THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSULTING OTHERS
With the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Very-Merciful.
“…So, pardon them, and seek Forgiveness for them. Consult them in the matter and, once you have taken a decision, place your trust in Allah. Surely, Allah loves those who place their trust in Him.” (3:159)
In every person’s life there are occasions when he feels indecisive about whether or not to do something. Sometimes there are several different options and he is unsure which is the correct or the best one. The Holy Prophet ﷺ has advised us to do two things at such moments; the first is Istakharah (seeking Allah’s guidance in making the right decision), and the second one is consulting other people.
Consulting other people is a very important aspect of Deen (religion). While describing the characteristics of Muslims in the Noble Qur’an, Allah Ta’alah says;
“…and whose affairs are (settled) with mutual consultation between them…” (42:38)
In the verse I recited at the beginning, Allah Ta’ala has commanded the Holy Prophet ﷺ;
“…Consult them in the matter…” (3:159)
When a person of the stature of the Holy Prophet ﷺ is being commanded by Allah Ta’ala to consult his Companions (Sahabah), then it is much more incumbent for people like us to do so.
WHO TO CONSULT?
However, there are a few principles about consulting others that we need to understand first.
(1) The first principle is that we should only take an expert opinion from a person who has a full understanding of the matter we want their opinion on. When we consult such a person then Allah Ta’ala will Insha’Allah (God willing) grant us Barakah (blessing) in that matter. On the other hand, if we consult a person who has no knowledge or understanding of the matter under discussion, then what suggestion would they be able to give, and even if they do give an opinion, what would be the value of that opinion? So, before we go to seek someone’s opinion, we must fully investigate first whether they are capable of giving an expert opinion on that matter. If they are capable, then consult them, if they are not, then don’t.
ASK THE EXPERT FOR THEIR OPINION
Sometimes people ask me that me I have been afflicted by such and such illness. What treatment should I take or which doctor should I go to? What do I know about illnesses and their treatments? Go to some doctor. What advice can a person give when he knows nothing about that field. Always go for advice to someone who is an expert in that field. Allah Ta’ala has given a different ability to everyone, take advice from people about their area of expertise.
CONSULT ULEMA (RELIGIOUS SCHOLARS) IN MATTERS OF DEEN
For example, if you want to learn about Deen (religion) try to find a person who is an authentic Alim (scholar) of Deen. Sometimes even in matters of Deen people start consulting people who are not properly trained religious scholars. It sometimes results in wrong advice being given which results in both the person asking the question and giving the answer being misled. Therefore, when you want to get some advice, try to find the correct person for seeking that advice.
WHAT TYPE OF MATTERS SHOULD ONE CONSULT OTHERS ABOUT?
The second thing to know regarding consulting others is what type of matters should one consult others about. We are not allowed to consult others about matters which have been Fard (compulsory), Wajib (necessary) or Hara’am (unlawful) by Shariah. This is because we are bound to do what Shariah has declared Fard or Wajib, and we are required to abstain from matters that Shariah has declared Hara’am. For example, it would be completely senseless if a person starts consulting other people whether he should pray Salah or not, or whether he should drink alcohol or not. What Allah Ta’ala has declared mandatory, no one else can allow us not to do it, and what Allah Ta’ala has declared unlawful, no one else can declare permissible.
THE FIRST DUTY OF THE ADVISOR: ABILITY
The third important point is that there are some duties of a person who is being consulted. In a Hadith, the Holy Prophet ﷺ said,
“The person whose advice has been sough, has been entrusted.” (Tirmidhi)
It means that taking advice from someone is the same as if they have been entrusted with something. It is clear that if a person has been entrusted with something, it is their duty that they keep it secure and do not breach the other person’s trust. That is why, if a person is being consulted about something and he knows nothing about that area, he should clearly say that I know nothing about this matter and therefore I am unable to give you any advice. These days, it has become common that if a person seeks someone’s advice, they feel bound to say something even when they do not know anything about it. The correct reply would be to say that “giving advice is a matter of trust, and I do not have the ability to give you advice about this matter, so please go to someone who knows more about it”.
THE SECOND DUTY OF THE ADVISOR: HONESTY
If you have the ability to give advice about a certain matter, then give advice with complete sincerity and honesty, and say what you think would be in the best interests of the person seeking advice. When giving advice, we should not try to say what we think the other person wants to hear because we do not want to hurt their feelings, or they would get angry or upset with us. If someone has asked us for advice, we owe it to them to give them our best, honest, opinion, which we genuinely believe would lead to the best outcome for them. Otherwise, we may please them in the short-term, but may cause them significant harm in the long run.
WHEN BACKBITING (GHEEBAT) IS PERMISSIBLE
Or, for example, someone seeks advice about getting married. At that time, we should tell them whatever we know to be true, regardless of whether we think the truth will make the other person happy or not. It is one of those rare circumstances in which Shariah has allowed Gheebat and it is not a sin. In fact, because the other person is seeking advice, it is incumbent upon us to tell them the whole truth. We should not remain quiet because of the worry that it may displease the other party we are telling the truth about.
Rather, what we should do is to tell the person who has sought our advice, the whole truth, but also say to him that please do not tell the other person what I have told you as he may feel upset. The wording of the Hadith “the person whose advice has been sought, has been entrusted”, implies that it is a part of being entrusted that the person who is being consulted should give their best and honest advice.
THE THIRD DUTY OF THE ADVISOR: CONFIDENTIALITY
There is another meaning of the Hadith “the person whose advice has been sought, has been entrusted” which is that the person who has come to us to seek our advice, has made us his confidante. He has shared his personal secrets with us, has told us their personal difficulties. He has placed his trust in us. Now we must not start sharing his personals secrets with everyone and start telling everyone what he told us in private. When someone has entrusted us with his sensitive information, and made us his confidante, then his personal information is an Amanah (entrustment) with us, it is our duty to keep his secret private. Sharing that secret with others would be a breach of his trust and humiliating a Muslim publicly, both of which are great sins.
For example, a person came to us to get some advice about his illness. We must keep his personal information confidential, and not share it with anyone else without his permission, because what he shared with us in private is his Amanah (being entrusted with something) with us. If we breach that trust (do Khiyanah) it would be a great sin.
DISCLOSING SOMEONE’S PRIVATE INFORMATION IS A SIN
These days we have become completely neglectful of these important considerations relating to giving other people advice. Someone comes to us seeking advice under the belief that we have his best interests at heart, and we start gossiping about his very sensitive personal information with everyone. This then leads to disharmony, discord and quarrels, and makes relationships go sour. By saying that “the person whose advice has been sought, has been entrusted” the Holy Prophet ﷺ closed down the door to such behaviour.
THE FOURTH DUTY OF AN ADVISOR: GIVING CORRECT ADVICE
About the person who knowingly gives wrong advice to someone, because of some malice in his heart, or because for some reason he wants the other person to come to harm, in a Hadith the Holy Prophet ﷺ said,
“He committed Khiyanah (breach of trust).”
Just like usurping someone’s property that he entrusted us with is breach of trust (Khiyanah), giving someone wrong advice knowingly and deliberately is also breach of trust.
THE ADVISOR DOES NOT HAVE TO BE OLDER
One important thing about seeking advice from others is that while it is important to consider whether the proposed advisor has the ability to advise properly, younger age should not be an inhibiting factor. It means that the person who needs advice should not think that if he is older, how can he consult a person younger than him? Rather, he should consult a person if that prson has the ability to advise properly, regardless of his age.
Hazrat Maulana Mufti Muhammad Shafi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) used to say that Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) advised him that as long as people who, by convention, are of a higher stature than you (for example being older in age), are alive, you should consult them. Then he further explained that he used the term ‘higher stature by convention’ because it is only Allah Ta’ala who truly knows who holds a higher stature. Sometimes a person is older but has a lower stature, and sometimes a person is younger but Allah Ta’ala grants him a higher stature.
CONSULTING PEOPLE OF A SIMILAR OR A YOUNGER AGE
Hazrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala bless him) further said,
“When you don’t have people around who are of a higher stature than you, then consult people who are of a similar stature as you, and when you don’t have people around who are of a similar stature as you, then seek advice from people who are of a lower stature than you.”
