What is criticism? What are the rules and principles in criticism? What kind of things should a person who criticizes and who is criticized pay attention to?

The Details of the Question
What is criticism? What are the rules and principles in criticism? What kind of things should a person who criticizes and who is criticized pay attention to?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Criticism means to show the fault and defect of something, to reveal the beauties in a word by eliminating the mistakes in it. A person who criticizes is called a critic. The word criticism is defined as to study or examine a person, a work of literature or art, an issue in order to find the mistakes in them and to show them.

As it is seen, criticism is interfering in something that has faults, defects or drawbacks and trying to bring out the correct and faultless form of it. 

First and foremost, in principle, the criticism should be correct and positive, and it should have the consent and pleasure of Allah as an aim.

Open and honest communication is one of the most important conditions for the healthy and constant human relations. People should be able to exchange their knowledge, feelings, opinions and ideas about one another without any hesitation; they should be able to talk by trusting themselves and the people they are talking to and should be able to trust those that they listen to.

One of the most important reasons of the problems that are observed in social life and working places is the absence of open and honest communication due to the lack of trust. When people tell the truth, they usually receive reactions and they regret having told the truth. Generally, they avoid having an open and honest communication with others and telling the truth because they are worried that something like that will happen.

Doubtlessly, there are styles, types and levels of criticism that have different effects. Destructive criticism, which aims at characteristics of personality, offends a person in the presence of others, freezes a person suddenly, exhausts one’s hopes, desires and excitement, is an evil-minded attack rather than criticism. If criticism is made in order to destroy, exterminate and eliminate, it turns to an aggressive act and probably starts the continuously increasing process of a negative conflict.  

Real criticism is a form of communication that guides, supports, gives moral support and inspiration, contains constructive and positive statements and that should be among real friends. The understanding that will enable such a communication depends on the formation of a criticism culture.

Criticism should have the understanding of establishing healthy and constant relations and maintaining those relations. Similarly, a healthy and useful criticism should include listening to messages that include good-willed, guiding, supportive and ameliorative expressions and suggestions patiently and tolerantly, and it should bring about changing and improving oneself based on that criticism. In this sense, what is important in criticism is not the person who criticizes or criticized but the issue, situation or characteristic that is criticized.   

Tolerance, patience, understanding, effective and empathetic listening are necessary for a true and healthy criticism, and it should be related to the ideas and issues based on respect and politeness. Criticism of people and personal characteristics usually include rumor, accusation, complaint, attack, emotional harassment and similar qualities; they have no place anywhere.

What are the things that should be paid attention to in criticism? Who is criticized and how?

- As a general principle, it is necessary not to aim a person; however, if the harm inflicted on people is based on the respect shown to a person rather than that person’s strong ideas, sometimes it may be necessary to criticize that person.

- If the ideas of a person, no matter what the position of a person is, do not comply with the creed of Islam/Ahl Sunnah, it is necessary to show that they are wrong.

- The level of criticism should not break down the relation of respect between the person who criticizes and the one who is criticized. That criterion is valid for both the members of the family and the outsiders. Accordingly, the criticism of the father by the son, the teacher by the student and the older brother by the younger brother should be made with a careful style. If people like us are to criticize great mujtahids like Imam Azam, Imam Shafii and great mujaddids like Imam Ghazali and Imam Rabbani, it should definitely be in a level that will not exceed the limits of respect towards them. 

- To overlook all of the good deeds of a person by exaggerating a fault shows that the criticism is not scientific but rancorous. 

- It is almost impossible for a person who has feelings like envy, jealousy and covetousness and look at other people from that point of view to mind the consent and pleasure of Allah.

- Thoughts like beating the person opposite you, to prove that you are strong enough to criticize a great personality, to have the vision of a new mission before the public and to try to be famous are elements that prevent scientific, hearty and mental criticisms; and they prevent just criticism.

