When in Doubt, Consult

One’s etiquette in social situations is the key foundation to having strong relationships with others. This article is the eighth in a series taken from the On Demand Course: Discussion on Sulami’s Adab of Keeping Company.

Consult friends, family, and other people that you keep company. Not just with problems, but in all things. In our times, there is a sense of radical individualism. The individual feels they can figure things out, and consider consulting to be a weakness.

The sunna of consultation is not just to consult in difficulty or when you are stuck. The sunna is an enacting of the divine call which is:

 وَشَاوِرۡهُمۡ فِی ٱلۡأَمۡرِۖ 

“And consult with them on matters of weight” [Quran, 3:159; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Consult them in all matters, not just in difficulty. In general, with anything that you are doing, strive to do it based on consultation. 

Consult Others

The very first thing the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did after revelation was that he went to our mother Khadija and consulted her. Even though he had just received revelation, he was certain about what it was, but he consulted. 

At every stage of the Prophet’s life (Allah bless him and give him peace), everything big and small, he would consult his companions about and they would reach out to him to give their views.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reportedly said, “Whoever consults will never regret.” He taught us as well to “Consult the wise.” 

Different people could be consulted about different things. One sibling may know more about finance. This strengthens bonds as well because they feel that you care about them, and you respect their opinion. 

Even on small things. If you take your family to a restaurant, consult the waiter about the menu. It is also friendly and it engenders trust. People feel respected. 

In family gatherings consult people. The earlier you consult the better. Anytime you find any struggle, consult at the beginning of the struggle rather than at the end of it. 

Prepare for meetings with others. Consider what is of benefit to talk about. Consult on matters they have expertise in to avoid the merely mundane. 

Prefer Others to Yourself

When it comes to the rights of others, you fulfill them. The basic thing concerning others is to not harm them. Better than that is to know their right and to give them their right. As for excellence, do not only give them what is due but prefer them to yourself. 

Allah says:

وَیُؤۡثِرُونَ عَلَىٰۤ أَنفُسِهِمۡ وَلَوۡ كَانَ بِهِمۡ خَصَاصَة 

“And prefer others to themselves, even when in the grip of direst want.” [Quran, 59:9; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

This is difficult but, it arises out of faith. None of you believes until they wish for others of the good that they wish for themselves. That is healthy faith. You want good for the other person like you want it for yourself. 

Allah says:

لَن تَنَالُوا۟ ٱلۡبِرَّ حَتَّىٰ تُنفِقُوا۟ مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَۚ 

“None of you shall attain devotion to their Lord in every good, until you spend of what you truly love” [Quran, 3:92; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

We practice it by sometimes, deliberately, when you want something, get it for somebody else. Or, you get it for them instead of for yourself. 

Such gestures are sadly rare, but they are powerful. In conversation, a friend may mention their favorite food for example, and those paying attention may come with that the next time they visit. This is something for spouses as well. An expressed feeling. Giving is deeply blessed.

There has to be deliberate actions related to these qualities. This could also be apparent when serving food. Do not go to make yourself a plate and then sit down. Rather, start spooning it for the other people. 

These things are lived. That is the benefit of keeping company and observing people of different backgrounds. 

Distinguish Ranks

Distinguish between the ranks and types of the people that you keep company. Relations differ. There are relations that you keep based on faith.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Keep the close company only of a true believer and let only the people of Taqwa be your eating companions.” That is the company one keeps out of choice. 

Then there is company that one keeps because there are rights that you owe them. They are parents, family, neighbors, etc. You know their right, and you fulfill that in a good way. You keep that company for the sake of Allah. You keep it with a good intention in a good way. 

Allah says:

وَصَاحِبۡهُمَا فِی ٱلدُّنۡیَا مَعۡرُوفاۖ 

“But companion them for the time in this world with gracious kindness” [Quran, 31:15; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld] 

The third type of company is company that you keep because of some need. This may be work-related, for example. It may not be faithful company. 

Distinguishing the different types of company helps you understand how you keep company. You need to assess what the need is and how you fulfill it. Keep that company with good intentions in a good manner. 

If you cannot, then that company may be questionable. Or, you may need to de-prioritize that if the need is not legitimate. 

Even the company that you keep out of need, do it with sincere concern. It is not just a utilitarian thing. 

Do It for Allah

Anything worth doing, you do it for Allah. That is the first. Second, always look at your intention. Remember Allah. Third, consider the consequences of what you are doing. There is a difference between how you keep company with someone older and someone younger.

There is a difference between being judgemental and discerning, We judge by the outward. It is not saying who is better than whom. Rather, this is in terms of whose company can you benefit from. Who has rights over you? How close they are in terms of rights? 

Parents have more rights than siblings. Parents and siblings both have more rights than uncles and aunts. You have close friends and you have acquaintances. You are not saying who’s better with Allah. 

Thirdly, there are relationships that one feels need to be cultivated. Either professionally or personally. You have shared interests. You are thinking of gardening and you have a few gardening friends. That should not sway you away from the first two.