I am honored to contribute to The Young Ummah, a beautiful project started by a group of students from my hometown in upstate New York, that works to educate and discuss issues related to young Muslims through a lens of balanced scholarship. I ask that Allah bless their efforts, and make them a means to inspiration and knowledge that draws people’s hearts closer to goodness, Ameen.
InshaAllah, this is the first in a four part series entitled Dear Young Muslim. These posts will be short reminders for my young brothers and sisters, genuinely given out of love, and hopefully in a way that is simple and practical. Each post will end with an action item that can be implemented in our lives, inshaAllah.
Part 1: On Looking Inward and Accepting Sincere Advice
Many of us have heard lectures or read articles about the proper way to give advice. However in this post, I would like to focus on advice from a different perspective: Instead of talking about the best method of giving advice, I want to discuss something more rarely talked about – how to receive it.
We live in an age and a culture in which the very idea of someone advising us can be construed as offensive, judgmental, or a sign of their smug self-righteousness. Yet giving sincere and genuine advice is an encouraged practice in Islam, and in some cases, may even be a right that we have upon our brother or sister in faith, in that they should help us and advise us if they see us falling into sin. Allah says in the Qur’an, “Help one another in goodness and God-consciousness, and do not support one another in sin and transgression.” He also said, “The believers, men and women, are supporting friends of one another; they try to make others do good, and prevent them from committing sins […]”
Being able to take advice and being receptive to naseeha, sincere advice and correction is critical for our personal growth and development, as human beings and as believers. The great caliph and companion of the Prophet ﷺ Umar (ra) said, “May Allah have mercy on the one who gives me the gift of showing me my own faults.”
Let us ask ourselves: what is our attitude when we are shown our faults? When someone seeks to correct us on something we’ve done, advise us on a personal weakness, or point out ways we can improve our religious practice, what is our immediate response and feeling?
Sufyan ath-Thawri, a scholar and righteous person from the generation after the Prophet ﷺ, said, “We used to meet people who, when they were told, ‘Fear Allah’ would love and appreciate it; but in our times, if this was said to people they would become annoyed.”
What is our response when someone, literally or figuratively, reminds us to fear Allah?
Many times, when someone advises or corrects us, instead of sincerely engaging with that advice, our defenses immediately go up. We block any means for it to enter our hearts, and close ourselves off, out of anger and a feeling of offense. Sometimes we deflect with “WhatAboutism”: “What about your own family, brother?” “ Why are you worried about me, what about ABC? They are doing worse things” “ What about your own self girl, didn’t I see you doing XYZ?”
We even do this at times with our scholars, imams, and teachers. If their counsel is ‘uncomfortable’ – if it goes against what we always thought or believed, or requires a serious change in our behavior – we may find criticizing them an easy way to dismiss their words. Certainly, there are cases in which we may have legitimate concerns, issues, or constructive criticism of a scholar or something he/she teaches, but we must reflect on our intentions and our spiritual state when doing so. Are we quick to criticize a person of knowledge who has a fair and valid point, simply because we don’t like it? Do we label them as misogynistic, too conservative, a sell-out, unqualified, out of touch with our realities as Muslims in America, [insert any other criticism here] – as a balanced comment on their corpus of Islamic work, or is it a way to undermine their legitimacy in our own minds, and to close the door on (and our ears from) what they are saying and teaching? Is it only when they are an echo chamber to our own ideas and views, and their words an affirmation of our actions and current way of life, that we honor what they say and concede to their teachings?
We must be careful. An inability to take advice or counsel is a sign of arrogance and unhealthy pride. In one passage in the Quran, Allah describes the hypocrite as one who, when told to fear Allah, is overtaken by pride, leading him into more sin. When we are admonished or advised, do we puff up with pride and anger? Does this prevent us from benefiting from words of advice and good counsel?
The main idea of this post is to take this as a point of introspection. Let us look into ourselves and genuinely ask: When we are given advice, are we able to accept it with dignity, maturity, and humility? Or do we respond with immediate resentment and hostility?
We should strive for a gracious acceptance of advice, even when the delivery is not ideal, and even when the person giving it has their own set of flaws and shortcomings. Doing so is not a defense of them or their method, but is a matter of precedence. Our own spiritual state is of far more importance, and in more need of our attention and our investment, than other people. Instead of our internal ‘camera’ facing outwards, focusing on the one giving the advice and their failings, or the mistakes made in the presentation of the advice, let us turn it towards ourselves: let us look at our own hearts, taking time with the words or suggestions that are given, to reflect and consider them and our own spiritual condition.
The next time we hear words of advice or counsel, whether given graciously and in line with Islamic guidelines, or lacking those qualities, whether given by someone whose faults are apparent to us or not – let us turn away from criticism of the other party and focus inwards. Let us be spiritually open to introspection, reflecting on how these words can benefit us, and work to change and better ourselves for the sake of Allah Most High and our relationship with Him.
May Allah make us people who hear the words of admonition and follow the best of them. May He make us people who are open to sincere advice and genuine change. Ameen.
For more on naseeha/advice, a very nice, practical article is posted here, “Give and Take: Six Questions Before Giving Advice and Four Tips to Taking It” by Ustadh Chad Earl al-Azhari : http://www.virtualmosque.com/ummah/community/give-and-take-6-questions-before-giving-advice-and-4-tips-to-take-it/
Photo Credit: http://www.mhsmustangnews.com/2015/06/16/advice-for-incoming-freshmen/