On Judging Others and Accepting Advice

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Guest writer Zaineb Shebani eloquently discusses the mannerisms of providing advice and how we may be falling short on this right.


I recently came across an article posted by a friend on Facebook that had a picture of a woman wearing a headscarf and a full sleeved long dress that was very form fitting and clearly outlined her figure. She was standing next to her husband at a ceremony. The article was referring to how modest the woman looked in her hijab and how committed she was to her faith for dressing modestly while being in an atmosphere in which all the other women were wearing revealing gowns.

I could see that many of my female Muslim friends were reposting the link; and reading the comments on their posts, I noticed that their Muslim friends were praising the woman in the article for her modesty and saying that she was an inspiration to other Muslim women.  While I admire her courage and confidence to wear the headscarf and cover her body in such an environment, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the fact that the article was giving the wrong message to Muslims and non-Muslims because her dress did not meet the Islamic standards of hijab.

I debated on whether I should repost the link and share my opinion about it as I am aware of how hijab has now become such a sensitive and controversial topic. I was afraid I would be criticized and receive comments from people who disagree with me and that a heated discussion may arise from the post. However, I remembered that as Muslims it is our duty to remind and guide one another of what is right and wrong and so decided to go against my fears and post my opinion anyway.

As expected, I received several comments accusing me of being judgmental. I was also accused of backbiting and even received a comment from someone criticizing my own hijab.  Some of the comments, in fact, were so offensive; I decided to delete the entire post from my wall.

It saddens me to see how Muslim women are no longer open to accepting advice about hijab. While everyone’s hijab, including myself, can be improved on so many different levels, it does not mean that we cannot remind one another of the proper Islamic dress code. What I find most disappointing is how many Muslims nowadays automatically assume you are judging others when the topic of modesty is brought up. When I posted the link, I had no intention of judging the woman and did not criticize her faith in any way.  Only Allah (swt) knows what’s in her heart and I am fully aware that she could be a much better Muslim than I am, but that wasn’t the point. The point was the wrong image the article was portraying about hijab; and with my sincere intentions, I simply wanted to point that out.

The same goes for when we advise those who don’t wear hijab or don’t wear it properly. Just because someone reminds you of how Allah (swt) asked us to dress, it does not mean that they are looking down upon you; nor does it mean that they are judging you. It simply means that they are following their duty as Muslims by conveying Allah’s message and enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong.

Why is it that when it comes to advice about praying or fasting or any other form of ibadah (act of worship), we are open to it and never do we assume that the person giving the advice is judging our faith nor do we consider his/her intentions negative? On the contrary, we usually reflect on our ibadaat and try to make ourselves better. Why is the topic of hijab a different story then? Is hijab not a fard (obligation) like praying and fasting? Why do we consider speaking the truth of how Allah (swt) asked us to dress a form of negative judgment and make assumptions about the intention of the person giving the advice? If you think about it, when we make these accusations and assumptions, we are actually the ones being judgmental.

Keeping quiet about the truth clearly goes against the Islamic teachings, and as Muslims it is an obligation to advise our brothers and sisters. The Prophet (pbuh) said:  ‘The deen (religion) is naseeha (advice)’ [Muslim]. Therefore, we must keep in mind that we represent Islam and are held accountable for giving and accepting knowledge.

I understand that there are many Muslims who may advise others in an impolite or aggressive manner, but we should always give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt and not so easily pass judgments about their intentions. We shouldn’t get angry with the way in which people advise us nor should we accuse them of things that may not be true, instead we should thank them for their advice and then kindly remind them of the correct manner in which a Muslim should speak to his/her brother or sister.  It could just be that your fellow Muslim does not know the correct techniques for giving advice, and it is your duty to address that by giving polite naseeha in return.

We are, of course, free to choose whether we want to accept advice or not, as Allah (swt) said: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ (Qur’an 2:256), and the job of the person giving naseeha is only to convey the message and not to force it upon anyone. What we must not do, however, is promote what goes against Islamic teachings by stating our own opinion of what we perceive to be right.  When we do this, it means we are misrepresenting Islam by spreading misinformation.

In a lecture I once attended by Shaikh Khalid Yasin, he so beautifully phrased the importance of accepting advice. He said that humans are like upside down glasses: when we try to pour knowledge into their hearts, it never goes in; so we should turn ourselves right side up and allow knowledge to be poured into our hearts because we never know which drop of water might save our life.

