Great Islamic teachings
The Skill of Advising Others
Syed Noman Shah Attari
As bodily ailments warrant taking medicine, societal ailments require accepting advice. It is for this reason that Islam has commanded the faithful to counsel others:
اُدْعُ اِلٰى سَبِیْلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَ الْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ
‘Call towards the path of your Lord with sound planning and good advice,’
[Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)] (Part 14, Surah An-Nahl, Verse 125)
As this verse makes clear, our advice must be sound and of good nature, not careless and insincere. The prophets of Allah عَـلَـيْـهِمُ الـصَّلٰوةُ وَالـسَّـلَام were the best advisors and their counsels were of this standard. Our Prophet’s good nature and thoughtful approach to dealing with others caused a moral revolution and transformed an ignorant society into a peaceful community, bringing people to Islam in droves. This prophetic approach should be the blueprint for us, shaping our efforts and community work. The Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said that, ‘When he (a Muslim) seeks your advice, offer it to him,’ (Muslim, p. 919, Hadith 5651), suggesting that fellow believers have a right to counsel.
There are many benefits to offering advice. For example, non-Muslims accept Islam because of someone’s advice; sinful people repent from sin after receiving advice; some gain the enthusiasm to do good; others may become compassionate; the faith of some is strengthened; and some find peace and solace.
How to be an effective advisor
Consider the following factors when advising others:
1. Speak according to the addressee’s level of understanding. A pious person was going to the shore with his students when he decided to stop at a particular place. Quite some time passed, so the students asked about their stop. The pious individual replied: ‘We are waiting for the whole river to flow by, so that we can cross to the other side.’
Hearing this, a student said: ‘How is this possible when neither will the whole river pass nor will we be able to get to the other side?’
Responding to the student, the pious individual replied: ‘Son, this is precisely what I wanted to explain to you. We always say that once we have dealt with all our personal matters, then we will start to offer Salah, perform Hajj, and perform good deeds. Remember, just as we should not wait for the river to flow by to get to the other side, we should not wait for all our worldly responsibilities to be fulfilled before doing good works.’
2. Consider the other person’s nature and background. Offering consolation to someone suffering from a financial loss is better than listing his mistakes. Praying for an ill person and consoling them is better than pointing out their mistakes and lack of care that led to the illness.
3. Think about the goal and approach. Advice is offered to make someone realise their mistake and discourage them from repeating it; your choice of words can make all the difference. Allah Almighty ordered the prophets Musa and Haroon عَـلَيْهِمَا الـسَّلَام to speak to Pharaoh gently, (Part 16, Surah Taahaa 44). If emphasis has been placed on gently advising someone who does not even believe in God, then someone who believes in Allah Almighty has a greater right to be addressed politely. So when advising others, it is imperative to be gentle, as the Final Prophet of Allah صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said: ‘The one who is deprived of being gentle is deprived of goodness,’ (Muslim, p. 1073, Hadith 6602). He صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم also said: ‘Make being gentle necessary and beware of harshness and impudence. The thing with gentleness in it is beautified by it. The thing from which gentleness is withdrawn is made defective,’ (Bukhari, vol. 4, p. 108, Hadith 6030).
Refrain from an inappropriate tone. Using a condescending or disparaging tone will yield negative outcomes. Once a youngster’s phone rang whilst he was offering Salah in the masjid. Afterwards, instead of politely speaking to him, the worshippers began humiliating him. As a result, the youngster stopped going to the masjid.
4. Be thoughtful. Think carefully when to counsel someone because incessantly advising others can be annoying and can deter them from taking you seriously.
5. Be considerate. Advise others in private, not publicly. Sayyidatuna Umm Darda رَضِیَ الـلّٰـهُ عَنْهَا states: ‘The one who advises his brother in public has humiliated him. And the one who advises his brother in private has beautified him,’ (Shu’ab-ul-Iman, vol. 6, p. 112, Hadith 7641).
Our guide, Allamah Maulana Muhammad Ilyas ‘Attar Qaadiri is a beacon of wisdom whose approach to supporting and counselling people epitomises everything that effective advice should be. Studying his regular Madani Muzakarah sessions and working closely with Dawat-e-Islami are powerful ways of learning the methods and nuances of advising others. By virtue of this, we will gain the motivation to rectify ourselves and the people of the entire world. It is this motivation that will prove to be instrumental in making your offering of advice effective.