There’s an art and science behind Naseeha that we Muslims need to pick up on. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (rahimuhullah) wrote a piece entitled “The Difference Between Naseeha and Ta’eer” which illustrates the difference between advising someone and chastising them. Using some bits from it and other sources, I found some ways we can properly practice Naseeha, increase our love and respect for our fellow Muslims, and insha’Allah never have to deal with Thou and their holiness ever again.
Naseeha is Critical
The Prophet (SAW) said “ad-Deen an-Naseeha,” or, “the religion (of Islam) is Naseeha.” In this Hadith, The Prophet (SAW) is equating the entire religion of Islam to the act of Naseeha and advising others. This mean in all walks of Islam, Naseeha should be a common and totally normal part of our lives. Whether it comes to worshiping Allah, interacting with family and friends, and especially performing Islamic work, Naseeha should always be there to keep things in check between Muslims. Some of the best advice you can find can be from when people advise you of your mistakes. Naseeha is a means of self-improvement and Shaytan will try his best to turn it against us. Shaykh Kamil Mufti writes in his article Directions to Giving Naseehah:
Naseehah is a wonderful weapon, but like most weapons, if the user does not know how to use it properly, it can cause more harm than good.
Receiving Naseeha – Work on ourselves first
Usually you’ll find in articles on “The Manners of Naseeha” or “Fiqh of Naseeha” going over how to give Naseeha before mentioning how to accept it. I want to change things up and speak about receiving it first because of the problems many Muslims face with it.
Firstly, you have to humble yourself and break down your walls of arrogance. This opens up a foundation for Naseeha to operate on. If every Muslim were to work for this, it would make identifying our mistakes for correction much more streamlined, whether the identification comes from yourself or from your fellow Muslim brother or sister.
Secondly, take any self-perceived “rank” or “status” in your head and toss it. It doesn’t matter if the person is a different age, or a different nationality, a different Manhaj, a different gender, or different at all. Whether it’s your parent, child, relative, Shaykh, friend, student, a pious person, a sinner, whoever; every Muslim has the right to advise you when you do wrong. Imam Malik (rahimuhullah) once came into a masjid after ‘Asr and was commanded by a boy to pray two rak’ah of Tahayyatul Masjid even though it was clearly contradictory to his Fiqh position. His students saw this and later asked him why he prayed the two rak’ah. Imam Malik replied:
“My opinion has not changed, nor have I gone back on what I taught you earlier. I merely feared that had I not prayed the 2 rakas as the young boy commanded, Allah may include me in the Ayah…
And when it is said to them, ‘Bow (in prayer)’, they do not bow. – (77:48)
Sure the story is famous, but the lesson learned is not: it doesn’t matter who gives you the advice. What matters is your humility and willingness to accept it, and Imam Malik was one who knew this well.
Thirdly, be open to accepting Naseeha. A lot of Muslims are quick to call out faults in others but will never accept any criticism for themselves. The Prophet (SAW) said none of us are true believers until “you want for your brother what you want for yourself.” Working on yourself is key for Naseeha to run efficiently. Think of it like the golden rule: Do unto others as you would like done unto yourself. You have to be willing to accept Naseeha yourself before you can expect others to take it from you. Ibn Rajab writes:
All the scholars admit that no one has complete knowledge of the Deen, nor no one from the early scholars or those who came after them makes this claim. This is why the a’imah (imams) of the salaf are united upon the fact that one is obligated to take the truth whoever it comes from, even if it is a small person. They used to advise their students to accept the truth even if it is from other than themselves. Some famous scholars used to say, “this is our opinion, whoever comes with a better one we accept it from him.”
In the end, the goal is for *positive* change with help from one another.
Always give Naseeha sincerely. From the get go, you want to have clear intent that the reason why you’re advising this person is to please Allah (SWT) and find the truth of the issue at hand. Naseeha is not about who’s right and who’s wrong, or if either side is better or “holier” than the other. Both the giver and receiver should be striving for the truth, not to beat the other in a debate. Ibn Rajab writes:
Even more amazing is where he (imam As Shafi’i) said, “I have never debated with someone except that I wished the truth becomes clear; regardless whether it comes from his tongue or mine”. This indicates that his intention was only that of to make the truth apparent, whether it is from himself or the from the person whom he differed with, and whoever thinks like this then there is no problem in refuting his statements by making clear his contradiction to the Sunnah, whether he is alive or dead.
Also, give it kindly! Ever heard of the phrase, “it’s not what you say but how you say it”? This applies straight up to Naseeha. Rudeness in Naseeha is usually the number one problem that makes people unwilling to accept it, so don’t let anger cloud your approach. You may be upset with the person you saw doing something wrong and you really want to give them a piece of your mind. Don’t. Being too harsh will destroy both your advice and your relationship with the person. Never underestimate the power of a smile (or a smiley face online!)
Naseeha has to be given secretly. Public embarrassment scars people for life and advising people in front of others can ruin everything you have to say to them. It also makes the Naseeha turn into Ta’eer, or chastising, because other people now hear about the mistakes and faults you’re advising your fellow Muslim on. Ibn Rajab says about Naseeha in secret:
Naseehah is accompanied by covers (of faults) and Ta’eer is accompanied by publicity, as Imam Ash-Shafi’i said in a poem to the meaning of:
“whenever you want to advise me do so privately,
and avoid advising publicly,
because advising in the presence of people,
is a form of embarrassment I am not pleased to listen to”
The salaf used to say “whoever commanded his brother (to do good) in a gathering where there are people, then he has exposed him.” This is why the salaf used to dislike commanding good and forbidding evil in this manner, and they preferred it (commanding good and forbidding evil) privately between two individuals, and this is from the signs of true Naseeha, because the purpose of Naseeha is not to spread people faults, but rather it is to remove the wrong that took place.
Be smart in regards to the setting of Naseeha. Time, place, mood, and method all can play a role. This is especially true when the mistake you’ve noticed has angered you and it might be better to hold off for a bit, letting tempers cool and time pass by. Also, it can really help to consider how you’re giving the person Naseeha. I have found, personally, that when I gave people Naseeha online via Email or Instant Messaging, because it was in writing and not in person I came off as sounding very harsh to friends and family. So I worked to change my tone, added smiley faces to my writing, and tried to give the advice in person more often, all of which have helped me. Factors like time, place, and mood vary depending on your scenario so use wisdom and be smart in choosing your time and method of advising others.
Finally, don’t force it. You can’t expect everyone to take action with what you think is right. Not only will you find it ineffective, it goes against the whole point of Naseeha: giving advice. Shaykh Kamil Mufti wrote that Ibn Hazm commented on this, stating that if one gives Naseeha thinking that the person absolutely has to accept it, they are no longer advising; they are oppressing the person.
Forget Thou and remember the best Muslims
Thou is usually voluntarily brought into the picture at the scene of Naseeha. We Muslims need change this; forget about Thou erase Thou completely out of our minds. Instead, bring in the examples best Muslims of our times. They were the best of the best, and taking their examples paints for us a picture on how Muslims should be in all acts of life, especially Naseeha.
So the next time you find yourself or others receiving or giving Naseeha, don’t think of Thou. Think of Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA) and a quote from his first khutbah after becoming Khaleefa to the people of Medinah.
“O people, remain conscious of God, forgive me my faults and help me in my task. Assist me in enforcing what is good and forbidding what is evil. Advise me regarding the obligations that have been imposed upon me by God…” – Umar ibn al-Khattab 12AH