We all know ‘The Haram Police’: sisters (and brothers) who present themselves as sincere advisers, but seem to point out only the mistakes of others. They are found especially on social media and often ‘give advice’ in an offending way. Because of their actions and words ‘The Haram Police’ has been mocked on You Tube video’s and advised in numerous articles. Giving advice is a tricky business and not everyone has the skills to give advice in a productive way without offending others or coming across as judging others. Although there’s a lot to write about giving advice properly (Without turning into a seemingly angry Haram Police Officer), that’s actually not what I want to write about.Since many before me wrote about it. What I do want to write about is learning to accept advice. Because that’s not just tricky business, it’s plain difficult.
I’ve noticed that people focus so much on the people who give advice and the way they should or should not, can or cannot give advice, that something very important has been left out: accepting advice and reacting to it properly.
We actually have a problem: because of ‘The Haram Police’ everyone who does try to give advice sincerely and tries to do so in a nice, calm and polite manner immediately gets silenced because ‘They are being judgemental!’ and ‘You can’t judge, because only Allah gets to judge us!’ Okay, wait a minute. Let’s stop right there. Pause and rewind. Who said anything about judging? Since when does giving advice imply that someone’s being judgemental? It actually doesn’t! But because we think it does, we are not able to accept advice anymore and we’ve come to be an ummah in which even 'The Halal Police' has been shunned and silenced: those who try to call for what is right and try to lead us away from what is wrong.
As I mentioned above, some people don’t really have the skills toadvise others properly, but they will take any opportunity to do so. I’ve encountered several sisters like that who tried advising me and after both encounters I ended up crying and once even doubting my choice for Islam.(Aoedhoe billah!) But… Even though their way of advising me was upsetting me,their words did linger and they triggered my search for more knowledge and understanding about my faith. And eventually they ended up changing my ways. Soubhan’Allah. Now, years later, if I would be able to meet those sisters again, I would thank them for having pointed out my wrongs. If they hadn’t,maybe I wouldn’t have changed them into rights… (But I would slip them a book about properly giving advice too. ;-) )
My experiences actually helped me to understand why we find it so difficult to accept advice from others. Even if it’s phrased in the most gentle way. What is standing between us and accepting the advice, is our nafs. Our ego.Our soul. Because when I look back at the times when I was advised by others,whether in a good or a bad manner, and I felt sad, upset, even angry, I realized it’s because my nafs felt threatened. Only afterwards when I was able to swallow my pride (Silence my nafs), I was able to see my wrongs and gradually turn them into rights. You see, our nafs doesn’t like to be told what it can and cannot do, should or should not do. It likes to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants. And that means it doesn’t always inspire us to do what’s right. If our nafs is in control and not our intellect, when we are advised about something we’re doing wrong, our nafs roars, yells and screams. (Because it knows very well that it’s actually doing something wrong,it just doesn’t feel like changing its ways.) That results in us feeling sad,upset, insulted, offended. And Shaytaan is right around the corner, whispering to our nafs: ‘Sister X is just being judgmental and she can’t judge you, what you’re doing is not so bad… She should mind her own business!’ Sounds all too familiar?
You’re not alone, unfortunately many of us don’t have their nafs under control. It’s actually their nafs that is controling most of their actions. The sad part is: most of us don’t even realize that our nafs has that much power! So we don’t try to tame it and will discard others’ advice if they are trying to direct us towards something good…
The key to being able to accept advice and to eventually change yourself for the better is to understand that your nafs is nothing more but a wild beast that needs to be tamed. Tazkiyat al-nafs, the purification of the soul. To FORCE it to listen to your intellect, to FORCE it to listen to other’s advice without jumping to conclusions about whether the adviser is judging you or not. That is hard. That is extremely difficult. But if we want to be successful in this life and the next we MUST learn to tame it.
In Surah al-Shams, Allah took 11 oaths (The biggest amount in the whole Qur’an, so that says something about it’s importance! :-) ) before stating that the one who purifies his soul will be successful:
By the sun and its brightness;
By the moon as it follows it (the sun);
By the day as it shows up (the sun’s) brightness;
By the night as it conceals it (the sun);
By the heaven and Him Who built it;
By the earth and Him Who spread it;
By the nafs, and Him Who perfected him in proportion;
Then He showed him what is wrong for him and what is right for him;
Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself
And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself.
So, next time you’re being advised about something, hold still (Imagine yourself trying to tame that wild, roaring beast inside of you), reflect about what the other person is advising you about and ask yourself the following questions: Is what that person telling me islamically correct? Is what I’m doing islamically incorrect? Why do I feel upset or angry when someone’s advising me? Is it because I know I’m doing something wrong/islamically unacceptable and feel ‘caught’ for doing so? Because my nafs is feeling threatened? By asking yourself these questions you’ll gradually learn to discern what your nafs is trying to tell you to do and what you actually should be doing. (And those can be two completely opposite things!) Then starts the enormous task of trying to purify that nafs, that soul of all its diseases. (Oh yes, you’re nafs is ill, just like mine.) Purifying your soul is a life’s journey. But once you embark on that journey, a lot of things will become easier for you to do. And suddenly you will notice that accepting advice is actually not that hard anymore. :-)