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.
By Hadrat Mawlānā Muhammad Saleem Dhorat hafizahullāh
Besides the remembrance of Allāh ta‘ālā there is no other way for the heart to find peace, contentment or tranquillity. The patient suffering from eczema may attain a transient pleasure by scratching, but when he stops scratching, the discomfort returns and the future bodes nothing but difficulty. Likewise, temporary pleasure may be attained by one who disobeys Allāh ta‘ālā, but as soon as he concludes the impermissible activity he is involved in, his heart once again becomes discontent and restless.
No one in the world has a cure for restlessness of the heart. Allāh ta‘ālā has complete control over this condition and has kept its cure solely with Himself. If contentment of heart is lost, the combined efforts of all the world’s doctors, mashā’ikh and resources will be of no avail. Peace and contentment come from one place and one place only – they descend upon the hearts of man directly from the Court of Allāh ta‘ālā; no one else has been allowed power over them.
It is He who sent down peace upon the hearts of the believers… (48:4)
Allāh ta‘ālā is the one who causes peace, tranquillity and happiness to descend, and furthermore, they only descend upon hearts that are capable of accommodating them.
The Airport of the Heart
This concept can be understood by the following analogy. Aeroplanes of different designs do not indiscriminately land at any available airport. Airports are assessed to see what types of aircraft they are suitable for. If the airport is large, of sophisticated design and having a large runway of the best quality then the largest and most advanced aeroplanes will be able to land there. If the airport is not so well equipped then lighter aircraft will use it. If the airport is decrepit, with a runway full of potholes, then even the lightest aircraft will not be able to make use of it.
Our hearts are also airports, with a runway upon which the aeroplane of sakīnah (tranquillity) from Allāh ta‘ālā is designed to touch down. If the airport of our heart is small or if its runway is full of holes and cracks, then the aeroplane of sakīnah from Allāh ta‘ālā will not land. We will need to exert every effort to remove the cracks on the tarmac that have appeared due to our sins. We will need to refrain from sins to stop more cracks appearing. We will need to repent and submit to the commands of Allāh ta‘ālā, for it is with the tarmac of repentance and submission that the cracks of the runway are sealed.
Only after this effort will the aeroplane of tranquillity descend upon the heart. Then, for as long as an individual continues to maintain and rectify the airport of the heart, the aeroplane of sakīnah will continue to land. Its schedule will become fixed and its landings will be continuous.
Those who say: ‘Allāh is our Lord,’ and then remain steadfast, angels will descend upon them and say: ‘Do not fear nor grieve, and be happy with the good news of Jannah that you have been promised.’ (41:30)
At the time of death, Allāh ta‘ālā will send angels with sakīnah to the believers and as a result, they will not fear or grieve. Some mufassirīn state that those believers who strive throughout their lives to keep their hearts pure and clean and shun sin and repent if they slip are visited by angels bringing peace every day. Mufti Shafī‘rahimahullāh has quoted Abū Hayyān rahimahullāh as saying that angels descend upon the believers every day, the effects of which are manifested in their good deeds. The only difference is that until the moment of death, a believer is unable to see or hear the angels as they descend.
This is an extract from the booklet ‘Real Pleasure’ published by
the Islāmic Da’wah Academy.
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