Criticizing others In Islam – How and How not to do it!

Sometimes we think that criticizing others somehow gets us closer to them, or strength our own personality.

The truth is that criticism does not prove your shrewdness. On the contrary, your ability to avoid it as much as possible, and attempt to correct people in ways that do not cause them any hurt or embarrassment is the indication of an astute person.

There are cases, in which it is preferable you remain oblivious, especially when they involve worldly issues and personal rights. The leader of a people is not the one who is foolish. The leader of a people is the one who pretends to be foolish. The one who is criticized views criticisms as sharp arrows directed towards him, because he feels he is deficient. This is the first point.

The second point is to try to avoid as much as you can, advising someone in public.

Advise me in private freely. But do spare me of your advice in public. For the advice given in public is a form of rebuke I do not like to hear.

When a mistake becomes widespread and you feel compelled to advise a person publicly, then adhere to the principle: “What is wrong with the people that they do such and such?” as the Prophet used to say.

If the Messenger of Allah ever noticed a person making a mistake, he would not confront him directly. Rather, he would say, “What is wrong with the people, who do such-and-such?” which would indirectly imply, “I mean by that you, dear neighbor, so please pay attention!”

What can be better for you than to say to your wife, who does not keep the house tidy, “Yesterday, we stayed with a friend of mine, and everyone praised the cleanliness of his house.”

What can be better than for you to say to your son, who does not pray in the mosque, “I am amazed at this person in our neighborhood! I never seem to miss him in the mosque at all!” Meaning, “It is you I am referring to so please pay attention!”

It is right for you to ask why people dislike criticism, to which I would say in response, “Because it makes them feel deficient. Everyone loves perfection.” It is the constant feeling in a person to be recognized and acknowledged as being important that drives him.

A bee and a fly… Be like a bee that seeks out the scent and ignores the filth. Do not be like a fly that seeks out the bloody wounds.

Criticism is like a whip which the critic uses to lash someone’s back. Some people repel others either by the excessiveness of their criticisms or by criticizing bygone things where their criticisms do not rectify any wrongdoing or achieve any objective.

Once upon a time, there lives the plight of a poor man who had left his land for another country to work as a truck driver.

One day, he was very tired, but he managed to force himself to sit in the truck and drive it a long way between two cities. On the way, he was overtaken by slumber. He tried to fight off sleep and accelerated a little.

He overtook a car in front of him without paying full attention, only to encounter another small car heading towards him with three passengers. He tried to steer away from but could not and collided into the car head-on.

There was a lot of dust and smoke at the scene, and the passersby began to stop their cars to witness the accident. The truck driver came out and looked at the car, then looked at the passengers to find them all dead.

The people took the passengers out of the car and called an ambulance. The truck driver sat there waiting for the ambulances to arrive. He began to think about what might happen to him from imprisonment or having to pay blood-money.

He began to think about his young children and his wife. Poor man! His worries heaped onto him like a mountain.

The people began to verbally attack him as they passed by. Astonishing! Was this the time to heap criticism on the poor fellow? Could it not have been delayed a little, until the driver came out of his shock?

One of them said, “Why do you drive fast? This is the result of speeding!”

The other said, “I have no doubt you were sleepy, and despite that, you continued driving! Why didn’t you stop the car and sleep?”

Yet a third person said, “People like you should never be given a driving license!”

People were making these comments very harshly, screaming violently.

All the while, the man was sitting silently on a rock with his head in his hands, and suddenly, he fell to his side − dead.

They killed him by the spontaneity and ruthlessness of their criticisms. If only they had waited for a little, it would have been better for him and them.

Just place yourself in the shoes of the one who is criticized, the one who is wrong, and think from his point of view. If you were to be in his place, you would probably make a mistake bigger than his.

The Prophet (pbuh) was always conscious of this. When the Prophet (pbuh) with his Companions departed from Khaybar, they traveled for a long time until they became tired.

When evening approached, they stopped at a place to sleep. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Who would make sure that we wake up for Fajr so we may sleep in peace?” Bilal – may Allah be pleased with him – who was very eager, said, “I shall wake you up, O Messenger of Allah!”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) then lied down, as did the people and they all fell asleep. Bilal stood up and prayed until he became tired since he too was tired due to the long journey. He sat down and leaned against his camel to rest.

As the time for Fajr began to enter, his eyelids felt heavier and heavier till he slipped into a slumber. They were all very tired, hence they all overslept. The night passed and morning came, whilst they all remained asleep and were only awoken by the heat of the sun.

The Prophet (pbuh) woke up, and so did the people. When they saw the sun they became confused and clamorous. Everyone by now was looking at Bilal.
The Prophet (pbuh) looked at Bilal and said, “What have you done to us, O Bilal?”

In response, Bilal said briefly, yet explaining what precisely happened, “O Messenger of Allah! My soul was taken by the One Who took your soul.” Meaning, I am a human being. I tried to ward off sleep but I wasn’t able to. I was overtaken by sleep just as the rest of you were!

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “You have spoken the truth”, and remained silent. What would the benefit have been in blaming anyone? When the Prophet (pbuh) saw that the people were confused, he said to them, “let’s embark!’ They all set off. He then walked for a while and stopped by a place as they all did. They all made ablution for prayer, and the Prophet led the people in prayer.

After concluding the prayer, the Prophet (pbuh) turned to the people and said, “If you ever forget to pray then pray as soon as you remember.”

How excellent he was! How wise he was! He served as a learning center for every leader, unlike some modern-day leaders who rarely avoid blaming and scolding.

The Prophet (pbuh) would place himself in the shoes of those under him, and think from their perspective. He would deal with the hearts, before dealing with the bodies. He knew that they were merely human beings and not machines!

Verify the fault before criticizing

How many are those who draw a conclusion or form views based on a rumor they may hear! Many of them come to advise you only to discover that they were following hearsay.

Many of them allow these rumors to become imprinted in their hearts and on that basis they paint a picture of you, which happens to be false.

Sometimes it becomes widespread that so and so did such and such. In order to preserve the respect he has for you, verify the news before speaking to him, and this was the methodology of the Prophet (pbuh).

A man came to the Prophet (pbuh) and the Prophet looked at him only to notice a man in a shabby state, his hair covered in dust. The Prophet (pbuh) wanted to advise him to improve his appearance, but he feared that the person might be a pauper who had no money.

So he asked him, “Do you have any wealth?” The man said, “Yes, I do.”
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “What sort of wealth?” The man said, “All sorts of wealth: camels, slaves, horses, cattle, etc.”

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “If Allah has given you wealth, then let it be shown on your person.” Then he said, “Does your camel give birth to young ones with sound ears, but you get hold of a blade and cut off the ears and call it Baheerah? And do you cut a bit of it, or cut its skin and call it Sarm, thereby making it forbidden for yourselves and your family?”

The man said, “Yes.” The Prophet (pbuh) replied, “Verily, what Allah has given you is Halaal. Allah’s blade is the sharpest!” (al-Hakim who declared in Sahih)

Now whip me gently, Kill gently…

What has preceded does not mean that we should not criticize at all. Often it is required to criticize others, including your son, wife or friend. It is, however, possible to delay your criticisms slightly or to use subtle tactics. Let him retain some of his honor.

“Verily, Allah has enjoined excellence with regard to every- thing. So, when you kill, kill in a good way; when you slaughter, slaughter in a good way; so every one of you should sharpen his knife, and let the slaughtered animal die comfortably.”

Source: Enjoy Your Life By Dr. Muhammad ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-‘Arifi

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