So, my dear respected sister in Islam, please be more open-minded towards accepting the advice of our brothers and sisters who want what’s best for this ummah (Muslim community), because you never know which piece of advice could be the reason behind your guidance. I understand the struggles and temptations a lot of Muslim women go through and face nowadays and how difficult it may be for them to wear hijab or wear it properly; but if we cannot be more open minded towards changing our attitudes regarding accepting advice, then Allah (swt) will never open up our hearts and guide us.

I would like to end by saying that I am not a scholar, but a simple practicing Muslimah; and that the advice above is addressed to me before it is to anyone else. So, please accept this humble piece of advice from a sister who has the interest of the Muslim ummah at heart.  May Allah (swt) guide us all to the correct hijab. Ameen.

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  • Mai

    That is the thing about giving naseeha. I was listening a speech by an imam ( I really can’t recall which one at the moment) and it was mentioned that when giving advice, it should be done in private and not out in the public. Maybe it would have been more appropriate. I know it is quite difficult to give naseeha to our Muslim sisters/brothers but there are certain things we ourselves need to look into before we can advice them.

  • http://www.dearlittleauntie.blogspot.com/ Little Auntie

    I think this was a great topic to bring up. Jazakillah for sharing =)

  • tahmina khatun

    thank you for the reminder . it’s so hard to give advise and we keep quiet cos we are scared of what the other person would say i will take your advise inshallah and give advice the best as i can for allah sake and take it the best way i can jzkallah for the reminder sis :)

  • Nazreen

    Assalamualaikum!

    This is an excellent topic and requires much looking into. However, there is a reason why so many muslim women are defensive when it comes to remarks on their hijab. I would say advice given in the wrong way has something to do with it. While it’s important that we advice our brothers and sisters in faith, the manner of advising is pertinent too. I’ve seen countless images comparing the different levels of correctness of hijab. And some of the comments on those pictures can be extremely hurtful to someone who is just embarking on their journey with the Hijab. Sensitivity is the need of the hour. Before advising anyone we need to know their story. maybe it’s a sister who has just started wearing hijab and is slowly correcting herself with baby steps. Or maybe it’s someone who is wearing it inspite of opposition back home so has to wear it in a manner which won’t outrage her relatives.I would love to see an article addressing this issue of sensitivity in the process of advising. 

    PS- I do believe that everyone has to be open to criticism, because, like you said, you never know what may guide you!

    Wassalam

  • Abu Yusuf

    Salaam Alaykum,

    Sister Mai resonated a thought that occurred to me that perhaps advising that sister privately might have been more appropos. However, I also understand the author’s take because she was fighting against the false notion of hijab that was being spread by all the re-posters. I don’t think I will see the day in USA where hijabi sisters (or I should say head-scarf wearing sisters are actually wearing hijab). Only about 10% of so-called hijabis are actually fulfilling the requirements of hijab. The other 90% might as well show their hair. To a man, seeing a woman’s hair is definitely enticing but much less so than seeing the shape of her physique, which is what the 90% of head-scarf wearing sisters in USA do. Regarding the author’s say

  • Abu Yusuf

    ing that keeping quiet about the truth goes against Islamic teachings, that’s not quite true. One always has the option to remain quiet but if one does that in the face of seeing something wrong, then it is still acceptable but a weaker form of faith. One has to weigh the pros and cons of speaking out. I remember the speech of one Muslim speaker who found a scantily dressed woman in the airplane. But to his amazement when it was time for Salaah, she got up in the overhead cabin, pulled out a hijab and made wudu and prayed. He approached her and without making eye contact (lowering gaze) he complimented her heavily first by saying masha’allah you are so keen to uphold salaah and may we recommend that it would also be very beneficial if you wear hijab as well. And the lady took it very nicely and asked the Imam to make du’a for her. Contrast that to if a person had written on that person’s facebook page wall. May not have had the same effect. Also, there is a gender bias here as well. I think women take advice from men much better than when they hear it from other women – catfight syndrome.

  • Azlin

    I agree on the general principle emulated here, although I do understand the dilemma that the author was in – reposting the photo to promote a principle and raise awareness v keeping quiet. However, the implementation of the duty to remind does have its own set of rules – only the author would know if she observed these when reposting the photo.