Also, it is important to note that Allah Ta’ala has commanded the Holy Prophet ﷺ, “…Consult them in the matter…”. Now it is obvious to every Muslim that no human being can be of a higher status than the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Still, Allah Ta’ala is commanding him to consult his Companions (Sahabah). This way we are all being taught that no one should think of himself as being above consulting others. Even if he has to consult people younger than him, he should still seek advice from others. Allah Ta’ala has put blessing (Barakah) in consulting others, therefore, when consulting others we should not consider whether they are of a higher or lower stature than us.
THE INCIDENT OF THE TREATY OF HUDAIBIYAH
Sometimes a younger person gives a suggestion that has not occurred to the older person. Before the Treaty of Hudaibiyah was signed, the Holy Prophet ﷺ had travelled with his Companions (Sahabah) towards Makkah Mukarramah with the intention of performing Umrah. When they reached Hudaibiyah on the way to Makkah, the non-believers of Makkah stopped him and his Companions from entering Makkah and told them that they would not let them perform Umrah. The Holy Companions became angry that they were not being allowed to perform Umrah. Eventually, after negotiations, a peace treaty was signed. One of the conditions of the Treaty was that this year Muslims would not perform Umrah, they would return to Medinah Munawwarah and would come back next year to perform Umrah.
On the face of it, this demand from the Quraysh was completely unjustified, because after the Muslims were almost reached the doors of Masjid al-Hara’am they were being told to return to Medinah without doing Umrah and come back next year. There were a number of other conditions which were humiliating for Muslims on the surface, but because at that time Allah Ta’ala had commanded the Holy Prophet ﷺ to accept those conditions, that is what he did. There were a lot of hidden advantages for Muslims in accepting those conditions which became apparent later.
Because the Holy Prophet ﷺ and his Companions (Sahabah) were in Ihram (the white sheets that Muslim men are supposed to wear when performing Hajj or Umrah), the question then arose how to come out of Ihram when a person in Ihram is stopped by an enemy and it is not possible form him to perform Umrah. At that time a verse of the Noble Qur’an was revealed that if such a situation arises, a Muslim should send an animal to be sacrificed within the boundaries of Haram (the surroundings of the Ka’abah), and when that animal has been slaughtered, he can come out of Ihram after getting his hair removed. The Sahabah therefore sent their animals to the Haram and they were sacrificed.
Then the Holy Prophet ﷺ said to the Holy Companions (Sahabah), “Get your heads shaved and get out of your Ihram so that we return to Medinah Munawwarah.” But none of the Companions advanced to follow this command. In Holy Prophet’s (ﷺ) whole life it was probably the only other incident when he ordered his Companions to do something and they didn’t immediately obey him (the other one being when he ordered Hazrat Ali [may Allah be pleased with him] to erase the wording “Muhammad Prophet of Allah” from the treaty document and Hazrat Ali RAA was unable to do so). The reason was that the Sahabah were so emotional that they wanted to attack the Quraysh and do Umrah by force. That is why they did not want to sign this treaty and go back to Medinah without doing Umrah.
These were the same Sahabah about whom the negotiator from the non-believers of Makkah had told them upon his return that he had seen such strange scenes that when the Holy Prophet ﷺ did Wudu (ablution), the Sahabah took the water from his Wudu in their hands before it dropped on earth and rubbed it on their bodies. Similarly, the Sahabah did not let his saliva fall on earth and rubbed it on their bodies. They were so loyal to the Holy Prophet ﷺ and yet none of them was advancing to get their head shaved and come out of their Ihram.
CONSULTING HAZRAT UMME SALMAH (may Allah be pleased with her)
After this the Holy Prophet ﷺ went inside his tent. His wife Hazrat Umme Salmah (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with her) had accompanied him on this journey. The Holy Prophet ﷺ said to her, “Today I have seen a strange scene. These are the people who are happy to shed their blood on my command. However, today I have asked them to remove their Ihram twice but not one of them was prepared to do it.” So, in a way the Holy Prophet ﷺ consulted Hazrat Umme Salmah RAA. Even though he was the Prophet of Allah Ta’ala, but because Allah Ta’ala has commanded Muslims to consult others, so he did.
Hazrat Umme Salmah RAA suggested, “O Prophet of Allah ﷺ. These Companions (Sahabah) of yours are overcome by emotions at this time and are heart broken. So, do not mind their behaviour. Do not ask them again and again. However, please do one thing which is that you go out, get your head shaved, and remove your Ihram. Then lets see what happens.”
