The Power of Persuasion
Ahmad b. `Abd al-Muhsin al-`Assâf
Published on http://www.islamtoday.com
There is an old story about the Sun and the Wind arguing among themselves as to which of them was the strongest. They agreed to a contest to see who could most quickly get a man’s coat off his back.
The Wind went first. It tried to blow the coat off the man’s back. It sent its gale upon him full force. However, the stronger it blew, the more tightly the man clutched his coat about him against the force and chill of the gale. Finally, in despair, the Wind gave up.
Then it was the Sun’s turn. It showed itself to the man, gently bringing forth its light and warmth. And no sooner did the man see the Sun come out than he took off his coat happily and willingly.
Coercion and insistence are restrictive approaches that make people uncomfortable, argumentative, and resistant. Persuasion and dialogue, by contrast, go hand in hand with affability and friendship. They can lead to changing people’s opinions in an easy, pleasant and agreeable manner. Persuasion is the approach of those who are strong and correct. A person who takes this approach earns the respect and esteem of those who disagree with him, even if he does not manage to convince them of his point of view.
The Qur’ân and Sunnah illuminate for us the importance of persuasion and emphasize to us its effectiveness. We can see how the verses of the Qur’ân bring arguments and evidence and call towards contemplation.
Consider the following three examples from the Qur’ân:
1. “Or think of the like of the one who, passing by a town that had fallen into utter ruin, exclaimed: ‘How shall Allah give this town life after its death?’ And Allah made him die a hundred years, then brought him back to life. He said: ‘How long have you tarried?’ (The man) said: ‘I have tarried a day or part of a day.’ He said: ‘Nay, but you have tarried for a hundred years. Just look at your food and drink which have not gone stale. Look at your donkey – and, that We may make you a token unto mankind – look at the bones, how We bring them together and then cover them with flesh! And when (the matter) became clear to him, he said: ‘I know now that Allah has power over all things’.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 259]
2. “Have you not considered the one who – because Allah had given him power – disputed with Abraham about his Lord? Abraham said: ‘My Lord is He Who gives life and death.’ He said: ‘I give life and death.’ Abraham said: ‘But it is Allah who causes the Sun to rise from the east. Make it to rise from the west.’ Thus he who disbelieved was confounded. And Allah does not guide a people who are unjust.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 258]
3. “A believing man from Pharaoh’s people who had been concealing his faith said: ‘Will you slay a man simply because he says “My Lord is Allah”, when he has indeed come to you with clear signs from your Lord? And if he is a liar, then it is upon him if he lies. But if he is telling the truth, then some of what he warns you about will befall you.’ Indeed Allah does not guide one who transgresses and lies.” [Sûrah Ghâfir: 28]
There are also numerous examples in the Sunnah:
1. We can see how wisely the Prophet (peace be upon him) dealt with a young man who asked his permission to engage in fornication. The young man approached our Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah, give me a permission to commit fornication.”
The Companions were angry with the way that young man who dared to ask such a thing from the Prophet (peace be upon him), but the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not grow angry. Instead, he turned and asked him: “Would you like a man to fornicate with your mother?”
The young man replied: “No. By Allah! May Allah ransom me for you!”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Likewise, others do not like it for their mothers. Would you like it to happen to your daughter?”
The man said: “No. By Allah! Messenger of Allah, May Allah ransom me for you!”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Likewise others do not like it for their daughters...” [Musnad Ahmad (21185)]
2. We can also look at how he addressed the fair skinned man who was enraged that his fair skinned wife gave birth to a black child. The man had approached the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Allah! A black-skinned boy was born to me.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Do you have any camels?”
He replied: “Yes.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked: “What color are they?”
He replied: “They are red.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked: “Are any of them ever dark gray?”
He replied: “Yes.”
The Prophet (peace eb upon him) asked: “How is that?”
The man replied: “Perhaps it resembles one of its ancestors.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Then perhaps your son resembles one of his ancestors.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5305) and Sahîh Muslim (1500)]
3. There is also a lesson to be drawn from his conversation with his Companions after he withheld from them and gave instead to those whom he was reconciling to the faith. Sa`d b. Abî Waqqâs relates:
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) distributed wealth to a group of people and left out a man with whom I saw to be the best of them. I said: “O Messenger of Allah, what is with you and this man, for indeed I regard him to be a believer.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “Or a Muslim.”
I remained silent for a while until what I knew about the man got the best of me and I repeated what I had said: “O Messenger of Allah, what is with you and this man, for indeed I regard him to be a believer.”
He replied: “Or a Muslim.”
Then again what I knew about the man got the best of me and I repeated what I had said and Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) repeated what he had said. Then he added: “O Sa`d! I give to a man while indeed another is more beloved to me. I give to him fearing that Allah might (otherwise) consign him to the Fire.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (27) and Sahîh Muslim (150)]
All of these examples are rich with lessons for anyone who has a perceptive heart and they depict for us various approaches to persuasion.
What is persuasion?
Various definitions for “persuasion” have been suggested. Among these are the following:
1. A speaker’s or writer’s use of words and gestures that can influence a change of stance, bias, or attitude.
2. Any manner of intellectual or expressive activities whereby one party seeks to influence another to accept a certain viewpoint or opinion.
3. Influence of an acceptable and proper nature in order to partially or wholly change what another person believes by way of presenting facts supported by clear and acceptable evidence.
We can see clearly in all of these definitions that persuasion is a communications skill. It requires knowledge of the proper manner of speaking as well as knowledge of how to speak effectively and with proper decorum.
There are other terms that overlap somewhat with the notion of persuasion in their meanings, and are sometimes confused with it. For instance, take the notions of “deception” “seduction” and “negotiation”. These meanings are all quite distinct, though some people might mistake them for persuasion. These meanings alternatively suggest the incitement of emotions or the misrepresentation or truths or the seeking of a middle ground without actually convincing the other party – they are not persuasion at all.
Elements of persuasion:
1. The source: There are certain qualities that the one trying to persuade others must possess. He must be trusted. Trust is earned over time and in consideration of how genuinely the person shows he is interested in the welfare of others. He must also be seen as having some level of authority and reliability in his promises, his statements, and his estimations. He must be able to employ various approaches when trying to persuade others, including words, writings, logic, and emotions. He needs to enjoy an appropriate degree of culture, refinement, and learning. He must also put into practice whatever it is he is trying to convince others to accept.
2. The message: The message must be clear and unambiguous. The people being addressed must be able to understand it. Its intent must be easily discernable. It must be presented in a logical manner and supported by sound arguments and evidence. The language and word choice employed must be appropriate to the situation and not be problematic. It must not be argumentative and confrontational in tone, for this merely fosters resistance.
3. The recipient: Disparities in age and background need to be taken into consideration, as well as education and social and economic status. Ideological and cultural differences must be accounted for. The person’s level of self confidence is also a factor as well as how open-minded the person is.
Factors of success:
The success one has in convincing other people is dependent on a number of factors. These include:
1. The ability one has to convey principles, ideas, and information in a precise manner.
2. The ability one has to accurately assess the recipients and their values and to take this into account.
3. Personal charisma based upon one’s good conduct, outward appearance, and cultural refinement.
4. How positively and genuinely one can respond to the other party.
5. One’s proficiency and decorum in utilizing persuasive communications skills.
6. One’s reliance upon Allah and seeking of His help in supplication, fully trusting in Him.