- Why Does Criticism Take Place?
- Who Engages in Criticism?
- When Are We Criticized?
- Who Criticized the Prophet and How?
- How Did the Prophet React?
- How Should We React Today?
- How Can We Criticize, the Prophet’s Way?
Alhamdulillah infinitely… All praise and thanks are due to the Almighty Allah, Lord of the worlds. May His Peace and Blessings be upon the man of perfection, Habibi Muhammad; his household; his companions and all those who follow his guided path, till the Day of Judgement.
Criticism causes distress and depression. It causes heartache. It kills. As much as we like praises and welcome compliments, we are badly affected by criticism. As much as we, the ordinary individuals, feel uneasy, get disappointed and, sometimes, feel depressed, when we are unfairly criticized, the Prophet also felt the same; and was emotionally affected. Criticism is therefore natural and a common human character. It’s here to stay.
This article presents some etiquettes which we, Muslims, can develop and possess as the appropriate defence mechanism towards personal attacks and criticism. The article also looks for inspirations from the noble characters of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, in dealing with critics and criticism.
To start, let’s look at why criticism takes place.
Criticism takes place for either the good reason or the bad. However, only God knows who does it out of jealousy (the bad reason), and want to see your end, even when he does it constructively. Only He knows who does it out of love (the good reason), even when he does it with some harshness.
Criticism takes place due to the existence of personal differences and preferences. Thus, as long as personal differences exist, and as long as people look at things differently, handle them differently and solve issues differently, criticism will continue to exist.
Therefore, we don’t judge our critics for criticizing us, unless they have verbally made known of their hatred and intention. Instead, we learn to know the different types of criticism and learn how the Prophet reacted to them, and then, follow his noble footsteps. But… who really engages in criticism?
It’s a miraculous to come across someone, who doesn’t criticize others, for what they’ve done or for what they’ve failed to do. We should expect others to review and judge our actions, endeavours and achievements, even when we choose not do the same to theirs. What more if we do criticize theirs? In simple words, we should all be guilty of engaging in criticism. The only good excuse we can have is when we do it constructively or “out of love.”
Some critics only find faults, and as a result, they are blind to your correctness. You can’t please this group of critics, no matter how hard you work. Nonetheless, their existence is for good.
Some critics just hate to see any positive change in the society. As long as they are not in the making (and they are unlikely to be) they’ll never be happy. They don’t do anything productive, and will criticize any productive thing. This group of people is personal attackers. Seek refuge in God from them!
Another group of critics draw your attention to your flaws and (sometimes) offer possible solutions to rectify them. This will be after they have appreciated your hard work, and all the good things you’ve done. You can take the remarks that come from this group seriously. Their feedback is usually constructive and helpful.
As I mentioned earlier, criticism is a human nature, and the reaction to it is by default natural. People can find 1001 reasons to criticize your actions, which they may not know the motives behind them, especially when they are not happy with you, or when they are not able to equally achieve what you’ve achieved.
As long as you live, you’ll be criticized. You’ll be criticized for the good thing. You’ll be criticized for the bad thing. You’ll be criticized for trying to work hard. You’ll be criticized for trying to succeed. You’ll also be criticized for failing to take initiatives to succeed.
The more active you are, in contribution, towards the progress of your community and society, the more you’ll be subjected to criticism. In short, you’ll be criticized no matter who you choose to be and what you choose to do. That means even the Prophet was criticized? The answer is obviously Yes.
Although he was a chosen Prophet of God, the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, was also a human. He lived like one and died like one. Thus, he was also faced with criticism from expected and unexpected parties.
There were two types of people who criticized the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, namely, the non-Muslims (including the hypocrites) and some Muslims.
None of the criticism from the non-Muslims against the Prophet was ever true. Yet, it left some negative impact on him. He experienced sleepless nights. He also felt uneasiness in his heart. The Qur’an acknowledges that, in Surah Al-Hijr, 15:97, when Allah says:
وَلَقَدْ نَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ يَضِيقُ صَدْرُكَ بِمَا يَقُولُونَ
It means, “We do indeed know how your heart is distressed at what they say.”
If baseless personal attacks (or call it criticisms) could affect the Prophet to that extent, then they certainly affect you and me more. What was the remedy? Allah gave the prescription of cure, to the Prophet. See that in the next section.
The criticism that ever came from some (true) Muslims (of his time) were out of misconception. An example: After the battle of Hunain, which took place immediately after the Fathu (opening of) Makkah which saw many people converting to Islam, the Muslims gained significant amount of booty from that battle. It’s estimated to be 6,000 captured women and children, 24,000 camels, 40,000 flocks and 4,000 pounds of silver. The Prophet distributed all that among the newly converts, most of whom were Makkans and left the Ansar. The Ansar are the Muslims of Madinah who welcomed the Prophet and his companions who migrated from Makkah.
After long sacrifice; defending Islam, and being part of this victory and the booty that evolves from it, some Ansar expressed their unhappiness about what how the distribution of the spoils of the war took place. They claimed that the Prophet gave favourable treatment to the Quraish (his kinship) in distribution of the booty.
That was the accusation if not criticism from some Muslims, which the Prophet had to deal with. In the next section, we’ll see how he handled it.
The Prophet is our role model in all aspects of life. As a Prophet, he was given a divine guidance pertaining how to deal with all problems, including criticism. Such guidance was also to serve as reference for us, when we are similarly faced with criticism and personal attacks.
When Allah acknowledged His awareness of the Prophet’s feelings, due the effect of the words of the disbelievers, He prescribed for him the most effective remedy to that. He ordered him to glorify his Lord, subject himself to be among those who prostrate, and worship his Lord till death.
فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَكُن مِّنَ السَّاجِدِينَ * وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّىٰ يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ
It means, “But glorify your Lord with His praise, and prostrate yourself: and worship your Lord until what is certain [death] comes to you. [Surah Al-Hijr, 15:98-99].
This is how the Prophet had to deal with groundless accusations and criticism.
As for the rumours regarding the distribution of the booty of the Battle of Hunain, when the Prophet heard the displeasure of the Ansar, he ordered them (the Ansar) to assemble in a tent, and he addressed them saying:
” O Ansar! What is it that I hear from you, about the apportionment of booty? Are you roiled up because I gave a larger share of the booty to the Makkans than I gave you? But tell me this:
أَلَمْ آتِكُمْ ضُلَّالاً فَهَدَاكُمُ اللَّهُ بِيِ، وَأَعْدَاءَ فَأَلَّفَ اللَّهُ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ، وَعَالَةً فَأَغْنَاكُمْ بِي؟
It means, “Is it not true that you worshipped idols and Allah gave you guidance through me? Is it not true that you were riven by civil discord and Allah united you through me? Is it not true that you were poor and Allah made you rich through me?”
In answer to each question, the Ansar said: “Yes, that is so, and it is the grace of Allah and His Apostle.”
Then the Prophet said:”…but you might have answered and answered truly:
جِئْتَنَا طَرِيدًا فَآوَيْنَاكَ، وَعَائِلاً فَآسَيْنَاكَ وَخَائِفًا فَأَمَّنَّاكَ وَمَخْذُولاً فَنَصَرْناَكَ
It means, “You came to us (in Madinah) rejected as an impostor, and we accommodated you; you came as a helpless fugitive and we assisted you; an outcast, and we gave you an asylum; destitute, and we solaced you.”
He added,”Why are you disturbed in mind because of the things of this life, wherewith I have sought to incline the hearts of these men (the Quraish of Makkah) unto Islam, whereas you are already steadfast in your faith? He added:
أفَلا تَرْضَوْنَ يَا مَعْشَرَ الأَنْصَارِ أَنْ يَذْهَبَ النَّاسُ بِالدُّنْيَا إِلَى رِحَالِهِمْ بِالشَّاءِ وَالبَعِيرِ وَتَذْهَبُوا بِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ تَحُوزُونَهُ إِلَى رِحَالِكُمْ؟
It means, “Are you not satisfied that others should obtain the flocks and the camels, while you carry back the Prophet of the Lord unto your homes?”
He also added, “No, I will not leave you for ever. If all mankind went one way, and the Ansar another way, verily, I would go the way of the Ansar. O Allah! Be favourable unto the Ansar, and bless them, and their sons and their sons’ sons forever.”
When the Ansar heard these words, they wept like they’ve never done before, and said: “Let others take the sheep, the cattle and the camels with them. All we want is the Prophet Muhammad, and nothing else.”
Mind you, before the Prophet addressed the issue, he double checked with Sa’ad Ibn Ubadah, radhiya Allahu ‘anhu, who conveyed to him the unhappiness of the Ansar. The Prophet asked him of his personal stance in this issue. Sa’ad responded politely by saying, “I say what my people say, O Apostle of Allah. I am one of them.” Then the Prophet noted that an immediate action needs to be taken. He had to explain the wisdom behind his actions.
Upon reflecting on this incident, it’s clear that the Prophet didn’t doubt the Iman of the Ansar. He also admitted to what the claims (accusations) of the Ansar were. But he had a perspective far different from what they perceived. After all, it’s about material gains and losses. When the Prophet explained to them, the wisdom behind his actions, the Ansar wished they had never come to that criticism.
Yes, the Prophet gave the newly converts who happened to be Makkans, but likewise the Ansar (who were no longer newly converts) the prophet didn’t give any of the Muhajireen (who were also not new converts).
In addition to the verses of Surah Al-Hijr (above), Allah also revealed other verses and chapters which all came to comfort the Prophet whenever he was unfairly attacked, and to affirm him in his mission. The verses also taught the Prophet and us what to do when we face criticism or distress. Among others, let’s look at Surah Al-Dhuha, Surah Al-Sharh and Surah Al-Kauthar.
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
وَالضُّحَىٰ ﴿١﴾ وَاللَّيْلِ إِذَا سَجَىٰ ﴿٢﴾ مَا وَدَّعَكَ رَبُّكَ وَمَا قَلَىٰ ﴿٣﴾ وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ ﴿٤﴾ وَلَسَوْفَ يُعْطِيكَ رَبُّكَ فَتَرْضَىٰ ﴿٥﴾ أَلَمْ يَجِدْكَ يَتِيمًا فَآوَىٰ ﴿٦﴾ وَوَجَدَكَ ضَالًّا فَهَدَىٰ ﴿٧﴾وَوَجَدَكَ عَائِلًا فَأَغْنَىٰ ﴿٨﴾ فَأَمَّا الْيَتِيمَ فَلَا تَقْهَرْ ﴿٩﴾ وَأَمَّا السَّائِلَ فَلَا تَنْهَرْ ﴿١٠﴾ وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ﴿١١﴾ـ
By the glorious morning light; (1) and by the night when it darkens, (2) your Lord has not forsaken you, nor is He displeased with you, (3) and the Hereafter will indeed be better for you than the present life; (4) soon you will be gratified with what your Lord will give you. (5) Did He not find you orphaned and shelter you? (6) Did He not find you wandering, and give you guidance? (7) Did He not find you in want, and make you free from want? (8)Therefore do not treat the orphan with harshness,(9) and do not chide the one who asks for help;(11) but proclaim the blessings of your Lord. (11)
This Surah was revealed in Makkah, before the migration of the Prophet and his companions to Madinah. The non-believers thought Allah has left His Prophet, after revelation was delayed on him for some time. Allah then revealed this Surah to reassure His Prophet, of his position in His Sight, and to bring joys to the heart of the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam. The Surah also indicates some deeds the Prophet and his followers should do, to overcome the emotional effects of criticism and false accusation, which they did encounter and shall encounter from their critics and enemies. Pay attention to (1) do not treat the orphan with harshness, (2) do not chide the one who asks for help; and (3) proclaim the blessings of your Lord.
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
أَلَمْ نَشْرَحْ لَكَ صَدْرَكَ ﴿١﴾ وَوَضَعْنَا عَنكَ وِزْرَكَ ﴿٢﴾ الَّذِي أَنقَضَ ظَهْرَكَ ﴿٣﴾ وَرَفَعْنَا لَكَ ذِكْرَكَ ﴿٤﴾ فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا ﴿٥﴾ إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا ﴿٦﴾ فَإِذَا فَرَغْتَ فَانصَبْ ﴿٧﴾ وَإِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَارْغَب ﴿٨﴾ـ
Have We not lifted up your heart, (1) and removed your burden (2) that weighed so heavily on your back, and (3) have We not given you high renown?(4) So, surely with every hardship there is ease; (5)surely, with every hardship there is ease. (6) So, when you are free, strive hard, (7) and to your Lord turn [all] your attention. (8)
Imam Al-Suyouti reported that this Surah was revealed in Makkah, when the disbelievers mocked the Prophet of being poor. The words of the Surah clearly comforted him, delighted him and boosted his confidence to carry out his mission, despite the difficulties he and his followers were facing from the non-believers of their time.
To overcome the stress and the effects of mockery, the Prophet was told to strive hard and turn his attention to his Lord, with remembrance, prayers and the various good deeds.
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
إِنَّا أَعْطَيْنَاكَ الْكَوْثَرَ ﴿١﴾ فَصَلِّ لِرَبِّكَ وَانْحَرْ ﴿٢﴾ إِنَّ شَانِئَكَ هُوَ الْأَبْتَرُ ﴿٣﴾ـ
We have given you abundance. (1) Pray to your Lord and sacrifice to Him alone. (2) It is the one who hates you who has been cut off. (3)
The non-believers of Makkah had nothing to accuse the Prophet with. They had no doubt, that he was a trustworthy, and an honest. Eventually they used the tactic of personal attack. They called him Abtar. That word Abtar is an Arabic word used to refer to someone with no male child. So the disbelievers used that word in an indication to the fact that the Prophet had no male child to inherit him, after his son Abdullah (from Khadijah) died. To uplift the Prophet’s morale and remind him of his position in this world and in the Hereafter, Surah Al-Kauthar was revealed.
We can learn from Surah Al-Kauthar, that the points your critics may use to attack you may physically exist, but they don’t, in the long run (or as far as the Hereafter is concerned), matter or exist. Pay attention to: Pray to your Lord and sacrifice to Him alone… It is the one who hates you who has been cut off.
There are three types of activities or deeds we can extract from the prescriptions Allah gave the Prophet, which serve as medication to any sort of criticism we may face in this life. All of them were indicated in the verses of Surah Al-Hijr, Al-Dhuha, Al-Sharh and Al-Kauthar. They are:
Steadfastness in all kindness
“Solat is the backbone of the Deen.” Punctuality in Solat earns one the consciousness of God. “The closer a servant can get to his Lord is during prostration.” This is exactly what the Prophet was asked to do, to get rid of the emotional impact of the criticism of his enemies. Let’s take another look at Surah Al-Sharh (above), ponder upon it and come back to continue.
Solat is also one of the things, through which we secure Allah’s help and love. Perseverance in Solat is difficult, except upon the God-conscious; the humbly submissive.
وَاسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ وَإِنَّهَا لَكَبِيرَةٌ إِلَّا عَلَى الْخَاشِعِينَ * الَّذِينَ يَظُنُّونَ أَنَّهُم مُّلَاقُو رَبِّهِمْ وَأَنَّهُمْ إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
It means, “And seek help through patience and solat, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]. Who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.” [Al-Baqarah, 2:44-45].
