In last weeks sermon, we asked two primary questions: ‘Why do two people listen to the same thing yet understand it so differently?’ and ‘Why would a person hate to receive good advice?’ What is occurring in relation to a person’s listening that would determine these outcomes?
These questions were raised from the verse (7:79), “O’ my people! verily I have delivered to you the Message of my Lord, and advised you sincerely; but you do not like sincere advisers’”. Three primary reasons were given as to why a person would not love to receive good advise: (1) It was a truth that made them introspect; (2) They did not love to learn; and (3) They were arrogant. These became impediments to them listening to what reached them.
Some texts place the emphasis on the speaker to ensure proper conveyance of their speech and ideas; as we’re focused on the listener in these discussions there are also texts that place responsibility on the one hearing to ensure they have understood whats been said. That means paying attention, noting down, seeking clarification or reflection. For example, Imam Ali (a) is narrated to have said, “Knowledge is not ruined except by the miscomprehension of the listener” (Ghurar al-Hikam) لا يُؤْتَي العِلْمُ اِلاّمِنْ سُوءِ فَهْمِ السّامِع
The Qur’an mentions how far people will go to avoid listening to something beneficial. In the story of Nuh (a) it mentions, (71:7) “Whenever I called unto them with a view to Your granting them forgiveness, they put their fingers into their ears, and wrapped themselves up in their garments [of sin]; and grew obstinate, and became [yet more] arrogant in their false pride.”
At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s), a champion poet, Tufayl ibn ‘Amr, was warned by the Quraysh not to listen to the Prophet lest he become ‘enchanted’ by his words. When he performed Tawaf he would put his fingers in his ears, until he said to himself to listen to what was being said. When he listened to the Qur’an being recited, he fell in love with it, followed the Prophet (s) home, and converted to Islam that day. This tells us the importance of taking fingers out of our own ears, metaphorically speaking.
Arguably, we are losing our listening skills. This has been occurring since we invented ways of writing, recording on tapes, CD’s etc. Indeed a premium on accurate listening disappeared. One way to prove a person has lost their hearing is the need to shout louder to get someones attention. As a society, we have lost our hearing. The media has to shout at us and still we don’t pay attention. For example, only two months ago there were headlines that the planet has 9-12 years left before environmental damage goes past the fail safe point. But who is listening?
Our texts inform us on how to be better listeners.
- Both prohibited (haraam) and
dis-advised (makruh) things must be avoided.
Imam Ali (a) said, “Train your ears to listen well and do not pay attention to that which does not increase anything useful for you by listening to it, for verily this corrodes the hearts and leads to dispraise” (Ghurar al-Hikam)
ـ عَوِّدْ أُذُنَكَ حُسْنَ الاِسْتِماعِ، وَ لاتُصْغِ إلى ما لايَزيدُ في صَلاحِكَ اِسْتِماعُهُ، فَإنَّ ذلِكَ يُصْدِيُ القُلُوبَ وَيُوجِبُ المَذامَّ.
2) Choose wisely what you listen to
Imam Ali (a) said, “Do not desire for everything that you hear, for this suffices as gullibility (or foolishness).”
لاتَطْمَعْ في كُلِّ ما تَسْمَعُ، فَكَفى بِذلِكَ غِرَّةً خُرْقاً
While the Qur’an says, (39:18) “Those who listen [closely] to all that is said, and follow the best of it: [for] it is they whom God has graced with His guidance, and it is they who are [truly] endowed with insight!
3) Silence. Take several minutes a day to sit in silence and allow yourself to hear what comes from the heart
4) Listen for channels of sound. Pick out something to listen to when there are lots of sounds at once and focus on being attentive to that sound such as on the road when there’s cars, listen for the birds.
5) Savour. We’ve been so accustomed to recording and putting everything up on What’sApp or Social Media. Just be present and allow the moment to sit with you.
6) Realise what ‘Listening Positions’ you require to be in during different gatherings; when should I be an active vs. passive listener, or a critical vs. empathetic listener.
May Allah swt help us to become better listeners by virtue of his Divine Name, ‘The All-Hearer’. Ameen.