Somehow, I ended up in the draft section of our (me and dh) shared email account. I found this drafted from 2004! I thought it was a nice and timely reminder. Please take the time to read it, as it really does have many points of benefit.

The Difference Between “an-Naseehah” & “at-Ta’eer”  

Written by Imaam ibn Rajab al-Hanbalee  

Alhamdulillahi rabil aalameen amma bad,

These are some concise, comprehensive words about the difference between naseehah {advice} and ta’yeer {rebuking, chastising}, for both of them share a common attribute which is to speak about a persons’ {characteristic/s} which they may dislike, and indeed for many people they tend to have a difficult time differentiating between the two, and Allah is the one who guides to that which is correct.

The difference between “at ta’eer” and “an naseehah”

Know that mentioning something bad about a person is haram if the intention behind it is just to criticize, embarrass and to find fault {with that person}. However, if there is a benefit for the general Muslim public, especially some of them, in this case if the purpose is to obtain that particular benefit, then this is not haram, as a matter of fact it is highly recommend.

Indeed the scholars of hadeeth have approved of this methodology in their books of “al jarh wa at ta’deel”, i.e., they discussed the difference between disparaging a narrator {Criticizing him by saying he is “deaf” weak, he lies, and so forth} and backbiting him. Also the scholars differentiated between back biting a scholar who made a mistake, and clarifying that mistake so that the people would not take this mistake as an example to be followed. Thus, the scholars are united upon doing this, and this is why one finds in the all the books of the islamic sciences which they wrote like tafseer, explanation of hadeeth, fiqh etc, statements like “this is a weak opinion” “this is wrong” and so forth, and none of the scholars ever claimed that those other scholars who made mistakes like these, that they were trying to belittle or find fault with those other scholars statements whom they rejected. May Allah forgive, except those particular type of scholars who uses unpleasant words and has a bad manner in which they express themselves, then in that case the other scholars will object to his unpleasant nature and bad manners without rejecting his statements {if there correct} . The reason for this is because the scholars of the deen are all unanimous upon that the purpose is to make the haqq with which Allah sent his messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} apparent, the deen solely for Allah and the word of Allah is most supreme.

All the scholars admit that no one has complete knowledge of the deen, nor no one from the early scholars or those who came after them makes this claim. This is why the a’imah {imams} of the salaf are united upon the fact that one is obligated to take the truth whoever it comes from, even if it is a small person. They used to advise their student to accept the truth even if it is from other than themselves. Some famous scholars used to say “this is our opinion, whoever comes with a better one we accept it from him.” Imam As Shaafi’ee {150-204} used to fulfill the meaning of this expression to the utmost, whereby he used to advise his students to follow the truth and accept the sunnah, if it has been made clear that it contradicts their statements and to “throw his statements against the wall”, as he use to say in his books “one will find in here what conflicts with the quran and sunnah, because Allah says “Do they not then consider the Qur’ân carefully? Had it been from other than Allâh, they would surely have found therein much contradictions” {An Nis’a:72}. Even more amazing than is where he {imam As Shafi’ee} said “I have never debated with someone except that I wished the truth becomes clear; regardless whether it comes from his tongue or mine”. This indicates that his intention was only that of to make the truth apparent, whether it is from himself or the from the person whom differed with, and whoever thinks like this then there is no problem in refuting his statements by making clear his contradiction to the sunnah, whether he is alive or dead.

Many of the past scholars also used to similar approach to that of imam As Shafi’ee, in that they did not have any problems with someone who differed with them as long as they presented their proofs. It has been narrated that imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said to Haatim Al Asum “you are an a’jamee {non-arab} who lacks eloquence in speech, and you have never debated anyone except that you “break’em down,” by what you defeat the other person,” he said “by three things: I am happy if the other person is correct, I feel sad if he makes a mistake and I guard my tongue against saying anything that may offend him,” imam Ahmad then said “how intelligent is this man!”. Therefore, refuting weak statements and clarifying the truth by evidences from the shariah is not something those scholars disliked, as a matter of fact it is something they loved and they used to praise the one who did it, hence, this will not be considered backbiting. If someone supposedly, dislikes clarifying his mistakes which contradicts with the truth, then in such a situation no consideration is paid to his objection toward this. For indeed, disliking the truth to be made apparent because it differs with the statements of a particular man is not a praiseworthy trait, as a matter of fact, it is obligatory upon the muslim to love the truth to be uppermost, whether it agrees with them or it disagrees with them. And this is all part of giving naseehah {sincere advice} to Allah, His book, His messenger, His deen, the leaders of the muslims and the general muslim public.

