Prophetic wisdom on the etiquettes of a group of three
Abdullah bin Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
إِذَا كُنْتُمْ ثَلاَثَةً فَلاَ يَتَنَاجَى اثْنَانِ دُونَ الثَّالِثِ، فَإِنَّهُ يُحْزِنُهُ ذَلِكَ.
‘When three of you get together in company, two of you must not talk privately while isolating the third so as not to make him feel sad because he’s been left out, till you mingle with other people’[Bukhari and Muslim. Wording of Imam Muslim]
In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) is teaching individuals and the community how to navigate social interactions. We will explore how this seemingly insignificant instance in a gathering has greater ramifications and the precision with which the Prophet (peace be on him) guided us.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) shows us the best manners when three people are together in company. It is rude for two of them to talk privately, and exclude the third. This would obviously make the third person unhappy, regardless if he/she has a good relationship with the other two or not.
Don’t open the gate to Shaytan’s whispers
When you have a conversation that two people are involved in, Shaytan will sneak in and whisper things and trigger ideas in your mind and heart and imagination which will create trouble.
This third person might jump to various conclusions, such as ‘They have left me out because they don’t like me’, ‘They must be criticising the way I am dressed’, or ‘They are backbiting me’. It may not be the case, but Shaytan is sitting and waiting for such opportunities to poison our thoughts. Otherwise you allow people to form bad opinions and make false assumptions, so is it better to shut the gate for Shaytan’s whispers.
Keeping the conversation open to all people present, prevents anyone feeling offended, snubbed or hurt, and minimises the risks of later conflicts ensuing.
Sowing seeds of conflict
One might argue it is not a big deal for two people to chat together, leaving out the third. However, the sadness they created by excluding the third person, can sow the seeds for greater discontent later.
Next time the third person sees them he will remember that he was ignored and may now blank them, or not invite them because of that bad experience. They might have no idea that they left you with a scar on your heart.
Those later conflicts may stem from small incidents, which had no idea that you contributed to or sowed the seeds of in the first place. The Prophet (peace be upon him) is teaching us to be careful not to instigate any bad feelings in anyone’s heart.
Basic foundation for Islam
The historical background to this hadith, is that in pre-Islamic jahiliyah times, people would have private discussions while others were present, and the following day, they might kill one of them.
This practice of private talks is not conducive to peace and harmony in the community. When you have peace, you do not hatch plots against your brothers and sisters.
Similarly, speaking a language among yourselves, which excludes the people present is also not good manners. It is the same as excluding others from a secret or private conversation. The etiquette adab is to give high consideration to people’s feelings.
Otherwise you block the good in a relationship, before it has even started.
Postpone private conversations or leave the room if necessary
Somebody might say, ‘Our private discussion has nothing to do with him or her, whatsoever’ or ‘We are just discussing issues related to our family and he’s not a member of our family’ If this is the case, they should postpone it to avoid the shaytanic whispers.
You might sometimes need to have a private discussion, but if that is the case, it is better to leave, and go to a different room, or outside and then come back.
Be considerate. Do not ignore the etiquettes even when they seem insignificant because they promote better relationships. Unless there are many people present, having groups splintering off into multiple conversations should be avoided.
Don’t ignore others
Sometime, we are not very considerate of these etiquettes. Not intentionally, but because we are unaware of the etiquettes we should follow.
Sometimes, we do not talk in private, or in a different language, but we deliberately ignore someone. This happens at social gatherings, in workplaces and at the school gates. A person blanks another person they know, and acts as if the other person does not exist. They may even say salam to everyone in the room except them. This is not good manners at all.
We need to get beyond such politics, and establish new etiquettes in line with the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and show respect to everyone in your presence. Sometimes we are weak and petty. Of course, we do not get along with every single person in the world, but we do not need to be unkind towards anyone. We should keep good relationships with everyone.
Being kind to people you don’t like is not hypocrisy
Being polite and courteous to people you do not like is not being hypocritical. We should not create enemies unnecessarily. It is more easy to create enemies than friends. However, by wise and diplomatic we can maintain functioning relationships with those we clash with without creating enemies.
This is the category of person who is neither a friend nor an enemy. Whereas if you make them an enemy, you will feel the negativity of it.
I remember once I was in a conference workshop and the person leading the workshop ignored me completely. Every time I asked a question he behaved as if me could not see me and I did not exist. I asked him later why he had behaved like that. He denied doing it but I might have been mistaken once or twice, but when it happened three or four times you can conclude that it is deliberate. It left me wondering what was wrong with him. We had never met before, and I had nothing against him, he shouldn’t have had anything against me. I don’t know what was in his mind, or in his heart, as it was the first time I had met him. When you are ignored it makes you feel upset.
