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Lowlier Than Thou – Naseeha tips from Ibn Rajab

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holier_than_thounuts.gifHave you wondered who Thou is? Y’know, Thou. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, allow me to explain.

Thou is a person whose identity is shrouded in mystery. Apparently, Thou is very holy; so holy, in fact, that no one to this day has claimed holier status than Thou. Thou usually pops up when people are either giving or receiving religious advice. For example, one person notices a mistake or problem with another and tries to give them Naseeha. During this instance, a problem occurs from either the sending or receiving end, and things get heated. Then, out of nowhere, enters Thou.

“I don’t appreciate your holier than Thou attitude!”

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Now you know who I’m talking about. Thou.

Thou’s appearance is a sign that Naseeha has failed and, unfortunately, Muslims are now used to having Thou present at every scene of Naseeha, or sincere advice. Either the Naseeha has been given improperly, or has not been welcomed for acceptance in the first place, or even worse, both. Advice turns into fights, family ties are severed, friendships are put on hold, and Shaytan sits back happy that Thou has showed up at yet another site of Naseeha failure.

So how do we prevent Thou and their holiness from showing up all the time? Simply by understanding what Naseeha is all about.

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 arrogant. 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.

Giving Naseeha

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 paint for 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

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SaqibSaab is an average Desi Muslim guy living in Chicago. He enjoys videography and design as side hobbies, and helps out with AlMaghrib Institute in Chicago, Wasat Studios, and other projects here and there. His go-around vehicle is a 2007 Volkswagen Jetta 5-speed Wolfburg Edition. Originally born in Michigan, he and his wife reside in Chicagoland with his parents who come from Bangalore, India. He blogs personally at SaqibSaab.com.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. iMuslim

    November 15, 2007 at 2:52 PM

    Masha’Allah… wonderful entry, dear bro! I have often wanted to write about this subject but never felt up to it. I believe you said what needed to be said, and in a lovely way!

    May Allah reward you greatly! All good is from Him.

  2. AnonyMouse

    November 15, 2007 at 3:29 PM

    Awesome post, masha’Allah, and timely too (for me)!

    Personality of the individual recieving Naseeha is extremely important to take into account also…

  3. Amad

    November 15, 2007 at 3:51 PM

    great article mashallah

    in fact, i gave a khutbah on this subject… Of course, I pretty much plagiarized a khutbah that ranks one of the best that I have come across (and very similar to your article):

    http://www.islamworld.net/faults.html

  4. SaqibSaab

    November 15, 2007 at 7:26 PM

    Found this:

    The Tact of Hassan and Hussain RA

    The nephews of Rasulullah (saw) once set one the most beautiful examples of Hikmah in advising others. Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn – in their young age – once saw a senior man performing Wudu incorrectly. Together they arranged a plan to teach the man without insulting him, advising him in a manner befitting of his age.

    Together they went to the senior and announced, “My brother and I have differed over who amongst us performs Wudu the best. Would you mind being the judge to determine which one of us indeed performs Wudu more correctly.”

    The man watched intently as the two grandsons of Rasulullah (saw) performed Wudu in an explicit manner. After they had completed, he thanked them and said, “By Allah, I did not know how to perform Wudu before this. You have both taught me how to do it correctly.”

    Amazing, mA. No source mentioned…

  5. iMuslim

    November 15, 2007 at 7:34 PM

    I heard that story in a talk a while ago, and it still makes me smile! :)

  6. AnonyMouse

    November 15, 2007 at 7:35 PM

    Haha, someone just sent me that story! ‘Tis the day for curious coincidences, it seems… :p

  7. coolguymuslim

    November 16, 2007 at 12:10 AM

    assalamu alaykum,
    mash’Allah, this article is on point!

  8. ibnabeeomar

    November 16, 2007 at 1:59 PM

    just now got to reading this but great post! i also gave a khutbah on this topic once, based primarily on sh. munajjid’s book – the method of the prophet (saw) in correcting people’s mistakes

  9. zfnd

    November 16, 2007 at 5:37 PM

    jazakallahkhair,

    enjoyed the read, very applicable.

    now if only this ‘thou’ would read it…

  10. Sis Shaykha

    November 16, 2007 at 8:07 PM

    Asalaamu Alaaikum,

    Excellent article, very much needed.

    Insha’Allah i’ll print this as a reminder, i’m having a hard time with nasheeha at the moment, this will be of great help to me,insha’Allah.

    May Allah reward you, and May Allah give us the ablity to change the evil/bad actions of ourselves and of others, ameen

    Wa’alaykum Asalaam

  11. coolguymuslim

    November 18, 2007 at 5:15 AM

    So, what’s like the deal, if you’re in a situation and you should give some advice but you just dont (whether its outta laziness or not wanting to start something or outta shyness), is there sin if we dont give advice when we should?

  12. SaqibSaab

    November 19, 2007 at 4:51 AM

    From Islamtoday.com:

    Several hadîth related from the Prophet (peace be upon him) come with strong warnings for those who neglect this duty. The entire nation could receive punishment if this obligation is totally ignored. Hudhayfah b. al-Yamân relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I swear by Him in whose hand is my soul, you will enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong, or Allah will punish you.Then when you call on Him, He will not answer you.” [Musnad Ahmad and and Sunan al-Tirmidhî]

  13. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Updated: Review of “Make Me A Muslim”

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