There is no blame on the one who clarifies the mistakes of the scholars who preceded him, as long as he is mannerly in the way he addresses him and he pleasant in refutation, and some of the salaf used to refute a persons’ statement by saying “so and so lied”, as in the hadeeth of the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} where he said “Abu As Sanaabil lied”, when he {salallahu alayhi wa salam} heard that gave Abu As Sanaabil gave a fatwa saying the women whose husband died and she was pregnant, she must wait four months and ten days after delivering the baby before she can remarry, whereas the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} actually said that she can marry soon after she gave birth without waiting {saheeh Al Bukhari and Muslim}.

Thus, we find the scholars refuting the mistakes of great scholars like ibn Abbas who saw mut’ah {temporary marriage} as permissible, the strange opinions of Tawwus, A’tah, Saeed ibn Musayib and many others like them. And in spite of their mistakes the Muslims are unanimous in their love and respect for them and that they were guided. Furthermore, no one ever considered their mistakes {clarifying it} as exposing their faults or shortcomings. However, if a person intends by his refutation to expose the other person faults, show his shortcomings, make him look ignorant and lacking in knowledge, the in such a case this is haram, whether in his presence or not, during his life of after his death. This is what Allah is taking about in the surah Al Humazah {the scandal monger} when threatening those who do these type of actions, as the hadeeth narrated AbuBarzah al-Aslami states: the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: “O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts, do not backbite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him even if he is in the depths of his house.” All this however, are the rights of the scholars and is specifically restricted to them and those who follow them in the deen. As for the people of bidah and deviance and those who pretend to be from the scholars and they are not from them, then it is permissible to show their ignorance and faults and to warn the people about it.

How to distinguish between someone who wants to give advice and someone who wants to expose others’ faults

If it is known that a person by giving naseehah to Allah and his messenger that he intends to clarify someone’s’ mistake, then one must treat him with honor and respect like one treats the rest of the scholars. However, is if his intention by his refutation of them is to criticize them in a bad manner and expose their shortcomings, then he deserves to be confronted and chastised for doing such a lowly haram act.

One can sometimes know this {evil} intention by admission and conformation of the person doing this act, or sometimes there are accompanying signs that indicate to this either by words or deeds, such as this person is very transgressing, has little taqwa, lack control of his tongue, always backbiting and slandering someone, reproachful, envies people out of what Allah has blessed them with from his bounties and is very eager for fame and leadership position, so if a person to posses these traits, then we pay no attention to his refutation, and we reject him in and treat him in a belittling manner. As for the one who does not show these traits, then one must accept his statements in the best manner possible, and it is impermissible to look at his statements in a negative light. Umar {radiallahu anhu} said “do not think negatively about a word that came from your Muslim brother, so long as you can find a good excuse for him”

How to give advice and things that should avoided when doing so

It is from this door that saying what your brother dislikes in his face is good, if it is done with sincerity. Thus, if a person informs his brother of a fault to avoid it, then this is naseehah. However, if he informs him in such a manner to embarrass of his sins, then this blameworthy and despicable. When some of the salaf were asked “do you like anyone to tell you of your faults,” they would reply “if they intend to embarrass and belittle me, then no.” This is because shaming and exposing someone for a sin they have done is a reprehensible act, and this is why the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} prohibited the sahabahs from abusing the one who fornicated and the one who drank alcohol, in spite of he {salallahu alayhi wa salam} ordering them to be whipped. As in the hadeeth of At Tirmidhee narrated by Muadh ibn Jabal “whoever exposes his brother sins will not die until he does it,” and there is possibility that this can be the same sin the person repented from. Fudayl ibn Iyad said “the mu’min covers and gives naseehah, whereas the sinner accuses and exposes.” What Fudayl is describing here are the signs of naseehah and that of ta’eer {exposing}, because naseehah is accompanied by covers {of faults} and ta’eer is accompanied by publicity, as imam As Shaafi’ee said in a poem to the meaning of “whenever you want to advise me do so privately, and avoid advising publicly, because advising in the presence of people, is a form of embarrassment I am not pleased to listen to.”

The salaf used to say “whoever commanded his brother {to do good} in a gathering where there are people, then he has exposed him.” This is why the salaf used to dislike commanding good and forbidding evil in this manner, and they preferred it {commanding good and forbidding evil} privately between two individuals, and this is from the signs of true naseehah, because the purpose of naseehah is not to spread people faults, but rather it is to remove the wrong that took place.

As for spreading and announcing peoples’ faults, then this is what Allah and His messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} made haram, Allah says “Verily, those who like that (the crime of) illegal sexual intercourse should be propagated among those who believe, they will have a painful torment in this world and in the Hereafter. And Allâh knows and you know not” {An Nur: 19-20}, and there are many hadeeth about covering the fault of others such the one Umar narrated in saheeh Al Bukahri that the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} said “whoever alleviates a difficulty of a Muslim in this life, Allah will alleviate a difficulty from him on the day of judgment, and whoever covers a Muslim Allah will cover him on the day of judgment”. This is why publicizing lewdness is always accompanied by exposure of someone, and these are the two characteristics of the faajir {a lewd person}, because the faajir has no other intention except expose the faults of his Muslim brother so he can be embarrassed openly. With regard to the sincere adviser, his intention is remove that fault from his Muslim brother and help him to avoid it, as Allah describes the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} “Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad SAW) is anxious over you, for the believers (he SAW is) full of pity, kind, and merciful.” {At Tawbah:128} and Allah described his {salallahu alayhi wa salam} companions by saying “Muhammad [SAW] is the Messenger of Allâh, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves ………….”{Al Fath:29}.

On the other hand the faajir, he takes pleasure in hurting and harming his Muslim brother, and this is the character of shaitan who beautifies kufr, sins and disobedience to mankind as Allah says “Surely, Shaitân is an enemy to you, so take (treat) him as an enemy”. {Al Fatir:6}. Hence, the is a big difference between the one wants to give sincere advice and the one who wants expose {someone}, and no one mixes up the two issues except someone who lacks a healthy intellect.

The end result of spreading others faults

Those who spy and propagate the sins of his Muslim brother, Allah will eventually expose his sins, as in the hadeeth we mentioned before {do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him even if he is in the depths of his house}. This is why when ibn Sireen was indebted and was experiencing difficulty in repaying his debt he said “indeed i know the sin which i did that made me fall into this, i rebuked a man by saying: you pauper”

Pretending to give advice when actually chastising is from the attribute of the munafiqoon

Amongst the signs of openly chastising someone is to spread the evil that they did and claim that one only wants to give sincere advise, whereas the objective is to actually hurt that person, as is the characteristic of the munafiqeen (hypocrites) whom Allah criticized for pretending to do or say something good, but really intends a goal that is evil {by that action}. Allah describes them in surah At Tawbah by saying “And as for those who put up a mosque by way of harming and disbelief, and to disunite the believers, and as an outpost for those who warred against Allâh and His Messenger (Muhammad SAW) aforetime, they will indeed swear that their intention is nothing but good. Allâh bears witness that they are certainly liars”. {9:107} and He {SubHana Wa Ta`ala } said also “Think not that those who rejoice in what they have done (or brought about), and love to be praised for what they have not done,- think not you that they are rescued from the torment, and for them is a painful torment.” {Al Imran:188}. This ayat was revealed as ibn Abbas said about the munafiqeen whom when the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} used go out for jihad, they would stay behind and they would rejoice about their lack of participation in the jihad. However, when the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam} returned they would make up excuses and swear that they were telling the truth, and they used to love being praised for what the did not do so Allah revealed this verse. {Al-Bukhari: chapter of tafseer}. Hence, these are from the characteristic of the munafiqoon and the jews i.e. a person says or does something which on the outside looks good, but in fact the intention is to arrive at something evil, and therefore he fulfills two objectives by executing his evil and getting praised for it by this deception.

Lastly, we send blessings upon the messenger {salallahu alayhi wa salam}, his family and on his companions, and our final dua’ is Alhamdulillahi rabil aalameen.