Suheil Laher

Advice in this article refers to the Qurʾānic term naṣīḥa, which is a comprehensive term encompassing both sincerity and well-meaning advice. Naṣīḥa is understood by some scholars to be the crux of the religion, encompassing all three dimensions of  belief : islām, īmān, and iḥsān, as specified in the well-known ‘hadith of Jibrīl’ (Muslim, Imān, bayān al-islām wal-īmān wal-iḥsān; al-Nawawī, al-Arbaʿūn al-Nawawiyya, Hadith 2, p. 48)) (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:218). Given the broad scope of the term, practically every Qurʾānic verse and every teaching of the religion can be considered in some way to be an elaboration of naṣīḥa. Naṣīḥa underlies sincerity in worship, contractual honesty in commerce (see Buying and Selling), and interpersonal ethics (q.v.) in family law and other human interactions. State law, in turn, exists precisely to earnestly serve and preserve the collective welfare of both Muslim and non-Muslim subjects. The spirit of naṣīḥa underpinned the message and mission of all Prophets of Allah, and constantly keeping it in mind is said to be a powerful antidote against becoming enmeshed in legal technicalities (Kāshif al-Ghiṭāʾ, al-Dīn al-naṣīḥa p. 6-8). It is an important constructive force for holding individuals and social institutions to standards of justice, preserving deep-rooted ethical standards. Finally, some sages have portrayed it as the key to spiritual achievement. Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) was willing to swear that “The most beloved of Allah’s slaves to Allah are those who endear Allah to His slaves, and endear Allah’s slaves to Allah, and strive upon the earth with sincere counsel (naṣīḥa).” The early mystic Fuḍayl b. ʿIyāḍ (d. 187/803) averred that any spiritual rank is attained not because of abundant prayer and fasting, but rather “by magnanimity of soul, integrity of heart, and desiring good (nuṣḥ) for the umma” (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:224). 

Lexical Background

Naṣīḥa is derived from the triliteral root n-ṣ-ḥ which generally signifies purity, the intransitive verb naṣaḥa being used to describe honey from which the beeswax has been removed (the folk etymology of the English word “sincere” is precisely analogous). Shāra al-ʿasal, a transitive verb used to describe this process, yields the term shūrā (“extracting an opinion,” see Consultation), thus conceptually overlapping with the term naṣīḥa. From the tangible meaning of material purification derive the intangible senses of sincerity (ikhlāṣ, purification from deception and selfish motives, its root kh-l-ṣ being essentially synonymous with n-ṣ-ḥ), genuine love, and well-wishing, and hence honest striving—through thoughts, words, and actions—for what is beneficial and not harmful. The term’s active participle denotes not only one pure of heart (nāṣiḥ) but also a tailor (nāṣiḥ or nāṣiḥī), because he produces a garment to serve the welfare and best interest of the client and because he restores clothes to good order by patching (concealing) their damage—much like an earnest counselor, whose advice is directed purely toward what is good for another. The verb naṣaḥa can be used transitively, or more commonly and properly with the preposition li-, to indicate earnestly advising another. The verbal noun nuṣḥ signifies a state of being pure and sincere (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs). Related to naṣīḥa are numerous other terms, among them tadhkīr/dhikrā (“reminder”) (see Remembrance and Reminder of Allah), waʿẓ (“admonition”), daʿwa (“invitation (to Islam)”) (see Calling to Allah), amr bil-maʿrūf wa nahy ʿan al-munkar (see Commanding Good and Forbidding Wrong), and waṣiyya (“directive” or “testament”) (see Wills, Bequests, Directives, and Divine Stipulations). Its opposite is ghishsh (“dishonesty, cheating”). 


