Islamic etiquette on giving advice
by Shaykh Ahmed Abdul Mujeeb Qasmi Nadvi (translated by Muhammad Owais Jafrey)
“To err is human”, goes an old saying. More often it is true. Man by nature is forgetful, careless and week. Though he has been given freedom to choose between good and evil, for him evil is always tempting and easy. It traps him quick, and when trapped, the victim indulges in self-deception and thinks himself to be on the right course. A fogged mind cannot distinguish between right and wrong. To lead light and clear this fog, prophets and messengers have been sent time and again. Their mission was to distinguish right from wrong, their focus was purification of the heart and their method was to invite towards righteousness through advice. They taught man to submit to the most Supreme Authority and be His vicegerent on earth. The vicegerent is required to promulgate the Supreme Law of the Creator in His kingdom for the good of all His subjects. This Supreme Law is Deen, which Prophet (SAW) defined as “wishing well and doing well [to others].” Deen means doing good to others, it is to persuade others to do good, and it is to invite others to practice good – the ultimate purpose, aim and goal is to promote what is good and shun what is bad. In a community where mutual advice and invitation to righteous conduct is missing, people in it become corrupt and immoral and thus become less than human. Aayah 78-79 of Surah Al-Ma’ida mentions a historical fact thus:
“Those Children of Israel who defied [Allah] were rejected through the words of Dawood (David), and Isa (Jesus) son of Maryam (Mary), because they disobeyed, they persistently overstepped the limits; they did not forbid each other from doing wrong. How vile their deeds were.”
When Allah (SWT) revealed Aayah 24 of Surah Al-Anfaal which says:
“And beware of a scourge that shall not fall only on the wrongdoers from among you, and know well that Allah is severe in punishment.”
Companions of Prophet (SAW) submitted to him: “Ya Rasul Allah; will all of us be destroyed though some virtuous people will still be among us?” Prophet (SAW) replied: “Yes, when they see vices and don’t warn against them.”
Each of us makes the Ummah and the progress of the Ummah depends on each of us. Inter-relationships between family members and relatives, interactions between neighbors, between teachers and students, parents and children, and between the rulers and the ruled should always revolve around a sincere and continuous struggle for betterment, and for the prevalence of virtue. A good counsel, a sound advice, well intended suggestion and recommendation is the most effective tool for mutual betterment. It should however be remembered that there are etiquettes to give advice. One should have wisdom and tact to give an advice; otherwise a poorly delivered advice can be counter productive. An ignorant person may humiliate, slight, belittle and insult the one to whom he is giving advice. So be careful and think before you consider yourself worthy to advise others.
It should also be remembered that you should first thoroughly investigate before trusting a negative comment about any given person. Islamic etiquettes teach us that we should think well about others, and interpret their words and actions positive and well intended. Let me give you an example. The daughter of Abdullah bin Mu’teesaid to her husband Talha bin Abdul Rahman bin Auf: “I have not seen any person more mean than your brothers.” Talha, who was one of the most generous persons among the Quresh asked his wife: “What makes you think so?”
She replied: “Your brothers are around you in prosperity, and they leave you in adversity.” Talha replied: “By Allah it a reflection of their good morals and nobility. When we are able to give them respect they deserve, they visit us, and when we cannot afford that, they don’t visit us.”
See how Talha shielded his brothers and interpreted their discourtesy as courtesy. Such a generous gesture has a lesson for us. With regards to advice, we should keep in mind the human psychology, the temperament of the person whom we are giving advice, his background, level of his education and understanding. Remember that mankind is after all mankind, not an angel or prophet. You, who may be quick to advise others, must know that you are not free from faults and shortcomings either. Please do not expect others to be perfect. In Aayah 53 of Surah Yusuf Prophet Yusuf (AS) says: “I do not pretend to be blameless, for man’s very soul incites him to evil unless my Lord shows mercy: He is most forgiving, most merciful.”
Imam Shafa’ee (RehmA) said: “There is never such a Muslim, who is not be obedient to Allah, and must never have committed an act of disobedience, and there is never a Muslim, who is disobedient to Allah all the time, but must not have committed an act of obedience to Him at some time. The one whose acts of obedience are more than that of disobedience is a just person.”
It is a sign of Iman that one should have compassion and kindness and find pretexts to forgive others for their mistakes. Have you ever seen a physician hating or looking down upon his patient? Salat o Salaam on the benefactor of humanity, our beloved Prophet (SAW), who said: “This is enough for a Muslim to be bad if he thinks his Muslim brother to be his inferior.”
Advice is a secret between the advisor and the advised, and it should be given in confidence and not openly in public. One who advises some one in public wants to show off his superiority, but in fact he shows his lack of manners. Advice should be couched in polite words and should not be directed to any particular individual. Our beloved Prophet (SAW) never put some body on the spot and never pin pointed any one for his mistake. He always made a general statement while advising. He (SAW) used to comment: “What has happened to the people that they do such acts…” People to whom the comment was directed used to take a hint and refrained from then on to repeat their mistakes.
Imam Shafa’ee (RehmA) said: “Whoever advised his brother in confidence; he advised him in true sense and showed respect to his brother. The one who advised in public, he in fact insulted his brother.”
Once Caliph Mansur in his sermon was reminding the gathering to avoid sins and Allah’s displeasure by being submissive and obedient, a man from among the audience stood up and said: “Ya Ameer-ul-Momineen! You deserve to be reminded more than others about avoidance of sins and obedience of Allah. You should fear Allah and save yourself from His displeasure.” Caliph Mansur calmly replied: “By Allah my advice was only to seek Allah’s pleasure, but your intent is that people may praise you for you courage to advise the Ameer and compliment you for standing tall before the Ameer.”
This example shows how showmanship, ego and the evil instinct hide themselves behind the veil of advice. Please be on your guard against the deception and the games of nafs. Looking down upon others and condemning them in public may seem to you as advice, but it is not as it pampers and feeds your ego. Righteousness never gives birth to religious arrogance, so be careful and watch what you say, how you say, when you say, and to whom you say the words of advice. It is your right to dislike some one’s flaws and weaknesses if you are free from flaws and weaknesses, but to unleash propaganda about one’s short comings is against the Islamic teachings. Allah (SWT) in Aayah 216 of Surah As-Shu’ara addressing Prophet (SAW) says:
“If they disobey you, say, [Ya Rasul Allah] ‘I bear no responsibility for your actions.”
In this Aayah Allah absolves Prophet (SAW) from the responsibility of people’s misconduct and bad acts. Islam does not permit defamation or character assassination of people for their flaws or shortcomings. It creates ill feelings, promotes animosity and hatred. A smaller evil can erupt into a big evil and may involve the whole community.
Advice can only be fruitful and effective when it is backed by love and sincerity. It also requires courtesy and politeness, the etiquettes of persuasive conversation, tact of befriending, and the wisdom of endearment. One has to win the heart before winning one’s mind. Hold fast to what Allah (SWT) says in Aayah 125 of Surah An-Nahl.
Allah says: “[Ya Rasul Allah], call [people] to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided.”
May Allah enable us to overcome our shortcomings before we advise others on their flaws and may Allah teach us manners and etiquettes to invite others to the path of Allah and advise them on righteous conduct! Aameen!
SWT = Subhanahu Wa Ta'Ala
SAW = Sallallaho Alaihe Wasallam
AS = AlehisSalam
RA = Radhiyallaho anhu
RAnha= Radhiyallaho anha
The Friday Khutbahs are published to enhance your knowledge of Islam. The references of Quran and Hadith are the approximate translation of the Arabic text. The editors have not verified the accuracy of the the English translation. The scholarly reader is encouraged to refer to the original Arabic script if there is any doubt. Kindly notify us if the translation can be enhanced.