Assuming we have developed the attributes, the following are the steps we need to take to continue the journey.
1. Obedience – This is the first state that leads you to all the goodness. Obedience is so highly emphasised in Islam, that during congregational prayers, we are compelled to obey the imam, even if he has made a mistake. We are not allowed to leave the congregation during the prayer (although it is to be noted that the imam will bear the burden on behalf of the whole congregation for any errors during the prayer). It is the same for the family unit: the wife has to obey the father, and the children have to obey the parents. This right to obedience should not be confused by the wrongful or abusive implementation of those rights. In the current context, we are talking about the people who discharge their duties of leadership correctly.
To be victorious, consider what Allah wants from you. Your actions should be guided by how you are going to account to Allah. Our ultimate obedience should be to Allah and His messenger at all times. The obedience extends to parents, teachers, and the knowledgeable elder ones, as long as they do not ask you to disobey to Allah. The chain of obedience has to be intact, because without this pillar, everything else collapses.
2. Unity and Spending. Allah tells us in the Qur’an to unite for goodness and don’t unite in aggression and oppression. Individual achievements are limited without unity to help cement it. In Islam, every quality that we are asked to have, such as kindness, ability to sacrifice, and the willingness to give others, is only tested when we are united.
If we lack obedience, we will lack unity. This makes us begrudge spending in terms of our energy, time, goodwill, or even a smile. The lack of unity makes the heart hard and makes us stingy, arrogant, individualistic, selfish and greedy.
Such seemingly insignificant topics, if neglected, will be compounded to a disastrous outcome. Today, when we attend an Islamic event we cannot unite because our quality is lacking. We cannot spend in a smile or in humility. For example, what is the harm of being humble to each other for the sake of unity with Allah? What is wrong with subordinating our ego to let another person be the leader? Then, with this unity, we can be assured that any job will get done because of the unanimous obedience.
3. Naseehah, which means advice or good consultation. This has to be combined with wisdom and context. It has a fiqh, comprehension, understanding and manner. One speaks differently to a mother, son, daughter, husband, wife – everyone must render nasihah at different levels according to the recipient’s station in life. Otherwise we will give the correct advice, but in the wrong way, and in the wrong time, and to the wrong person. Giving advice in the wrong manner or without wisdom is problematic. If my nafs is high and I just want to bulldoze my advice, my nasihah will not yield any results.
In Islam, advice has to come from the heart, for the sake of Allah. If it originates from arrogance or it is given with the intention to degrade or humiliate, it will not benefit anyone. Islam always askes us to strike a balance between benefit and harm. For example, if I give you advice and this advice causes you to argue with me, then what is the benefit? We should think ahead about the consequences of our speech. Nasihah has to be combined with wisdom.
Imam Mawardi opined that the fool is the one who gives advice to who does not want or ask for it. Such advice will be ignored, rejected or lead to arguments. If you are arrogant and stubborn, you will not appreciate the damage. But if you have iman and humility, you will prepare the advice with wisdom, empathy and tact, so that the advice will be constructive. This skill again requires learning.
I once accompanied a scholar, and could not comprehend a single advice he gave. I was inwardly rebellious but remained silent. After making du’a I eventually comprehended, but it took me 5 years to understand his meaning, because his knowledge was so vastly superior that it took me half a decade to fully understand it!
As a recipient of advice, when you hear someone talk goodness, listen and don’t discard it. Maybe one day, years later, you will understand.
We need a certain quality to give or receive advice, and get over our arrogance and rebelliousness. In early Islam, scholars used to travel just to obtain knowledge and consultation from each other. Today we have lost much of those values.
4. Implementation of Advice: What if I talk to my husband, wife or children, and the words are not getting through? The problem not with them, it is me: perhaps my tone of voice, approach or maybe even the advice is wrong.
Take some beautiful water and throw it over rocks or sand. The water will simply slide off the rocks. The sand will drain the water, and then after 5 minutes, is dry again. We have plenty of such people in the ummah. Some are simply unable to accept advice. Others pretend to hear, but in fact they disregard everything you say, and respond with what you want to hear. Compounded with this is that people claim to have short attention spans and goldfish memories. This is a high degree of hypocrisy, and it exists in every society. Meanwhile, we ignore it when we are counselled. The children are watching and will replicate how we behave.
5. Consultation (shuraa): We need consultation and istikharah. We tend to wait until we are overwhelmed by desire first before performing istikharah, and we make up our mind first and then do istikharah as a token. This is the opposite of what Islam and relying on Allah is about. We should consult with learned ones before making any decision, instead of waiting too long – having fallen in love before investigating the background of the person first, for example.
Consultation seems to be a lost art now, due to our stubbornness and arrogance. Mothers are not thirsty for knowledge on child rearing, being happy to be stuck with what their mothers taught them. No husband I know has ever consulted on how to lead a family properly. Everyone is guilty of this – clinging on to our traditions without broadening our horizons for a better alternative.
No one is stopping us except for our own arrogance and stubbornness.
Giving consultation has to be mixed with haleem – patience, compassion, kindness and generosity. One of Allah’s attributes is Haleem which bears this meaning. We cannot be rough and impatient. We should keep tab of our goodness to those close to us – we should be soft and kind regardless.
To obtain this quality, we have to live by it. It is not a quality that infuses into our personalities just by reading or attending talks. Understanding the theory is one thing, but in repeating it without acting it out is akin to a parrot which just screeches empty words without understanding them. That is why we see families on fire, everyone is screaming at each other but no one is listening! And a decade later, their behaviour and method of communication is still the same!
If we don’t recognise and correct our mistakes, then we will repeat the habits and mistakes of our parents. However, we, unlike our parents, do not live in a time of ignorance. We are in the information age and have abundant literature and resources from which to learn. We have no excuse.
6. The benefit and harm. Everything we do or say should benefit society. A mu’min is supposed to be beneficial to others, and does not hurt himself and or others. The lack of all the above damages ourselves and those around us.
The starting point is the freedom of choice for the individual. Allah granted us with the capacity to make choices, and this is something we should have respect for. Rasulullah SAW never pushed anyone. He reasoned with and conversed with atheists, scholars and those of other faiths. He never debated or exerted force. If the person had no inclination to listen, he let them be. Oppression will achieve nothing. If we snatch someone’s freedom, no da’wah will ever succeed.
Give others the freedom of talking and interaction, even to criticise you. From objective and honest criticism, you can learn a lot about yourself. This freedom will allow us to have da’wah and generate a bond with each other based on frankness and transparency.
If one dictates what he wants without wanting to listen to the other, it doesn’t work. Respect is something that has to be given before it can be reciprocated.
Allah will never permit you to do da’wah if you have a bad manner, which is why you have to cleanse your faults first. If you want to do da’wah to your wife or husband, purify yourself and once you have quality, others will take notice. Earn the right to be listened to by listening first.