The importance of listening
By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
The first duty of love is to listen.
Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, is the seal of the prophets and the universal messenger.
He was born in Mecca, in what’s now the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in 670 AD. Muslims believe that he was the last in a series of prophets chosen by God, and the teachings revealed to the Prophet Muhammad form the basis of Islam.
Muhammad isn’t just one among the prophets: He connects the stories of all the other prophets together. As part of his journey, we’re told that Muhammad traveled to Jerusalem, where all the prophets were briefly resurrected and joined him in prayer.
All the prophets’ stories help guide us in our lives, but Muhammad’s story is the thread that brings all the others together. He brings together the stories of Moses, David, Jesus, and all the others who shone out to help us steer our own lives.
One of the key things we can learn from Muhammad’s life is to listen. We learn that, when we really love someone, we make the effort to listen to what they have to say. The same goes for loving one’s community and wider world.
One of the signs of Muhammad’s great love was that he listened to everyone around him before judging their situation. He listened so much that he was mocked for his listening skills.
“Among them are men who abuse the Prophet and say, ‘He is (all) ear.’ Say, ‘He listens to what is best for you: he believes in Allah, has faith in the Believers, and is a Mercy to those of you who believe.’ But those who abuse the Messenger will have a grievous penalty.” (Qur’an 9:61)
Muhammad was called “all ear” because he was listening to everyone, including the poor, the low status, and those considered of no account. Although his detractors saw this as a negative, it points to his loving and accepting nature. When he was in power, he continued to listen to the orphans, the sick, and the powerless.
Indeed, listening to stories about Muhammad is what brings Islam alive to many.
Many people will say something like “one thing that truly attracted me to the Prophet, upon him peace and blessings, was stories that would be read to me by my teacher, parent, or grandparent.”
Indeed, many people have been brought to Prophet Muhammad through stories from parents and teachers.
“If you think of the Prophet, you can’t help yourself but to stop and say wow, that’s amazing,” is what people usually say.
Did I hear you wrong?
I came to Muhammad in a different way. I heard the stories and teachings of Muhammad in my childhood, but the stories I heard were mixed with his teachings that were misaligned or misapplied. These stories made the prophet out as a leader who was not just sexist, but anti-woman, and that was troubling to me. These stories were not passed down to me through Islamophobes, but Muslims from your layman or ordinary Muslims to the men and women teachers who struggle with their human imperfections and painted the Prophet with those imperfections instead of healing and growing in faith.
However, I didn’t want to take the rejectionist approach of throwing it all out. I wanted to do my own research and study, not to belong or fit in but to reach a deep conviction. Knowing my own imperfections, I wanted to do a better job of listening and not judging people I don’t know.
When I finally delved into the story of Muhammad for myself, what I saw was totally different from what I’d been told as a girl or youth. The more you learned, the more you grew in faith.
At times, to appreciate his beauty – God puts people in your path who are the complete opposite. Here, I followed the road of Bilqis, a woman I admired who experienced bad kings but did not generalize it across all men or kings, or fear meeting and engaging Prophet Solomon, upon him peace.
She did not meet him to argue or debate, but to engage and was prepared to be proven wrong. She was not a woman who suffered from an inferiority complex, and that appealed to me.
As a youth, I believed he was a Prophet because I was told he was, but I didn’t really know him, only what people told me about him which left a murmur in my heart and mind. As I grew older, and began continuously reading and studying his life, I am convinced without a doubt of his Prophethood and being a Messenger of God. I personally benefitted from learning about his life, and intend to keep reviewing the lessons and continue to learn in more depth.
Over the years, as I worked on this work, I recited the following prayers of Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings continuously:
“Oh Allah (God), show us truth as truth and enable us to observe it and show us falsehood as falsehood and enable us to avoid it.”
One thing that particularly struck me was Muhammad’s engagement and treatment of women. I knew what to look for and I was not happy with stories of he raced with his wife and he did the dishes. I know quite of few men in our large extended family who are referred to as mahkoom or one controlled by his spouse. Yes, they do the dishes out of fear.
I shared some of these highlights on FaceBook, Engage Minnesota. I am in the process of compiling them, expanding on them and editing them further.
That’s what drew me to Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him: listening to and studying his character, and seeing how he interacted with people, in particular women, the type of women he married, and how everyone benefitted and grew and evolved from his presence and teachings.
Even as a victor, listening
Perhaps it’s easier to listen when one is an underdog and an outsider. Indeed, Muhammad was known as a listener when people were first attracted to his teachings. When Abu Sufian, one of the elders of Quraish, went to Rome to complain about the prophet, he ended up praising the Prophet’s character and the way he treated orphans and strangers.
But perhaps even more importantly, after two decades of fighting—after an exceptionally long battle—Muhammad enters Mecca with his head bowed, in a state of listening and humility. That’s a very difficult thing to do.
How many of us could face twenty years of torture from those close to them, and then, at the moment of victory, respond with attentive forgiveness? That takes a lot of love. And listening is at the core of that love. Listening to the source of Love who guided his every step, thought, and actions: God.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She was the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota. She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking. She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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