Five of the eleven Qurʾānic occurrences of derivatives of n-ṣ-ḥ present sincere, altruistic advice as underlying the preaching of the Prophets, specifically as illustrated by reference to Nūḥ , Hūd, Ṣāliḥ , and Shuʿayb , peace be upon them all (detailed elaborations of Qurʾānic usage follow below). Ibn Kathīr extrapolates, deducing that Prophets in general possess the attribute of nuṣḥ (“pure goodwill”), along with honesty and due diligence in delivering their message (see Conveying the Message). The nuṣḥ of the above-mentioned Prophets can be deduced to subsume actions and attitudes such as: conveying the message without alteration, addition, or subtraction (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Tabarsī, Majmaʿ); clarifying the truth (Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-qadīr); inviting their peoples to affirm the oneness of God and their Prophethood, in which people’s welfare ultimately lies (see Reward and Punishment) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); warning them of Divine punishment if they do not mend their idolatrous, iniquitous ways (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); and conveying the Divine injunctions and duties, directing people to what is most correct and beneficial, and loving for them what the Prophet loves for himself (Rāzī, Tafsīr).

In response to accusations by their people of misguidance and foolishness, respectively, Nūḥ (Q 7:62) and Hūd (Q 7:68) reply that they simply convey the messages of Allah, Nūḥ adding “and I advise you all” (wa anṣaḥu lakum) and Hūd adding “and I am a true advisor to you” (wa anā lakum nāṣiḥun amīn). The words of Nūḥ, peace be upon him, are presented in the imperfect tense, likely to reflect the nature of his 950-year mission (Q 29:14), in which he preached by night and by day (Q 71:5) despite repeated rejection and persecution. On the other hand, Hūd’s use of the participial noun nāṣiḥ (“advisor/counselor”) reminds his people of his established reputation among them (Ālūsī, Rūḥ; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). While these two Prophets describe themselves as sincere advisors in the hope of persuading their peoples to heed their messages, Ṣāliḥ (Q 7:79) and Shuʿayb (Q 7:93) do so while deploring their peoples’ repudiation of their messages, which then invokes Divine chastisement (although some commentators believe these declarations to have occurred earlier; see Rāzī, Tafsīr). Ṣāliḥ, upon him be peace, turned from them and said: “O my people, I have conveyed my Lord’s message unto you and advised you, but you do not like counselors.” He bemoans the fact that his people were not amenable to accepting the words of sincere advisers who counseled them to give up harmful and evil desires and passions (see Love, Desire, and Lust) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Shuʿayb, upon him be peace, realized the futility of grieving over his people’s fate, for they brought it upon themselves by not heeding his advice: So he turned from them and said: “O my people, I have delivered my Lord’s messages unto you and advised you; yet how should I sorrow for a people that have denied [the truth]?”

In another verse, Nūḥ, upon him be peace, reminds his people: “My advice will not benefit you [even] if I wish to advise you, if Allah wills to lead you astray (yughwiyakum). He is your Lord and unto Him ye will be brought back” (Q 11:34). This is one of the verses whose interpretation was later contested in ʿAshʿarī-Muʿtazilī debates over qadar (see Ability; Acquisition; Apportionment; Divine Decree; Guidance and Misguidance) and the propriety or otherwise of saying that Allah wills evil (see, e.g., al-Saffārīnī, Lawāmiʿ al-anwār 1:156). ʿAshʿarīs were more willing to take the verb ighwāʾ (“leading astray”) as meaning misguidance, and adduced the verse as evidence for the validity of holding that Allah wills disbelief (albeit without approving of it, and always in response to the unbeliever’s choice to refuse guidance). Muʿtazilīs disagreed, refusing to believe this of Allah. They replied variously that: (i) the conditional tense of the verse could mark a merely hypothetical scenario, or (ii) Allah’s “leading unbelievers astray” could refer to their divinely-ordained destruction (since there is scholarly agreement that repentance is of no avail after the onset of such Divine punishment—as in the case of Firʿawn (Pharaoh)); or (iii) Allah’s “willing misguidance” could refer figuratively to Allah’s response to the disbeliever’s self-willed misguidance (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ṭabarsī, Majmaʿ; Rāzī, Tafsīr, all sub Q 11:34). Both Ashʿarīs and Muʿtazilīs agree that prophetic counsel would not have been of any practical benefit if those addressed had repudiated it (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). The fact that Nūḥ, upon him be peace, used a conditional verb form (“if Allah wills to lead you astray”), without condemning his detractors or claiming knowledge of their ultimate fate despite their long opposition to his message, illustrates the patience (see Perseverance, Patience, and Fortitude), humility, and concern for others’ well-being that epitomizes the spirit of nuṣḥ—and that should be exhibited by every caller to Allah.

