Whether it’s how to be a good Muslim, how you look, or how to approach your studies, everyone is telling you what to do. But they give it a different name, “friendly advice” is what the claim to be giving. Even if these advisers mean well, their approach can be annoying and even upsetting to listen to.
Maybe you’re the person giving advice to those around you, maybe you can see things around you that are wrong and feel it is your duty to say something. If your intention is to genuinely help the person and not feed your own ego, then pay attention to what the Islamic etiquette is for advice giving.
Keep it courteous
When giving advice the motive should be love for the person you are advising, you should hate for anything bad to happen to them. Most Muslims set out on their Advice Missions because they feel they have a duty to do so. But when this is their motivation, mercy and compassion take a back seat and people’s feelings get hurt.
[Prophet], call [people] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided.” (An-Nahl 16:125)
I know it can seem a little contradictory when you first read the above verse, but let’s think about it. How do you argue in a courteous way? I’m not talking about an argument with your sibling; those disagreements tend to be rather uncourteous. But let’s think about a disagreement you might have with your teacher.
For example, your teacher might have graded your homework and you genuinely feel like it deserved more. How would you approach that conversation? You would be polite, you would calmly list the reasons why you think your work deserved a higher grade, but above all, you would stay respectful. You wouldn’t demean the teacher and demand she change your grade whilst insisting she should have known better in the first place. Right?
Now apply this practice to giving someone advice – keep your voice calm, be polite, explain why you think it would be a good idea for the person to follow the advice, don’t demean the person, make them feel stupid, or lecture them about knowing better. Stay respectful. Stay courteous.
The above ayah also mentions wisdom and good teaching. Unfortunately, these things are pretty rare these days. There are a lot of intelligent and knowledgeable people about, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are wise. Wisdom comes with empathy, experience, and humility. Not everyone can walk around advising people if they lack this essential quality.
Keep it private
A lot of Muslims will be rather uncomfortable with this. Believers publicly shaming other Muslims for the decisions they make. It is important to remember that this behavior is very serious, it actually distinguishes you as an ‘evildoer’ – Islam does not promote this kind of behavior in any way, shape, or form.
“The believer conceals his brother’s faults and gives him advice in private whereas the evildoer exposes his faults and shames him.” -Prophet Mohammed [Jaami’ al-‘Uloom wa’l Hikam 1/236]
The truth about naseehah
Most people translate ‘advice’ as ‘naseehah’ in Arabic. Naseehah literally means ‘sincerity’.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘The religion is naseehah (sincerity).” We said, “To whom?” He said, “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.”’ -Reported by Tamim Al-Dari (Muslim)
As you can see, naseehah should be directed to more than just the people around us, yet most Muslims seem fixated with directing sincere advice to the common folk and even neglecting the sincerity they should show to Allah, His Messengers, the Qur’an, and the Muslim leaders.
Tips for giving advice
-Speak nicely and be gentle – Never give advice when you are frustrated and certainly not when you’re angry.
-Be patient with the receiver – Patience is absolutely essential. The person you are advising may be going through a hard time and you laying into them is just another thing dragging them down. They also might not be ready to follow your advice right away, so leave them to it and back off once you’ve said your piece. Chances are, they will gradually think about what you have said and start to make a change.
-Respect confidentiality and don’t discuss it with other people – I shouldn’t have to point this out, but unfortunately nothing is sacred anymore. One of the main reasons we are hesitant to listen to other people and open up is because of a justified fear that the conversation will be repeated to someone else.
-Get your facts straight before you go in and try to ‘fix’ things. Never make assumptions and never give advice on a situation you have nothing to do with.
-Pick your moments – The obligation we have to advise our fellow Muslims goes beyond just giving out the advice. We have an obligation to deliver it in the most appealing way possible.
-Practice what you preach – Another one that should be obvious, yet it is the least followed. Don’t advise someone to do something you’re not even doing yourself.
How can you tell people to do what is right and forget to do it yourselves, even though you recite the Scripture? Have you no sense?” (Al-Baqarah 2: 44)
Tips for receiving advice
-Provided your adviser is following the points above, here are some things to remember if you are on the receiving end of some genuinely sincere advice:
-Swallow your pride. Try to stay humble and remember you are not being attacked. Actually listen to what the person is saying.
-Be willing to improve yourself. Nobody is perfect. We are all on our own unique journeys in life and being stagnant isn’t healthy. Always seek to improve yourself; listening to (kind) advice from those close to us can be a great start.
-Be kind and appreciative. Appreciate that this person cares enough to try and help you. A true friend is the one who tells you that you have spinach in your teeth, not the one who ignores it and leaves you walking around like a mess all day.
-Be open-minded. Your friendly adviser may have a perspective you haven’t thought of before.
-Say “thank you” even if you’re not going to follow the advice – There is no obligation for you to follow every piece of advice you have been given, but keep the peace.
The Adab Series
This article part of our Adab Series. Click below for more great adab advice.