impious man commanding people to piety:

A doctor giving treatment, yet the doctor is sick.”18 

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  1. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/relationships/brotherhood-sisterhood/understanding-nasihah/ []
  2. See Hadith 7 of the 40 Hadith of Imam An-Nawawi: http://sunnah.com/nawawi40/7 []
  3. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/society/dawah/the-crow-looking-in/ []
  4. See Minhaj Al-’Abideen, page 126 Dar Al-Minhaj Edition (Arabic) []
  5. See Imam An-Nawawi’s commentary on the Hadith: “Ad-Deen An-Naseeha” in Sahih Muslim. Hadith 196 in some prints []
  6. This work has recently been translated by Imam Zaid Shakir, may Allah preserve him, under the title: Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance []
  7. Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim []
  8. A Sahih report, see Al-Adab 258 []
  9. Part of a sahih hadith reported by Muslim and others. See Al-Adab 930 []
  10. http://www.suhaibwebb.com/personaldvlpt/character/youre-haram/ []
  11. See Al-Muhasibi’s Treatise for the Seekers of Guidance []
  12. and give me advice in front of others anyways []
  13. Diwan Imam As-Shafi’i, Dar Al-Fikr, Lebanon []
  14. Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim []
  15. Reported by Muslim and others []
  16. A Sahih narration reported by Imam At-Tirmidhi. See Al-Shamaa’il (#347), Sunan At-Tirmidhi (#2016) []
  17. A Sahih narration reported by Imam At-Tirmidhi. See As-Sunan (#1953) []
  18. See Ibn Kathir’s commentary of verse 44 in Surat Al-Baqarah (Tafseer Ibn Kathir) []

11 Comments

  1. Said Hasan says:

    Great article.
    May Allah help us to receive sincere advice happily and to give naseeha humbly. JazakAllah khayr.

  2. Maryam says:

    Great to see this published Ustadna! barak Allahu fik!

  3. Abid Mohammed says:

    Ja zaak Allaahu Khayr for the very insightful and much needed article!

    May God make it a means by which the author earns more of His Mercy, a means by which we are guided closer towards understanding and applying His commandments and a means by which become united as a community. Ameen.

    An important point, which you may touch on in your future article (apologies if you are!), is that very rarely do I find brothers and sisters giving sincere advice! That is advice that they would give to their own flesh and blood. Advice that they have found to work for themselves. Advice that themselves would want to receive – not just with respect to tone – but also with respect to detail and specificity.

    All too often eg I’ve come across (and sadly this is the majority, at least from what I’ve experienced) when it comes to giving revision advice, brothers and sisters will just tell their siblings in faith the absolute bare bones or give some meaningless statement like “they’ll be fine/work hard”. There are few individuals who would sit down with someone else for 45 mins, give them tips and tricks and pretty much tell them exactly what they need to know (or at least find it out for them/point them to someone who does). This is important component in giving sincere advice that is not often discussed.

    The same can be given for khutbahs / speeches that are given with little preparation / research / thought utilised to give advice that would truly benefit their recipient – not just something that will entertain them / get the job done somehow.

    • Chad says:

      Jazaakallahu Khaira brother for your comments! I agree 100%! The more time we spend in the garden the better the harvest! Unfortunately we live in a very fast paced world. Most of us are not investing the time it takes to build (and maintain)strong relationships, even amongst our immediate families. May God help us to be better brothers and sisters to one another!

  4. Kirana says:

    Thank you for enlightening me on what this word naseehah, actually fully means!

    From my experience, advice is not received mainly due to the following:
    1. wrong timing – “I’m not ready to listen” or, “Where were you yesterday when this would have been useful, instead of now, when it’s no longer helpful?”
    2. “I don’t believe you understand my situation”
    and finally, which fundamentally is what the above two are really about as well:

    3. “I don’t believe that you care about me.”

    I observe this both in others, as well as in myself – on reflection, invariably I seek and take advice most readily from those individuals who I *believe* care about me. And it is a shorter list, and quite different from, those who *claim* they care about me. Even Allah – the moment when I began to regularly ask Him for advice and actually listen for His answers, is when I began to *believe* He cares about me personally – thanks in large part to knowledge about Him conveyed to me by people such as those on this website.

    I think this is because, if I don’t think you’re doing this for me, then you must be doing it for you. And that makes you just another problem for me to deal with on top of all the other ones. This is why people avoid people who constantly “advise” others – to avoid multiplying the problems they already have. I observe the best advisors don’t seek to advise or talk much at all, particularly in the beginning – they just be around, or listen, or just help out.

    There are many ways to show someone you care about them – but nothing beats spending enough time, and consistently being there.

    • Chad says:

      Thank you for your comments sister! May Allah give us understanding and guidance!

      As a small follow-up, never forget the hadith Qudsi where Allah has told us: “I am as my servant thinks I am…” When we ask Allah for his Mercy and guidance we must have firm faith and conviction that He not only WILL guide us, but that He WANTS to guide us… LOVES to guide us!

      As Aisha (RA) asked the Prophet (SAWS), if she knew it was the Night of Power what should she say or ask from Allah. The Prophet (SAWS) said: “O Allah, indeed you are forgiving and you LOVE forgiveness, so forgive me!”

  5. Aziza says:

    Extremely helpful.
    JazakAllah Khair!!

    • Chad says:

      Wa Iyyaakum! Alhamdulillah I’m happy that people have found some benefit in this humble work, May Allah accept from us!

  6. Shamaila says:

    Good read!

    “Whoever doesn’t appreciate people, doesn’t appreciate Allah.”

    Genuinely, people are foolish! Do they think their actions and words will be forgotten? Forgiven?! Only by with will of Allah will He forgive, but insaan is not so forgiving. Be careful of the way you treat His men! For it will come back to bite you. Only when death touches a person does he realise how short life is and the value of doing good. Be wise and have the courage to be a better person for the sake of Allah swt.

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