THE OUTCOME OF HAZRAT UMME SALMAH’S (may Allah be pleased with her) SUGGESTION
The Holy Prophet ﷺ said, “You have made a very good suggestion.” He went outside the tent and asked one of his companions to start shaving his head. As soon as he started doing it, Sahabah thought when the Holy Prophet ﷺ is removing his Ihram, who are we to show more valour than him. They immediately started shaving each other’s heads and removing their Ihram.
This was an outcome of the suggestion of Hazrat Umme Salmah’s (RAA). It is said about her that she was known as one of the ‘wise ones’, meaning she was one of those people who Allah Ta’alah had granted a very high degree of wisdom and intelligence. This suggestion is an example of her wisdom in that she understood the psychology of the Companions (Sahabah) (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with them all) that once they start seeing the Holy Prophet ﷺ do something, they won’t be able to hold themselves back and would immediately start following his actions.
On this occasion the Prophet of Allah ﷺ took a suggestion from someone who wasn’t a Prophet, and Hazrat Umme Salmah RAA had an idea which initially hadn’t come to the Holy Prophet’s ﷺ. One lesson we learn from this event is that it is an expectation of Shariah that we should consult people who are younger than us or by convention are not of the same stature as us. The Holy Prophet ﷺ consulted the Sahabah (Companions) on numerous occasions.
DEEN (RELIGION) IS NOT ABOUT FULFILLING ONE’S WISHES
There is another great lesson we learn from the event of Hudaibiyah. It is that Deen (religion) is not the name of fulfilling one’s own wishes, it is not the name of following one’s emotions. In fact, Deen is the name of obeying the orders and commandments of Allah Ta’ala and the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Even when we are very emotional about something, and our emotions are tempting us to do something, Deen is the name of bringing our emotions under control at that time and obey the will and command of Allah Ta’ala and the Holy Prophet ﷺ. Before the Treaty of Hudaibiyah was signed, the emotions of Muslims dictated that they fight the non-believers and do not accept the humiliating conditions that the non-believers were forcing on them. But once they saw what the Holy Prophet ﷺ was doing, their temperaments cooled down and they followed the example of the Holy Prophet ﷺ.
THE ESSENCE OF DEEN IS ITTI’BA (OBEDIENCE)
The Holy Prophet ﷺ had motivated the Sahabah (his Companions) to do Jihad. But when it wasn’t the right time to engage in Jihad, for example, at the time of Treaty of Hudaibiyah, he stopped them from engaging in it to the extent that not a single Sahabi unsheathed his sword. This teaches us that the core of Deen (religion) is Itti’ba (obedience) of what Allah Ta’ala and His Holy Prophet ﷺ command us to do at any given time. At that particular moment, the command from the Holy Prophet ﷺ was not to engage in Jihad, so that was Deen at that time. Deen is not the name of following our wishes and emotions, Deen is the name of following what Allah Ta’ala expects us to do at any particular moment.
The Sahabah showed everyone how to follow Allah’s Deen by their example. When it was time to lay down their lives in Allah’s way in the battles of Badar and Uhud, that is what they did, and when the command came not to engage in battle like at the time of Treaty of Hudaibiyah, that is what they did. This is what Deen truly is.
IT IS NOT MANDATORY TO FOLLOW A SUGGESTION
There is one more thing to know about taking or giving someone’s opinion. First, we need to understand what is the purpose of seeking someone else’s opinion. The purpose of consulting someone is that we get an opinion from another person who has some experience and knowledge of that particular area. However, if someone has sought our opinion about a matter, he is not bound to act on our suggestion, he has full right whether he chooses to act on it, or not. If he feels that what we have suggested is not the best course of action to suit his circumstances, then, from the point of view of the Shariah, he is well within his rights not to act on it. Sometimes people feel upset and angry if they suggested something which wasn’t then acted upon. They feel that their opinion was devalued or ignored. This is not correct. The purpose of consulting someone is to find out their opinion about the matter. This opinion then doesn’t become binding on the person who sought it.
