I remember 10 years ago I was sitting with my two closest friends at our lunch break between university lectures. I was boldly giving advice to one of them. “You can’t keep doing that, you know it’s wrong!” but her reaction wasn’t at all what I expected. But why? I was frustrated. Here I am, doing the right thing, and she got mad? She knows I had the right intention, right?
Despite this particular incident happening a long time ago, I still reflect on it occasionally. However, since then, I have learned something that would change my perception in advice-giving and receiving forever: it is not enough to have sound intention when giving advice to someone. The delivery is important too.
So in what follows, I want to share with you a few tips that are really accredited to the basic etiquette established in our deen and the actions of our Messenger (PBUH).
So how can I give advice without being hurtful?
Say it gently and don’t ridicule the other person
Don’t make them feel inferior. Before even anything, tell them you care about them and the things you appreciate in them. Our beloved prophet expressed his love and appreciation to Muath bin Jabal (May Allah be pleased with him) before advising him:
وعن معاذ رضي الله عنه، أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، أخذ بيده وقال: “يا معاذ، والله إني لأحبك، ثم أوصيك يا معاذ لا تدعن في دبر كل صلاة تقول: اللهم أعني على ذكرك وشكرك، وحسن عبادتك”. حديث صحيح، ((رواه أبو داود والنسائي بإسناد صحيح)).
Mu’adh (bin Jabal) (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) held my hand and said, “O Mu’adh, By Allah, I love you and advise you not to miss supplicating after every Salat (prayer) saying: ‘Allahuma a’inni ‘ala dhikrika wa shukrika, wa husni ‘ibadatika,’ (O Allah, help me remember You, expressing gratitude to You and worship You in the best manner)”. [Hadith Sahih].
Choose the right time
The classic textbook example when it comes to selecting the appropriate setting and time is the familiar story of the Bedouin who walked in to the Prophet (PBUH)’s Mosque and urinated right then and there. The Companions were furious. However, the Prophet (PBUH) instructed them to wait until he finishes, as he did not want him to hurt himself in anyway. The Prophet then walked up to the strange man, took him to the side and advised him kindly that this is a respected place of worship.
So what does this mean for us? It means that we should not give advice to someone in the heat of the situation. This obviously does not apply when someone is gravely crossing the line, like beating someone to death or stealing for example where it would be necessary to intervene. However, if you are having a large family dinner and noticed that someone has upset you with a sneaky insult. Do not respond in the heat of the moment in front of everyone. Take a breath. Take that person to the side and tell them how that remark made you feel. This would be far more effective.
Have good intentions
I talked about intention at the beginning. You can never exclude intention from literally anything you do as a Muslim. Intention is the main fuel for running your actions.
The wrong intention can look like this: Advising your spouse to eat healthier so you can have a “better-looking husband” in front of people.
The right intention is: genuinely caring about his health because you love him.
Pay very close attention to why you do things and always ask yourself, what would Allah want? Am I advising them because I care?
Do it in private
You know that person who waits for everyone to gather around and then starts lecturing you on how to do something better? please don’t be like them.
At the end of the day advising someone is a form of telling them to improve or change. So, receiving advice is not comfortable. Therefore, always do it in a private setting to avoid any embarrassment.
Hear the other side out
Let them speak – hear them out until the very end. Yes, sometimes this means swallowing your pride. Yes, this might mean you have to be patient and hear somethings that are hard to digest. Try to have a civilized conversation with the other party and try not to interrupt. This is probably the hardest tip to put to practice. At the end of the day, don’t make the same mistake I did with my friend and that is imposing your advice and pressuring the person to implement it.
You might be thinking now, “but I care about my friend and therefore I get upset when they don’t listen to me” or you might be thinking “sometimes the truth hurts and they have to hear it”
Don’t blame yourself, it is completely okay to be upset for them. As a matter of fact, as Muslims, caring about each other is a must. It’s very tricky for me too to try to not get my feelings involved. Most importantly, avoid lashing out these feelings on them.
Think about it: when the tables are turned, wouldn’t you want to be heard out?