Self righteousness vs kindness when giving counsel

Self righteousness vs kindness when giving counsel

In the summary of Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, titled Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, The Forty Principles of the Religion, he talks about the concept of commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil, Al-amr bil marouf wa al nahiy anil munkar which is also known as hisbah.

This command is a safety plug for the community, which is not an obligation for scholars alone, but for every individual, as well as a communal and state obligation. In your house, in your work, wherever you go, you carry this responsibility. The attributes of the one who does this requires courage.

In order to do hisbah you need to have the right knowledge and character otherwise it will backfire. We often see this in our life that the person commanding good has delivered in such a harsh way that it left scars.


Hisbah this has been written about extensively. There is no equivalent word for it in English. It incorporates Shariah compliance, quality control checks such as to the market and checking the expiry date of products and their quality is part of hisbah, along with checking that the market is running in a fair way and rooting out any fraud or cheating. Hisbah is not just being a haram-police to see if you are praying or why you are not covered properly, it is a very broad term.

We have many books on this topic, if you do a search 100 titles come up. Imam al Mawardi and Ibn Taymiyyah , Abu Ya’la al-Hanbali and Ibn al Qayyim in I’lam al Muwaqq’een, Ibn Khaldun in his introduction Al Muqqadimah, An Nuwayri and al Qal-Qashandi. More recently we have masters and PhDs on hisbah in our modern context.

The government carries out different aspects of hisbah through bodies which keep checks on the maintenance of public law. This is similar to the prophetic practice of going to the market and checking what was going on and ensuring that traders were following good trading standards.

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

The Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) happened to pass by a heap of corn. He thrust his hand in that (heap) and his fingers felt wetness. He said to the owner of that heap of corn, “What is this?” He replied: “O Messenger of Allah! These have been drenched by rainfall.” He remarked, “Why did you not place this (the drenched part of the heap) over the corn so that people might see it? He who deceives is not of us.” (Muslim)

This continued after the death of the Prophet (peace be on him) and developed into a science, and a government department where people would be appointed to carry this out. For instance, Al-Shifa bint Abdillah in the life of Umar was doing hisbah in the market, in our modern terms she would be a quality control officer or compliance officer. Some might say this is a weak narration which does not show that it happened during the life of Umar, but it is not a fabricated narration. It is fine to quote a weak hadith which is related to history, not aqeedah or halal and haram.

This is a general overview of how hisbah developed and became refined. It has been adopted in common law in the West. You will be surprised at how much overlap there is between Islamic practices and Western common law if you do comparative studies, as practices do not develop in vacuums but are borrowed and copied from other traditions. Professor George Makdisi, a Palestinian Christian has written many papers on the influence of Islamic law on conventional law. The West took it and developed it and created policies and rules and regulations which stem from our Shariah. Of course I am not saying every single rule in the West is based on our Shariah.

Qualities you need to do hisbah – lutf, rifq and firmness

In order to do hisbah you need three qualities: gentleness (lutf), kindness (rifq) and firmness to be taken seriously by stubborn people. The one who is doing ehtisab (commanding good and forbidding evil), has to have kindness. Why? Because they are dealing with people and people have feelings. This is the first point. Avoid harshness and being rude, haughty or self-righteous. But you need to be firm to comply with the Shariah.

Intention and avoiding the self-righteous trap

When you are advising someone about something they have done wrong first consider if you should say something or stay silent. If there is no one else to do this and you have the right character then you have to do it wisely.

Make sure you have all the right information and the right intention. If you are going to tell them what to do because you think you know better than them or practice better than them or because they are not very good, then you have the wrong mentality. You are considering them to be lower than you. Then Allah will not benefit him from what you say and you will not be benefited from what you say. Purify your intention and do not consider that you are better than him. If the one on the receiving end feels you think you are superior to him, will not like it and will react in the wrong way. In his annoyance, he might say something wrong or curse you or say anything and do defy you by doing more of what is wrong. The whole situation of hisbah is reminding people to come back to Allah to do the right thing, but if you are doing this because you consider yourself more righteous it will backfire on you. Be careful not to fall into this trap.