THE STORY OF HAZRAT BAREERAH (RAA)
Whose opinion can be more valid in this world than that of the Holy Prophet ﷺ? There was a Sahabiyah (a female Muslim who saw the Holy Prophet ﷺ) named Hazrat Bareerah (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with her). She was initially a slave and later had converted to Islam. Her owner had given her in the Nikah (Islamic marriage) of Hazrat Mughis (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with him). The rule of Shariah, at the time when slavery existed, was that a slave’s owner had the authority to get him or her married to who he or she wished, and the slave couldn’t decline. After some time of this Nikah Hazrat Bareerah RAA was granted her freedom and became an independent person. Shariah’s another ruling was that if a slave’s master had given them in the Nikah of someone, then after gaining independence they had the right whether or continue that marriage or end it. When Hazrat Bareerah RAA was freed, the Holy Prophet ﷺ told her Shariah’s ruling that she now had the right to decide whether to stay in her marriage or not.
Hazrat Bareerah RAA wasn’t happy with her husband. Therefore, she decided to get separated from him. Her husband Hazrat Mughis RAA loved her greatly so did not want this marriage to end. Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Abbas (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with him) has narrated that I still remember those scenes when Hazrat Mughis RAA would be following Hazrat Bareerah RAA on the streets of Medinah Munawwarah with tears flowing from his eyes and beseeching her not to end their marriage. But Hazrat Bareerah RAA was not agreeable to that.
IS IT A SUGGESTION OR AN ORDER?
Eventually Hazrat Mughis (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with him) went to the Holy Prophet ﷺ and said, “O Prophet of Allah. Hazrat Bareerah wants to end her Nikah with me but I don’t want her to do so. Would you please recommend to her that stays in this Nikah with me?” The Holy Prophet ﷺ called Hazrat Bareerah (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with her) and said to her, “Why don’t you stay in this Nikah with him? Stay in this marriage.” Hazrat Bareerah RAA asked, “O Prophet of Allah. What you are saying that continue this Nikah, is this a suggestion or an order? If it is your order then I cannot dare to go against it. I will definitely obey you and will stay in this Nikah.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ replied, “It is not an order, it is a suggestion.” Hazrat Bareerah RAA replied, “If it is your suggestion, then I am free whether to accept it or not. The truth of the matter is that it will be difficult for me to spend my life with him. That is why I am going to get separated from him.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ said, “that is fine.”
THE STATUS OF A SUGGESTION IN SHARIAH
This incident illustrates the wisdom of the Companions of the Holy Prophet ﷺ beautifully. On one hand, Hazrat Bareerah (may Allah Ta’ala be pleased with her) showed full regard for the exalted status of the Holy Prophet ﷺ and said to him that if this is your order, I will obey it fully, even if means I have to sacrifice my wishes and my feelings. However, if it is your suggestion, then Shariah has given me the right whether I accept it or not, so in that case I will make my own decision. The Holy Prophet ﷺ also did not get upset that Hazrat Bareerah RAA did not accept his suggestion and did not express any displeasure at what she said. Rather he validated her decision in a way.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ORDER AND A SUGGESTION
This incident also clarifies this edict of Shariah that when an elder asks you to do something, first consider whether he is giving a command or a suggestion. For example, if one’s father or a teacher are ordering us to do something then we must obey that order, but if they have made a suggestion then we have the right to choose whether to act on it or not. If the Holy Prophet ﷺ did not did not get upset at his suggestion not being accepted, then who are we to get angry when we suggest something to someone and they do not act on it?
Please understand it clearly that when you make a suggestion to someone, do not insist that they must accept it and act on it. All we are accountable for is that when someone seeks our opinion about something, we give him the advice which in our honest opinion would be the best course of action for him. Beyond that he is free to choose whether to act on it or not. We won’t be asked in Aakhirah (Hereafter) why he didn’t act on our advice. Allah Ta’alah has not made us responsible for others. Once we give them our best advice, we have done our duty. Now it is up to them whether they act on it, or not, regardless of whether they are older or younger than us.
In summary, these are the etiquettes of taking and giving suggestions that the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet ﷺ have taught us. If suggestions are taken and given being mindful of these principles then Allah Ta’ala grants Barakah (blessing) in that suggestion. Such suggestions do not lead to any disharmony or discord amongst people. And when these etiquettes are neglected, then this leads to conflicts between people. May Allah Ta’ala help us follow these rulings of Shariah. Ameen
وآخر دعوا ان الحمد ﷲ رب العالمين