Sunday, September 27, 2015

Should you stop giving advice?

بسم الله و الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

Humans are not perfect.
And we were never meant to be. Allah سبحانه وتعالى has created us in a way that makes us weak, prone to falling into error and sin. But we were also created to follow His guidance and repent after sin.
Prophet Muhammad said "I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, if you were a people who did not commit sin, Allah would take you away and replace you with a people who would sin and then seek Allah's forgiveness so He could forgive them." (Sahih Muslim)
So it's important for us to remember, our downfall does not come from committing sins, our downfall comes from not being willing to accept our mistakes and repent from them. Adam عليه السلام  sinned and he repented to Allah and was forgiven, while Iblees (Shaytan) sinned and he was arrogant, he did not admit his mistake and his sin before Allah, therefore, he was not able to repent and seek the forgiveness of Allah.

But sometimes, we need a bit of extra help when we make a mistake. Sometimes we need a guiding hand or an advising word.

وَذَكِّرْ فَإِنَّ الذِّكْرَىٰ تَنْفَعُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
“And keep reminding, because reminding benefits the believers.” (51:55)

It's safe to say that everyone you come across in life is striving to be better.  Be it a better Muslim or just a better person in general.  Everyone, from the people you may think have the highest level of Iman possible to those that may seem to you, to be careless or oblivious, can benefit from reminders
But have you ever given advice to someone, only to find yourself snubbed, ignored, or told "Don't judge me."? 
Increasingly, our brothers and sisters are taking defensive stances towards advice. And advice is met with cold shoulders instead of open arms.
It's gotten so bad, that even close friends can't exchange encouraging words with one another, out of fear that one will get offended. Are our egos so big that we can't accept friendly advice?
“One of the worst sins is when a man says to his brother, “Fear Allah" and he replies, “Worry about yourself.” - Abdullah Ibn Masood رضي الله عنه

According to the Messanger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم one of the rights of a Muslim upon his brother is to offer him sincere advice. 
...عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ حَقُّ الْمُسْلِمِ عَلَى الْمُسْلِمِ سِتٌّ...وَإِذَا اسْتَنْصَحَكَ فَانْصَحْ لَهُ
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Convey (knowledge) from me even if it is just one verse..." 

The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم also said "The believer is the mirror of the believer..."
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ‏ الْمُؤْمِنُ مَرْآةُ أَخِيهِ وَالْمُؤْمِنُ أَخُو الْمُؤْمِنِ يَكُفُّ عَلَيْهِ ضَيْعَتَهُ وَيَحُوطُهُ مِنْ وَرَائِهِ
In a mirror we see ourselves and we fix anything that needs modification, everyone of us wants to have a good appearance in front of others, and the mirror helps us to see and correct any deficiencies. Sometimes we are blind to our own deficiencies, so each and every one of us needs a sincere and encouraging adviser, who will notice the mistakes that we don't notice ourselves. The fellow brother or sister who helps us with our mistakes is even more valuable and useful than a mirror because they help us with the beautification of our inward appearance rather than the outward.
Omar bin Khattab رضي الله عنه said "May Allah have mercy on the one who gives me the gift of telling me my faults." He also said, "He is a friend who brings to your attention your faults and to sing praises of a person in his presence is similar to slaughtering him."

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَلَوْ آمَنَ أَهْلُ الْكِتَابِ لَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَّهُم مِّنْهُمُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَأَكْثَرُهُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah (3:110)
So we can see from the above hadith and ayah, that giving advice is a vital part of a successful Ummah, and it is not optional, but it is a necessity for anyone who cares about the good of his fellow mankind. But unfortunately, in our society, we have two main problems when it comes to advice. The first problem is that we no longer live in a society where giving advice is encouraged, giving advice is seen as invading into a persons' business, and even when giving advice to family and close friends, there's always the chance that someone will get offended or upset. The second problem is in the way some of us give advice, if you are among those who sees someone doing something wrong, and quickly admonishes them or criticizes them, then you should know that this is not what the Sunnah teaches us in terms of giving advice and this kind of advice is more likely to turn people away than to encourage them. 

So why do people react badly when given advice?:
1.The first reason is internal. Most people don't like it when someone points out their mistakes. This is pretty straightforward. This is because most people are already aware of their mistakes, so having someone point it out to them, even if done in a kind way, may make them feel self-conscious or guilty. And sometimes criticism hurts! So you have to consider that when you offer advice to someone, and maybe change your tone or be a little friendlier, in order to not affect someone in a bad way.
2.There is a  second reason, and this is not something we can actually combat, but something we should be aware of. A lot of people-not a few, a lot, don't take advice because they don't like being told what to do. I have heard many people say, that when someone gives them advice about something, they always want to do the opposite.

So the above things are aspects we should try to change when it comes to receiving advice, but what about advice-givers? How can we perfect our advice?
In a lot of cases, the way we give advice is not helpful at all.
Many people, when they give advice, even if their intention is sincere, may come of as being critical, judgmental, uptight or strict.