The disobedient person offends the one who is forbidding evil. When you are reminding someone gently but he senses that you are showing off he might retaliate and be offensive. If you do not have the right qualities you will forget the purpose of your reminding and get into a fight with him and want revenge and then you will not be pursuing what is right but will have veered off into a personal agenda.

If you do not have good character you will fall into the trap of shaytan, you will think you are reminding them and they are sinful for not listening, but he is sinful and you are sinful for having the wrong approach.

In a good scenario, you had a good intention and you delivered it well but even when they did not take it well and reacted badly, you stayed composed and did not repel evil with evil, then it is a different story. Do not retaliate evil with evil. Do not lose your temper or create more evil. You have to bear this in mind or let your ego get in the way. You have to be able to deal with people and tolerate their harshness. If you cannot tolerate their harshness then do not approach them, as you will end up creating more evil than goodness.

Your intention should not be self-aggrandisement. Deep down you should not be looking forward to it and wanting to take the credit and broadcast it on social media. You should feel happier that someone else did it and sorted it, rather than annoyed that you missed the opportunity of doing it and making it viral. It is about sincerity and goodness. When you feel your ego is trying to take over, hold back.

Ghazali quoted a hadith which is weak but the meaning is in line with the principles of shariah.

No one commands good or forbids evil except the one who is gentle concerning what he commands and forbearing concerning what he forbids; and understanding of what he commands and understanding of what he forbids. (Al-Daylami)

There are three things here: firstly gentleness in what you are commanding or forbidding, then forbearance and patience and thirdly knowledge and understanding.

The key to people’s hearts is gentleness

During the time of Calipha Ma’mun, a wa’idh, the one who gives reminders, not necessarily a scholar (a’lim) or someone who delivers fatwas, came to him and admonished him harshly. Al-Ma’mun told him to calm down and be more gently, as Allah had sent someone better than the wai’dh to someone worse than himself, i.e Allah sent Musa to Firaun. Allah said to Musa (peace be on him):

And speak to him with gentle speech so that perhaps he will be reminded. (20:44)

Allah Almighty said to Musa to use gentle speech to man who said he one of the most vile men in creation, who said he was the highest Lord and even then Allah told Musa to deliver the message of Allah kindly and with mercy, not with a smack.  We are not here to smack people or harm people, we are here to deliver the message of Allah, which has to be delivered in the prophetic manner. Otherwise it will not reach their hearts.

Regardless who he is, we need to reach their hearts. Gentleness is the key to people’s hearts and harshness is the lock. You cannot access their hearts with harshness. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught Aisha and the Ummah:

Kindness does not exist in anything without making it better, and will not be taken away from anything without making it worse. (Muslim)

Of course we do not use kindness on the battlefield, but in everyday scenarios away from war zones, gentleness is the key to people’s hearts and minds. Do not confuse gentleness with weakness.

When you deal with people, be gentle. Allah Almighty described the Prophet (peace be on him)

So by mercy from Allah , [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]. (3:159)

The desire to clobber people over the head with the truth

Some people think that having the truth means they have the right to clobber people over the head with it to save them. This is completely wrong, They have their own minds and they make their own decisions, you cannot force them to choose the ‘right’ decision, even when they are your children and you feel they are heading like moths into the flame. It will not work and it will backfire. It will also leave them scarred, rather than save them.

As Allah Almighty told the Prophet (peace be on him) when he felt dejected by the rejection and hostility of the Quraysh in the Quran:

لَّسْتَ عَلَيْهِم بِمُصَيْطِرٍ

You have no control over them. (88:22)

وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ مَا أَشْرَكُوا ۗ وَمَا جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَيْهِمْ حَفِيظًا ۖ وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْهِم بِوَكِيلٍ

Had God willed, they would not have practiced idolatry. We did not appoint you as a guardian over them, and you are not a manager over them. (6:107)

You can use different techniques and styles as the Khateeb does when delivering his khubah, sometimes use a stern tone, sometimes use a soft one, however ultimately you cannot bash anyone into submission. Not even your own children. A beautiful example of how to deal with someone who is heading in the wrong direction, even when he is determined to do something completely haram is the story of the young man who wanted to commit zina.

