The Importance of Giving Sincere Advice in Islām
Giving naṣīḥah (sincere advice) enjoys a sublime and exalted position in Islām, and how could this not be the case since it is a concept that is found many times in the Qur’ān as Allāh’s (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) Prophets and Messengers (ʿalayhim al-Salām) such as Ibrāhim (ʿalayhi al-Salām), Mūsa (ʿalayhi al-Salām), ʿĪsa (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), all informed their people that the nature of their mission was to be a warner, give caution against disobedience to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and to provide glad tidings (of reward) like a sincere advisor does. This is because as humans, by nature, we are forgetful, careless and weak. Although we have the freedom to choose between good and evil, it is evil that is always tempting and easy. To lead us to the light and guide us out of darkness, Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) from his infinite mercy sent prophets and messengers time and again to invite towards righteousness through advice.
For example, Prophet Nūḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) said to his people:
“I convey to you the Messages of my Lord and give sincere advice to you. And I know from Allāh what you know not.”
The Prophet Hūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām) said to his people:
“I convey to you the messages of my Lord, and I am to you a trustworthy adviser for you.”
Likewise Prophet Ṣāliḥ (ʿalayhi al-Salām) said:
“I advised you, but you do not like advisors.”
Prophet Shuʿayb (ʿalayhi al-Salām) also said:
“O my people, I have indeed conveyed my Lord’s Messages to you and I have given you good advice…”
Providing naṣīḥah by enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is an integral part of Islām as Allāh tells us in the Qur’ān,
“You are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin Al-Mʿarūf (the good that Islām has ordained) and forbid Al-Munkar (the bad that Islām has forbidden).”
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) also tells us to actively advise each other within our own families in order to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says:
“O’ you who believe! Ward off yourselves and your families against a Fire (Hell)…”
In a Ḥadīth related by Tamīm Ad-Dāri (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu), the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “The religion is [built on] advice.” The people listening asked, “To whom?” The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) replied, “To Allāh, to His Book, to His Messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims, and the common folk.”
Here it is clearly seen that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) equated the entire religion to giving sincere advice (naṣīḥah); but what exactly is naṣīḥah? In Arabic naṣīḥah means sincerity or sincere advice, but it actually embodies every type of virtue – by truly practising naṣīḥah we can bring about positive changes in ourselves and each other. Naṣīḥah is a wonderful weapon that must be utilised. However, like most weapons, if the user does not know how to utilise it properly, it can cause more harm than good.
Giving, receiving and acting upon naṣīḥah is an integral part human life. This takes place at every level of society: state, community, family and individual. People always seek advice from those who are more knowledgeable and experienced in a certain matter. Institutions, companies and individuals all seek advice in order to progress and make better informed and educated decisions for the overall betterment of individuals and societies. For the purpose of this article, let us focus on the final part of this ḥadīth where the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) spoke about giving advice to the “common folk.”
Sincerity to the general populous of the Muslims means:
- To strive in advising them by calling them to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā);
- Commanding the good;
- Forbidding the evil;
- Teaching them good and what is similar to this;
Due to this, the religion encompasses sincerity and the first person included in the general populous of the Muslims is the person themselves (i.e., a person should always advise himself).
Abū Hurayrah (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhu) narrated that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said “the mu’min is owed six things by the mu’min” of which he mentioned “when he asks for your sincere good counsel, then advise him.”
Al-Khattabi said: “sincerity is a word denoting a totality which is to intend good for the one who is the object of one’s sincerity.” He said “the linguistic root of sincerity is purity, as one says that one has purified the honey i.e., removed the wax from it. Sincerity towards the Muslims in general comprises directing them to those things which are good for them.”
Sincerity towards fellow Muslims means to for love for them what one loves for themself, and dislike for them what one dislikes for themself even if that harms one’s own interests in this world. 
Abū ʿAmar b. as-Ṣalāh said “sincerity is a comprehensive word which comprises the sincere person’s undertaking all aspects of good treatment towards the one whom he is sincere, both in deed and intention.”
Sincerity towards Muslims also means to direct them rightly towards anything that may benefit them, teach them the affairs of their Dīn and this world, conceal their faults, fulfil their needs, defend them against their enemies, avoid deceiving them and being jealous of them, love for them what one loves for himself and dislike for them what one dislikes for himself and anything that resembles that.
One of the most important ways to be sincere towards fellow Muslims is to give good counsel to someone seeking advice for a certain matter, problem or issue pertaining to his Dīn or Dunya.
Advising people on an individual level is then part and parcel of the embryonic stage of building a successful, healthy and moral society. However, this lofty and praiseworthy act, which one can attain reward for, requires a willingness and sincerity to give, accept and reform from all involved.
