The Forgotten Art of Listening


As we increase in age, knowledge and experience so does our tendency to share what we know to others. This is good in the sense that the advice would benefit other people when they learn from what we know, from our mistakes and ultimately would give them a head start in their learning curve.

But to advise and to talk whenever we want to could bring one big disadvantage – we would listen less. And many people don’t realise that the first step of giving advice is actually to listen.

To listen and to observe would mean we prioritise understanding the situation and the needs before prescribing advice. Giving unsolicited advice could make some people feel patronised. Giving the wrong one is worse – at the very least it could create confusion, or even give rise to bigger problem if the wrong advice was followed.

What would you think of a doctor who straight away gives medical advice once you step in his office, before you even tell him what your problem is?

Once a trainer told me that the steps to effective coaching are:

1. Listen
2. ‎Listen
3. ‎Listen
4. ‎Advise
5. ‎Listen

Which makes sense. I was once assigned with a mentor by my company and my first so-called ‘mentoring session’ was half-an-hour of one-way non-stop talking by the mentor, and nothing much else.

The tendency to ‘forget to listen’ gets more prominent as one has a more superior social status over others: the boss over his workers, the teacher over his students, the head of family over the family members, the naqib over his usrah members, and so on. Many don’t realise the bigger our responsibilities are, the stronger the need to listen becomes.

And the body language plays a big role in the art of listening. We have seen people typing away at their computer or playing with their smartphones while you are talking to them. Not to mention that their eyes are not even looking at you. That should give you an indication where their minds are at that moment, and where you are in their mental priority list. The Prophet Muhammad (s) would turn his entire body (not just his face) to someone who was talking to him.

Listening is all the more important in parenting. Young children observe everything, and the attitude reflected by our body language would likely be imitated by them later in their life.

While the previous ways of parenting focus on prescriptive instructions and strict disciplining, the recent approach is more towards listening and engaging, hence the term ‘engaged parenting’. To address tantrums, more parents are moving away from using time-outs (which is akin to banishing the kids to a quiet place) to having time-ins, which is essentially discussing feelings in a reasonable manner.

So we are already good at talking, now let’s (re-)learn the art of listening. Refrain ourselves whenever we feel like talking, instead focus on understanding others. After all you can’t listen when you talk.

Happy listening.

Golongan Yang Tidak Disebut

Seorang ustaz kami pernah bercerita tentang suatu kisah Bani Isra’il di dalam Qur’an. Tuhan telah melarang mereka daripada menangkap ikan pada hari Sabtu, tetapi mereka melakukan helah apabila diuji dengan banyaknya ikan yang keluar pada hari itu.

Satu kumpulan manusia menegur kejahatan mereka.

Dan satu kumpulan lagi membiarkan sahaja golongan pertama. Malah mereka menyoal pula kumpulan yang menegur.

“Dan (ingatlah) ketika segolongan di antara mereka berkata: ‘Mengapa kamu menasihati kaum yang Allah akan membinasakan mereka atau mengazabkan mereka dengan azab yang amat berat?’ ” (7:164)

Lalu dijawab oleh golongan kedua:

“Mereka menjawab: ‘Ia untuk melepaskan diri dari bersalah kepada Tuhan kamu, dan agar mereka bertaqwa.’  ” (7:164)

Tiga golongan: Yang melakukan kejahatan, yang menghalang kejahatan, dan golongan yang berkecuali.

Pengakhiran mereka diceritakan seterusnya:

“Maka ketika mereka tidak menghiraukan apa yang telah diperingatkan kepada mereka, Kami selamatkan orang-orang yang melarang daripada perbuatan jahat itu, dan Kami timpakan orang-orang yang zalim dengan azab seksa yang amat berat, disebabkan mereka berlaku fasik.” (7:164)

Golongan yang mencegah kejahatan diselamatkan. Golongan yang melakukan kezaliman ditimpakan azab.

Lalu kami bertanya kepada ustaz: Apa jadi kepada golongan ketiga? Kenapa tak disebut?

Kata ustaz: Bila Allah tidak sebut kesudahan mereka, maksudnya ia tidak layak untuk disebut.


Di zaman di mana kezaliman itu terang, jadilah mereka yang berani menegur, ‘Ini zalim!’ Janganlah jadi mereka yang berdiam diri, yang berkecuali, yang tidak pasti kedudukannya, not here nor there. Kesudahan mereka ini tidak layak disebut. Not worth mentioning. Baik di dalam sejarah, malah di dalam Al-Qur’an sekalipun.

Ya Allah! Perlihatkanlah kepada kami yang benar itu benar, dan kurniakanlah kami untuk dapat mengikutinya. Dan perlihatkanlah kepada kami yang salah itu salah, dan kurniakanlah kami untuk dapat menghindarinya.


Tell Our Children It’s OK To Be Different


People compare to each other – how they look, their jobs, their houses, their rides, and how their football teams fare in the league table. While adults compare, so do kids. Kids arguably are more observant. They watch their parents, their friends and any other people (especially those of their age) they happen to come across.

Growing kids are establishing their identity, and are looking at anyone around them as a source of examples. To feel accepted in the social circle their in, they prefer to blend in. Hence they feel they need to emulate.

This is where parents could – and should – play a role. We aspire for our kids to be the best they could be – in character, in manners, in knowledge and in deeds. Not all of the sighted examples around us have these. Be available to provide guidance, advice and if needed, control.

We often hear our kids say,

“… but the other kids wear these!”
“… but all my friends do it!”

At this junction we the parents should ask, do I have an absolute reference for my kids to emulate, or am I contented that my kids be ‘just like other people’?