The man who wanted to commit zina

A young man came to the Prophet (peace be on him) and asked for permission to commit zina (fornication). The people around him horrified by his question started shouting at him. The Prophet (peace be on him) told them to leave him alone and asked him to come forward.

Imagine the scene, they had probably just performed salah and were doing tasbih, when this young man came brimming full of testosterone and full of the confidence and lack of experience of youth. Those around him would have been astounded by the brazenness of his question. Yet the Prophet (peace be on him) remained utterly calm and told them to back off, and let him deal with it. Had he not been there, they might have beaten him up.

In his invitation to the man to come closer he created a situation of close proximity, which is very different to replying to someone at the back of the mosque. Instead by coming up close to the Prophet (peace be on him) they would be able to see each other’s facial expression, and body language and make eye contact with him. It is so important to have eye contact when you are providing someone an answer to their question, or a solution to their problem and you want them to understand. It breaks down any barriers between you. He would now feel the blessed presence of the Prophet (peace be on him) and this would instil peace in his heart after he had been shouted at by the congregation.

When the man came closer, the Prophet (peace be on him) did not simply reply, ‘no’ to his question, but asked him a series of questions in return. Would he be happy if his mother committed zina? To which he replied, ‘no’. Then he asked if he would be happy if his daughter did this. And then about his sister and aunts. Then the Prophet (peace be on him) explained that whoever he wants to commit zina with, will be either a mother/daughter/sister or aunt to someone. He put the man in the shoes of the woman’s relatives and shifted his mentality rather than shouting at him, ‘Don’t you know that zina is haram!!’ or ‘Haven’t you read the Quran?!’ Thus he delivered the answer in a beautiful way.

And the Prophet (peace be on him) put his hand on the chest of the youth. Inshallah, one day we will be close to the Prophet (peace be on him). Then the Prophet (peace be on him) made dua for Allah to purify his heart.

Allahumma tahhir qalbah. Waghfir dhambah, wa hassin farjah.

O Allah purify his heart and forgive his sins and guard his chastity

Effectively guard his chastity means facilitate marriage for him so he can fulfil his desire in a halal way.

The man had not yet committed zina but had naively came to the Prophet (peace be on him) thinking that if he got permission, he would commit it. He had controlled himself thus far and wanted prophetic approval. The Prophet (peace be on him) realised form the tone of his question how naïve he was.

Abu Umamah who narrated the hadith, did not name the man to keep his dignity. We learn from this that there is no need to name a person who asks a question if others can benefit from it, and it saves their dignity.

The Prophet (peace be on him) could have made a shorter dua, but he made a dua which was a complete package first to protect him from the whispers of shaytan, then for his sins to be deleted, so that his slate is cleared and he could start fresh, and asked Allah to resolve his problem.

The Prophet (peace be on him) dealt with situations with mercy and wisdom and kindness. The man left with light in his heart and a sin-free record, and he would have got married because of the dua of the Prophet (peace be on him). Allah would have responded. After the touch of the Prophet (peace be on him) on his chest, and his dua, nothing was more hated to him than zina.

You can make this dua for yourself:

اللهُمَّ اغْفِرْ ذَنْبِي وَطَهِّرْ قَلْبِي، وَحَصِّنْ فَرْجِي

Allaahummaghfir dhanbi wa ṭahhir qalbi, wa ḥaṣṣin farji

O Allah forgive my sin, cleanse my heart and guard my chastity.

May Allah enable us to carry out our responsibility of commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil in the prophetic manner. Ameen

Shaykh Haytham Tamim – The Thursday Class on Imam Al Ghazali’s Forty Principles of the Religion

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The first 6 rules of how to deal with people

Dealing with gossip (7-8)

How to deal with people according to their status (9-11)

Cover the faults of others (12-13)

Shake hands (15 continued)

Defend others in their absence, be tactful, be cautious of the company of the rich (16-18)

Avoid the people of ghaflah

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001. His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College). He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.