Why do we value “unapologetically telling the truth like it is” so highly? When did this become an actual thing that we lionize and aspire to? Why do we celebrate those who do this?
What’s the point of telling it like it is, even if people hate it? And what does it say about us as a community if this is how sincerity and authenticity is expressed? When did it become some type of significant accomplishment that is lauded by others?
There’s obviously an immediate benefit. You gain notoriety, fans, social media engagement, and maybe even just enough of a following to leverage a career (or presidency) out of it.
I have noticed a trend lately, particularly in discourse about Islamic issues online, where people are being heralded and promoted for telling it like it is.
This culture appears to be an overreaction to another problem (as most extremes often are) – speaking about issues without any principles, or watering down and politicizing them. When something in regards to the religion is watered down, the perception is that this is done from a position of weakness.
By speaking the unapologetic truth harshly, a person may feel they are taking on a task for the community that others are not. They are giving voice to a perspective that may otherwise be silent. They are providing objective and accurate intellectual analysis without any emotion or sugar-coating.
Validation follows. Others encourage them for speaking up and saying the things they are unafraid to say. This makes the person feel they are taking on an important task on behalf of the ummah, and continue to do so. Then they get more fans and comments, and the cycle continues.
This validation loop, particularly online when it is in the form of likes and comments, makes it challenging to engage criticisms of this approach objectively. After all, everyone is telling you this is incredible – why should you listen to the few uptight people who are so focused on tone instead of the unapologetic truth bomb you are dropping on people?
This justification comes from prioritizing the utility of giving a correct point of view over how it is delivered – especially when this point of view is drowned out by all the people with the wrong understanding.
When given real feedback on tone or etiquette, people who pride themselves on being unapologetic or authentic will respond by deflecting this advice. Focus on the intellectual merits of the argument they’ll argue. Or they will deflect it by pointing to some type of bad character on the part of people who hold the opposing viewpoint as them. Don’t worry about my bad attitude, worry about that other person’s character instead. Or they’ll appeal to authority and declare that they already have teachers or mentors that give them advice, so they are free to dismiss comments no matter how legitimate. For people who pride themselves on being objective or intellectual, these are all profoundly childish responses.
What is billed as being authentic or unapologetic is really a mask for laziness and ego.
The Qur’an lays out a model that we’ll refer to as the ‘high-competency’ approach:
By an act of mercy from God, you [Prophet] were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you—so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them. Consult with them about matters, then, when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in God: God loves those who put their trust in Him (3:159).
Where in this ayah does it appear that the approach of telling the cold hard truth would fall?
Telling the unapologetic truth without regard for how people take it is the easy way out. Anyone can do that. The problem is that it does not work. It causes people to get turned off. Those who lionize this approach will counter by saying, “so what?” They put the blame on the people who can’t handle the message instead of taking responsibility for how they deliver it.
That’s why it’s lazy. It’s a low competency form of delivering a message. The only people who celebrate it are ones that already agree with it. It does not accomplish the ultimate task of winning hearts and minds or changing someone’s viewpoint.
Instead, it puts the focus on the person giving the message – how courageous, authentic, and direct they are. This makes the communication inherently ego driven because the intended audience is now ignored. The actual content of a person’s message also gets lost as they start to craft their identity around speaking forcefully instead of effectively. They show no concern for the recipient of the message, only in themselves.
The task of winning hearts and minds, or changing someone’s ideological worldview, is not done through a hot take on Facebook. It is done as the ayah above indicates – with kindness in dealings with them.
Giving hot takes on social media builds fans and followings, not relationships. The ultimate irony is that unapologetically speaking the truth actually prevents people from developing the relationships to affect positive change in the community because no one wants to be around them.
“How well you take criticism depends less on the message and more on your relationship with the messenger. It’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success.” –Adam Grant
It requires the hard work of building relationships with people and building community. True leaders understand that this requires years of investment into people – not all of which will be documented on social media. Success means playing the long game.
It means going to a tyrant like Fir’awn, and still speaking kindly because the ultimate intent is different than to just tell it like it is.
