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Muslim sisters are full of advice. The slightest hint of conflict or uncertainty and every well-intentioned friend will rush to reconcile friends and spouses or provide THE remedy for your situation. Good right? Not always. Despite the desire to help a friend or sister in need, these situations can, and oft do, go awry.
Is there one of us who has never been directly involved in or witnessed an ‘advice-gone-wrong’ scenario? The sensation of being read your rights when you were “just trying to help” is bewildering.
Here is a look into how these situations get off track and how you can become better at giving and receiving advice…if you absolutely have to.
#1 Ask yourself why you are getting involved and giving advice.
Ask any Muslim who has ever been snapped at for correcting or advising someone why they got involved and the answer will likely be that we as Muslims are supposed to warn each other when we are going astray and recommend each other to patience and truth. That is so caring and often so fake.
J.P. Morgan said “A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason”. We leap into helping others because we think we are supposed to or we want to and then once the situation deteriorates, we grasp at anything that will justify our being there in the first place.
All Muslims with a sincere desire for harmony want to see everyone at peace, but it may not always be wise to involve yourself in a conflict. *Note: once you are involved you share in the outcome so consider remaining uninvolved when your help is not absolutely necessary. There is no such thing as being neutral once you have already involved yourself. At this point you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

#2 Determine if the person wants or needs your advice.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to ask. My, oh my how many conflicts would not arise or escalate if we would just learn to ask simple questions! Unsolicited advice is annoying however well-meant. Someone lamenting their difficulties is not equivalent of soliciting your help. Although, lamenters should be aware that this is exactly how it is perceived. More on that in Part II: receiving advice.

#3 If refereeing between 2 or more persons, listen equally to all sides before taking action.
As Goethe pointed out, “One man’s word is no man’s word; we should quietly hear both sides.” Even in our broken judicial system, a judge will hear both sides of an issue before getting the ruling completely wrong. Not so with friends and sisters. We hear a word from someone we love and trust and accept it as truth without considering they may have concealed parts of the tale to elicit an emotional response and secure our cooperation in their scheme. No one ever tells the entire story. We tell the bits that make us the victim and our adversary, the villain.
When you listen to one side of an issue, you have engaged in gossip and possibly slander (you may never know which one). To make matters worse, if you act on what has been said, you make yourself a buffer between a gossip and her target. She spreads disunity and you take the hit for it. She never has to face the person or persons she has spoken ill of and any negative fallout happens between yourself and the intended target. This is the saddest of all situations. I have seen too many relationships and reputations ruined because we do not think before jumping into controversy. A gossip is inviting you to share in her sin. Reject the invitation.

#4 When helping resolve an issue, strive for the most peaceful outcome for all involved, not the most comfortable outcome for you.
Imposing your personal will on others is denying them their right to be an individual and the right to personal growth. You will never know all the reasons for conflict and sometimes a problem will work itself out for the best. It may be necessary and better for sisters to part in peace rather than stay next to each other in a volatile state. Insisting that two people reconcile after their relationship has reached its expiration is the equivalent of poking a wound-do it long enough and it will bleed; leave it alone and it just might heal.

#5 You need both parties’ approval before you can rightfully intervene.
I know it seems obvious as you are reading this, but this guideline is the most overlooked in conflict resolution. Understand that though one party to a conflict may seek you out for advice, that does not mean the other party or parties will be as welcoming. One person’s invitation into the fray does not give you permission to go running through another person’s life. *Note: Just because you know someone and care about them does not make their business your business. No. It doesn’t.
Do not be surprised if you offend someone by obtaining information about them that they had not intended to share with you. The private dealings of a life are sacred and should be shared by a person with whomever THEY choose, not who you decide needs to know. Once you share or hear a private detail about someone, they cannot ever get it back. This can lead them to feel naked and exposed and they may pull away from others not knowing how far the information has gotten or who knows it. It also behooves you to remember that when you engage in this sport that you have now surrounded yourself with people who are showing you they cannot be trusted. They will share your information as easily as they did the other sister’s and treat you just as unfairly. Make no mistake about it.

#6 “Better check ya tone!”- Leonard Washington
Saying the right thing with the wrong tone of voice or in the wrong spirit will result in an undeliverable message. No one likes being spoken to in the following ways: harshly, arrogantly, dismissively, mockingly, jerkily, tauntingly or randomly. Randomly? Yes, randomly. Random advice is unsolicited advice that comes out of the blue from a person who otherwise takes no interest in you as a person. This is the friend or acquaintance, who never calls, never invites you anywhere, does not engage you on social networks and shows no concern for your spiritual growth, yet thinks she can offer up her opinion of your behavior or character when you are not up to her standard.
You have to earn the right to be heard in another believer’s life. So if you do not commend them for right action, chances are they will not be open to your criticism of their wrong action.

We are sisters in Islam and we should always want the very best for each other in all circumstances. We are often misguided in our approach to the many duties we have to one another, but we are not beyond help. Patience is the key to healing our community and making ourselves stronger as individuals and ultimately as an Ummah.
The next time you are tempted to involve yourself in another sister’s problems, check your intentions by the suggestions above and see if your perspective doesn’t change before you do so. One last piece of advice (annoying) for those who get bent out of shape when someone ignores your good advice: “Advise and counsel him. If he does not listen, let experience teach him.” – African Proverb.

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One thought on “Keeping our community close: How to give and receive advice without losing a sister. Part I: Giving

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