The close conjunction between keeping faith, remaining earnest, and caring for others that together comprises nusḥ is so fundamental that its obligation is never waived entirely, even when an individual is exempted from a particular outward practice, and even when no bodily obligations remain (as in the case of someone totally unable to move, but whose mind still functions) (Marwazī, Taʿẓīm qadr al-ṣalāh p. 462). Q 9:91 excuses sick and other incapacitated men from joining the Muslim army in times of general conscription, on condition that they are true (naṣaḥū) to Allah and His Messenger (in contrast to the hypocrites who present false excuses; see Hypocrisy and Hypocrites) (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:218). The obligations implied by “remaining true” are to maintain their faith and other acts of devotion in private and public (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf); not to spread disquieting rumors or otherwise cause sedition in the Muslim ranks; to support the army by any means in their power (Rāzī, Tafsīr), even if only to pray for their victory (Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr); to know, as far as possible, the truth about the politico-military situation; to love those on the side of truth and to despise its enemies (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr); and generally to be concerned about the situation rather than becoming engrossed in their own personal lives, homes, and occupations (Rāzī, Tafsīr).

The Qurʾānic usage of words deriving from n-ṣ-ḥ underscores its sense of earnest care for the well-being of others. This is illustrated in two verses from the story of Prophet Mūsā, upon him be peace. After the infant Mūsā was taken from the river into Firʿawn’s household, when he refused the milk of all its wet-nurses (see Breastfeeding), Mūsā’s sister offered to find them “a household that will be responsible to you for him, and sincerely committed to him (i.e., to his upbringing and affairs) (wa hum lahu nāṣiḥūn)” (Q 28:12). Of course, no one could be more compassionate and devoted to rearing a child than his own kin, and hence it is conceivable that—as Ṭabarī (Tafsīr) and others hold—his sister was suspected of knowing who the child’s mother was. Ibn ʿAbbās (d. ca.67/686), Qatāda (d. ca.118/736), Suddī (d. 127/745), and Ibn Jurayj (d. ca.150/767), who hold that she averted that suspicion, point out that there is a second possible meaning in her words: that is, that she would find a household who would be sincere toward Firʿawn in the child’s upbringing. Much later, Mūsā, upon him be peace, received a warning that Firʿawn’s chiefs planned to kill him for his unintentional slaying of an Egyptian man the previous day (see Q 28:15-21). The warner, who came from the farthest end of the city (perhaps meaning the outlying suburbs, where Firʿawn’s palace may have been; see Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr), running, said: “O Musā, the chiefs are in consultation (yaʾtamirūn) against you, to kill you, so flee! Truly I am one of those who give you good advice (min al-nāṣiḥīn).”

There are two cases in the Qurʾān of false counsel, both illustrating how the depraved and those of weak character can feign sincerity while secretly pursuing their own, often malicious, interests. When Satan was trying to induce Ādam and Ḥawwāʾ (q.v.) to eat from the forbidden tree, he swore to them both, “Verily I am of the sincere advisers (al-nāṣiḥīn) to you both!” (Q 7:21). That Satan felt compelled to swear suggests that the humans felt reluctance to accept his counsel without swearing (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). The incident also evinces the sanctity in which believers hold the name of Allah and the weight they give to words backed by it, although the unscrupulous may exploit this for paltry gain and so plunge into major sin (see Oaths). The brothers of the Prophet Yūsuf, upon him peace, jealously plotting to be rid of him, described themselves as wishing only the best for him, saying, “Father, why will you not trust us with Yūsuf, when we are indeed his sincere well-wishers (innā lahu la-nāṣiḥūn)?” (Q 12:11). The syntax of this expression, with the preposition (li-) and its object pronoun preceding the active participle (nāṣiḥūn), rhetorically emphasizes their argument, as if they were not well-wishers to anyone but their brother (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr).

Q 66:8 calls, O you who believe, turn unto Allah in sincere repentance (tawbatan naṣūḥan)! The latter phrase is exegetically glossed in light of the lexical senses of naṣūḥ as: (i) a pure repentance, purified of any contaminating intention to repeat the sin (Fayrūzābādī, Qāmūs; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr); (ii) reparative repentance, that patches or mends the tear resulting from disobedience to Allah (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Ṭabarsī, Majmaʿ); (iii) an advisory repentance that implicitly recommends its subject or others to do good, by way of its effects manifest in the repentant person and his behavior (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf); (iv) a repentance whose subject is sincere, the repentance itself being figuratively described as such (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf); (v) a uniting repentance, that reunites its subject with the righteous (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr); and (vi) a securing repentance, that secures the person’s obedience as a tailor secures a garment with thread (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr).

Hadith References

Alluding to the centrality of sincere counsel in the role of all Prophets, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace—without explicitly using the term nuṣḥ—said: “There was no Prophet before me for whom it was not his duty to direct his people to the best of what he knew, and to warn them of the worst of what he knew” (Muslim, Imāra, wujūb al-wafāʾ bi-bayʿat al-khulafāʾ al-awwal fal-awwal).

A concise elaboration of the categories of people to whom such earnest fidelity (nuṣḥ) is due is found in the following hadith, which al-Nawawī (d. 676/1277) included in his famous compilation of forty concise hadiths of general wisdom. The Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, said thrice, “Religion is to be true (al-Dīn naṣīḥa).” When the Companions asked, “To whom, O Messenger of Allah?” he explained, “To Allah, to His Book, to His Messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims, and to their general populace” (Muslim, Īmān, bayān ann al-dīn naṣīḥa; al-Nawawī, al-Arbaʿūn al-Nawawiyya, Hadith 7 p. 58). Abū Dāwūd comments that this is one of the hadiths around which law (fiqh) revolves. The concept thus encompasses sincerity in matters of worship as well as concern for the rights of others (see Rights and Claims) and the common good, such as the prohibition of cheating in trade and commerce (see Trade). This brings out a deeper sense of the following hadith: “The best earning is that of a laborer’s hand, if he is sincere (naṣaḥa)” (Aḥmad, Bāqī musnad al-mukthirīn, musnad Abī Hurayra). Similarly, Dhū al-Nūn al-Miṣrī (d. 246/861) is reported to have said, “Three things are a sign of good in a merchant: avoiding criticizing [the goods] when he buys, and [avoiding] praising [his own wares] when he sells, for fear of lying; dispensing advice (naṣīḥa) to the Muslims, from fear of betraying [them in commerce]; and being faithful in weighing, for fear of cheating” (al-Bayhaqī, Shuʿab al-īmān, al-khāmis wal-thalāthīn min shuʿab al-īmān 4:332).

Muḥammad b. Naṣr al-Marwazī (d. 294/906) is the earliest authority known to have made an illustrative list of specific actions exemplifying each of the forms of fidelity enumerated in the hadith quoted above (al-Marwazī, Taʿẓīm qadr al-ṣalāh p. 461-3). His work was later built upon by others, prominent among them being al-Khaṭṭābī (d. 388/998), Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (d. 643/1245), al-Nawawī, and Ibn Rajab (d. 795/1393), who successively reformulated it, in some cases adding sayings and aphorisms from earlier figures. A representative selection follows.

Sincerity toward Allah includes embracing the pure unicity of Allah (see Tawḥīd), seeking the love of Allah Most High and avoiding His displeasure, and loving or disliking others’ actions and beliefs on that basis. It is attributed to Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace, that he said, “Sincerity toward Allah is that you begin with an action that is pleasing to Allah before attending to your own worldly need” (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:218). Another hadith presents a parable (q.v.) illustrating sincerity in regard to Allah: “Suppose you had two slaves, one of whom obeys you and does not betray you or lie to you, while the other betrays and lies to you. Are the two equal?... So too are you (human beings) before Allah” (Aḥmad, Musnad al-Shāmiyyīn, ḥadīth Abī l-Aḥwaṣ ʿan abīh). Reasoning by a similar analogy, Fuḍayl b. ʿIyāḍ remarked that just as a servant who loves, rather than merely fearing, his master will uphold the master’s interest even in his absence, likewise love for Allah is superior to fear of Him (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:219);

Sincerity toward the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, includes believing in his prophethood, upholding and defending his Sunna (see Path), emulating and inculcating his blessed character, and loving his family and companions;

Sincerity toward the Qurʾān includes believing it to be the speech of Allah (kalām Allāh); reciting, pondering, understanding, and implementing it; and, (particularly for scholars) defending it, together with the Prophet’s person and practice, from attacks and distortion;

Sincerity to Muslim rulers includes loyalty, obedience, and assistance to them within the parameters of Islam, as well as advising them and praying for them. This is an important theme, and its centrality to community is highlighted in several more specific hadiths, such as the following:

“Allah approves three [things] for you…: that you worship Him, not associating any partner with Him; that you hold fast all together to the rope of Allah and be not divided; and that you advise those (tunāṣiḥū) whom Allah has entrusted with your affairs” (Muslim, Aqḍiya, inn Allāh yarḍā lakum thalāthan wa yakrah lakum thalāthan).

In the course of a sermon at Minā, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said, “There are three things which do not lead the heart of a Muslim into treachery: making one’s action sincere (ikhlāṣ) for [the sake of] Allah; being sincere in advice (munāṣaḥa) to rulers; and holding fast to the community  of the Muslims” (Tirmidhī, ʿIlm, mā jāʾ fī-l-hathth ʿalā tablīgh al-samāʿ; Ahmad, Bāqī musnad al-mukthirīn, musnad Anas b. Mālik).

“Any servant [of Allah] whom Allah has put in charge of subjects, but who then fails to protect them with sincere goodwill (yanṣaḥ), will not enter Heaven” (Bukhārī, Aḥkām, man usturʿiya raʿiyya fa-lam yanṣaḥ; Muslim, Īmān, istiḥqāq al-walī/wālī al-ghāshsh li-raʿiyyatih al-nār).

Sincerity toward the Muslim community in general includes goodwill toward them, advising and teaching them, being compassionate to the young and respectful to elders, liking for them what one likes for oneself, in accordance with the hadith, “None of you is a true believer until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself” (Bukhārī, Īmān, min al-īmān an yuḥibb li-akhīh mā yuḥibb li-nafsih; Muslim, Īmān, al-dalīl ʿalā anna min khiṣāl al-īmān an yuḥibb li-akhīh al-muslim mā yuḥibb li-nafsih min al-khayr), helping and supporting them, tolerating and concealing their shortcomings, and seeking the collective good even if it involves personal sacrifice or loss (see Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:222; Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim, Īmān, bayān ann al-dīn naṣīḥa).

Other hadiths stress the importance of sincere advice in interpersonal dealings, fostering brotherhood, and maintaining and nurturing community. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, took a pledge of allegiance from Jarīr (d. 54/673) that he would establish the prayer, give zakāt, and be a sincere well-wisher (practice nuṣḥ) to every Muslim (Bukhārī, Īmān, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam, al-dīn al-naṣīḥa; Muslim, Īmān, bayān ann al-dīn naṣīḥa). One of the six duties that a Muslim is morally (even if not legally) bound to observe towards his fellow-Muslim is “If he seeks advice from you, advise him” (Muslim, Salām, min ḥaqq al-muslim lil-muslim radd al-salām). According to another version, it is incumbent upon a Muslim regarding a fellow Muslim, “That when he is absent he wish him well (yanṣaḥ lah)” (Aḥmad, Bāqī musnad al-mukthirīn, musnad Abī Hurayra; similarly Tirmidhī, Adab, mā jāʾ fī tashmīt al-ʿāṭis). Indeed, defending someone’s honor in their absence is a stronger sign of sincerity, for selfish motivations might be at play when the person himself is present.

Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (164-241/781-855) did not consider it obligatory for a Muslim to offer nuṣḥ (here presumably referring to unsolicited advice) to a non-Muslim, according to a literal understanding of the hadith cited above, which mentions only Muslims (“to the leaders of the Muslims, and to their general populace”) (Khallāl, Ahl al-milal wal-ridda, Adab, bāb fī-l-nuṣḥ 1:455). However, the context of Imam Aḥmad’s statement has not been recorded, and in light of the clarity and centrality of the Qurʾānic theme of Prophets’ counsel to their unbelieving peoples, prominent later scholars concluded that duties of nuṣḥ do apply in dealing with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (a Shāfiʿī, d. 852/1449) held that the “Religion is sincerity” hadith should not be taken as excluding non-Muslims, and that advice to a non-Muslim includes both advising him when requested and inviting him to Islam, out of desire for his well-being (Fatḥ al-bārī, Īmān, qawl al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam, al-dīn al-naṣīḥa). Mullā ʿAlī Qārī (a Ḥanafī, d. 1014/1606) deduced similarly from a hadith instructing against desiring ill (ghishsh, the opposite of nuṣḥ) for anyone, not restricted to Muslims (Mirqāt al-mafātīḥ, Īmān, al-iʿtiṣām bil-kitāb wal-sunna 1:384). The Ḥanafī jurist al-Sarakhsī comments that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, gave advice even to the Jews of Khaybar who had fought against him, and so Muslims should therefore never neglect to offer sincere counsel to anyone, friend or foe (al-Mabsūṭ 23:9). It is also permissible to seek advice from non-Muslims if circumstances and experience indicate they are trustworthy, as attested by the Prophet’s example (upon him blessings and peace) when he accepted counsel from non-Muslim allies such as the Banū Khuzāʿa (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Shurūṭ, al-shurūṭ fī-l-jihād wal-muṣālaḥa maʿ ahl al-ḥarb wa kitābat al-shurūṭ).

It is especially important to offer advice when it is explicitly solicited, in which case the advisor has a specific responsibility to offer sound and beneficial counsel: “He who is consulted [for advice] is one entrusted” (Tirmidhī, Adab, inn al-mustashār muʾtaman; hadith classed ḥasan); “Great treachery it is to tell your brother [something] in which he gives you credence, while you are lying to him” (Abu Dāwūd, Adab, al-taʿrīḍ bil-qawl).

Conversely, accepting sound advice is the hallmark of humility, for arrogance was defined by the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, as “rejecting the truth (for instance, when advised) and looking down on people” (Bukhārī, Libās, al-zajr ʿan al-isbāl; Muslim, Īmān, taḥrīm al-kibr wa-bayānuh). Another hadith, whose narrators are all trustworthy (thiqāt), illustrates the Prophet’s humility. When a Jewish man, Zayd b. Saʿna, harshly demanded repayment of a loan the Prophet had taken from him before it came due, ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb—Allah be well-pleased with him—rebuked him; but the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, told ʿUmar, “Rather tell me to repay gracefully, and tell him to ask politely,” and gave instructions that Zayd be paid back more than the amount due. Zayd then embraced Islam, and revealed that he had staged this encounter to test the character of the claimant to prophethood (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Maʿrifat al-ṣaḥāba, dhikr islām Zayd b. Saʿna).

There are numerous occasions on which the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, advised individuals or groups of his companions, either at their request or on his own initiative, with either general or specifically tailored advice. Examples of such hadiths are the following, most of which use derivatives of the word waṣiyya (“recommendation, advice,” often synonymous with naṣīḥa). In response to a man who repeatedly asked, “Give me counsel (awṣinī),” he repeatedly replied, “Do not be angry” (see Anger) (Bukhārī, Īmān, al-ḥadhar min al-ghaḍab; al-Nawawī, al-Arbaʿūn al-Nawawiyya, Hadith 16, p. 68). He advised Abū Dharr never to take up a position of leadership, knowing it to be inappropriate to Abū Dharr’s character (Muslim, Imāra, karāhat al-imāra bi-ghayr ḍarūra), and advised ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Samura (d. ca.50/670) only to do so if sought out for it, not on his own initiative (Muslim, Imāra, al-nahy ʿan ṭalab al-imāra wal-ḥirṣ ʿalayhā). He gave words of timeless spiritual guidance to the young ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAbbās (Tirmidhī, Ṣifat al-qiyāma wa al-raqāʾiq wal-warʿ, bāb minh; al-Nawawī, al-Arbaʿūn al-Nawawiyya, Hadith 19, p. 71), to which Ibn Rajab would later devote his monograph Nūr al-iqtibās. Abū Hurayra (d. ca.60/680) reported that the Prophet advised him to fast three days of every month, to perform the forenoon (ḍuḥā) prayer , and not to sleep without having offered the witr prayer (Bukhārī, Tahajjud, ṣalāt al-ḍuḥā fī-l-ḥaḍar). In a moving sermon that evoked apprehension of his departure from this world, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, advised the congregation to be Godfearing (see Taqwā), to obey those in authority, and to hold fast to his path (Tirmidhī, ʿIlm, mā jāʾ fī-l-akhdh bil-sunna wa ijtināb al-bidaʿ; hadith classed ḥasan ṣahīḥ).

