In the Qur'an, Allah SWT has commanded the believers to continue reminding others. He said:
وَذَكِّر فَإِنَّ الذِّكرى تَنْفَعُ المؤمِنِين
"And continue to remind. For certainly reminders benefit the believers."
Providing a sincere counsel to fellow Muslim brothers and sisters is a noble act and a Sunnah of Rasulullah ﷺ. It's also one of the six rights a Muslim has over his fellow Muslim. Rasulullah ﷺ said in a Hadith:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: "حَقُّ الْمُسْلِمِ عَلَى الْمُسْلِمِ سِتٌّ" قِيلَ: "مَا هُنَّ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ؟" قَالَ:
"إِذَا لَقِيتَهُ فَسَلِّمْ عَلَيْهِ - وَإِذَا دَعَاكَ فَأَجِبْهُ - وَإِذَا اسْتَنْصَحَكَ فَانْصَحْ لَهُ - وَإِذَا عَطَسَ فَحَمِدَ اللَّهَ فَسَمِّتْهُ - وَإِذَا مَرِضَ فَعُدْهُ - وَإِذَا مَاتَ فَاتَّبِعْهُ"
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: 'The Muslim has six rights over another Muslim. It was said to him: 'O' Allah's Messenger, what are these?' Thereupon he said:
- When you meet him, offer him greetings;
- When he invites you to a feast, accept it;
- When he seeks your counsel (advice), give it to him;
- When he sneezes and says: "All praise is due to Allah," you say "Yarhamuk-Allah" (may Allah show mercy to you);
- When he falls sick, visit him
- And when he dies, follow his bier (Janazah). (Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim)
Reminding others was also a part of the stated mission of all previous prophets who were sent by Allah to guide humanity, as mentioned in the following verses of the Holy Qur'an.
Prophet Nuh (Noah) (alaihis salam), for example, explained his mission objectives to his people in the following words:
أَبَلِّغُكُمْ رِسَالاتِ رَبِّي وَأَنْصَحُ لَكُم وَأَعْلَمُ مِنَ اللهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُون
"I convey to you my Lord's messages and give you sincere advice. And I know from Allah what you do not know". (Al-Qur'an 7:62)
Prophet Hud (alaihis salam) said to his people:
أُبَلِّغُكُمْ رِسَالاتِ رَبِّي وأَنَا لَكُم نَاصِحٌ أَمِين
"I convey to you the messages of my Lord, and I am to you a trustworthy advisor" (Al-Quran 7:68)
Another example comes from Prophet Saleh (alaihis salam), who said to his people:
يَقَوْمِ لَقَدْ أَبْلَغْتُكُمْ رِسَالَةَ رَبِّي وَنَصَحْتُ لَكُمْ وَلَكِن لَا تُحِبُّونَ النَّاصِحِين
"O my people! Surely, I conveyed to you my Lord's message and gave you sincere advice, but you do not like sincere advisors." (Al-Qur'an 7:79)
In Arabic, the advice or giving a counsel to someone is called النصيحة (an-nasihah). A piece of sincere advice given at the right time and with proper etiquette tremendously helps a person overcome any challenges he/she has and opens the door to self-improvement. It also increases bonds of Islamic brotherhood, unites the community, and strengthens mutual love and respect for one another.
Describing the virtues of giving sincere advice, the Prophet of Allahﷺ said in another Hadith:
إِنَّ الدِّينَ النَّصِيحَةُ إِنَّ الدِّينَ النَّصِيحَةُ إِنَّ الدِّينَ النَّصِيحَةُ
قَالُوا: لِمَنْ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ: لِلَّهِ وَلِكِتَابِهِ وَلِرَسُولِهِ وَلأَئِمَّةِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَعَامَّتِهِمْ
"The religion of Islam is sincerity, the religion of Islam is sincerity, the religion of Islam is sincerity
(he said this three times). The companions said, "To whom O' messenger of Allah?" He said, "To Allah, to His Book, to His messenger, to the Imams and leaders (of the) Muslim (community), and to their common people."
(Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in by Sunan An-Nasa'i).
Besides explaining the virtues of giving advice, our beloved Rasulullah ﷺ also taught us necessary etiquette and required manners and characteristics of advising others. These prophetic techniques are conveyed to us through his narrations in authentic Ahadith books. They are simple, easily doable, and universal.
The following Hadith is an excellent example of how the Messenger of Allah ﷺ advised one of his companions, Mu'adh Bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him). In this Hadith, we can learn the prophetic technique of providing advice by unpacking the etiquette, understanding, and communication displayed by Rasulullah ﷺ:
عَنْ مُعَاذِ بْنِ جَبَلٍ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم أَخَذَ بِيَدِهِ وَقَالَ:
يَا مُعَاذُ وَاللَّهِ إِنِّي لأُحِبُّكَ وَاللَّهِ إِنِّي لأُحِبُّكَ
فَقَالَ: أُوصِيكَ يَا مُعَاذُ لاَ تَدَعَنَّ فِي دُبُرِ كُلِّ صَلاَةٍ تَقُولُ اللَّهُمَّ أَعِنِّي عَلَى ذِكْرِكَ وَشُكْرِكَ وَحُسْنِ عِبَادَتِكَ.
Mu'adh Ibn Jabal narrates that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ held his hand and he said:
"O' Mu'adh, By Allah I love you, by Allah I love you. Then he said: "I advise you not to miss this supplication after every Salah (prayer) in which you say: 'O' Allah help me remember You, give Shukr (gratitude) to You, and worship You in the best manner."
(Hadith narrated by Mu'adh Ibn Jabal in Abu Dawud & An-Nasa'i)
In this Hadith, the Prophet ﷺ presents a beautiful example of the steps needed before addressing the topic of advice itself. Rasulullah ﷺ asked Mu'adh to develop a permanent habit of saying a specific Du'a after every prayer. Still, prior to advising anything, Rasulullah ﷺ used the following three unique techniques as mentioned in this Hadith:
- He held Mu'adh's hand to express his love and affection for Mu'adh, grounding his words with sincerity.
- He expressed his love and affection for Mu'adh again. When addressing him the second time, he swore by Allah twice to express his affection for his companion.
- Then, he repeated his actual name, which encourages the listener to be attentive to what will be said. He then began giving his advice.
Our beloved Messenger of Allah ﷺ himself possessed outstanding character qualities. Allah SWT has praised him in the Qur'an by saying: وانك لعلى خلق عظيم
"And surely you [O' Mohammad] you are on an exalted standard of character". (Al-Qur'an: 68:4)
While giving advice, he ﷺ demonstrated love and affection to Mu'adh. He refrained from doing anything that could seem embarrassing or disrespectful to him. Thus, he taught us that by acquiring excellent character qualities, the advisor truly becomes a loving role model, and qualifies to be the most likable and trustworthy advisor. Everyone in the community feels comfortable listening to such advisors and takes their advice seriously. The advice-giving process becomes more beneficial, impactful, and result-oriented. By exhibiting this compassionate and genuine behavior before communicating anything, Rasulullah ﷺ has established his sincerity in the eyes of the listener, and thus increased the impact of his words.
Developing a sense of responsibility and self-accountability is an essential prerequisite to becoming an influential advisor. The prophet of Allah ﷺ says in a Hadith:
راع و كللكم مسؤل عن رعيته كللكم
"All of you are guardians and are responsible [accountable] for your subjects."
(Hadith narrated by Abdullah Ibn Omar in Sahih Al-Bukhari – Sahih Muslim)
The quality of Taqwa (righteousness and piety) is a virtue and an honor from Allah SWT. It motivates a person to act responsibly.
ان أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم
"Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you." (Al-Qur'an 49:13)
A righteous person is aware of his behavior and is always ready to accept the consequences of his actions. The quality of righteousness enables the advisor to understand others' pain and difficulties and give sincere and beneficial advice. Therefore, it's extremely imperative for the advisor to act responsibly and demonstrate effective self-control over his anger, emotions, and feelings, especially under stress. With congruency between one's speech and actions, the advisor succeeds in winning the people's trust, and everyone takes his advice seriously.
Proper understanding of the concept of Al-Amanah (trustworthiness) is another required prerequisite for the advisor. He/she must serve as a trustworthy advisor to ensure privacy and confidentiality of all matters. The quality of Al-Amanah (trustworthiness) is a unique character trait being practiced by all prophets of Allah. At the same time, they delivered Allah's message to their people in the most challenging circumstances. In the face of open resistance, mockery, and ridicule from their people, the beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, as well as all other prophets of Allah, demonstrated the quality of trustworthiness during their interactions with their people.
Now let's talk about the most amazing aspect of Rasulullah ﷺ's unique advice-giving technique. Allah SWT has taught him the art of delivering the most comprehensive statement using very few words. This beautiful skill is called جوامع الكلم (jawami’-ul-kalim), which means a brief, concise statement with a comprehensive meaning. Rasulullah ﷺ said in a Hadith:
وَأُوتِيتُ جَوَامِعَ الْكَلِم
"I have been given words which are concise but comprehensive in meaning."
(Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim).
The advice mentioned above to Mu'adh Bin Jabal is a perfect prophetic demonstration of jawami’-ul-kalim in his conversation. Here, while being purely focused on teaching Mu'adh Bin Jabal a simple Du'a, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ used the most relevant, brief, and concise words when he spoke to Mu'adh.
As a result, he ﷺ was able to encourage his student to learn, understand and practice the three important concepts of Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), Shukr, (giving thanks and gratitude to Allah), & Al-Ihsan (achieving the quality of excellence while performing the act of worship).
In the first part of the advice, for example, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has amazingly excited Mu'adh to learn about the importance, significance, and virtues of doing Dhikr, and motivated him to develop a permanent habit of saying the Dhikr frequently.
In the second part of the advice, the prophet of Allah ﷺ wanted to inculcate the concept of Al-Shukr (giving thanks and gratitude) and Al-Kufr (being ungrateful) in the mind of his student. He amazingly encouraged him to learn how to admit and recognize the divine bounty and thank Allah SWT as the bounty's sole Giver.
In the third and last part of his advice, Rasulullah ﷺ taught his student about how to achieve the level of Al-Ihsan (quality of excellence) in worship. He encouraged his student always to remember that (according to a lengthy Hadith known as Hadith Jibreel) the true definition of Al-Ihsan is:
الاحسان أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه فان لم تكن تراه فانه يراك
"The level of excellence in Ibadah is to worship Allah SWT as if you see Him and if you do not achieve this (high) status of devotion, then you must consider that Allah SWT is watching you (while you are in prayer).
(Hadith Narrated by Omar Bin Al-Khattab - Sahih Muslim)
In an increasingly polarized world, everyone wants to share their opinion and give advice to the other.
But it is essential to recognize that counsel must be done with Ikhlas (sincerity) and the sole intention of earning Allah SWT's pleasure. Additionally, it is vital for the advisor to always keep in mind that anything shared must be kept between the advisor and the advisee only. All matters must be discussed respectfully, in private, without humiliating anyone. Rasulullahﷺ said:
المسْلِمُ أَخُو المسْلِم لَا يَظلِمُهُ وَلَا يَخْذُلُهُ وَلَا يَحْقِرُهُ
"A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim. He neither oppresses him, nor does he look down upon him, nor does he humiliate him."
(Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in Sahih Muslim)
Advising others is essential to improving ourselves, our families, and our communities. Still, it is imperative to understand the significance, virtue, and etiquette behind this prophetic practice. We must also remember that while advising others for the sake of Allah (SWT) has its reward; our top priority needs to be improving ourselves.
Ustadh Ahmad Ansari is an educational consultant, speaker, and a former Islamic School Principal.