Qasim Choudhary, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya Canada
The next time you order a cappuccino, take the bus or simply scroll through podcasts, take note of how many people are accessing increasingly available “self-help” resources. This popular genre has taken the world by storm in recent years and I have been no exception.
The self-help industry consists of countless books and videos that claim to contain hundreds of secrets for achieving success through changing personal habits and behaviour. A timeless example is that of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, seen as gospel for those pursuing success in interpersonal relationships, whether in personal or professional settings.
Going through Carnegie’s book, what amazed me was that this 20th century author was revealing “secrets” that had been laid bare almost 1,400 years ago. While reading the book, the words by Michael Hart from The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History beamed before my eyes:
“My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.” (p. 3, Carol Publishing Group, 1993)
What made the Holy Prophetsa agreeable, approachable and influential? How was it that this man from seventh century Arabia won and influenced hearts, such that even his once staunch opponents became humbled and honoured to be considered his friends?
The reality is that experts in the field of behavioural psychology and other similar areas of research will continue to explore and propose new theories of how to gain success in interpersonal relationships.
However, every ultimate truth that lies at the heart of human consciousness concerning our conduct with each other has already found its clear manifestation in the character and conduct of the Holy Prophetsa. He was endowed these qualities and insights by Allah directly and was genuine in his personality and interactions.
Khalifatul Masih IV, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh once said:
“The Holy Prophetsa has already divulged to us all profound facts of human nature. The greatest psychologist ever born, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa knew God the best, and God – Creator of human nature – taught him everything about human nature. The Holy Prophetsa is the only true source of understanding human nature. It becomes easy to learn man’s nature if one looks at man, free from all prejudice, through the eyes of God. Therefore, I am saying with perfect certainty and guidance, that there is none more knowledgeable than the Holy Prophetsa in understanding human nature. No one before or after him can attain the height of his knowledge.” (The Detroit Address, pp. 31-32, MKA USA Publications Ltd.)
Thus, as we go through three brilliant pieces of advice from Carnegie’s bestseller, my mind immediately turns to how the practise of these principles was perfected by that seventh century Arabian prophet of God, whose exceptional character remains our best guide and whose model the world is catching up to now.
The term “million-dollar smile” is now a common part of our lexicon and there’s noting quite like giving – and receiving – a smile. Consequently, today, smiling has become the gold standard for marketing. Astonishingly, telephone companies encourage their employees to smile even over the phone while speaking to customers as they suggest that your smile comes through in your voice.
In fact, even seeing a grin releases dopamine and increases serotonin levels in the brain chemistry. (https://hms.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/HMS_OTB_Spring10_Vol16_No2.pdf)
This timeless advice is found even in ancient Chinese wisdom, as the saying goes:
“A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.”
Similarly, Professor James McConnell, a psychologist at the University of Michigan, expressed his feelings about smiling, saying, “People who smile tend to manage, teach, sell more effectively, and raise happier children. There is far more information in a smile than a frown. That is why encouragement is a much more effective teaching device than punishment.”
So how did the Holy Prophetsa leave a lasting influence and impress on the hearts of his people? It was his captivating smile like the sun breaking through dark clouds, giving joy and hope to the masses. When he smiled, his white teeth sparkled like hail falling from the clouds. (Ash-Shifa, Qadi Ayaz, Vol.1, p.202, Ibni Saad)
It is narrated by Hazrat Abu Dharra that the Holy Prophetsa said:
“Your smiling in the face of your brother is charity.” (Tirmidhi, Kitab-ul-Bir wal-Sulh)
Hazrat Ibn Jazra narrated:
“I have not seen anyone who smiled more than the Messenger of Allah”. (Tirmidhi, Kitab-ul-Manaqab)
The Holy Prophetsa had the greatest morals a human can ever achieve. And smiling, of course at appropriate occasions, was part and parcel of his personality. As self-help books often offer advice to improve productivity, it is worth mentioning here how smiling can be helpful even in this regard.
The current Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa was once asked how he manages his extremely demanding schedule. As part of his answer, he advised, “Always smile, this will keep you active”.
Thus, men of God embody deep positivity that helps them in their own dealings, as well as radiating hope to others.