After observing the obligatory prayers, with punctuality, one should engage himself in remembering Allah as and when he has the free time. There are some forms of Zikr he should constantly observe, such as the Zikr we are encouraged to recite in the morning and in the evening, the Zikr we recite after every Solat and the Zikr we recite before going to bed, entering our house and going out of the house.
Steadfastness in all Kindness
The reason or action for which one may be criticized should be righteous; and hence an Ibadah. It may not be Ibadah, though. But let’s remember, that every endeavour of the true Muslim is an Ibadah, if he has intended it for good, seeking the Pleasure of God through carrying out his duty (of the job). So once you have the genuine intention (Ikhlas) behind what you are doing, be prepared for criticism, even when you don’t commit mistakes. Lending out helping hand will be criticized, but should you stop? No. Defending the poor and the less fortunate is charity, and will be criticized by the ill-hearted. Should you stop? No. The list goes on.
When we are faced with criticism, it’s important to remember that not all those who criticize us, do so for the bad reason. The whole world can’t be against us at a time. They don’t do that even to the Satan himself. Some criticize for the good reason, even when their approach may not be desirable. We all know that, everyone is subject to mistakes, and hence, some criticisms are valid and we should take them wholeheartedly.
It’s said: Four things show one his flaws: (1) a teacher, (2) a good and sincere companion, (3) an enemy and (4) interacting with people; so any mistake he sees in others, he can avoid committing them.
The wise seizes the opportunity to learn from it, to improve, to be stronger and to be more productive. This means, although criticism hurts, it’s not always bad, even if it comes from an enemy or the jealous.
Some people react to criticism with immediate attack. This usually satisfies one’s ego, but it rarely serves any purpose as it will not help us improve for better. This is also not morally recommended, as it contradicts with the Prophet’s way in social interactions. The Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, has urged us to avoid arguing. This is in accordance to the Hadeeth, narrated by Abu Umamah, radhiya Allahu ‘anhu, and reported by Imam Al-Tirimizhi, and authenticated by Shaikh Al-Albany. He says:
أَنَا زَعِيمٌ بِبَيْتٍ فِي رَبَضِ الجَنَّةِ لِمَنْ تَرَكَ المِرَاءَ وَإِنْ كَانَ مُحِقًّا، وَبِبَيْتٍ فِي وَسَطِ الجَنَّةِ لِمَنْ تَرَكَ الكَذِبَ وَإِنْ كَانَ مَازِحاً، وَبِبَيْتٍ فِي أَعْلَى الجَنَّةِ لِمَنْ حَسُنَ خُلُقُهُ
It means, “I am a guarantor of a palace around Heaven, for the one who gives up arguing, even when he’s right, and [another palace] in the middle of Heaven for the one who gives up lies, even if he is joking, and [another palace] in the upper part of Heaven, for the one with good manners.”
In this Hadeeth, we are clearly discouraged from arguing in righteous issues, even when we are right. What more when we spend our productivity time, arguing and attacking back our critics.
Some react to criticism with total shutdown on their aspirations. They (pretend they) don’t react to criticism at all. Unless you are always right, while the criticisms towards you are wrong, this approach is not always effective. Remember, self-denial has temporary effect, but it hits back when you lock yourself up in your room.
The first things one needs to do when criticism comes his way, can be the following:
Take note of the problem, for which one is criticized
Never react immediately, for the criticism can be valid
Think of what has happened and reflect
Correct your mistakes when necessary
Then proceed with your happy life, and
By all means, remember Allah abundantly
If you (find out that you) were wrong; which will mean the criticisms were valid, you can do the following:
Seek forgiveness and guidance from Allah
Apologize to any affected party, and
By all mean, remember Allah abundantly
If you were not at fault; which will mean the criticism were invalid, take it as an indirect recognition for the good things you are doing, and follow the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad; glorify with the Praise of your Lord and prostrate yourself; and worship your Lord till the Truth comes to you.
When we say the Prophet has criticized, we are referring to the fact that he has constructively criticized a situation, corrected it and at the same time protect the dignity of the criticized person.
