The Prophet's Example in Correcting People's Mistakes
By Dr. Zabrina Abu Bakar* - Freelance Writer - Malaysia
Prophet's methods of correcting people's mistake - Part 1 (Bengali / English)
Imagine this scene:
One day, a politician went up to the stage and stood behind the podium in a large hall where thousands of people were sitting and waiting impatiently to listen to what he had to say.
He took the microphone hesitantly and tried to avoid the audience's piercing look at him. He was stuttering and the only word that he seemed to get straight was " I am sorry".
That day, a politician created news when he apologized publicly for a grave mistake he made.
His action reminded me of a Turkish proverb,
No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back.
The reactions from the community were expected. Some praised him for being brave enough to own up to the wrong he did while some criticized him for the mistake done.
To Err Is Human
Considering that scene, a few questions went through my mind. What should be the right way for a Muslim to respond to this? Should the politician be praised for his honesty or condemned for his mistakes?
It is crucial that Muslims understand the fundamental principle of the fallibility of human to err. Mistake is something that is as common as flu. This is one thing that escapes no one.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said, "Every son of Adam makes mistakes, and the best of those who make mistakes are those who repent". (At-Tirmidhi)
The reality that every human being must face is that mistakes are unavoidable. From the moment we were born till the day we breathe our last breath, we are always at risk of making mistakes.
However, although it was acknowledged that all sons of Adam make mistakes, Muslims are obligated to correct and advise one another. God Almighty says in the Quran:
[Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.] (Aal `Imran 3:104)
Therefore, even Muslims have their own share of mistakes, correcting and advising one another is something that they are duty-bound.
So, what are the basic principles used by the Prophet Muhammad when correcting the mistakes of others?
God Almighty says in the Quran:
[Invite all to the way of the Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His path, and who receive guidance.] (An-Nahl 16:125)
To Correct, Not to Humiliate
Therefore, in Islam, it is clear that mistakes should be corrected on a footing of compassion rather than harshness. The ultimate aim or objective of the 'mistake-corrector' in Islam is to give advice so that the 'mistake-doer' changes, repents, reforms, improves, increases knowledge and gets closer to God; but not to humiliate, to shame, to put down, to embarrass, to dishonor or to disgrace the person who is mistaken.
On this basis, I wondered about the right way Muslims should react to the politician's confession, who clearly had regretted his mistakes.
There was an incident during the Prophet's time that could provide Muslims with some guidance. A man came to the Prophet in distress and crying, one of the Prophet's companions, Abu Hurairah narrates "While we were sitting with the Prophet a man came and said, "O God's Apostle! I have been ruined."
The Prophet asked what was the matter with him. He replied "I had sexual intercourse with my wife while I was fasting."
The Prophet asked him, "Can you afford to manumit a slave?"
He replied in the negative. The Prophet asked him, "Can you fast for two successive months?" He replied in the negative.
The Prophet asked him, "Can you afford to feed sixty poor persons?" He replied in the negative.
The Prophet kept silent and while we were in that state, a big basket full of dates was brought to the Prophet.
He asked, "Where is the questioner?" He replied, "I am here." The Prophet said to him, "Take this basket of dates and give it in charity."
The man said, "Should I give it to a person poorer than I? By God; there is no family between its two mountains (i.e. Madinah) who are poorer than I."
The Prophet smiled till his pre-molar teeth became visible and then said, "Feed your family with it." (Bukhari)
This was how compassionate, gentle, empathetic and loving Prophet Muhammad was to a person who clearly had regretted his mistake.
Let us analyze how the Prophet responded to that man.
Was Prophet Muhammad angry or upset? Was he harsh? Was he intimidating? Was there any sign of displeasure shown by him? Was he humiliating the man? Was he hard on that man?
He wasn't all accounts. Instead he was gentle and understanding but firm. He even smiled.
With his gentleness, did the Prophet achieve the very objective of correcting mistakes in Islam? Did the man change his behavior after that? Was his behavior reformed?
Did he feel disgraced by admitting the mistake? Did the man learn his lesson well?
And more importantly, were the ones observing the situation inclined to repent from their own mistakes after witnessing the fairness and compassionate way the Prophet Muhammad dealt with the man?
From that one hadith above, Muslims have learned from the Prophet that if someone came to them full of regret, was very sorry for what he did, apologized and was remorseful, Muslims should also be compassionate towards the person.
The Prophet has demonstrated that he simply listened to the grief of the repenting man and did not say anything to aggravate the condition of the man.
Thus, Muslims are taught to restrain themselves from being tempted to give any 'add salt to the open wound' statements, or 'I told you so', or perhaps 'What were you thinking?!' or maybe the 'I never expected this from you' or even the 'I am disappointed in you' tone.
Another thing Muslims understand from the hadith above was that the Prophet Muhammad's gentleness did not make him compromise on the accountability that the man has to take responsibility upon his mistake.
The man was still liable for the mistake he had done. And the Prophet Muhammad was firm on that.
But what should be learnt was the way the Prophet Muhammad handled the whole affair � with compassion, gentleness, and firmness.
Could we reflect upon ourselves, on our daily conducts of similar incidents? When our loved ones, children, spouse, friends, brothers, sisters, co-workers, relatives or neighbors admitted their mistakes and apologized, how did we react towards them?
When they said they were sorry, did we disgrace them further? Did we frown upon them? Did we shout just to satisfy our anger? Did we remind them of their mistakes every chance we get?
Did we use the mistakes they did to our advantage and throw it back at their faces? Did we have our own "..told you so.."?
Or were we calm and understanding when listening to them? And help them overcome their grief as how the Prophet Muhammad had done?
These are some of the questions Muslims should reflect upon.
Every Son of Adam
In the earlier hadith when the Prophet Muhammad acknowledged that every son of Adam would make mistakes, he also said in the same hadith that the best of mistake-doers are the ones who repent.
A good example was given by the politician earlier. So, I asked myself again, that if the politician had repented, didn�t he qualify as the best of mistake-doer?
Indeed, Islam is a religion that is full of compassion, humility and respect. It acknowledged the human nature to err and gave room for repentance and advice. Islam has given perfect guideline in dealing with a repented mistake-doer.
The benefit of this technique are threefold. It helped the repented person to start a new life, it encouraged others to repent and it strengthened the relationship between the members of the community because everyone would react with kindness and gentleness to the one who has clearly repented.
*Zabrina Abu Bakar is a life storyteller and author of a motivational book entitled Life is An Open Secret. She has a degree in accountancy and an MBA, and is completing her doctorate in business administration. She maintains an active blog at