It means that when the young man walks into the masjid of the Prophet (s) and asks permission to commit zina (adultery), that the Prophet (s) takes him and teaches him kindly. He could have easily reminded him about the jurisprudential rulings about adultery, and the prescribed punishment – no doubt that would be unapologetically speaking the truth. But it would not have achieved the intended outcome, so the Prophet (s) had to take the approach that would actually produce results.
But wait, what about all the times in the life of the Prophet (s) when harshness was used? Didn’t he speak the truth clearly? Yes. There are always going to be situations where this is called for strategically as a tool intended for a specific result. The problem we are highlighting is not of speaking the truth clearly, but one of expressing it in a harsh way such that people are turned off. And worse, people who respond to the harshness with cheerleading and zealousness instead of genuine care and concern for the one who is wrong to gain some sense of rectification.
There is something deeper at play here than ego or taking the easy way out. Authenticity.
Authenticity is the buzzword we use to express sincerity. When I tell it like it is, I am being authentic and sincere. Not fake. Not a sell-out.
Authenticity presents a paradox: Do you do what’s effective, or do you do what is true to yourself? We might reach a certain level of success and influence by being a certain way. The challenge is getting to the next level. If that means suddenly changing how I communicate or speaking with what I term to be watered down political jargon, then no thanks. This is the mindset that allows us to morally justify our unapologetic approach, and actually double down on it when told to act otherwise.
Authenticity is a barrier to personal growth. We use this idea of it representing sincerity as an excuse to keep from changing. We have to shift from delivering the information people need to know (low-level) to creating the conditions of increasing learning (high-level).
This requires putting in the work to change our approach and character.
The Prophet (s) said that ‘the two characteristics that led the most people into Paradise were consciousness of Allah and good character’ (Tirmidhi).
Don’t let anyone subvert this in the name of unapologetically speaking the truth.
Low competency individuals are drawn to telling it like it is. High competency individuals are attracted to painting the vision of how things could be – and building the bridge to help and serve people in getting there.
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Zainab bint Younus, Canada
MARITAL ADVICE LISTS are common to find in Muslim literature and lectures, yet the information is almost always targeted towards women. However, we all know that it takes two to tango – and so here is a list aimed at Muslim husbands in the hopes that they, too, will benefit and be able to improve their relationships.
1. Have taqwa and iḥsân
Know that you are responsible for your end of the marriage, regardless of how the other party treats you. Fulfill your wife’s rights without demanding yours first, and know that you seek Allah’s Pleasure over anyone else’s. Do your job with excellence, and don’t make it conditional. Iḥsân is not merely to worship in the ritual sense, but to conduct oneself in general with an awareness that Allah is Al-Raqîb (the Ever-Watchful), and to fulfill one’s duties in the best of manners.
Then he (Jibrîl) said, “Inform me about iḥsân.” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, “It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet (know that) He sees you.” (Muslim)
2. Respect her
Remember that Allah describes marriage as a bond of love and mercy – love ebbs and flows, but mercy and respect must always be there, even – especially – in times of conflict. Unfortunately, we tend to present respect as a quality that men need (“men need respect, women need affection”). The truth is, however, that one can love someone without respecting them… and this is very, very dangerous. To have mercy and respect one’s wife is to never assume that she exists merely as an extension of you or to serve your needs. To respect her is to honor her, to defend her from harm and others’ accusations, and to have husn al-ẓann of her.
In cases of disagreement, this respect translates as not forcing your own opinion upon her when there is Islamically acceptable room for differences of opinion.
It should go without saying, but unfortunately it bears repeating nonetheless – respecting your wife means never, ever, abusing her, physically or otherwise.
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [Sûrat Al-Rûm, 30:21]
Even in times of conflict, Allah tells us to behave in the most respectful and gracious of manners:
And do not forget graciousness between you. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:237]
Abû Mûsa Al-Ashʿari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
I asked the Messenger of Allah: “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” 
3. Be emotionally intelligent
Empathy, being attuned to the other person’s preferences, learning to understand their personality and responding appropriately without expecting to change them into something they’re not… supporting and respecting each other as both individuals and as a team. The Prophet ﷺ was an emotionally intelligent husband, who knew the differences in his wives’ personalities and interacted with them in a manner best suited to each woman. He comforted Ṣufiyyah when she wept; he had spirited discussions with ʿÂishah (May Allah be pleased with her) and he encouraged Ḥafṣah’s (May Allah be pleased with her) for knowledge.