Similarly, another endearing habit that we find in men of God, is that they refrain from negativity. Carnegie explains this principle as such:
Don’t criticise, condemn or complain
“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
Carnegie shares the example of a founding father of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. Tactless in his youth, he became so diplomatic, so adroit at handling people, that he was made American Ambassador to France. The secret of his success? “I will speak ill of no man and speak all the good I know of everybody.” (Benjamin Franklin)
Carnegie argues that criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive, and usually makes them strive to justify themselves. Criticism is dangerous because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts their sense of importance, and arouses resentment. If it is not constructive, it can be severely demoralising.
Although one can pen hundreds of pages depicting the moral excellence of the Holy Prophetsa, a few examples will bring to light how he implemented this second principle. The Holy Quran alludes to the clemency and kindness of the Holy Prophetsa, stating:
“And it is by the great mercy of Allah that thou art kind towards them, and if thou hadst been rough and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them”. (Surah Al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.160)
Accordingly, the Holy Prophetsa is narrated to have said:
“Don’t look for the faults of others”. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab-ul-adab)
The Holy Prophetsa extended this approach even towards children, who are often the target of harsh reproach and constant rebuke. The Holy Prophetsa was a shining exemplar when it came to the correct method in dealing with children.
In his adolescent years, Hazrat Anasra served the Holy Prophetsa and is reported to have said:
“I served the Prophetsa for ten years, and he never said ‘uff’ to me [a minor harsh word denoting impatience] and never blamed me by saying, ‘Why did you do so’ or ‘Why didn’t you do so?’” (Ibid)
Echoing the same principle of his Mastersa, Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa constantly advises newlyweds to close their eyes, ears and mouths against the weaknesses of each other as a key for a successful marriage. This brings us to another habit that proves useful for domestic and professional life; listening. As the Greek philosopher, Epictetus once theorised, “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”
A good listener
Carnegie suggests that if you aspire to be a good conversationalist, you should be an attentive listener. In order to be interesting, be interested. Even the most significant leaders – the likes of Abraham Lincoln – required a pair of attentive ears.
During the darkest hours of the Civil War, Lincoln wrote to a friend in Springfield, Illinois, saying he wanted to discuss some problems with him. After hours of discussion, Lincoln bade farewell to his friend who returned home to Illinois. Keep in mind, Lincoln did all the talking, all he required was a sympathetic listener on whom he could unburden himself. Such is reality. When faced with a problem, that is all that we need – someone to listen to us.
The Holy Prophetsa most beautifully encapsulated this practice over 1,400 years ago; when he addressed a person, he turned his whole body towards that person. The Messenger of Allah faced the person he spoke to, with his chest and body. (Shama’il Muhammadiyah)
Concerning the patience and the attentiveness of the Holy Prophetsa, he extended this courtesy even to his enemies. It is narrated that when Utbah bin Rabiah came to the Prophetsa to negotiate with him on behalf of the Quraish, the Prophetsa patiently listened to him, even though he did not agree to what was being said.
Once Utbah had stopped speaking, Prophet Muhammadsa asked him, “Is this all that you intended to say?” Utbah replied in the affirmative and this is when the Holy Prophetsa gave his response. (Ibn Hisham)
Hazrat Amr ibn Aasra narrates:
“The Prophetsa gave attention, spoke, and showed love to the worst person of a nation. So, the person may feel he is being given special attention. He used to give attention and spoke to me also in a special manner.” (Shama’il Muhammadiyah)
The Holy Prophetsa also expressed the importance of listening when passing judgment. Hazrat Alira narrates:
“The Messenger of Allah said to me, ‘When two men come to you seeking judgment, do not judge for the first until you have heard the statement of the other. Soon you will know how to judge.’” Alira said, “I did not err since then.” (Tirmidhi, Kitab-ul-Ahkaam An Rasul-illah)
As we remain confined to our homes and the risk of anxiety increases, take a moment to reflect on the beautiful example of the Holy Prophetsa, who exhibited the most refined conduct at the appropriate occasion. Maybe a smile is all that it takes to lessen the angst of another – a simple yet profound solution prescribed by the greatest psychologist, the Holy Prophetsa.
(The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Al Hakam or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat)