A Word of Advice
by Shelina Merani
I regularly read the advice column by David Eddie in the Globe and Mail. He puts a hilarious spin on the problems people face in their everyday lives.
Recently, a woman wrote in because her daughter -in- law was refusing to speak to her. The reason? She wouldn’t stop giving unsolicited advice about parenting. It had come to a point where the two women were no longer on speaking terms.
It reminded me of the Muslim community, who have made an art out of giving unsolicited advice. Walking into the mosque literally feels like one is entering into a minefield of judgments, looks, or pushes.
The judgment: “Sister, don’t you know that nail polish is haram?” “Brother, control your children, they have no manners.” “Sister, pants are not allowed when you pray.” “Brother, your feet stink.”
The look: that peripheral vision thing, staring at you from the corner of the eye. I call it the Muslim glare. It looks at your hands to see what kind of jewelry you have on; it looks at your feet to check out your pedicure, and it looks you up and down to see if your fashion sense is too western.
The push: you’re in the throes of ecstasy, with the best connection to God ever and suddenly you get pushed out of your reverie to stand closer to the person beside you.
In fact, one of the above just happened the other day. At the mosque, I hear a few sisters chastising a woman on her attire. Glancing over, the girl seems completely fine to me. Two days in a row, the women bring a long skirt for the girl to wear. The girl responds politely and keeps praying. After that, I never see her again. This incident provided the impetuous to write this article.
Can you blame the sister for staying away ? Eddie, in his advice column says that it is a curious and extremely annoying impulse: airing your views on how other people should live their lives, eventhough they haven’t asked.
From an Islamic perspective, Muslims believe they are following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and exercising their Islamic duty to Nassiha (good advice).
The Prophet (pbuh) once said:“The religion is (built on) advice.” The people listening asked, “To whom?” The Prophet replied, “To Allaah, to His Book, to His Messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims, and the common folk,” related by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim.
However, this concept is being implemented with little education or insight as to the strict conditions required for giving advice. If these rules are not followed, then “[For] whoever pursues the shortcomings of people, Allah will pursue theirs” (At-Tirmidhi).
Using examples from Prophet Muhammad’s life (pbuh), we learn that he was very gradual in his approach to giving advice so that it would be deeply rooted in the hearts and minds.
He would say that prior to enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, mutual trust and friendship must be established.
“And true believers, both men and women, are friends to one another. They urge one another to what is good and forbid what is evil.” (9:71)
The Prophet was so right. A recent internet poll reveals the same thing. Asking the question, Do you generally like unsolicited advice? 6% said “Yes”, 56% said “No,” and 38% said “Only if the right person gives it.”
He knew that when giving advice, the individual on the receiving end should truly feel as though the advisor cares; they should be psychologically ready to hear the counsel.
Usually, people don’t react that well to unsolicited advice because justifiably or not, it can come across as criticism, distrust, one-upmanship, or assertion of superiority.
Psychologist Peter Gray takes it further, explaining that we as humans don’t like getting unsolicited advice because we are trying to protect our own freedom, something we naturally crave.
The Prophet (pbuh) understood this. He would give his undivided attention to the person he was speaking to, pick the right time, the right context, listen to opposing points of view, and not make any assumptions.
He couched his advice in politeness, not revealing people’s mistakes in public and never targetting any one individual, “What has happened to the people that they do such acts.”
He knew that public shaming would make it much less likely for the advice to be heard and digested.
Imam Shafa’ee (rad) reiterated this point, “Whoever advises his brother in confidence, has advised in a true sense and showed respect to his brother. The one who advises in public has in fact insulted his brother.”
Ibn Abbas (rad) was also very cognizant of how advice should be given, saying that people need to be ready to be spoken to, so they are open to listening. (Bukhari, No: 5978).
Another requirement for giving advice is to be humble. The Prophet (pbuh) once said: “The man who looks at himself with admiration and at others with disdain is proud.”
And finally, we have the excellent example in the story of Imam Hasan and Husayn (RAD) on the wisest way to give advice: through modeling behavior. When they saw an elderly man making errors while performing wudu, they asked the man to judge between them as to who was doing it correctly. In doing so, the man automatically realized his own error.
As for the woman who was perceived to be not properly attired at the mosque? The issue was raised directly in a Khutba once word got around of the incident. The sisters were counseled to cease and desist in God’s house of worship. Ie: stop harassing people.
Now that’s good advice.
Originally published on Muslim Presence and reprinted with permission of author.