- The person who criticizes should check his information source. The criticism of a person whose information source is not sound cannot reach its target. The following is stated in the Quran: “O ye who believe! if a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.” (al-Hujurat, 49/6). The person who is criticized may have been slandered; his words may have been distorted or at least they may have been misunderstood. Therefore, one should be very careful about the news of the information sources that are fasiq (sinners) and munafiq (hypocrites); one should always bear in mind that the news they give might be distorted.  

- Let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. (see al-Maida, 5/8). Accordingly, when one criticizes, he should criticize justly and in order to make a right to be revealed; criticism should not depend on injustice and personal interests.

- Criticism should be constructive. Criticism that is not constructive is either curse or fighting. If criticism is harsh and hurts people, it is regarded to have turned to fighting. People who fight try every means to answer the people against them. When the Quran lists the characteristics of people who fight or dispute, it attracts attention to how meaningless it is to dispute without knowledge, guidance or a book of enlightenment. (al-Hajj, 22/3,8).

- The person who is criticizing should stop criticizing when the person who is criticized personalizes the issue and starts self-defense. 

- It is in compliance with the high ethics of the Prophet to take human psychology into consideration and to criticize without mentioning the name of the person when necessary and to enable the person who is criticized to receive what interests him and to improve his situation.

- One should use a constructive style when criticizing; he should know that it is necessary to approach people with a winning and attractive tongue not with an offensive tongue. It is a tongue that the tongue of the body, speech and heart work in cooperation. The Quran witnesses that Hazrat Prophet dealt gently with the believers when he criticized them. (Aal-i,İmran, 3/159).

- Criticism should not be confused with curse, sarcasm, contempt and attacking one’s personality. The more sincere criticism is, in other words, the more it aims the consent and pleasure of Allah, the more productive it will be. The person who is criticized should understand the good will of the person who criticizes and should see his sincerity. Otherwise, the person who is criticized can take the position of defense. The Quran never approves of the partners that polytheists accept as god; it never accepts any possibility of truth about them. In every occasion, the Quran expresses the meaninglessness of the beings that are accepted as god apart from Allah. However, the Quran curses and prohibits cursing them. (al-An’am, 6/108).

From the point of view of the person who is criticized;

- It is necessary not to be disturbed by criticism. Confident people are not disturbed by criticism; on the contrary, they are happy to hear it. They may benefit from it. Often, so many misunderstandings are clarified thanks to criticism, and criticism can cause the formation of new friendships.  

- The person who is criticized should focus on the issue first if he is looking for the truth no matter what the style of criticism is. If he is involved with the person who criticizes, he will overlook the issue and will prevent his belief from increasing.

- Criticism is not made only towards others. A person should criticize himself/herself too. It is called autocritique or self-criticism. Self-criticism can be used for groups and societies, too; in this case, it indicates groups or societies that check themselves before their friends (other groups and societies) and try to find their own faults and eliminate them. The Quran warns us in a very nice way by telling us to forget to practice it ourselves while enjoining right conduct on other people. (al-Baqara, 2/44)

To sum up:

1. It is necessary to search first and to criticize later. Criticism without searching is affected by emotional fluctuations naturally.

2. It is necessary to criticize the behavior and attitudes not the personalities. Criticism that is directed at the personality will not be of any use and it will cause new forms of grudge and animosity to start.

3. It is necessary to listen to the other party. The criticism made without heeding the opinions put forward by the other party and with prejudice will deteriorate the problem let alone solving it.

4. It is necessary to put forward solutions. Sheer criticism will be harmful not useful.

5. Self-criticism is necessary before criticism. A person who is aware of his own faults and weaknesses will criticize mercifully and will deal with the other party more tolerantly.

6. One should be impartial while criticizing. Partial criticism will increase corruption and nurture violence. Instead of making discrimination by saying “we” and “they”, we should base our criticism on the criteria of “truth” and “righteousness”. 

7. It is necessary to benefit from criticism. When one heeds criticism and personalizes the criticism, his thoughts will have new dimensions and depth.
If we criticize by putting ourselves in the place of the person we criticize, it will be regarded as criticism made for the sake of Allah and His consent; it will also be regarded as tabligh (conveying the message of Islam), which is a kind of worshipping.

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