The Inner Meanings of Encouragement (targhīb) and Deterrence (tarhīb)

The Inner Meanings of Encouragement (targhīb) and Deterrence (tarhīb)

In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Especially Merciful

أسرار الترغيب والترهيب

When encouraging people to good and deterring them from evil, five broad principles should be borne in mind. A summary is provided before looking at them in detail:

  1. Rectification: explain the effect of the action on the soul
  2. Protection and benefit: explain that it protects from the devil while one is blessed with sustenance
  3. Remind: relate the act to the life of the next world
  4. Recall: adopt a method where the act becomes inscribed on the mind
  5. Relate: explain how the act relates to the pleasure of Allah, the Exalted, and the angels.

Some additional reflections when encouraging and deterring:

  1. Always use nuance; avoid making blanket statements
  2. Read well and prepare in advance if delivering a speech etc.
  3. Use gentleness and softness
  4. Inspire people with hope, not fear. Fear is for Allāh, the Exalted. (fear here is not the type we are generally accustomed to. For an in depth discussion, see the chapter on fear and hope from Imām al-Ghazālī’s Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn)
  5. Humility when advising; we are infinitely in need than the audience
  6. Articulate a message of bringing the ummah together

The need for principles

Let us begin by explaining why principles are required for encouragement and deterrence. It has been narrated from Abu Dhar (may Allah be pleased with him) that:

أَنَّ نَاسًا، مِنْ أَصْحَابِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالُوا لِلنَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ذَهَبَ أَهْلُ الدُّثُورِ بِالأُجُورِ يُصَلُّونَ كَمَا نُصَلِّي وَيَصُومُونَ كَمَا نَصُومُ وَيَتَصَدَّقُونَ بِفُضُولِ أَمْوَالِهِمْ . قَالَ ” أَوَلَيْسَ قَدْ جَعَلَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ مَا تَصَّدَّقُونَ إِنَّ بِكُلِّ تَسْبِيحَةٍ صَدَقَةً وَكُلِّ تَكْبِيرَةٍ صَدَقَةٌ وَكُلِّ تَحْمِيدَةٍ صَدَقَةٌ وَكُلِّ تَهْلِيلَةٍ صَدَقَةٌ وَأَمْرٌ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ صَدَقَةٌ وَنَهْىٌ عَنْ مُنْكَرٍ صَدَقَةٌ وَفِي بُضْعِ أَحَدِكُمْ صَدَقَةٌ ” . قَالُوا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَيَأْتِي أَحَدُنَا شَهْوَتَهُ وَيَكُونُ لَهُ فِيهَا أَجْرٌ قَالَ ” أَرَأَيْتُمْ لَوْ وَضَعَهَا فِي حَرَامٍ أَكَانَ عَلَيْهِ فِيهَا وِزْرٌ فَكَذَلِكَ إِذَا وَضَعَهَا فِي الْحَلاَلِ كَانَ لَهُ أَجْرٌ

Some of the people from among the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said to him: Messenger of Allah, the rich have taken away (all the) reward. They observe prayer as we do; they keep the fasts as we keep, and they give ṣadaqa out of their surplus riches. Upon this he (the Messenger of Allah) said: Has Allah not prescribed for you (a course) by following which you can (also) do ṣadaqa? In every declaration of the glorification of Allah (i. e. saying Ṣubḥan Allāh) there is a ṣadaqa, and every takbīr (i. e. saying Allah-O-Akbar) is a sadaqa, and every praise of His (saying al-Ḥamdu Lillah) is a ṣadaqa and every declaration that He is One (La illāha ill-Allāh) is a sadaqa, and enjoining of good is a ṣadaqa, and forbidding of that which is evil is a ṣadaqa, and in man’s sexual Intercourse [with his wife] there is a ṣadaqa. They (the Companions) said: Messenger of Allah, is there reward for him who satisfies his sexual passion among us? He said: Tell me, if he were to devote it to something forbidden, would it not be a sin on his part? Similarly, if he were to devote it to something lawful, he should have a reward. (Muslim)

From this ḥadīth we learn two important principles regarding encouragement and deterrence. Firstly, the questioning by the companions of receiving reward for sexual intercourse with one’s wife shows that to them, there existed a relationship between an action and its reward; that it can be arrived at by reason. They understood that good deeds assist in refining the soul and is in the best of interests of society; bad deeds result in the opposite. Yet the nature of their question reveals something more: where is the good deed  to be found in satisfying one’s needs (via sexual intercourse)? Is this not following the animalistic impulse (i.e. one’s desires)? where is the benefit in this act? How is this benefiting the individual? How is society benefitting?

Therefore, in this particular case, the rationale was somewhat ambiguous: while it is clear that it is a major sin to fornicate, how is one to understand being rewarded for having sexual relation with one’s wife? The answer lies in the fact that there is a (second type of) deeper relationship, which the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) set as a principle: there is also a reward for not committing a sin (though this reward is dependent on one striving against ones desires). In this case, there is a relationship  of sorts between the sin of fornication and having sexual relations with one’s wife, with the latter being rewarded; it keeps ones sexual organs pure whiles one’s desires are fulfilled in the right way. The individual and society benefit.

