“You look amazing!”
“Your eyes are so beautiful!”
“Masha’Allah, what a beautiful house!”
“You delivered this Dars so effectively!”
“I don’t think anybody can cook as well as you do!”
Sounds familiar? I’m sure it does, because either we hear such words from someone or say them to others.
Today, praise is the shortest route to popularity. Be generous with compliments and you are that person’s ‘bestie.’ Criticize, even if sincerely and positively, and you may be thought of as jealous. But is praising an Islamically accepted social exercise? One of the attributes of Allah (swt) is Ash-Shakoor – the Appreciative. As humans, we do need to appreciate others and at times, also need appreciation and encouragement. But how and why are important questions for a Mumin.
Everyone loves a sincere compliment or encouragement. But often encouragement moves on to become praise and exaggerated adulation. Although all the mentioned words are similar, they do have very different meanings. ‘Appreciation’ means ‘a favourable critical estimate, a sensitive awareness or an expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude’. ‘Praise’ can mean an expression of approval, commendation or admiration; but it can also mean the extolling or exaltation of a deity, ruler or hero. ‘Adulation’, however, goes a step further and means ‘excessive or slavish admiration or flattery.’
There is no doubt that Allah (swt) wants us to be appreciative and express gratitude. But in Islam, gratitude is expressed in the form of giving back something in return – a sincere Dua! The Prophet (sa) showed his appreciation for one of his generous hosts by giving him prayers of Barakah. Often, he showed appreciation not in words but by eating what someone got for him or wearing what was gifted to him. In the Prophet’s (sa) Sunnah, we do not see the exaggerated praise that people often shower on each other nowadays. In fact, according to Sunnah, excessive praise is not healthy, because our Muslim brother or sister can start losing humility. This is why praise even in matters of Taqwa can give a person a false sense of Kibr (arrogance), which can be detrimental to one’s Iman.
The Prophet (sa) did encourage his companions many a times. He praised the Haya (modesty) of Usman Ibn Affan (rta) and the Ilm and intelligence of Aisha Bint Abu Bakr (rta). He gave the title of the ‘sword of Allah’ to Khalid Ibn Waleed (rta) for his bravery in the battlefield. He acknowledged the natural gift of a beautiful, strong voice Bilal Ibn Abi Rabah (rta) had by making him the first Muadhin (caller to prayers) of Islam. Abi Musa Al-Ashari (rta) was praised for his beautiful recitation of the Quran, and the women of Ansar were praised for the fact that they were not shy to ask questions for learning matters of Deen.
Intense admiration can sometimes result in Nazar (evil eye), as we see in this Hadeeth: Malik related to me from Ibn Shihab that Abu Umama Ibn Sahl Ibn Hunayf said: “Amir Ibn Rabia saw Sahl Ibn Hunayf taking a Ghusl and said: ‘I have not seen the like of what I see today, not even the skin of a maiden, who has never been out of doors.’ Sahl fell to the ground. The Messenger of Allah (sa) was approached, and it was said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, can you do anything about Sahl Ibn Hunayf? By Allah, he can not raise his head.’ He said: ‘Do you suspect anyone?’ They said: ‘We suspect Amir Ibn Rabia.’” He continued: “The Messenger of Allah (sa) summoned Amir and was furious with him and said: ‘Why does one of you kill his brother? Why did you not say ‘may Allah bless you’? Do Ghusl for it.’ Amir washed his face, hands, elbows, knees, the end of his feet, and inside his lower garment in a vessel. Then he poured it over him, and Sahl went off with the people, and there was nothing wrong with him.” (Muwatta Imam Malik)
The one common factor that we see in the method of complimenting adopted by the earlier prophets, Prophet Muhammad (sa) and his companions is that the credit for any Khair (any praiseworthy attribute) is given to Allah (swt). A Mumin is well aware of the fact that all praise belongs to Allah (swt), Who is the source of all good. Isa (as) is reminded in the Quran that all the miracles he was able to perform were by the Izn (permission) of Allah. In Surah Yusuf, Prophet Yusuf (as) gives the credit to Allah (swt) for the gift of being able to interpret dreams and being able to resist a beautiful woman’s advances. The realization; that all good is actually from Allah (swt) makes a person humble.
In the light of Islamic principles, the following ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of complimenting would be useful to observe:
- Encourage and appreciate, where appreciation is due.
- Appreciate the people closest to you. Often, we forget to appreciate our families, colleagues and servants, but praise people in our outer circle of friends and acquaintances.
- Make special effort to appreciate your spouse, children and parents in particular.
- Make sure that your appreciation or praise is genuine and true.
- Make sure that your appreciation is to the point.
- Appreciate where you think it will encourage a person to do further good. For example, when a child has started to pray or recite the Quran beautifully or when a sister has started wearing the Hijab.
- Check your Niyyah (intention) when you praise someone. Is it just so you can become popular? Is it just because you are in that habit? Will it help that person do further good?
- Find other creative ways, besides verbal praise, to show encouragement. Sometimes a smile, a single gesture or a gift can say more than words.
- Be careful about what you are praising. Rather than praising such inborn qualities as good looks, it is preferable to appreciate a good deed or a good habit someone has acquired, so that they may continue it.
- Always say “Masha’Allah La Quwwata Illa Billah” or “Tabaarakallah”, when you like something.
- Avoid exaggeration in your praise, so that it doesn’t become an attempt to feed the ego and doesn’t border on adulation.
- Refrain from praising someone all the time, unless it would encourage them to continue a good deed.
- Don’t praise someone on doing something that displeases Allah (swt) or is forbidden in our Deen. For instance, appreciating the dress of a Muslim woman, who is not observing Hijab/Purdah.
- Don’t praise unless it is the truth.
- Avoid praising someone in his/her presence all the time!
- Never use praise as a social crutch to become popular.
- Don’t compliment someone with such adulation that they get afflicted with Nazar (evil eye). Instead, do Dua for them.
- Refrain from praising someone, even your children, excessively, as that person may start doing things to fish out praise, rather than for Ajar (reward) from Allah (swt).
As for when someone praises us, the Dua we are supposed to recite is: “O Allah, do not make me account for what they say and forgive me for what they have no knowledge, and make me better than they imagine.” (Bukhari)