By Tabassum Mosleh |
‘But how did your cat die?’ Sarah’s cousin asked her.
Sarah was silent, trying to focus on her phone.
‘It was so cute!’ the boy insisted.
‘Yes, how is your school going?’ Sarah asked him.
‘Tell me! How did it die?’
Another cousin came to the rescue.
‘Allah took it. Now let’s play some video games.’
It’s easy to spot the lack of tact in the above conversation. But clearly, it’s less obvious to the boy; if he had any idea of the kind of pain he was inflicting on his cousin by asking again and again about the way her pet died, reminding her of a shock and grief she was trying to get over, he would never have done it.
But imagine if you’re in the boy’s place. Imagine that you can’t understand why Sarah wasn’t answering your questions, although you asked her again and again. Was she trying to insult me? Wasn’t it insulting to keep asking something and get no answer?
Now here’s the catch: if we are being tactless, it’s very likely that, just like the boy, we don’t realize it. So how do you solve a problem which you don’t realize even exists?
Tact is a virtue of the true believer, and it is achieved through empathy. When you know how someone is feeling at a particular time, you won’t go barging in on them when they’re in an unreceptive mood.
For some people, tact and empathy come naturally, as a gift from Allah. For the rest of us, it needs to be sowed and nurtured through hard toil before we see the harvest.
Tact of the Companions (ra)
Jabir (ra) reported an incident which took place after the Battle of Uhud. They were coming back from an expedition a long way away, tired and with sore feet tied with rags. It was a hot desert midday, the sun being right at the top of your head. They came to a place where there were thorny plants, and came to a halt near a shady tree. The Companions, who usually like sticking as close to the Prophet (sa) as possible, left him alone to rest in the shade, and went to look for other shades. (Bukhari)
Imagine if they all had sat surrounding the Prophet (sa) and started asking all sorts of questions. Some Bedouins once called the Prophet (sa) a bit too loudly, saying his name, and Allah (swt) sent ayat correcting them.
Do not make [your] calling of the Messenger among yourselves as the call of one of you to another. [24:63]
So some of the best sources from which we can learn tact are the life stories of the Companions.
Tact of the Prophet (sa)
What did the Prophet (sa) do to the Bedouin who urinated in his sacred mosque? In the Bedouin’s own words:
He got up and came to me, and may my father and mother be ransomed for him, he did not rebuke me nor revile me. He said: ‘This mosque is not for urinating in. Rather it is built for the remembrance of Allah and prayer.’ Then he called for a large vessel of water and poured it over the place where he had urinated. [Ibn Majah, hasan]
What would have happened if he had scolded the Bedouin and thrown him out of the mosque? He would probably never come back. And that’s probably what most of us would have done in the Prophet’s place.
The Prophet’s Sunnah, and the ayat of the Quran teach us tactfulness. For example, we are encouraged to prepare food for the family of the deceased. [Abi Dawud 3132] Children are forbidden from disturbing their parents at certain times of the day. [24:58] We’re told to go away after knocking thrice at someone’s door (the same would also apply nowadays for phone calls). [Ibn Majah 3706]
So, if we want to learn tact, the best thing we can do is follow the way of the Prophet (sa).
Tabassum Mosleh is a freelance writer and a student of Al-Salam Institute. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn to read the Quran in just 20 hours!