Last Ramadan, I was attending a night prayer. One of the women leading the prayer scolded the girl beside me that her sleeves were too short to pray in.  Shortly later, I saw the girl get up and leave, before the prayers had ended.  Although the woman was right to point this out to the girl, by wording it in a more delicate, kinder way, for instance, by offering her a jacket or suggesting she cover with ملابس الصلاة, she would have spared the girl embarrassment and the girl wouldn’t have missed the rest of the night of prayer. This is just one example of advice being given in the wrong way.

Most people want to become closer to Allah, but they don't know how: maybe they don't know how to overcome their spiritual difficulties, they may be dealing with stress, or hard circumstances in their life and family. When we ask people questions to try and understand what they are going through, we will be able to have a greater effect on them by helping them, than if we were to simply point out their mistakes and lecture them. The wise one and the one who will have a greater effect on people is the one who tailors his advice to the person he is talking to.
Instead of simply telling others they’re wrong, offer to guide them towards what’s right.  It is easy to find someone who will tell you your mistakes, but it is rare to find someone who is actually willing to take the time and energy to help you. Some people won't respond to you preaching a message to them, you have to BE a message for them. Let's learn to give advice from practice, not just verbally.
If you have a friend who hangs around bad company, don’t just tell them "Your friends are bad influences", invite them along with you to a deen class, or make an effort to include them with your friends.  If your friend doesn’t read Qur’an, mention how much you struggle, and suggest you start memorizing together to motivate each other. Friends wear tight or Islamic inappropriate clothing? Instead of criticizing how she dresses, ask her to go shopping with you, and tell her to try on abaya or jilbab, just to see how it looks, and tell her how classy and elegant she looks. When we offer advice on sensitive topics, where one can become easily offended, it is best to give advice in subtle ways, instead of straightforward.
It is Allah who judges our intention, but we must also consider that others may misunderstand us or misinterpret our advice.  
Create an environment of MUTUAL self-improvement instead of an environment of criticism and hostility.  
Making improvement a team effort will really help in terms of giving someone advice. If you mention your struggles, whether present of past, this will make the other person feel that someone empathizes with them and knows what they are experiencing.
In this way you minimize the focus on the person's fault and draw light to the fact that we are all struggling, and if we all help and motivate one another, we will reach success!

لَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَفْسَكَ أَلَّا يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ
O Muhammad, you will perhaps torment yourself to death with grief because they do not believe. (26:3)
This is the degree to which the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم cared about those he was spreading the message of Islam too and advising, so we should not just follow the Prophet in commanding good and forbidding evil, we must also have the characteristics of his care and concern towards those he was guiding.
If someone can be redeemed in the eyes of the Prophet, who are we to condemn and shun those who make mistakes?
During the time of the Prophet, there was a man who was an alcoholic named 'Abdullah. According to one report, he would leave his bottle of wine sitting outside of the masjid, and then he would go inside and pray. He was sentenced to punishment for drinking alcohol many times. After `Abdullah had departed from one of these many sentencings, one of the Companions said about `Abdullah: "O Allah curse him! How often he is summoned for this!" The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم rebuked that Companion, saying: "Do not curse him, for I swear by Allah, if you only knew just how very much indeed he loves Allah and His Messenger." (Al-Bukhari)
He then added: "Do not help Satan against your brother." 
In spite of the awful sin which 'Abdullah had committed, (which he was punished for) the Prophet instead focused on his positive qualities, in doing so, the Prophet encouraged and strengthened this quality in him, and inspired virtue. Knowing that the Prophet said this about him, helped 'Abdullah to overcome his bad habit completely. 
How different is that from our approach now when the smallest mistake will get us criticized, shamed, and condemned? 

When Allah سبحانه وتعالى sent Moses عليه السلام to speak to Pharaoh فرعون, one of the most evil people and tyrant  to have lived Allah commanded him to speak kindly and gently, 
فَقُولَا لَهُ قَوْلًا لَيِّنًا لَعَلَّهُ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَىٰ

So we can clearly see that no matter how awful a person is, no matter how awful the sin they committed, this doesn't permit us to speak to them in a unkind manner. And we should always use gentle, kind, and inspiring techniques to advise people instead of advising them in a way that will make them feel ashamed, hurt, or belittled. If we can implement these techniques, we will change the hostility towards receiving advice, and make the advice more accepted, so that we may make more efforts to encourage and help one another in our deen.

I ask Allah سبحانه وتعالى to make us an Ummah that enjoins the good and forbids the evil.
I ask Allah سبحانه وتعالى to help us to give sincere, helpful advice to our brothers and sisters.
And I ask Allah سبحانه وتعالى to make us accepting and grateful towards those who give us sincere advice.

All correct and beneficial knowledge is from the mercy and guidance of Allah, and I apologize for all incorrect information which is an unintentional error only from myself. And Allah knows best. والله أعلمُ بالـصـواب

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