Qasim Choudhary, Missionary, Austin, Texas, USA
Regardless of one’s belief in the self-help industry, self-help content is here to stay and growing in popularity. This genre is dominating the bookshelves and is placed front and centre at bookstores and libraries. I would be lying to you if I told you that I didn’t get caught up in the storm.
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. Considered the staple of self-help content, one book in particular that caught my attention was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Sieving through this timeless work, I couldn’t help but notice that the advice mentioned in this twentieth-century book had already been put into practice nearly 1,500 years ago. No wonder Prophet Muhammadsa leads the list on the world’s most influential person chosen by Michael Hart in The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.
A lot is said about the psychology of influence and becoming a more agreeable and effective leader. For this purpose, we must delve into the life and character of the Holy Prophet, Muhammadsa, regarding whom Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa most aptly said:
“Even prominent expert psychologists could not come close to the way the Holy Prophetsa understood human psychology.” (Domestic Issues and Their Solutions, p. 26)
As I present some of the brilliant principles in Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book, we will observe how the Holy Prophetsa exhibited these qualities in his exceptional character which remains our best guide and whose model the world is catching up to now.
Principle 1: Become genuinely interested in others
“A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men.” (Thomas Carlyle)
Alluding to the compassion and sympathy of the Holy Prophetsa, the Holy Quran states:
“[…] grievous to him is that you should fall into trouble; [he is] ardently desirous of your [welfare; and] to the believers [he is] compassionate [and] merciful (Surah al-Taubah, Ch.9: V.128)
At the advent of the Holy Prophetsa the “little men” of that time were dealt with in a deplorable and degrading manner. Namely, the slaves and women, who were subject to longstanding maltreatment.
Seeing the everyday abuse these classes of society had to endure, the Holy Prophetsa rose as their beacon of hope and saviour. He started by establishing common humanity by stating, “Feed them [the slaves] with the same food that you eat, clothe them with the same clothes you wear and do not burden them with so much that they are overwhelmed, if you do burden them, then help them.”(Ibn Majah, The book of morals)
He further taught his followers to set the slaves free as an act of benevolence or let them off in return for compensation. In this way, the Prophetsa curtailed by a stroke, as it were, the miseries of slavery. (Mohammad the Kindred to Humanity, by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, p. 24)
Unfortunately, the conduct towards women was even more pitiful and wretched in his time. From some burying newborn girls out of shame, to treating them as mere possessions. Enter Prophet Muhammadsa who liberated women of their plight and unearthed for them their honour and respect. Statements such as, “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife” swiftly made husbands heedful in their marriages (Ibn Majah, The Book of Nikah). Fathers began to hold their heads high after the Prophetsa declared:
“Whosoever has two daughters and gives them proper education and good moral training will have his abode in Paradise.”(Ibid)
Children were taught that they must respect and honour their mothers and refrain from the slightest disrespect. The Holy Prophetsa said, “Paradise is under the feet of mothers.” (Sunan al-Nasa‘i, The Book of Jihad)
In short, the Prophetsa emancipated all these depressed classes because “grievous to him is that you should fall into trouble.”
Principle 2: Show respect for the other person’s opinions.
Are you that person who itches at the opportunity to chastise someone’s apparent mistake? Do you find yourself telling people they are wrong? According to Dale Carnegie, telling someone outright they are wrong rarely makes them want to agree with you. As Carnegie puts it, “For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgement, pride, and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.”(How to Win Friends and Influence People, p. 118)
Let’s face it, it can be difficult to change the minds of even your loved ones, let alone trying to convince those who vehemently oppose your very existence.
The pages of history record an event during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa which stands out as a timeless lesson for personal relations as well as international relations. As the story goes, the draft of the treaty of Hudaibiya was being dictated by the Holy Prophetsa, and Hazrat Alira, the scribe, wrote, “The conditions of peace between Muhammad the Prophet of God, and […]”. But the disbelievers took exception to the words, “Prophet of God”. The Holy Prophetsa, accordingly, ordered Hazrat Alira to cross out the words.
Owing to his deep reverence and loyalty to the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat Alira could not bring himself to cross out the words. Whereupon, the Prophetsa himself took the pen and crossed out the words, objectionable [to the disbelievers]. The Prophetsa could have easily objected but was mindful of the enemy’s feelings and wanted peace before everything else. (Mohammad the Kindred to Humanity, by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, p. 23)
Principle 3: Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
Are you guilty of brazenly interrupting someone as soon as they say something you disagree with? Or perhaps someone is venting to you about their issues at work or home and you interject repeatedly without giving them a chance to properly express themselves. Dale Carnegie commenting on this conduct states, “Let the other people talk themselves out. They know more about their business and problems than you do. So ask them questions. Let them tell you a few things.”
Furthermore, he states, “So listen patiently and with an open mind. Be sincere about it. Encourage them to express their ideas fully.”
Once again we can observe the implementation of this principle in the Holy Prophetsa who was the exemplar of high moral conduct.
As was previously mentioned, he was personable to friend and foe alike. 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)
From these few examples, it is glaringly evident that the Holy Prophet’ssa understanding of human nature stands levels above any leader, researcher, or psychologist. As Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVrh stated:
“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)
As we analysed a few principles in becoming a more influential and congenial person. You may have had the inkling that perhaps discharging these ideas is borderline manipulation and disingenuous. A case can be made that some people adopt these methods to fuel their sycophancy. However, the Holy Prophetsa cannot be categorised with such conniving people. A great quality of the Holy Prophetsa was that he was an apostle. The Arabic word rasul means one who has been sent. This one word points to an aspect of the life of the Prophetsa which ordinarily remains hidden from many observers. A rasul being one who is sent points to the fact that the Prophetsa himself had no ambition for greatness or vested interest. He never aspired to other people’s admiration; rather, he took care to remain in the background, so that worldly greatness should not come to him except if it was the express purpose of God. (Mohammad the Kindred to Humanity by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, pp. 1-2)
“It is the very highest pinnacle of spiritual greatness, and only he can reach it who care not for personal greatness, who is an apostle, a messenger who stands up not on his own account but on account of the compelling message he receives from on high.” (Ibid)