Aside from religious counsel of the kinds detailed above, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, would also give personal advice or make a recommendation based on his own appraisal of a worldly situation. Thus, when Fāṭima bint Qays asked him about two men who had proposed marriage to her—Muʿāwiya and Abū Jahm—he not only gave her his evaluation of them but suggested she marry Usāma b. Zayd instead (Muslim, Talāq, al-muṭallaqa thalāthan lā nafaqa lahā). When Barīra had obtained a divorce from her husband Mughīth, the latter was heartbroken; the Prophet suggested to Barīra that she take Mughīth back, but she declined (Bukhārī, Talāq, shafāʿat al-Nabī li-zawj Barīra). In neither case was the Prophet conveying a religious injunction, nor did he claim revelation to be the source of his advice. Similarly, when he found that people had followed his opinion that the practice of fecundating date-palms (see Date Palm) was unnecessary he told them, “If that is beneficial for them, let them do it”—leaving such practical matters to their discretion (Muslim, Faḍāʾil, wujūb imtithāl mā qālah sharʿan dūn mā dhakarah min maʿāyish al-dunyā ʿalā sabīl al-raʾy).

The early Muslims (salaf) would typically advise one another in private, for the aim of naṣīḥa as a social practice is to rectify and improve (see Reform), not to scold (tawbīkh) or humiliate. In this light, al-Shāfiʿī (d. 204/820) said, “Whoever advises his brother privately has been sincere (naṣaḥa) to him and beautified him, but whoever advises him in public has humiliated him and marred him” (Ghazālī, Iḥyāʾ 2:168). Similarly, Fuḍayl said “a believer conceals and advises; a hypocrite exposes and reviles” (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:225). This attitude is consonant with the following hadith: “Whoever has advice for a person in authority should take him by the hand and be alone with him [when delivering it]. Then, if he accepts it, he accepts it; and if he rejects it, [the one advising him] has fulfilled [the obligation] incumbent upon him” (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, Maʿrifat al-ṣaḥāba, man kānat lah (in some editions, ʿindah) naṣīḥa li-dhī sulṭān fa-lā yukallimuh bih ʿalāniyatan).

Muslim Practice and Literature

The Companions implemented and perpetuated the spirit of such advice. For example, Abū Bakr al-Muzanī (d. after 320/932) observed that the first Caliph (q.v.) Abū Bakr surpassed others not by his numerous good works but through his earnest love for Allah and his sincere, well-meaning advice to others (Ibn Rajab, Jāmiʿ al-ʿulūm wal-ḥikam 1:225). Even on the verge of death after being injured in the Battle of Uḥud (3/625), Saʿd b. al-Rabīʿ used some of his last breaths to advise and remind his fellow soldiers that they had no excuse for not doing their utmost to defend the Prophet of Allah. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is reported to have praised him as having “been true (naṣaḥa), living and dying, to Allah and to His Messenger” (Ibn al-Athīr, Usd al-ghāba 2:196-197; a mursal narration, i.e., attributed to an unspecified Companion). Miswar b. Makhrama (d. 64/683) approached ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān (d. 35/655), Allah be well-pleased with him,with counsel (naṣīḥa)” informing him of widespread complaints about Walīd b. ʿUqba’s drinking, and ʿUthmān had Walīd whipped forty lashes after witnesses testified to the offence (Bukhārī, Faḍāʾil al-ṣaḥāba, manāqib ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān). M. Taqī al-ʿUthmānī has questioned the actual implications of this incident, of ostensible counsel (naṣīḥa) to rulers, on the basis of some (weak) narrations (Ṭabarī, Tārīkh 4:271-277) suggesting that the witnesses may have given false testimony on account of a personal grudge (ʿUthmānī, Takmilat Fatḥ al-Mulhim 2:500-502). Nevertheless, Ibn Ḥajar and others have concluded Walīd’s infraction to be a historical fact, in spite of his status as a Companion who also had considerable good to his credit (Ibn Ḥajar, Tahdhīb 11:143). Abū Dharr’s (d. ca.32/653) ascetic remonstrations (in the spirit of advice) against what he perceived to be the excessive worldliness of Umayyad government officials might be considered to as a precursor of the later political protest literature (see below).