و للترغيب والترهيب طرق، ولكل طريقة سرٌّ

There are various methods to encourage good and to deter from sin, and there is an inner dimension to each method

Principle one: to explain the effect of an action which refines the soul

The benefit (or harm) of an action should explained by its effect on the soul: it will either result in the animalistic impulse being drive down or the angelic force being made stronger. This is understood from the idea of ‘recording of good deeds and the erasing of the evil ones.’ In other words, when one intends to encourage, explain that this will refine their soul by reigning in their animalistic impulse or, that their angelic trait will be made manifest; good deeds places light in ones heart while evil deeds blacken it. For example, the Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) said:

مَنْ قَالَ فِي دُبُرِ صَلاَةِ الْفَجْرِ وَهُوَ ثَانِي رِجْلَيْهِ قَبْلَ أَنْ يَتَكَلَّمَ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ لاَ شَرِيكَ لَهُ لَهُ الْمُلْكُ وَلَهُ الْحَمْدُ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ وَهُوَ عَلَى كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ عَشْرَ مَرَّاتٍ كُتِبَ لَهُ عَشْرُ حَسَنَاتٍ وَمُحِيَ عَنْهُ عَشْرُ سَيِّئَاتٍ وَرُفِعَ لَهُ عَشْرُ دَرَجَاتٍ وَكَانَ يَوْمَهُ ذَلِكَ فِي حِرْزٍ مِنْ كُلِّ مَكْرُوهٍ وَحَرْسٍ مِنَ الشَّيْطَانِ وَلَمْ يَنْبَغِ لِذَنْبٍ أَنْ يُدْرِكَهُ فِي ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ إِلاَّ الشِّرْكَ بِاللَّهِ

“Whoever says at the end of every Fajr prayer, while his feet are still folded, before speaking: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, Alone without partner, to Him belongs all that exists, and to Him is the praise, He gives life and causes death, and He is powerful over all things, (Lā ilāha illallāh, waḥdahu lā ṣharīka lah, lahul-mulku wa lahul-ḥamdu, yuḥyī wa yumītu, wa huwa ‘alā kulli ṣhay’in qadīr)’ ten times, then ten good deeds shall be written for him, ten evil deeds shall be wiped away from him, ten degrees shall be raised up for him, and he shall be in security all that day from every disliked thing, and he shall be in protection from ṣhaitān, and no sin will meet him or destroy him that day, except for associating partners with Allah.” (At-Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah, Abū Dāwūd)

Principle two: to explain the effect of an action by stating that one is protected from devil and that there will be blessings in one’s sustenance

As for the protection from the devil, the ḥadīth mentioned above provides an example. As for increase and blessings in one’s sustenance, the Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) said:

اقْرَءُوا سُورَةَ الْبَقَرَةِ فَإِنَّ أَخْذَهَا بَرَكَةٌ وَتَرْكَهَا حَسْرَةٌ وَلاَ تَسْتَطِيعُهَا الْبَطَلَةُ 

“Recite Ṣūrah al-Baqarah, for to take recourse to it is a blessing and to give it up is a cause of grief, and the magicians cannot confront it.” (Muslim)

This (protection from the devil and increase in one’s sustenance) is achieved due to three things:

  1. By supplicating to Allah, the Exalted, in seeking well-being, and it being accepted from Him.
  2. Being immersed in the remembrance of Allah, the Exalted. Such that the devil and those share in his evil attributes find no way to influence them.
  3. The angels pray for that person so that sometimes something of benefit transpires or some harm is warded away.

Principle three: to explain the effect of an action in terms of the life to come

To explain the consequences of an action in terms of the grave and resurrection. How was it possible for the  Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) to know of the consequences of actions in the next world? This is because there is a relationship (munāsabah) between an act and its consequence. This relationship is either through acquiring (or lack of) four virtues: purity, humility, magnanimity and justice, or, to giving strength to the divine law. Every action will be related to these relationships. For example, to perform the units of prayer with devotion relates to humility, being in awe of Allah, the Exalted, and to suppress the animalistic traits. To perform ablution leads to purity, which affects the soul. To spend wealth, especially when one is miserly, or forgiving a debt shows signs of magnanimity in ones soul. To feed the poor or to resolve disputes shows that one is interested in spreading justice in the world, something which the divine law seeks to achieve. It may be that the act is either difficult, obscure or disagreeable by nature. Hence, the act becomes a proof of one’s sincerity. For example, striving against one’s desires so that the act testifies to the truth of one’s commitment to Allah, the Exalted.

Secondly, to explain that one’s treatment in the life to come will be based on their actions in this world, and that there is a subtle relationship between them. For example, the one who conceals knowledge when asked will be punished with a bridle of fire since the questioner was pained by not being provided with a response; the bridle is an embodiment and image of restraint (i.e. the punishment for not furnishing a response is restraint). The one who loves and hoards wealth will have their neck encircled by a bald snake since their sole concern was with the acquisition of wealth. On the other hand, the one who clothed the poor will be dressed in a silk brocade of Paradise.  The one who frees a slave or someone under hardship will be given salvation for every limb in exchange for every limb that they freed in this world.

Principle four: to adopt a method by which the good or the bad of the act becomes inscribed on the mind

There are three ways:

  1. Using symbolism where there is a shared element between the two. For example, the one who remains seated and engaged in devotion until the sun rises received the reward of the Ḥajj and ‘Umrah. The one who takes back a gift was compared to the dog that returns to their vomit.
  2. Ascribing that act to someone good evil or evil. For example, to perform the ‘asr prayer at the makrūh time is like the prayer of a hypocrite or that a certain act is  that of the devil or the angels.
  3. Using invocation by saying for example, “may Allah, the Exalted, have mercy on the man who does such and such an act.”

Principle five: Show people how the act is connected to the pleasure (or anger) of Allah, The exalted and prayer of the angels.

When explaining an act, always relate it to Allah’s pleasure or anger, and the prayers of the angels. For example, by saying, “Allah loves so and so and hates so and so.”

And only Allah, the Exalted, knows best.

Ḥāroon Ebrāhīm Sīdāt.

For further reading see Ḥujjat Allāh al-Bāligha (The conclusive argument from God) by Ṣhāh Walī Allāh and Imām al-Ghazālī’s Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn