How criticism shapes our world


This was a statement directed at me a few  days  after I arrived back to my Country from living in Egypt for nearly 7 years. Unfortunately, we live in a world in which  we are constantly judged and criticised, with criticism often being disguised and packaged as gifts of unsolicited ‘advice’ and, ‘feedback’. Our intentions, beliefs, physical appearances, choices and dreams are just a few of the  things that  suffer such attack.

There are certainly parts of ourselves  that we could, need, and may want to improve for the better. However,  it is imperative we develop the ability to control the floodgates of external opinion. We must  first  learn  to  distinguish  between  feedback that is  constructive and criticism that is toxic to our mental & emotional wellbeing. This will ensure that  we  nurture our hearts and minds with that which will allow us to  grow, rather than that which will hurt and destroy us. Secondly we must learn to  build the  mental  filters  that will allow us to welcome in beneficial suggestions from others, whilst keeping out the intrusion of hurtful and malicious opinions. This is essential to freeing our authentic  self and achieving the happiness and inner peace gained  as a result.

Although criticism acts as a natural filter in preventing people of ill or egocentric endeavours from pursuing their harmful intentions, the inability to productively manage feedback has unfortunately resulted in many other individuals being held back from fulfilling their full potential to positively contribute to the world. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we have come to commonly fear and actively avoid criticism in order to avoid the hurtful and destructive consequences of broken self esteem, unfulfilled dreams etc. We must realise that we owe it to ourselves to take back complete control of our lives.

It is important to remember that we  are never  alone in our struggles with  criticism and feedback,  nor are we deprived from the tools with which we can  successfully  manage them, Alhamdullilah.  Allah informs us  that within the Quran He has “clarified all matters” (Quran 16:89).  From the haze of confusion caused by unchecked criticism and frivolous opinion, we are delivered clarity and calm through Allah’s  divine  book. Its deep oceans of knowledge are abound with  precious  pearls  of wisdom and guidance. We find within it many stories  relating  the lives and struggles of our  amazing role models,  the prophets peace be upon them. They  dealt with criticism in all forms and  extremes, and their experiences have been preserved for us to learn from.

Distinguishing valuable feedback from criticism that is harmful is something most  struggle with. After all,  is feedback not a form of naseeha (beneficial advice) we are obligated to listen to?  Is it not an act of arrogance  and pride  to reject  advice from our brothers and sisters in faith? It’s important we realise that not all feedback constitutes  naseeha  and neither are we  obligated to accept all feedback we receive. Dismissing feedback is not a sin, an act of weak faith  or a sign of arrogance. This is because as humans we are flawed. Our hearts can carry jealousy, envy, desire for control, selfishness and other spiritual diseases. We  are  creatures who make mistakes. It is for this reason we accept  wholeheartedly  and  unquestionably  only what Allah  offers us.  Allah defines arrogance specifically as rejecting the truth of Islam  and looking down upon others, so in order to  experience the freedom and sweetness of faith  we  must ensure that the principles and actions  we live by are those defined by the Creator and not the creation.  When we learn to know our Lord, we learn to know who we truly are.

Shiatu Ali


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