Being able to give naṣīḥah (good, sincere advice) is a great gift from Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) and could be an essential tool of genuine and faithful feedback. However, sometimes it is very difficult to give someone sincere advice on a problem they are having or a decision they are about to take. We often start with giving advice by saying “if I were you I would…” which immediately implies that the person seeking advice is exactly like us, which is impossible and therefore the advice that we offer may not actually be the best thing for that person in terms of his Dīn and dunya. Every individual, time and circumstance are unique and therefore, truly offering sincere advice can only be done after understanding that person’s problem, circumstance and capacity.
A community void of mutual advice and invitation to righteous conduct can easily become corrupt and immoral. A good counsel, a sound advice, well intended suggestion and recommendation are the most effective tools for mutual betterment. It is very important that this advice is disseminated with knowledge and wisdom since poorly delivered advice can be counter-productive. Islamic etiquette teaches us to think well about others, and interpret their words and actions as positive and well-intended.
Not all people are gifted to be able to offer sincere advice and we sometimes fall short because we forget the purpose of offering advice and begin to condemn the person we are seemingly ‘advising.’ The purpose of offering sincere advice is to correct someone’s action and guide them towards what Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) loves and is pleased with. This must be done with proper knowledge (of Islām and the person’s circumstance), wisdom, love, mercy and gentleness.
General Things to Consider When Advising Sincerely
- Purifying Intentions
We should examine our motives, purify our intentions and advise sincerely for the sake of Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā), without seeking ostentation, fame, worldly gain or showing superiority. Our intentions, can act as the catalyst in determining the final outcome of our actions. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “Actions are but by intentions and each person will have but that which he intended.” Therefore, before we embark on a journey to advise or correct a fault, we must simply ask ourselves whether our intentions are sincerely pure with a desire to help someone or are they to punish and belittle someone by exposing their faults. This will give us an opportunity to continue if we feel we are sincere or pause and take a moment to purify our intentions because our current psyche might lead us to condemn the person we are seeking to advise.
As ‘advisors’ we should have enough knowledge about the advice we are about to impart. This is because advising is a form of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. If we do not have enough knowledge about what we are advising, we may actually forbid the good, thinking that we are forbidding an evil.
If it is a matter related to Islām, we must check ourselves in order to ascertain whether or not we are actually the best person to give advice to the person seeking it. If we have enough knowledge about that particular matter at hand and knowledge about the situation of the person in question, then we should proceed and give advice and maintain sincerity. If we decide that we do not in fact have enough knowledge about the matter or the person, then it is likely best not to advise and preferable to find someone else who is better equipped to do the job.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says:
“Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are al-Fawāḥish (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.), whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allāh for which He has given no authority and saying things about Allāh of which you have no knowledge.”
We should know our limits. Even if we are students of knowledge (at whatever level and degree), that does not in any way mean we have the answer for and solution to everything.
- Maintain Privacy
Let us give advice privately as giving advice publicly is a reproach and rebuke that is disliked. Giving advice in Islām should not involve exposing the personal weaknesses of people. It is narrated that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “[For] whoever pursues the shortcomings of people, Allāh will pursue theirs.”
Whenever one of the righteous members of the early generation of the Muslims wanted to advise someone, he would do so in private because they would consider whoever exhorts his brother privately, then that is sincere good counsel and whoever exhorts him in public has reproved him. Al-Fudayl b. ʿIyāḍ used to say “the believer veils (the other’s wrong action) and gives sincere good counsel. The wicked person rends open (the veil concealing a fault or wrong action) and reproaches him.”
Abdul-Azīz b. Rawwʿad said “whenever those before you would say something to their brother, they would tell him gently and courteously, so that he would be rewarded for his command and prohibition. These days people tear holes into their companions, seek to anger their brothers and rip off the veil (concealing their faults and wrong actions).”
Gentleness is the key. Therefore, we should try very hard to avoid giving advice in the form of a reprimand. Instead we should offer our insights, experiences, and ideas as if they were another point of view for the other person to consider without being forceful.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) commanded the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to be kind, wise and courteous when calling people to Islām when He said:
“Call [people] to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good teaching. Argue with them in the most courteous way, for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His way and who is rightly guided.”
There is no better key to unlock the heart than being kind, gentle, soft and merciful in speech and action as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty, and it is not withdrawn from anything but it makes it defective.”
- Ask Permission
We should never impose ourselves on anyone. We should always ask if someone actually wants our advice otherwise it will fall on deaf ears. Sometimes people have their own unique problems and issues that only they can solve and perhaps our advice is not required for those unique situations.
- Listen First
Half of being able to give sincere advice is to listen first. Issues are often more complex than they initially appear. By listening first, we can truly appreciate a matter and understand it fully and then offer any suitable advice. Perhaps this is why Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) has given us two ears and one mouth so we listen more than we speak.
This type of empathetic listening ensures ‘connection before correction’, making the person we are advising more willing to listen to what we may have to offer.
- Consider the Person’s Capability and Capacity
After listening to the other person, it might be an idea to ask them what they think they can do to solve their problem. Asking them what they would like to do and what they can actually do and then offering any suitable solutions might be a better way forward.
