NOT so long ago, the sound of a ringing telephone was greeted with anticipation.
Perhaps it would be a friend or family member just wanting to chat; it was a way of connecting personally and keeping in touch.
I remember having Saturday night dates with a good friend. We would call each other after the Esha prayer and just visit on the telephone for hours.
We would chat and listen to each other and it was like a personal visit.
Sadly, those days are gone.
Nowadays, if you want to chat, you use your fingers to do the walking, tapping on a tiny screen and spelling most words incorrectly.
With the demise of telephone chats, something else is disappearing: the ability to listen. Nowhere else is this inability to listen more apparent than at gatherings, whether it be a lecture, a talk in the masjid, at a Moulood celebration or at an event where there are speakers.
I am not sure what the problem is but whenever people get together, sometimes even at a janazah, social chit chat is the order of the day.
The defence is always, ‘We haven’t seen each other for so long so we want to catch up.’
There’s nothing wrong with that, however, as with most aspects of life, there are certain unwritten rules we have to observe.
One of those is that when someone is speaking, good manners dictate that we listen. If we are not interested then what are we doing there?
I recently attended a programme at a masjid where a noted scholar of Islam was delivering a series of talks.
The man came all the way from Yemen to share his knowledge and his wisdom with us.
In addition, there were several visitors from the UK, Australia and Canada; people who travelled thousands of kilometres to listen to this man.
Twice in one evening, the convenor of the programme had to request from downstairs in the masjid, ‘Will the audience please stop talking while the ustadh is delivering his lecture, especially the ladies upstairs.’
I shudder to think what the people from overseas thought of this situation.
They were listening attentively; after all, they had travelled from their homes for this purpose.
The rest of the ladies were chatting, texting on their phones or walking in and out.
Similar behaviour is seen at a Moulood celebration.
While the ladies of the jamaah are sincerely reciting praises to our beloved Rasul (SAW), some in the audience are busy, as they say, catching up.
It happens during jumuah lectures, at gatherings where dhikrullah is being made, where the Quran is being recited.
Even at social events where the organisers decide to have a speaker, very few listen.
A lady told me, ‘When I come to a place like this, I don’t want to hear a talk, I want to enjoy myself.’
Since the majority of these talks are chosen for its benefit to the audience, it is a rather sad state of affairs.
What we are saying is, ‘I do not want to learn; I am not interested in what you have to say.’
This is an insult to the speaker; it tells the person that what she or he is saying is considered to be of no value.
Lack of communication is the cause of most of the ills of society. Today, we rely more and more on technology, and technology is often seen as the driver of improved communications.
In terms of message transfer, technology certainly does play an essential role.
However, communication is much more than just transferring messages.
To truly communicate means to learn something about how another person thinks.
Active listening involves listening with all one’s senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening, and chatting to another person sends the wrong message. It shows the gravest form of disrespect to a scholar who has been invited to share his wisdom.
As for the disrespect shown towards the recitation of the Quran or praises upon the Rasul (SAW), we need to remember that when the Quran is being recited, it is wajib (compulsory) to listen attentively. Attentive listening means giving one’s undivided attention.
Morality, or the difference between good and bad, is ingrained within human nature and provides guidance for our conduct towards Allah and creation.
Good manners and good behaviour are frequently emphasised both in the Quran and Hadith.
Al-Nawawi wrote in al-Tabyaan fi Adaab Hamalat al-Qur’an (92): ‘Something that attention must be paid to and which should be affirmed is respecting the Quran in cases where some of the negligent may be heedless about in gatherings where Quran is recited, such as not laughing, chatting or talking during the recitation, except in cases of necessity; obeying the words of Allah, “So, when the Quran is recited, listen to it, and be silent that you may receive mercy”; and following the example that was narrated from Ibn Abi Dawood from Ibn Umar (RA)) that when the Quran was recited he would not talk until the recitation ended.’
Shaikh Ibn Uthaymeen (RA) noted in Liqaa’aat al-Baab il-Maftooh: ‘It is not good manners to ignore the Book of Allah when it is being recited, even if it is on a tape.’
Favouring the view that it is mustahab does not mean that one may be careless and deliberately not listen attentively to the words of Allah SWT when they are recited.
Keenness to listen attentively should be the basic principle that is established in the life of the Muslim, and he should not do otherwise except in the case of work or need.
If the ability to listen has disappeared then we must make a concerted effort to reclaim it.
As we enter the sacred month of Rajab, we can make a difference in the world by learning to listen better and by telling others about better listening.
However, this will only work if they are prepared to listen.