Etiquette of correcting speaker's mistake in religious knowledge
Fatwa No: 323278

Question

Regarding correcting others in an Islamic discussion, sometimes, when one is in conversation, one hears a lot other speakers (parents, friends, etc.) saying things like, “This is allowed,” or, “This is disallowed in Islam,” and so on. What is the ruling for the ordinary listener in this case? Should he speak out if he hears something that is wrong, or should he remain silent in the hope not to make further mistakes and cause debate in case the listener is not exactly sure of the matter being talked about and what the actual ruling in Islam is? Does not saying anything amount to accepting what might be wrong? On the other hand, correcting others if one is not sure oneself may even cause another error by giving other incorrect information. Thank you for your advice.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) is His slave and Messenger. 

If the listener knows that the speaker has made a mistake in clarifying an Islamic ruling, such as him making what is forbidden lawful, or forbidding what is lawful, then as an advice for him and for the listeners, one should clarify that for him and correct him so that he would correct the mistake.

The advice should be secret in principle and not in public because the purpose of giving advice is not for exposing errors; rather, its purpose is to remove the error of the person who is advised. Whenever it is possible to give advice in secret, it should not be given in public.

Ibn Al-Muflih stated in Al-Aadaab Ash-Shar’iyyah, and Al-Khateeb Al-Baghdaadi in Taareekh Baghdad that the Caliph Haroon ar-Rasheed told Al-Asma'i, “Honor us in public and teach us in private...

Imaam Ibn Wahb, who was one of the best disciples of Imaam Maalik, said:

Once, I heard when Imaam Maalik was asked about rubbing with water between the toes in ablution, and he replied, 'People do not have to do that.' I waited until people had gone away and I told him, 'We have a Sunnah regarding this matter.' He said, 'What is it?' I said, 'Al-Layth ibn Sa'd and Ibn Lahee’ah and ‘Umar and Ibn Al-Haarith narrated from Yazeed ibn ‘Amr Al-Mu’aafiri from Abu ‘Abdur-Rahmaan Al-Habali from Al-Mustawrid ibn Shaddaad Al-Qurashi, who said, 'I saw the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) rubbing between his toes with his smallest finger'' Maalik said, 'This hadeeth is sound; I have never heard of it until now;' then, afterwards, I heard Maalik being asked, and he ordered people to rub between their toes.

The etiquette of advice in secret is not specific to the scholars and the shaykhs; rather, it goes for every Muslim. This etiquette is even confirmed with people who have a right on us, such as a parent or an elderly person.

If one knows that if he delays giving advice in secret, the audience will disperse and the listeners will hear that mistake and leave with it, then he should take the initiative to correct the mistake and to clarify the truth in a gentle manner without rebuke. The scholars stated this in regard to correcting the shaykh who is teaching if he had made a mistake, let alone if the one who had made the mistake is a layman who speaks about the religion of Allaah without knowledge. Ibn Jamaa’ah said in his book Tathkirat as-Saami’ wal Mutakallim fi Aadaab al-‘Aalim wal-Muta’allim:

If it is certain that the shaykh has made a mistake in answering a question, and it is possible to correct the mistake, so if this is the case, such as writing fataawa and the fact that the questioner may be a stranger or living far away, then it is an obligation to draw the attention of the shaykh to this issue on the spot, by a sign or a statement, because not doing so is a betrayal to the shaykh; so one must advise him by clarifying to him that he made a mistake while pointing this out to him with soft words and the like.

This is, of course, if the listener is sure about the mistake. However, if he only doubts it and has no knowledge about the matter, then he should not speak and advise with ignorance, as Allaah says (what means): {And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart - about all those [one] will be questioned.} [Quran 17:36]

Allaah knows best.

Related Fatwa