- Avoid Making Judgments
Whatever the situation, unless you are a ruler or judge, your personal advice regardless of the amount of knowledge and wisdom you have, is not binding upon anyone. A sincere advisor is one who guides toward goodness and does not command others to act upon it. Therefore, we should avoid being judgmental because Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) is enough for judgement and we should never attack the other person’s character. Advising is a gentle process, which requires love, mercy and compassion. If our advice is perceived as harsh or judgmental then it is likely to offend causing the listener to avoid anything we say – good and bad. Righteousness never gives birth to religious arrogance, so we should be careful how we give words of advice.
- Lead by example
It is likely that a person will listen to you if you have faced a similar situation in the past and acted according to how you are currently giving advice. If our advice involves something that the other person clearly sees that we are not doing, then it is unlikely that they will follow our advice.
Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says,
“It is most hateful to Allāh that you should say that which you do not do.”
- Choose a Suitable Time and Be Patient
We should try to choose a time when our advice will be well received otherwise it will fall on deaf ears. A person might have had a difficult day or they may be upset about something. It is usually best to wait for that time to be over before offering what we may think is the correct course of action.
At times our advice may not be well received or even completely rejected. Giving advice requires a great deal of patience and devotion. If things turn unpleasant and we face ill-treatment by the one we are advising, we should never return the harm. Perhaps this is a test to see how sincere we really are.
Factors That May Affect the Acceptance of Advice
I) Advice should be given with its due manners and etiquette, as described above, otherwise it will not have the desired and intended outcome, which is reformation, redirection and righteous conduct.
II) One of the main reasons why advice from a fellow Muslim might be rejected is due to arrogance. Arrogance ruins the manner in which the person advising gives his advice as well as preventing one from accepting the advice and acting upon it. We should be mindful of continuously striving to remove arrogance from our hearts in order to both give and be ready to accept advice.
We need to always remember that Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) describes the Muslims as helpers, supporters, friends, and protectors of each other when He says:
“The believers, men and women, are Auliyā’ (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another.”
Therefore, we should be genuinely concerned about each other and help ourselves and others to prepare for this life in the Hereafter. To reach that end, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that Islamic teachings are implemented and followed correctly. This necessitates giving and taking correct, sincere advice and constructive criticism wherever required.
Finally, let us remember that humans are complex beings with different social, psychological, emotional and physical needs. Therefore, offering advice is not a finite art and requires careful thinking and planning. Not all of the above mentioned considerations are suitable for every time and place. At times we will need to employ different strategies for different people depending on their very unique circumstances.
Notes: Al-Qur’ān, 7:62  Al-Qur’ān, 7:68  Al-Qur’ān, 7:79  Al-Qur’ān, 7:93  Al-Qur’ān, 3:110  Al-Qur’ān, 66:6  Al-Bukhārī and Muslim  Explanatory Notes on Imām an-Nawawi’s Forty Aḥadīth, p. 60.  Muslim (2162)  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 122.  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 124.  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 124.  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 125.  al-Bukhārī (1) and Muslim (1907).  Al-Qur’ān, 7:33  At-Tirmidhi.  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 126-127.  The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom, p. 127.  Al-Qur’ān, 16:125  Muslim  Al-Qur’ān, 61:3  Al-Qur’ān, 9:71
Further reading: Al-Hilali, Muhammed Taqi-ud-Din & Khan, Mohamed Muhsin ‘Interpretation of the Meaning of The Noble Qur’an’ (Darussalam Publishers & Distributers, 1996).  Al-Uthaymeen, Sheik Muhammed ibn Saalih‘Explanatory Notes on Imaam an-Nawawi’s Forty Ahadeeth – Revised’ (Tarbiyya Publishing, 2008).  Al-Uthaymeen, Sheik Muhammed ibn Saalih‘Sharal-Arba’a an-Nawawiyyah’ (Dar at-Thariyahlil-Nashr, 1411h).  Al-Fawzaan, Sheik Saalih ibn Fawzaan ibn Abdullah al-Fawzaan‘al-MinhatuRabaniyya fi shar al-Arba’a an-Nawawiyya(Dar Arsima, 1429h).  Al-Hanbali, ibn Rajab ‘The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom’ Translated by Abdassamad Clarke (Turath Publishing, 2007)  Al-Mubarakpuri, Sheik Safiur Rahman ‘Tafsir Ibn Kathir (abridged),’ Volume 4, (Darussalam, May 2000).  As-Sa’di, Abdur-Rahman Naasir‘Taysir al-Kareem ar-Rahman fekalame al-Manaan’ (Dar Ibn Jawzi 1416h).  Khan, Sadullah ‘The Art of Giving Advice (15+ Tips)’(online article www.onislam.net)  Nadvi, Ahmed Abdul Mujeeb Qasmi ‘Islamic etiquette on giving advice’ (online article www.islameasy.org)  Online article ‘Directions on giving advice –I & II’ (http://www.islamweb.net/emainpage/articles/164147/directions-on-giving-advice-ii).