The Islamic concept and social practice of sincere counsel eventually gave rise to a distinct genre of literature. Early political writings include ascetic epistles to the Umayyads written by ʿAbd Allāh b. Ibāḍ (d. ca.89/708) and Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, and later by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. ca.139/756) to the ʿAbbasids. Naṣīḥat al-mulūk (“Advice to Kings”), questionably attributed to Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111), addresses contemporary political ills of the Seljuq period (unlike al-Ghazālī’s typical spiritual and legal works). The distinguished Moroccan Sharīfian hadith master Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar al-Kattānī (d. 1927) attempted to defuse widespread discontent with the decline of the Muslim polity and a potential uprising against Morocco’s Sultan ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (r. 1894-1908) by advising the sultan. Kattānī presented him with a treatise entitled Naṣīḥat ahl al-Islām (“Advice to the People of Islam”), which addresses both immediate concerns, such as the exploitative European colonial presence and Moroccan collaborators, and root causes, such as general Muslim apathy, neglect of their religion, and fragmented identity.

Other literature offered advice at the grassroots level. The Muʿtazilite ascetic Jaʿfar b. Ḥarb al-Ḥamdānī (d. 237/851) is said to have authored a tract entitled Naṣīḥat al-ʿāmma (“Advice to the General Public”), presumably some form of religious advice to the populace. To Ḥārith al-Muḥāsibī (d. 243/857) is attributed the Sharḥ al-Maʿrifa wa badhl al-naṣīḥa (“Explication of Direct Knowledge and Dispensation of Advice”), a spiritual manual instructing the average layperson how to know Allah as his Lord, Satan as his enemy, and his own self and his responsibilities, as well as providing general religious advice. Aḥmad Zarrūq’s (d. 899/1493) famous al-Naṣīḥa al-kāfiya li-man khaṣṣah Allāh bil-ʿāfiya (“Sufficient Advice for those Allah has Favored with Well-being”) follows a similar model. Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī’s (d. 463/1071) (Mukhtaṣar) Naṣīḥat ahl al-ḥadīth (“Advice for the People of Hadith”) is a compilation of narrations and anecdotes for specialists in hadith, advising them to give the subject its due and to ensure that they weigh, understand, and contextualize Traditions in argument rather than merely narrating them. Ibn al-Jawzī’s (d. 597/1201) Waṣāyā wa-naṣāʾiḥ li-ṭālib al-ʿilm (“Directives and Counsels for the Seeker of Knowledge”) addresses students of sacred knowledge more generally.

Sectarian polemics were often perceived by their parties as a form of naṣīḥa. The Zaydī scholar Ḥusayn b. Badr al-Dīn’s (d. ca.662/1263) Yanābīʿ al-naṣīḥa (“Springs of Advice”) is a summary of important points of belief and practice for the layperson from the perspective of his school. Al-Naṣīḥa al-Dhahabiyya (“al-Dhahabī’s Advice”), a rebuking letter of advice to Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) allegedly written by his student al-Dhahabī (d. 748/1348), is of disputed authorship. In the last century, Yūsuf al-Sayyid al-Rifāʿī (b. 1932) penned Naṣīḥa li-ikhwāninā ʿulamāʾ Najd (“Advice to our Brethren the Scholars of Najd”), a critique of some of the Wahhābi movement’s beliefs and practices.

A more worldly, yet still religiously tinged, didactic prose literature developed from ʿAbbasid court scribe (kuttāb) culture, although it also owed much to pre-Islamic Persian works of andarz (counsel). Similar to the Western “mirrors for princes” genre, these writings were meant for instruction in affairs of state and politics, as well as general ethics and manners and everyday life. Kay-Kāwūs b. Qābūs’s famed 5th/11th century Naṣīḥat-nāma (also known as Qābus-nāma), in Persian, epitomizes this genre of ornate belles-lettres.


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See also

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