By: Dr. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman *
Abu Hurairah quoted the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying: A charity is due for every joint in each person on everyday the sun comes up: to act justly between two people is a charity; to help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity; a good word is a charity; and removing a harmful thing from the road is a charity.
(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The power of words is undeniable but, silver tongued individuals are not simply effective because of their words, but rather their actions. We as human beings communicate both verbally and non-verbally. In the above hadith, we see that the Prophet’s description of charity involves both the verbal and non-verbal aspects of behavior. However, to suggest that such kind behavior be a charity may appear to some as a mere metaphor, a generous interpretation of kindness. In truth, such kind behaviors, good words, or kind actions are in fact significant contributors to changing the world around us. The primary reason for this is simply that good behavior encourages good behavior and discourages bad behavior. The science of behavior modification is based on these principles.
Experts in the area of political science, such as Douglas Noll, suggest world peace can become a function of good diplomacy. Diplomacy is defined by Wikipedia as “the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states.” An artistic individual may appear to have a skill that appears to flow naturally as a “gift”. A skill, however, is something that is derived from practice, as is the concept of patience, tolerance, and general good judgment in dealing with heated topics. Now imagine the power of such diplomatic behavior, if they are not simply a part of our jobs or actions, but rather a part of our personality.
Abu Darda (radi Allahu anhu) reported that the Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Nothing will be heavier on the Day of Resurrection in the scale of the believer than good manners. Allah hates one who utters foul or coarse language.” (Tirmidhi)
Knowing what we know about the science of behavior (good encouraging good, and bad encouraging bad), we can understand the above hadith better. If poor manners espouse poor manners, it makes sense that they should be despised. Not only for their own nature, but because they promote similar behaviors in others. Islam suggests that we, as Muslims, embody more positive qualities of good etiquette in our every day persona by way of daily practice of small acts of kindness. An Islamic personality should embody qualities of diplomacy. The Prophet Mohammed (peace be with him) was known for such characteristics even before he became the Prophet, and was referred to as Al-Amin (trustworthy) and Al-Sidiq (truthful). He checked on a neighbor who threw garbage at his doorstop, was patient with the impatient and brash, and fair in his dealings with everyone, Muslim or not. Many non-Muslim scholars attribute the success of the spread of Islam to the Prophet Mohammed’s diplomatic skills. The Prophet not only acted this way himself (as a ruler of a nation) but encouraged all of us to follow suit in this behavior. Being diplomatic with others (even the most angry) will likely result in others being diplomatic with you.
The late comedian, George Burns, commented on sincerity – stating that “if you can fake that, you’ve got it made”. The suggestion that once again, diplomatic skills, skillfully applied and well practiced generally lead to increased charm, and thereby increased success in our interactions with others. Sincerity is an awfully difficult trait to fake, and if faked can often appear disingenuous. So then how do we implement change by merely practicing diplomacy rather than embodying it the way the Prophet did. The answer is twofold; we must understand the implications of prescribed behaviors, and we must practice them, regularly and religiously. Salat in congregation for example, highly rewarded, encourages a social interaction. A kind word as charity, suggests not only charity, but would result in more positive reactions toward ourselves. These are only a few examples of prescriptive practices that have greater societal and individual impact on improving the frequency and quality of our interactions with others. However this understanding is nothing without practice. Practice, interestingly enough, is more important that the fuller understanding. Even if we don’t have a full understanding of the importance and impact of these behaviors, engaging in them, eventually results in a positive experience which leads to a greater understanding of the reasons for them. This regular practice, and an increased mindfulness (which can occur either before and/or after the practice of the behaviors) eventually integrate diplomacy and good manners into our personality. Personality is not an easy thing to fake – hence it is in many ways the sincerest part of who we are. Becoming silver tongued is not something that occurs by nature, but rather by mindful and regular practice.
* Dr. Abdulrehman Abdulrehman is a psychologist and former member of MIA Takaful Fund.