My 12 year-old daughter told me all but two persons in her class have handphones (she is one of the two). But does that justify the need for her to have one?

The majority does not necessarily mean the right or the best. There would be times when we find ourselves among the few.

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab once heard a man say, ‘O Allah make me among the few.’ ‘Umar then asked, ‘What’s this (that you are asking for)?’ The man said, “O Amir al-Mu’minin, Allah says,

“And very few of my servants are thankful.” (34:13) [reported by Al-Imam Ahmad]

The Messenger of Allah (s) said, “Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers.” [reported by Al-Imam Muslim]

Learn the religion. Know what we want to be. And be prepared to appear to be different.

Tell our kids we have our belief, and no-one can change it. Tell our kids it takes strength to persevere. Tell our kids leaders are often lonely, and we are meant to be leaders.

Tell them it’s OK to be different.


True Companions

Umar ibn Al-Khattab said: “The one I love most is the one who tells me my faults.” (recorded in Tarikh Al-Khulafaa’ by Al-Imam Al-Suyuti)

But people nowadays would rather have friends who agree with them at all times than those who point out their mistakes. “You tell me I’m wrong and you’re not with me anymore.”

May we be granted wisdom to see the best in people, and may we be granted the best companionship.


Testing Times

In these testing times (corruption, injustice, abuse of power, etc.) we take lesson from what the Prophet (s) said:

“Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then with his heart. And that is the weakest of faith.” (Recorded by Muslim)

Thus whatever we decided to do (or not to) indicates our level of imaan, or lack of it.


A Question to The Member of An Islamic Movement

I was exposed to the environment of Islamic movements back in my years of studying in the United Kingdom. In a country where freedom of speech is assured, societies, organisations and movements strive in the UK (some maybe too free and too unrestrained that extreme ideologies also admittedly exist). As an eager youth wanting to get involved I quickly adapted myself to one of these, as the particular movement I was with was aligning itself with the idea of educating Islam as a way of life, that the universal message of Islam is to be propagated and shared to all, regardless of nations and races.

I identified myself with this movement, went to its educational classes and discussions, even helped organising its events and inviting new members. One could say I devoted my time to its cause (on top of my other priority which was to get a degree).

At that time that there were quite a few organisations which were active – Majlis Syura Muslimun (MSM), Hizbul Islami (Hizbi), ABIM, Kelab UMNO UK, just to name a few which were linked with Malaysians. There were also non-Malaysian-specific organisations such as the FOSIS (Federation of Studient Islamic Societies), and Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) whose activities were also participated by Malaysians. While there were many opportunities for those who wanted to participate, realistically a person could only devote to one should he or she wished to get involved more seriously.

One particular day I was asked by one senior member in private: “Will you leave this organisation for something which is better?”

Honestly this particular question stumped me, and I could not give a quick reply. Will I leave this organisation after all the hard work the organisation and its senior members had given and had educated me? Will I leave this organisation after the many years I had proudly born its flag and its message? Will I leave this organisation after I have gone through the process of examining and choosing (from the many organisations and societies around), that this was THE organisation for me? After these years of believing that this organisation is the BEST in terms of putting the message of Islam into practice, in terms of its methodologies and ways of inviting others (da’wah)?

Only after a long, long thought, did I give the brother my answer.

What answer I gave is not of the interest of this writing. Nor is what happened after that ‘test’. What is important however was the pertinence and importance of that seemingly small event, of which I only realised after quite a while.

Islam urges its followers to learn and to follow the religion. But Islam does not teach blind following of any person, sect or organisation.

While the belief of a person or the visions of an organisation may change, Islam and its principles will always be the same.

No person (or organisation) is infallible, but Islam and the message of God will stay true. Allah says in the Qur’an, the meaning of which: “Verily it is We Who have sent down the Qur’an and surely We will guard it.” (TMQ 15:9)

One of the great companions Sayyidina Ali had said: “Do not seek to know the truth according to other people. Rather first come to know the truth — and only then will you recognise its people.” [A saying attributed to Ali ibn Abi Talib, quoted here as cited by Al-Imam Al-Ghazzali in his work Munqidh min al-Dalal]

So if my allegiance was to a person or to an organisation, this allegiance would only hold if that person or organisation would keep to the true teachings. But if my allegiance is to Islam, I know that Islam is true and will remain true.

The moment my organisational leaders say something which is against the teaching, I will not hesitate to correct them. The moment my organisation goes to a different direction, I will not hesitate to leave.

Thus by understanding this, there should be:

  • No blind following or allegiance to a person or a group or a party.
  • No-one being afraid to speak against a leader who is at error, even though that might cost him a position (including that of a Deputy Prime Minister)
  • No such motto as: “I am forever with this party (a good example in Malay is ‘UMNO Dulu, Kini dan Selamanya’)”
  • No vilifying of those who wish to leave a group when they feel they no longer share the group’s ideologies or direction (such as those leaving PAS and forming the ‘Gerakan Harapan Baru’ movement)

The question was put to me 17 years ago. I am now a member of a different organisation (but which adopts exactly the same principles as that which I joined back in the UK). I don’t wish to write names here of as the names are not important, but the message is.

I wish more of the sincere workers of Islam could adopt the same understanding (not necessarily by joining my current organisation), see beyond the partisan and organisational boundaries, leaving behind the vilification and name-calling, and focussing on our core and shared agenda, such as spreading the message of Islam, working towards a compassionate society, and calling for a just, transparent government.

Each worker of an Islamic organisation should be able to answer the very question that was put to me, “Am I willing to leave this organisation for something which is better?”

And to answer this, he or she should ask, “Am I standing by the truth, or am I standing by my group?”