By Maulana Abu Rajab Muhammad Asif Attari Madani
Islamic scholar and supervisor of the Islamic Research Centre, Karachi.
A student visited me, visibly upset, and explained that a Quran recitation competition was arranged four years ago. As part of the selection process, he recited selected verses to a panel of judges who discouragingly and thoughtlessly told him that he was a slow reciter and unfit to participate in such competitions. These few words were enough to decimate the student’s confidence and stop him from wanting to ever take part in such events. Since then, he is at breaking point, constantly doubting himself and feeling utterly hopeless.
Discouraging others is an all-too-common trait. We forget that while a simple pat on the back can be all it takes to encourage someone to reach for the stars, a few careless words can demoralise people and destroy all of their hopes. After all, words are powerful, and a discouraging sentence or two can ruin a person’s confidence and life.
The detrimental effect of discouragement
As much as encouraging and reassuring others is the positive approach to tackling problems, discouragement only ever has an adverse impact and inflicts social and psychological harms such as hopelessness, inferiority complex, depression, anxiety, stress, and fear of failure. The environment of the home, office, institute, and classroom is also negatively affected as a result.
The one you discourage will be reluctant to approach you in the future and will not share his problems with you.
What type of people are we?
There are two types of people in this world: those who encourage others and those who dishearten others.
Ask yourself honestly, which type are you? You may say that we have never discouraged anyone. You may think you have never discouraged someone, but think about it: have you spoken when it was better to remain silent; remained silent when it was better to speak; used body language that showed a lack of interest in what someone else is saying; or given disinterested replies? All of these can be forms of discouragement. Remember that discouraging others is not only done because of hostility, sometimes people are even discouraged when one is supposedly trying to show them sympathy, but we remain unaware of this.
How does discouragement occur?
Discouragement can happen in many ways. For example:
1. Not giving encouragement and praise despite performing well.
2. Deliberately being impassive towards another’s efforts and praising one’s own achievements instead.
3. Exaggerating someone’s mistake in one task and condemning them as unfit to do anything.
4. Making snide comments such as, “You cannot read”; “You will not be able to do it”; “This is beyond you”; “You are useless”; “You are incompetent”; and “Your mind is full of useless things.”
5. Declaring someone a complete failure after they make their first mistake. Such people should remember that we learn from our mistakes. Even a baby does not learn to walk immediately but goes through a cycle of falling and getting up until it eventually walks.
6. Instead of giving the student time to correct his mistake, you ask another student to continue instead.
7. Not accepting someone’s pleas to be exempt and declaring it as an excuse.
8. Mentioning only the faults of your children in front of others.
9. Needlessly comparing the person’s failure or shortcomings to someone else’s success or skills.
10. Only praising one of the two people who have been performing well.
11. Saying to the one who has failed an exam: carry on wasting your time in other things, this was bound to happen!
12. Instead of comforting the one afflicted by troubles, you make him responsible for his troubles. For example, someone tells you about their illness, and you respond with inappropriate comments about their diet or lifestyle.
13. Mentioning someone’s earlier mistakes when they make a new one.
14. When someone fails, you boast about your own successes and mock him.
15. Not paying attention to someone’s good report and not commending them for their achievement.
16. Not thanking those who are kind, compassionate and helpful.
17. Telling someone directly that his line of work is insignificant.
18. Calling one’s current work useless.
19. Not acknowledging someone’s skills and abilities.
20. Being emotionless instead of congratulating someone upon their success.
21. Scaring a child from trying something new.
22. Accepting a phone call or talking to someone else whilst present in an important conversation.
23. Belittling someone’s advice.
24. Not replying to messages.
There are many other forms in which this can occur that can be found within you and those around you. I will now tell you a true story of the harms of discouragement.
Regret of discouragement
There was a young man from Islamabad who embarked on the journey of observing Islam in its spirit and word. He began praying daily, grew a beard, wore an Imāmaĥ, learned how to correctly read the Quran, and fulfilled his religious commitments to better his life and Hereafter. His affluent and liberal family took a strong disliking to these changes and would constantly discourage him. They pressured him to abandon this lifestyle, even though he implored them, “Do not take me away from this religious environment, lest I regret it.” However, his pleas fell on deaf ears. After three years of discouragement and vehement opposition, they convinced him. He stopped praying and shaved his beard. Pushing him to be a doctor, they enrolled him in a residential medical college where he stayed in the hostel. Lured by the local mafia, he became addicted to drugs, and the continuous substance abuse took a toll on him. His family brought him back to Hyderabad and spent hundreds of thousands on rehabilitation, but it was unsuccessful. Eventually, he became addicted to heroin, and as a result, his physical and mental health deteriorated until he was diagnosed with severe mental conditions. Although his father was fortunate enough to discover the blooming environment of Dawat-e-Islami, he is most regretful about his son as he could have been saved had his father encouraged him to remain with the bastion of piety that is Dawat-e-Islami.
Ponder upon your state
We should think over how many people we have discouraged and, in some cases, even hurt them emotionally. We need to wake up from our slumber, change this attitude of discouraging others, and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. This is especially important for those who have responsibilities for others such as parents, teachers, and employers. They should all be cautious, as their words carry a lot of weight. The Ameer of Ahl Al-Sunnah, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas Attar Qadiri—may Allah Almighty preserve him—advises teachers to never tell students that “they will never be successful in their studies” because that will break the students’ confidence and lead them to failure.
How to correctly address mistakes
Not discouraging others does not mean you cannot highlight someone’s errors, so they do not commit it again. The method of doing so is to first, praise his work and encourage him. Then, by using suitable language and mannerisms, highlight his mistakes and shortcomings. This is the method of The Ameer of Ahl Al-Sunnah—may Allah Almighty preserve him
Is discouragement necessary?
If someone is doing something bad, then you can discourage him and tell him off with a bit of harshness, so he does not do it again. For example, a child has hit or sworn at someone or has stolen something from another student. The parents must tell him off and take the necessary measures to ensure this does not happen again. If you ignore his mistakes now, he will make greater mistakes in the future. It is like stopping water from a leaking hose with your thumb, but if this hose bursts and overflows, there is no way to control it.
Responding to discouragement
How should we respond to discouraging remarks? The answer to this will be shared in the next instalment: “The Response to Discouragement” اِنْ شَــآءَالـلّٰـه. However, you will have to wait for the next Monthly Magazine Faizan-e-Madina
 Nayki ki Dawat, p. 546