In a famous narration known as the Hadith of Abu Zarʿ(May Allah be pleased with him)  ʿAishah told the Prophet ﷺ the story of eleven women who sat together and described their husbands’ qualities and behaviours. The eleventh woman, Umm Zarʿ, described Abû Zarʿas a man who was extremely generous to his wife, showering her with gifts; who went out of his way to please her; who never rebuked her or verbally abused her; who made sure that she was comfortable and satisfied. To Umm Zarʿ, there was no greater husband than Abû Zarʿ- and the Prophet ﷺ himself told ʿÂishah, I am to you as Abû Zarʿwas to Umm Zarʿ, except that I will never divorce you.
4. Be a True Qawwâm
Know that being a qawwâm is a matter of being a good leader – not authoritarian or a dictator, but someone who inspires love and respect, who treats others with dignity and respect… The popular book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a great resource for understanding what good leadership is. There are several excellent Islamic resources discussing leadership lessons from the life of the Prophet ﷺ.   Strive to embody the Sunnah in your character, not just in how many rakʿahs a day you pray.
ʿÂishah RA described the Prophet thus: “His character was the Quran.”  Be the type of husband that a wife describes in such a manner.
Remember that as a qawwâm, you are responsible and accountable for the well-being of your household and those under your care.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The amîr (ruler) who is over the people is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock; a man is a shepherd in charge of the inhabitants of his household and he is responsible for his flock…” 
5. Be friends before you become spouses
That might sound odd (or not) – but we often put so much pressure on ourselves to fulfill a role (husband/wife), that we forget to get to know each other as friends first. Every marriage will go through ups and downs, intimately and otherwise… and you’ll be surprised to realize how much having a solid, sincere friendship can pull you through the hard times.
One example of RasûlAllah’s “friendship” with his wives is his relationship with Sawdah bint Zamʿah RA. She was the first woman whom he married after the death of Khadijah, and although she was considered to be elderly and not as beautiful as the other women whom he would later marry, their relationship was one of camaraderie, confidence, and laughter. 
6. Don’t be embarrassed or ignorant of female biology
Learn about it – from menstruation to female sexuality to pregnancy and everything else. You need to know this stuff – it will impact your life significantly, intimately and otherwise. Don’t laugh it off or act as though it’s not worth your time and attention. Women’s health is sorely misunderstood, and having a disinterested (or worse, disgusted) husband can make things even more difficult for women.
The Prophet ﷺ did not shy away from these matters, either as a husband or as a Messenger of Allah. Instead, he constantly enjoined men to be aware of and sensitive to their wives’ needs – just as he was with his wives.
Narrated Umm Salamah RA:
While I was laying with the Prophet ﷺ under a single woolen sheet, I got the menses. I slipped away and put on the clothes for menses. He said, “Have you got “nifâs” (menses)?” I replied, “Yes.” He then called me and made me lie with him under the same sheet. 
7. Be responsible
Being “a good Muslim husband” doesn’t just mean fulfilling the basic rights as a husband and leaving it at that. Being a good Muslim husband means that you are on the ball as a responsible adult – whether it’s paying the bills, taking out the trash, cleaning a mess in the house, or being an engaged father (not ‘babysitting’). Doing these things is not a “kindness to the wife,” or “helping out at home.” It’s not “extra credit” and deserving of lavish praise. It is part and parcel of being a grown man responsible for his surroundings, his family, and himself. Do these things out of mindfulness that Allah will never waste your efforts for His Sake.
