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adab of giving counsel, dispensing advice

Religion is good counsel

Giving good and true advice and counseling are part of wholesome actions ('amal salih). By the saying of the Prophet, "To give counseling is part of Deen (religious ways)" - is a God given duty, specially for the saints and friends of God to offer beautiful advice and counseling to all. The Quran describe true counseling as one of the most wholesome action that is not comparable to other temporal activities that human beings engage with.

"You must be of good counsel to all.. The highest point of this is that you conceal nothing from them which if made known would result in good or preserve from something evil. The prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) has said, "Religion is good counsel" Part of this is to support a brother in his absence as you would in his presence, and not to give him more verbal signs of affection than you have for him in your heart. It is also part of this that when one asks you for advice, and you know that the correct course does not lie in that which he is inclined to do, you should tell him so."
- Imam al-Haddad on Giving Good Counsel in the
Book of Assistance

Adab or Spiritual Etiquette of Giving Counsel

Adab is disciplined and refined ways of being, acting and speaking. The model of 'adab in the Sufi tradition is the Prophet Muhammad, who said: "None of you will have authentic faith until your hearts are made right, nor will your hearts be made right until your tongues be made right, nor will your tongues be made right until your actions be made right."

There is 'adab (holy etiquette) for every noble action and imparting true advice and good counseling is not excluded from its proper conduct. First rule is don't give advice unless you have permission from your Master, your Lord. Some may exclaim: "Oh! this is an impossible condition. How can I receive God's permission? Surely I can't expect that God will directly speak to me or inspire me to that degree of clarity which are station of Prophets and Messengers."

Yes it is true that God doesn't speak directly except behind veils or medium or Signs.

Give advice only when people ask for it or when people look for one to hear from. The very act of people seeking you or looking up at you for counseling is God's permission to you to give advice. That has been the way of awliya, the friends of God - the ones who are guided and who guided others.

However, one may wonder should I not give advice to someone whom I may see doing wrong, or not finding the easy way or looking for something beneficial which he or she lack but you may have (such as knowledge of particular subject). The reply to this question is that yes one is permitted by the sharia and through the injunction in the holy way to enjoin good and forbid wrong (Quran 3:110). The very action that you are brought in proximity to a person who need advice and you are shown the need of the needy is also bi izni'Llah, by God's permission. In these circumstances rendering proper advice is of merit that is rewarded by God in the hereafter.

And the faithful men, and the faithful women are friends to one another: They command that which is just, and they forbid that which is evil; and they are constant at prayer, and pay their appointed alms; and they obey God, and his apostle: Unto them will God be merciful; for God [is] Mighty, Wise. - The Quran 9:71

Watching out

The ego find its food from spiritual pride and arrogance that are borne from the craving to give advice prematurely without working for one's own sincere heart. Those who have freed themselves from the bondage of their ego are fit to give advice and they are sought for that.

In all of this, there is a catch to watch out, the catchment of ego. The giving of advice has concealed pride in it if the ego is not trained and restrained and watched over. Without curing the ego from the disease of fault finding first, to give advice simply whenever one feels like means to see the faults of someone or to consider oneself better than the other.

Blessed Messiah Jesus cautioned as, "Why do you look at the speck of saw dust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, "Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

In the same theme Imam Jafar as Sadiq, may Allah be well pleased with him advices sincerely: "Whoever has not thrown off his anxieties, been purified of the evils of his self and its appetites, defeated Satan, and entered under the guardianship of Allah and the security of His protection, cannot properly enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil; and since he has not attained these aforementioned qualities, whatever affair he tackles in attempting to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil will be a proof against him, and people will not benefit from it."

Allah, Blessed be He, says: "What?! Do you enjoin men to be good and neglect your own souls?"(2:44). Again, :O you who believe! why do you say that which you do not act? It is most hateful in the sight of Allah that you say that which you (yourself) do not act." (61:2-3)

Anyone who does that is called upon thus: Oh - traitor! Do you demand from My creation that which you have rejected for yourself and have slackened the reins [in this regard] upon yourself?

It is related that Tha'labah al-Asadi asked Allah's Messenger, upon him be peace about this verse: O you who believe! Take care of your souls; he who errs cannot hurt you when you are on the right way. (5:105)

The Messenger said, 'Enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and be forbearing in whatever afflicts you, until such time when you see meanness obeyed and passions followed, and when everyone will have conceit about their own opinion, then you should concern yourself only with yourself, and ignore the affairs of the common people.'

