Listening from the Heart

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Umm Zahra

Umm Zahra is a Karachi-based writer.


“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (“The Little Prince”)

Why do we experience static when we try to listen to others? Understanding them becomes laborious. Multiple distractions such as prejudice, judgements, unique backgrounds, and unique social conditioning prevent the message from being heard and received. In fact, we just hear what we want to hear. Here is where the Muslim Ummah differs from its beloved Prophet (sa).

Prophet Muhammad (sa) had the fascinating gift of reaching into the hearts of others simply by listening to them intently. He could fathom unsaid words with as much clarity as he could the words uttered to him. It was not magic – it was his divine sincerity of intention and concern for the wellbeing of others. For many of us, this sounds like pleasing others, giving up our positions, acting like doormats, and so on. But truly, when we bark orders, demand explanations, express our desires, or simply chit-chat, what is on our mind? Us and our interests, period.

When our Messenger (sa) talked or listened to people, he always bore their interests in mind first. It’s the order that matters. And once the other person feels understood, he has a higher wish to understand you. That is why the Prophet (sa) was successful in his influence, his negotiations, and winning love and respect. Today, the late Steven Covey in his best seller “Seven Habits of Effective People” talks at length about the same essential habit of “seeking first to understand… then to be understood.”

We can pause a moment to step back and visualize how we may be listening to people during the course of our day:

  1. Ignoring. This is an extremely convenient and tempting solution that we opt for. It involves zero intention to listen to the other person for varied reasons. It is also made obviously known to him. It’s the way some people treat a beggar on the street.
  2. Pretend to listen. Again, the intention is not to listen but to appear to listen. This is hypocritical and very dangerous, as it misleads the other person. It’s when we nod our heads for our children while attending to our daily chores, but in reality we hear nothing.

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