Narrated Al-Aswad RA:
I asked ʿÂishah what did the Prophet use to do at home. She replied. “He used to keep himself busy serving his family and when it was time for the prayer, he would get up for prayer.” (Bukhâri)
ʿÂishah RA reported:
I was asked, “What did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, do in his house?” I said, “The Prophet was a man among men. He would remove fleas from his clothes, milk his sheep, and serve himself.” (Musnad Ahmad 25662)
8. Don’t pursue your nawâfil at the expense of your wife’s farâ’iḍ
One issue that many men fall into is that in their zeal to engage more in ʿibâda, they end up burdening their wives even more – to the extent that she is barely able to pray her five ṣalawât with khushûʿ. Both spouses should encourage and facilitate opportunities for each other to strengthen as Muslims, but mothers of young children especially need their husbands to step up so that they can have the necessary time they need to reconnect with Allah and flourish spiritually. (And no, that doesn’t just mean five minutes here and there.)
Ramadan is a time when this becomes more obvious than ever – for example, many men will go to Ṣalat Al-Ṭarâwîḥ while leaving their wives to deal with the children, in addition to having cooked ifṭâr beforehand. On a daily basis, though, go out of your way to facilitate your wife’s ʿibâda and spiritual connection.
Narrated Abû Juḥaifah RA:
The Prophet ﷺ made a bond of brotherhood between Salmân Al-Fârisi RA and Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA. Salmân RA paid a visit to Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA and found Umm Al-Dardâ’ RA dressed in shabby clothes and asked her why she was in that state. She replied, “Your brother Abû Al-Dardâ’ R is not interested in (the luxuries of) this world.”
In the meantime Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA came and prepared a meal for Salmân RA. Salmân RA requested Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA to eat (with him), but Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA said, “I am fasting.” Salmân RA said, “I am not going to eat unless you eat.”
So, Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA ate (with Salmân). When it was night and (a part of the night had passed), Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA got up (to offer the night prayer), but Salmân RA told him to sleep and Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA slept.
After sometime Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA again got up but Salmân RA told him to sleep. When it was the last hours of the night, Salmân RA told him to get up then, and both of them offered the prayer.
Salmân RA told Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA, “Your Lord has a right on you, your soul has a right on you, and your family has a right on you; so you should give the rights of all those who has a right on you.”
Abû Al-Dardâ’ RA came to the Prophet ﷺ and narrated the whole story. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Salmân RA has spoken the truth.” 
9. Learn conflict resolution skills
One big reason that couples end up going to Shuyûkh for counseling is because they simply haven’t learned how to communicate and resolve conflicts in a healthy manner. It’s not even about one specific issue or another; it’s about learning how to deal with whatever issues arise, in the most respectful and appropriate manner possible. 
The Quran and Sunnah urge positive reconciliation between believers, and especially between husbands and wives.
“And live with them honourably. For if you dislike them – perhaps you dislike a thing and Allah makes therein much good.” [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:19]
“And if a woman fears from her husband contempt or evasion, there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement is best. And present in [human] souls is stinginess. But if you do good and fear Allah – then indeed Allah is ever with what you do, Acquainted.” [Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:128]
10. Love your wife for who she is
Not because she’s the person who cooks for you or does your laundry. Not because she’s the mother of your child(ren). Not because you’ve settled into routine and you feel comfortable having her around and she knows how to work the coffee maker and where the family’s paperwork is filed. Love her for her. Her personality traits, her talents, her hobbies, the things about her that make her unique.
Notice them, appreciate them, compliment them. Let her know that you don’t just see her as wife or mother, but as an individual on her own. Know that long before she married you, indeed long before she was born to her own parents, she was created as a separate soul – a human being whose primary identity is as a slave of Allah.
And most importantly – let her know that you love her, with all the pride and openness that RasûlAllah ﷺ demonstrated when he was asked, “Who do you love most?” and he responded, simply and beautifully, “ʿÂishah.” 
There are of course numerous other pieces of advice that can be dispensed on the topic – everything from giving gifts to resolving in-law issues to arranging date-nights and so on. However, more important than specific behaviours are the principles behind them – and it these principles which have been highlighted.
In short, Muslim men should strive to match the standards set by RasûlAllah ﷺ when he said:
“The best of you are those who are the best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.” 
 Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi, 3895; Ibn Mâjah, 1977; classed as saḥîḥ by al-Albaani in Saḥîḥ al-Tirmidhi