Criticism can be called correction or feedback when it’s done the Prophet’s way. There many incidents when some companions committed offensive actions or even offended the Prophet personally, and his reactions came in the form of education, reminder, offer of solutions and reassuring the offender of how important he is.
The Man Who Wanted to Commit Fornication
A young man came to the Prophet, seeking permission to commit unlawful sex. Certainly he knew fornication was a major sin, that’s why he came seeking permission for it.
The companions surrounding the Prophet got angry offered an immediate criticism to the young man, who “had the guts” to approach the Prophet and openly seek permission to commit immorality. As if they were saying to him, “where did you leave your morality, Aklaq and respect for the Prophet?”
The Prophet calmly asked his ‘angry’ companions to leave the gentleman alone. He then asked him to come closer. He said to him, “would you like it for your mum?” “Would you like it for your daughter?” “Would you like it for your sister?” “Would you like it for your aunty?”
After any of the above questions, the young man would angrily respond with “No!” Yes, he answered to those question with anger because, although he wanted permission to do that (major sin) he really didn’t want it done to his mother, daughter, sister or aunty. The Prophet used that logic to draw his attention to the fact that “none also want that for his mum, daughter, sister or aunty.”
As if the Prophet was reminding him of his (the Prophet’s) own saying:
لا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ لأَخِيهِ مَا يُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِهِ
It means,” None of you can believe completely until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
As part of the solutions to the young man’s problem, the Prophet prayed for him and said:
اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ ذَنْبَهُ، وَطَهِّرْ قَلْبَهُ، وَحَصِّنْ فَرْجَهُ
It means, “O Allah! Forgive his sins, purify his heart and protect his private parts.”
It’s narrated that, the gentleman did never go back to his intention to commit fornication or deeds related to it.
Let’s note here, that the Prophet provided a solution to gentleman’s problem, after communicating to his heart, persuading his mind, and leaving him with social responsibility of his deeds in the future. Also, the dialogue technique the Prophet used with the young man worked at that time, when morality is everyone’s concern, and modesty is common sense. At that time, even the sinner wouldn’t want his relative to commit sins. Therefore, the technique worked then.
This is to say, the same words used by the Prophet in dialogue may not work today, in a time where fornication and immorality is just common, and many have no problem seeing their loved ones engaged in it. Even some parents do encourage their children (daughters especially) to get involved in unlawful relationships. Therefore, different technique is needed if you are approached with a similar issue.
The story above represents many other situations, when the main characters deserve criticism and condemnation. Instead, the Prophet handled them mannerly, in a way that not only earned them their respect and love, he also helped them to learn to help themselves and others.
Based on how the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, handled the young man in the above story, we can learn to criticize others if:
We are ready to do it constructively
We are ready to avoid personal attacks
We are sure we have possible solutions to offer
We will do it with love. We can’t change people with hatred
We should remember to review our intention and do it with Ikhlas
Despite criticism being part of human nature (whether for good or for bad), there are types of people who devote themselves, to be critics. Unless one is paid to evaluate and criticize whatever others do, being critical (only) about others is not a good job worth devoting one’s life for.
We can criticize to create awareness, but we should also have some contributions we offer our nations and the Ummah at large. Criticism should not be one’s sole responsibility, for that is irresponsibility. Sometimes, we have to find ourselves in the position of our critiques, in order to learn to stop being critics, or learn to criticize constructively.
So, do you have a mission to deliver in life? Align your mission to the Pleasure of Allah and His Prophet, constantly observe the Adab (good manners) of the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alaihi wasallam, and then always recite this to yourself:
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ * إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ
It means, “Then declare what you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists. Indeed, We are sufficient for you against the mockers.” [Surah Al-Hijr, 15:94-95].
How we react to criticism can also be criticism. So, we should do it the Prophet’s way.
I would like to hear from you. I welcome your comments, feedback, suggestions and questions. Remember to share this piece with your loved ones.
Allah knows best.