It can happen at any time on social media, IRL social gatherings, in the mosque, anywhere really. You are never safe from it.
No matter how on point you try to be–for the sake of Allah of course– it’s always lurking in the shadows waiting for you.
What is this thing which we cannot run from?
I like to call it “The Recommending”. That is a Muslim brother or sister acquaintance-and more often than not, a perfect stranger- who lies in wait to berate you about some real or perceived haram, all under the guise of commanding the good and forbidding the evil.
There are those who make it their sole purpose to troll Muslim brothers and sisters online and in real life just to find something they can correct them on.
As a result, I have noticed that many brothers and sisters feel the need to preface every move they make with a statement of their intentions and religious justification.
I have even known people who have left Islam because they couldn’t take the constant criticism from their co-religionists while they struggled with inner battles that were weighty enough to begin with.
I’ve been on both sides of “The Recommending”. So I know it all too well. And I have come to realize that recommending the good and forbidding the evil without kindness and good intentions does immense damage. But this doesn’t mean we can just abandon giving advice to our brothers and sisters. It just means that we MUST do so with good manners and mercy.
Read Also: 3 Ways to Survive Critiques and Criticisms
As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
I was sent to perfect good manners. (Malik)
Allah tells us in the Quran what would have happened if the Messenger himself had been harsh in his reminders:
By the mercy of Allah [O Muhammad], you were gentle with them—and had you been harsh or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. So, pardon them, and ask forgiveness for them and consult them about matters… (3:159)
Whenever I think it would be a good idea to recommend someone, I go through a list of criteria that I have to meet before I do so. The acronym “S.I.S.T.E.R.” helps remind me to give advice in the best way I can. If I can’t meet my S.I.S.T.E.R., I do not deserve to recommend my sisters.
S- Sources, Know Them
Recently, I was attending a sisters’ halaqah and the topic of discussion was women in the mosques.
The Imam’s wife shared a story about how another sister recommended her to stop saying “Alhamdulilah”. This sister claimed that women aren’t allowed to say “Alhamdulillah” which is an Arabic word that means all thanks is due to Allah. I was shocked by such a claim and asked the imam’s wife how she handled the situation.
The imam’s wife said that she told the sister to bring her an authentic source that says women cannot thank God. When the imam’s wife met the sister again and asked her for her source, the sister said she couldn’t find an authentic source.
Had the imam’s wife been a new Muslim or someone who was just becoming religious, this mis-information would have been very detrimental to her.
This story reminded me how important it is to know what we are talking about. If ever I start to advise someone without knowing for sure the source of my information, I leave it alone. And then I use it as an opportunity to remind myself that I have a lot to learn myself.
I- Intention, Intention, Intention
Are we recommending to feel superior? To show off how much knowledge we have? Or to make someone else feel bad? Are we forbidding the evil just to be right? To seem pious?
We have to really examine why we feel compelled to advise someone else. We can’t just hide behind hadith while we have bad intentions, Allah knows what is in our hearts. And ultimately our actions will be judged based on our intentions. So even if we recommended someone to pray on time- a good deed- if we have done so only to inflate our own ego, we will be rewarded for that nefarious intention.
I always ask myself, am I advising others so that I can help them be successful in the eyes of Allah? To please Allah? To meet them in Jannah? If these are my intentions behind wanting to recommend someone, I move to the next check-point.
S- Speak Kindly
In the first year of my Muslim life, I found myself feeling intense social anxiety.
I felt that I didn’t fit in anywhere anymore and avoided going anywhere. I was living near the mosque but felt uncomfortable around the sisters who were constantly “recommending” me.
One day the phone rang and a sister was on the line reprimanding me. She called me up just to tell me that I had to attend the mosque for Jumuah. She did not ask if I would be attending, she did not say that I was missed. But she demanded my presence.
I felt attacked and trapped and had no idea what to say other than agreeing to go to Jumuah prayer. When I showed up, the sister who had demanded my presence all but ignored me.
I have seen brothers and sisters do this to others over and over, usually over how they wear or do not wear hijab. But how can we expect people to take our advice if all we do is berate them and make them feel bad about themselves? How would we respond if someone spoke to us so harshly?
We have to be kind to people and speak good words if we truly care about them and want them to be successful. The Prophet Muhammad said:
Gentleness is not in something except that it adorns it, and it is not stripped from something except that it ruins it. (Abu Dawud)
Advising our brothers and sisters should be done with so much tact and care that the one we advise see us as their number one cheerleader.
Timing is everything, as the saying goes. And when it comes to advising others, especially when it is unsolicited, timing really is everything.
Whenever I think about giving counsel to my sisters, I think about the day I made a driving mistake (I failed to signal before changing lanes) and a women rolled down her window and screamed at me.
I happened to be eighteen years old and driving to my mother’s funereal. Having someone scream at me at that moment in my life felt like an anvil falling on me when I was already in a body cast. I understand that this situation is not exactly like giving or receiving religious instruction. But my angry fellow driver was trying to correct my behavior.
And sometimes I feel that fellow Muslims take this approach all too often- coming off seeming angry and even abusive and not taking the time to understand what the recipient of that advice is going through. It wasn’t the time for me to receive this “advice”. I already knew I must signal, but it was a very bad day for me and it slipped my mind.
Sometimes this is the situation of our brothers and sisters. Bad days happen and sometimes things just slip our mind. The best thing to do when you feel it is a good idea to recommend your brother or sister is to start by asking how they are doing.
Don’t just wait for them to give the standard “I’m good” response. Probe a little further. Ask about their work or school and their family.
E- Encourage Them to Advise You
Presenting advice as a part of a partnership in attaining Allah’s pleasure goes down much easier to the one whom we are recommending. After all that is what brotherhood and sisterhood is all about- helping each other.
If ever I find myself approaching someone with recommendations and feel that I would be insulted if they came to me with advice, I know I don’t have the right intentions. I know that I need to go back to the “I” in “S.I.S.T.E.R.”.
R- Remind Yourself First
Before we go running to everyone telling them how we think they can do things differently, we need to remind ourselves what we can be doing better. When I feel the urge to correct others, I remind myself that there is a tree in my eye while I am focusing in the branch in someone else’s.
We must remind ourselves of a time when we didn’t know better, of a time when hearing certain advice would have broken our spirit. And remember that others are in those very same situations now.
When it comes to advising, recommending, or counseling others, we cannot forget our obligation to help each other out, but we cannot do it without good manners. Remember your S.I.S.T.E.R. because as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
No sin is more detestable to God than bad manners. (At-Tirmidhi)
(From Discovering Islam’s archive)