  • http://qatheworld.wordpress.com/ QaTheWorld

    Very good and timely topic! I am sorry you had such an experience with people accusing you of being judgmental (in a negative way) but I can’t say I’m surprised. No matter how well meaning the advice or evaluation, it’s becoming taboo to say anything these days. I applaud you for speaking out :). I think we all need to be more willing to say what is right and wrong as enjoined upon us, as well as to accept the advice of others. A judgement call, too, is not necessarily bad (I recently blogged about this issue in fact myself: 
    http://qatheworld.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/judging-judgements/ ). 
    I remember an interesting conversation I had at a family get-together recently regarding advice. One person commented that nobody who asks for advice actually wants to receive it, and one by one everybody around the room agreed that they did not like to hear advice, except me! The funny thing is my family is probably the most free with advice of any people I’ve ever encountered :P if something exists, we have an opinion on it and will probably say so. But actually I like to ask advice about things especially important matters in my life, and get other people’s input. It doesn’t mean I’m necessarily going to do what they say, but I do think that it can get a person thinking and sometimes broaden their viewpoint. I do try to be cognizant of others in giving my advice, but I feel an obligation to both speak up for what is right and to tell my real opinion if somebody asks, as well. 

  • Azlin

    ASM, sorry, I really have to say my peace. There is an Islamic etiquette to giving advice – not just on hijab but on things in general, I suggest that everyone takes some time to refresh their memories – how it is done, the manner in which it is done, and even if it should be done in the first place. Even if the intention is commanding the right and prohibiting the wrong, there is a manner (adab) to it. Naming and shaming, for example, is not the best approach, no matter how well intentioned (although I form no view on whether the author did the right thing – this is a discussion forum, not a courtroom). Although I don’t always share Bro Abu Yusuf’s views, the point made in his second posting below is an excellent example.

  • Nadia

    It is unacceptable to offer a public criticism about anyone prior to exhausting private criticisms. Your comment on a photo about someone was erroneous, and very plausibly haram, because you had not (according to this article) made numerous attempts to advise the woman in private.

    If you were concerned about other individual’s misunderstandings about the protocol of Islamic fashion, then again a public reprimand was out of line. The proper approach would be to contact those people individually and in private with an explanation of the proper protocol of Islamic wear.

  • Huda

    Jazak Allahu khairun for such a timely article! This is a topic that needs much addressing in this time. I’d like to say that from reading the comments below, it seems that some of the readers have misunderstood the authors point. The author wasn’t offering public advice to any specific person, she was merely pointing out that reposting the link was giving a wrong image of hijab. The comments she received in return was the reason why she spoke about how girls are not open to accepting advice about hijab anymore. I could understand the authors dilemma because something similar happened to me once. I posted something about hijab (general advice – not specific to anyone) on my wall and received several harsh comments which were quite hurtful. I agree that when giving advice we should be sensitive to other people’s feelings, but why is it that we aren’t sensitive to the people who give the advice? Just because you don’t agree with the advice, doesn’t mean you should make the person giving the advice look bad. I really liked the quote the author posted about humans being upside down glasses. It’s very true in this time, not many people want to listen to advice anymore – whether it is given to them privately or as general advice. 

  • Ruhi

    Jazak Allahu khair! Masha Allah that was a beautiful reminder..! & so true..! May Allah ta’ala guide us all to the straight path..!

  • http://serenitypearls.wordpress.com/ Serenitypearls

    Assalam u alaikum, could not have agreed with you more. Before I changed, I remember having extremely harsh feelings towards those who directly advised me to cover up as it felt like they were invading my private space. However when I did change was because of the people who showed me (not told me) how HAYA (not hijab in the clothing sense) protects the girls and why it is important for us to act upon it. I’m not in anyway proposing that my behavior was justified towards the sisters who were more direct in advising. However, sadly this is the condition of most of the girls. And the sisters giving advice always have to work with caution and wisdom. Sometimes a good advice can have an opposite effect and lead the person even further away from the religion. 
    I understand the author’s dilemma here as she was merely trying to stop a false perception of hijab from spreading. However at times it is better to give subtle hints, and find alternative ways of showing people what hijab really is. In this case, in my humble opinion, it might have been more beneficial to write a whole new article explaining the beauty and purpose of hijab without any reference to the previous article. 
    Nonetheless, it is nice to see sisters who are actively trying to spread the message of Islam to others, mashaAllah! Just a little fixes here and there will inshaAllah make the approach more effective. It is only Allah swt who guides everyone, all we have to do is try to put our best foot forward :)