فَأَعْرِضْ عَنْهُمْ وَعِظْهُمْ وَقُل لَّهُمْ فِي أَنفُسِهِمْ قَوْلًا بَلِيغًا
Fa-a‘rid ‘anhum wa‘izhum waqul lahum fī anfusihim qawlan balīghā
So let them alone, and advise them, and speak to them effective words concerning themselves.
(Sūrat al-Nisāʾ, No 4, Āyat 63)
This verse tells the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam how to deal with the hypocrites – those who disguise their evil intentions behind sweet words. The Prophet (s) is asked to do three things:
1. Leave them or turn away from them. This has been interpreted as don’t focus on them. The Prophet (s) worked with the hypocrites at times for the sake of Islam and did not let their hypocrisy bar them from working for the betterment of Islam. Outwardly these people belonged to the ranks of the Muslims. The Prophet tolerated them but was keenly aware of their hypocrisy and would not trust them with certain tasks.
2. Advise them. Everyone needs advice and a good leader always tries to speak words of good advice to the people. That was the role of the Prophets. Prophet Hud ‘alayhis-salām tells his people: I deliver to you the messages of my Lord and I am a faithful adviser to you. (Q 7:68)
3. Speak to them in an effective manner. A manner that touches their hearts and have far reaching results. This could be by showing them the consequences of hypocrisy, reminding them of the virtues of sincerity and love for Allah ‘azza wajall.
This verse reminds us of the importance of speaking to people who we know are wrong in obvious ways. We should not shut the door on what they have to offer. We should work with them, at the same time trying to advise them. The advice must be appropriate. Each person is unique and there are different ways to appeal to them. In today’s times there are many subtle ways of giving advice which would be more readily accepted than a direct confrontation.
The verse also reminds us of the importance of effective words. Eloquence is required when trying to persuade people to see the truth. Shaykh Tabarsī in Tafsīr Majma‘ al- Bayān says that eloquence is an excellent trait which the Prophet is told to use. It stems from wisdom and allows the speaker to present the matter in an appropriate and concise manner.
Some of the principles required in advising effectively include:
• Respect the sensitivities of the person. The age, status, personality, etc. of the person must be considered before advising.
• Show dislike of the action, not of the person. The deed must be separated from the doer. We cannot endorse all the actions of a person who does good, nor can we condemn all the actions of a person who does wrong. There remains good and evil in each.
• Be balanced in your words and tone. Harsh or extreme words can make the other person defensive and unreceptive to the advice.
• Speak privately to the person, choosing your time and place well. Imam Hasan al-‘Askarī ‘alayhis-salām says: Those who advice their friend secretly are respecting them, and those who advise them openly are humiliating them. (Tuhafal-‘Uqūl, p.489)
The Ma’sūmīn (a) advised others effectively by respecting them and showing love and concern for them. It is narrated that Imam Ja‘far al-Sādiq (a) knew of a believer named Shuqrānī who used to drink alcohol. He waited for an opportunity to advise him appropriately. One day Shuqrānī came to the Imam to get his share from the treasury. Imam gave him his share and then spoke to him kindly. ‘Shuqrānī’ he said, ‘A good deed is good from anyone, but from you is better because of your connection to us. And a bad deed is bad from anyone but is worse from you because of the same reasons.’ (Bihār al-Anwār, v. 47, p. 349). Shuqrānī understood that the Imam was referring to his drinking. He was touched by the tactful and affectionate advice and vowed to stop the sin he was committing.
Let this verse remind us of how to deal with people who may have certain flaws. As representatives of Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā on earth, we each have a responsibility towards others in supporting and helping them in the journey towards Him.
Resources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān; Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; https://hawzah.net/