A person who enjoins what is good needs to be knowledgeable about what is permissible and what is forbidden; he must be free from his personal inclinations regarding what he enjoins and forbids, give good counsel to people, be merciful and compassionate to them, and call them with gentleness in a very clear manner, while recognizing their different characters so that he can put each in his proper place.

He must see the intrigues of the self and the machinations of Satan. He must be patient in whatever befalls him, and must not seek compensation from people for that which he instructs them in, nor complain about them. He should not make use of vehemence or passion. He should not become angry for his own sake. He should make his intention purely for Allah, and seek His help and desire Him. But if people oppose him and are harsh to him, he must be patient; and if they agree with him and accept his verdict, he must be thankful, entrusting his affair to Allah and looking to his own faults.

- from The Lantern Of the Path by Imam Jafar bin Muhammad bin Ali al-Sadiq

When speaking good takes precedence over silence and vice-versa

Thus one's inclination to advice someone must be balanced by also knowing in heart that the one giving advice on something is in greater need of advice about something else. The reminder that "Above every knowledgeable one, there is one who is even more knowledgeable." (12:76) is useful to remember that even if one can offer advice to someone for something, the one who is giving advice is in greater need of correction as well. Advice when given without it is being sought in the first place can be cause of hurt for the one who tries to impart it and at the end this might not be beneficial to the recipient of advice.

A believer when speak, must speak something good, else should keep quiet - is a quality of those who are conscious of God.

To speak good takes precedence over silence in most circumstances except when ego is dominating over the heart. So when there is a danger that ego may fuel in offering self motivated advice, one better be silent and be careful and fear God. One should be aware of a day when the tongue will bear witness against the very self (nafs) that was assigned to it. Also one must know to whom to give what. Giving advice to someone who is not able to receive is also not proper wisdom.

Bahauddin Valad, father of Rumi wrote in his Ma'arif: "Anyone who wants my advice can come to me. Offering advice when someone doesn’t ask for it is like throwing bits of paper with words written on them into a fire."

Hebrew Proverb as mentioned in Teachings of Christ, Matthew 7:6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."

Imam al Ghazzali said, "He who bestows (manaha) knowledge on the ignorant wastes it, And he who withholds (mana'a) it from the worthy has done them wrong."

Pure words, ascending words of purity

unto Him ascends all words of purity,
and the good deeds lift them up.
- The Quran 35:10

The most effective counseling or advice are those which are offered from a knowing and witnessing heart. The history is our witness that the simple words of truth spoken from a knowing and witness heart of the friends of God have survived thousands of years and still work as tremendous inspiration to the countless hearts.

The Hebrew sages and their true counseling are shining light of guidance and survived after millennia. Think of the simple truth of Christ spoken in the simplest of manners in the simplest of surroundings - are still remembered and held dear. Think of the holy hadith of Prophet Muhammad which are venerated by generations after generations. Think of the precious sayings of holy imams and saints whom people remember well.

The effectiveness of advice is a function of the sincerity of heart and the depth of realization of the essence of truth in the very advice. Unless the truth is spoken which the one who speaks know, understand and witnessed in his or her heart, an advice or a counseling is not worth much. Such advice are known as kalam fadi (empty talks).

From whom to take, whom to avoid

And take counsel with them in the affair..
- The Quran 3:159

The Holy Prophet said, 'Do not sit with every presumptuous caller who summons you from certainty to doubt, from sincerity to showing off, from humility to pride, from good counsel to enmity, and from abstinence to desire.

Draw near to the person with knowledge, who summons you from pride to humility, from showing off to sincerity, from doubt to certainty, from desire to abstinence, from enmity to good counsel.' None are fit to preach to creation except that person who has gone beyond these evils by his truthfulness. He sees the faults of speech and knows what is sound from what is unsound, the defectiveness of thoughts, and the temptations of the self and his fancies.'

Imam 'Ali said, 'Be like the kind, compassionate doctor who places the remedy where it will be of benefit.'

They asked Jesus, 'With whom shall we sit, O Spirit of Allah?' The Messiah Son of Mary replied, 'With one the sight of whom reminds you of Allah and whose speech increases you in knowledge, and whose actions make you desire the next world.'

wa Allahu yaqoolu al Haqqa
wa Huwa yahdee als sabeel.

Allah says the truth
and He guides to the way.
- The Quran 33:4



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Technology of the Heart: adab of giving counsel, dispensing advice
adab of giving counsel, dispensing advice
Technology of the Heart
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