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7 Prophetic Strategies of Correcting Mistakes

Editor’s note: The Prophet’s example when dealing with people, especially in such sensitive situations as when correcting people’s mistakes, is amazing.

As it is clear in part 1 and in this part, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had such a unique way of correcting mistakes that the correction process was a chance of educating, empowering and strengthening his Companions.

Read in this part about 3 Prophetic methods of treating mistakes.

5. Be Strategic.

We cannot read about the gentleness and empathy of the Prophet without also noticing his astuteness in helping people move forward.

He weighed priorities, prescribed solutions to people’s problems, and knew when to be forceful and when to be soft.

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The Prophet knew when people had the strength to bear the consequences of their mistakes and when there were other priorities to consider.

By following the Prophet’s footsteps, we can discern the best way to treat underlying problems that lead to mistakes. When a young man behaved insolently during the call to prayer, the Prophet redirected his negative energy to benefit society.

Abu Mahdhurah, a Makkan teenager, and his friends mocked Bilal ibn Rabah while he made the call to prayer after the Muslims had conquered Makkah.

When the Prophet saw this, he summoned the boy who trembled in fear at that point. Instead of scolding him, the Prophet asked if the boy had a strong voice. When the boy affirmed, the Prophet spent some time with him reciting the words of the adhan with him until they were memorized.

The Prophet rested his hand on the boy’s chest and prayed for him.

Abu Mahdhurah, now enamored with the Prophet, asked that he be allowed to call people to prayer. And so, Abu Mahdhurah walked away with the new job title of mu’dhin of Makkah. (Ibn Majah and authenticated by Al-Albani)

6. Use firmness when appropriate.

Gentleness is beautiful, but firmness can sometimes be more effective in prompting personal reform and purification. The Prophet knew when to be firm, and when to be soft.

When two companions had been backbiting, the Prophet responded with formidable words, warning them that they had eaten the flesh of their brother to the point that it could be seen between their teeth.

When they asked the Prophet for forgiveness, he ordered them to ask their brother for forgiveness instead.

On another occasion, the mistake was a simple one hardly needing words, only a gentle nudge. The young Al-Fadl ibn Al-`Abbas was riding with the Prophet when a beautiful woman came to ask a question. Al-Fadl could not stop himself from staring. The Prophet took the boy’s chin in his hand and turned his face in another direction.

The companions were willing to bear the difficult ramifications of their mistakes. The Prophet held to a high standard those who held themselves to a high standard of accountability.

Abu Lubabah was sent by the Prophet as an emissary to the besieged Banu Quraydha, and while negotiating he made a gesture that disclosed what the plans of the Muslims might be.

It immediately occurred to Abu Lubabah that he had betrayed the Prophet’s trust by the gesture. He went straight to the Prophet’s Mosque, tied himself to a tree, and vowed not to move until Allah forgave him.

Abu Lubabah remained tied to the tree for many days. His wife untied him for prayers, and then bound him up when he was finished. Finally, this verse was revealed,

{And there are others who have confessed their wrongdoing, who have done some righteous deeds and some bad ones: God may well accept their repentance, for God is most forgiving and merciful.}  (At-Tawbah 9:102)

Abu Lubabah insisted that the Prophet untie him with his own hands.

Perhaps one of the greatest stories of accountability is the truthful confession of the three companions who failed to accompany the Prophet during the Battle of Tabuk. Unlike the hypocrites who made up excuses for their absences and were pardoned by the Prophet, the three companions confessed they had no good excuse. The three companions were shunned by everyone for more than a month, an anguishing ordeal.

Those three companions may have endured the painful ramifications of their wrongdoing, but they also went through a purifying process that was rewarded with revelation confirming that Allah had forgiven them.

7. Spare people’s dignity.

When correcting mistakes, we must be respectful and sensitive to people’s sense of dignity. There is no room for mocking or belittling. The Prophet criticized mistakes without condemning the person.

On one occasion, people cursed a man who failed to overcome his alcoholism. The Prophet said, “Do not curse him…what I know of him is that he loves Allah and His messenger.” (Al-Bukhari)

The Prophet acknowledged good intentions, even if they led to improper results. Once a man entered the mosque and since he was about to miss the first rak`ah, he bent down in ruku`while he was still walking and had not yet reached the line. When the man told the Prophet what he had done, the Prophet said, “May Allah increase your enthusiasm–but don’t do it again.” (Al-Bukhari)

In order to help a young man who was neglecting his night prayers, the Prophet mixed some encouragement `in with the correction. He said, “What an excellent man `Abdullah is! If only he would pray at night…” `Abdullah never neglected the night prayer after that (Muslim)

The Prophet never reminded people of their lapses in the past, but was quick to recall their previous good actions. When Hatib ibn Abi Balta`ah sent a letter to the enemy detailing the movements of the Prophet’s army before the conquest of Makkah, `Umar was prepared to execute him as a traitor.

The Prophet warned him to desist, reminding `Umar that Allah had forgiven all sins of those who attended the Battle of Badr, among whom had been Hatib. Tears fell from `Umar’s eyes upon hearing this reminder.

Prophet Muhammad once said,

All human beings make mistakes often. The best of those who make mistakes often are those who repent [to Allah].” (At-Tirmidhi)

Can you imagine what it would be like to have your mistakes and shortcomings corrected and shaped with the guiding hand of the Prophet? Would he be gentle, or firm, and what priorities would he consider?

What would it feel like to have his attention, and to be looked upon with eyes overwhelmed with mercy?

If we adopt just some of his amazing techniques in mending the mistakes of people, we will become better teachers and better callers to Allah.

About Maha Ezzeddine
Maha Ezzeddine has a bachelor degree in Journalism and History from the University of Maryland - College Park and a Master degree in History from Stanford University. She edited several publications for MAS Youth between 2006 and 2008, when she was a member of the national executive team.