Behaving badly due to prejudices
At another Islamic conference I attend regularly, I once met a new member who was non-Muslim. I greeted everyone including him and tried to ask him what he did, but found that every time I said something, he would pick on me. I found this very strange. I wondered why he would behave like this as I had never met him before. During the break, I realised the problem. He exploded with a myriad prejudices. He was filled with false assumptions and began putting words in my mouth, ‘You’re saying this because you are against Christianity…’ I was shocked and said, ‘I never said this’ so I turned to his Christian friend and asked him if he understood the same from my words but he had not. He had come prejudiced.
The prophetic way is to give your full attention
Some people will imagine that you have slighted them, when you have not. Therefore try your best not to allow negative thoughts to enter their mind through your actions.
These actions begin from how you greet them and treat them, the way you speak to them, they way you give them your attention or lack of attention, the way you look at them or ignore them. Your body language speaks volumes. And this why when you read about the body language of the Prophet (peace be upon him), who was the best role model, that he would always turn his body towards them and give them his full attention.
If somebody was on his left or right side, he wouldn’t just turn his neck, he would turn his whole body to face them. It’s a small gesture, but packed with meaning. It says, ‘I am all ears’, listening to you with my heart. You do not get the same message if someone only turns their neck towards you, or you answer them without looking at them. When you do not look at them at all, it is as if you are saying, ‘You are not important enough for me to give you my attention’.
Delete the scars on your heart
Bad memories stay with us longer than happy memories. Even when you have a very nice evening, if someone says something rude to you, you are more likely to remember that comment over the 5000 words you heard that evening. We have to learn how to delete these memories. That person may even have apologised for their comment, but you find it hard to let go and move on.
Many people specialise in rewinding bad memories in their mind. This is a bad habit, which makes the wound deeper. There are ways of stopping this by consciously realising that you are doing it. Otherwise it can lead to psychological illnesses, depression, anxiety and isolation. We all have such moments in our life and we have to try our best to move on, and if we need specialist help then we should take it.
Being inconsiderate of others’ feelings is prohibited
إِذَا كُنْتُمْ ثَلاَثَةً فَلاَ يَتَنَاجَى اثْنَانِ دُونَ الثَّالِثِ، فَإِنَّهُ يُحْزِنُهُ ذَلِكَ.
Scholars have commented that when the Prophet (peace be upon him) said fala la yatanaja (no not exclude) the third, faina dhalika yuhzinuhu as it ‘creates sadness in someone’s heart’ he prohibited it. The majority of the scholars say it is prohibited and many of them say at the minimum it is very disliked.
We understand from this that to create bad feelings in someone’s heart is punishable while creating good feelings is rewarded. This is the balance and this is why in many narrations the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned that it is very rewarding to bring happiness to your brother’s heart.
Introducing new rules
The Prophet (peace be upon him) does not just how we should behave but explains the reasoning. This is important when you are introducing a new rule, which is not the normal practice, so people can understand why they should do it.
Otherwise they might say, ‘We’ve been doing this all our lives, so why shouldn’t we keep doing it?’
When the government introduced new rules about wearing masks and social distancing they set out the reasons why, because people do not like to change social customs. Having this respect for people’s intellect is good when dealing with your spouse, your children, the community, employees, and friends.
Rules that take human emotion into account
In this hadith, we see the consideration being given to human emotions. In general rules are not made with this in mind. I don’t know of any law in the world, which was made to give consideration to human feelings. However, here the rule has been made so that one’s behaviour does not create sadness in your brother’s heart or sister’s heart. This is the high etiquette of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Transforming rude ignorant practices to create a kinder society
The Prophet (peace be upon him) was considerate of people’s feelings especially as he was trying to create a harmonious, loving and caring community. Anything that disturbs this is either prohibited or very disliked. It is not the prophetic practice. The Prophet (peace be upon him) never did this.
The Prophet (peace be on him) was guiding the people of his time through a process of transformation from jahiliyah (ignorance) to Islam; sadly we still have jahiliyah in some communities in the 21st century.
We need to go back to the basics he taught us, so we can have this transformation in our habits. So we need to make our customs in line with the Sharia.
We don’t tweak the Sharia to be in line with our habits and traditions when these traditions and habits are contradict the Sharia.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – Sunday Hadith Class
Transcribed by Rose Roslan
From the collection of hadith in Ibn Hajar al Asaqalani’s Bulugh al Maram. Taken from the last chapter in his book, which is Kitab al Jami (The Comprehensive Book), which is a collection of etiquettes.
Ibn Mas’ud – the narrator
The narrator of the hadith was a great faqi, in the great houses of the Quran, a great reciter of the Quran and a great judge and the Prophet (peace be upon him) sent him to different places, including Yemen and Baghdad. He established a school and it was from the School of Ibn Mas’ud that the school of Abu Hanifah started. Although Abu Hanifah did not meet Ibn Mas’ud his school has a direct connection with the School of Ibn Mas’ud as he learnt from those shuykh.
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