aural methods of attraction in the sunnah1
excitement by repetition of the word
it is well known that repetition establishes the meaning and enables memorization and understanding. repetition can also be used to raise the attention and attract listeners to the answer or what will be said next. it helps them to pay more attention and listen to the teacher. repetition of words was one of the educational methods used by the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) in speech when he was addressing the companions, muslims or people in general.
mother of the believers aisha (ra)2 narrated: "the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) used to repeat the word thrice to be understood properly from him."
if we look through the books on the sunnah, we will find a practical example of this educational method. narrated by abu dhar (r.a) that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “there are three to whom allah will not speak on the day of resurrection and will not look at them or praise them, and theirs will be a painful torment.” the prophet (pbuh) repeated it three times.
this repetition succeeded in achieving the intended aim as the narrator interacted when he heard the repetition by the prophet (peace be upon him) of these words, so abu dharr (r.a) said: “may they be doomed and lost; who are they, o messenger of allah?”
upon this, the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) said, one who lets down his lower garments (below his ankles) out of arrogance, one who boasts of his favors done to another; and who sells his goods by taking a false oath.” [sahih muslim]
there are many examples of repeating words three times, what makes it even more understandable is that the prophet (pbuh) made any asker and inquirer repeat his question three time to raise the attention of attendees to be alert to the answer of the prophet (pbuh), and also to let everyone present listen to the question as some might not hear it from the first or second time.
also, usually the matters that the prophet (pbuh) asked the inquirer or asker to repeat what he said were important issues,so they should be heard and understood by as many as possible of muslims and this is why he asked for repetition from the asker.
an example of this is the hadith narrated by imam muslim from abu hurirah (ra) when he said:
((the prophet (pbuh) said, “o people! hajj has been made obligatory upon you, so perform the hajj.” so a man asked: “is that every year, o messenger of allah?” the prophet (pbuh) remained silent. the man asked again, “is that every year, o messenger of allah?” the prophet (pbuh) remained silent. the man asked a third time, “is that every year, o messenger of allah?” then the prophet (pbuh) said: “if i had said yes then it would have become obligatory upon you [to perform hajj every year], and you would not have been able to do so...”))
the parallel of this hadith is another one narrated by imam muslim from abu hurairah (ra), who said: ((then the prophet was asked:
"o messenger of allah! what deed could be an equivalent of jihad in the path of allah?" he answered:
"you do not have the strength to do that deed."
the narrator said: they repeated the question twice or thrice.every time he answered:
"you do not have the strength to do it."
when the question was asked for the third time, he said:
"one who goes out for jihad is like a person who keeps fasts, stands in prayer (constantly), (obeying) allah's (behests contained in) the verses (of the qur'an), and does not exhibit any lassitude in fasting and praying until the mujahid (striver or fighter) returns from jihad in the path of allah."))
this example is the same as the one preceding it, the prophet (peace be upon him) made the asker repeat his question more than once. but there is an additional element of suspense in the former hadith when the prophet (pbuh) commented after each question by saying:
(you do not have the strength to do it.)
this is to raise their attention and attract them to the answer of their question. it might also imply a kind of encouragement to attain the degree of the person who will get a reward equivalent to the reward for jihad in the path of allah.
repetition can be more than three times, which is unusual. needless to say, it excites listeners more and attract them greatly to what will be said after the many number of repetitions. this does not happen unless the speaker aims to send an important message to the audience (attendees and listeners), encourage them to do a very rewarding act or to warn them against a dispraised act. an example of this is the hadith narrated by abdur-rahman ibn abi bakr from his father that the prophet (peace be upon him) said:
(“shall i not tell you the three greatest sins?” (repeating the question thrice) they said. “indeed o messenger of allah.” he said, “associating partners with allah (shirk) and ill-treatment of parents.” he was leaning (when he mentioned that), and then sat up straight (as if he was alarmed) and said, “and bearing false witness.” [the narrator] said, “he continued to repeat this until we said [to ourselves], “if only he would stop.”) [sahih al-bukhari, hadith no. 2511 & muslim, hadith no. 87]
the parallel of this is the haidth narrated by abdullah ibn-omar (ra) who said:
((the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) recited on the pulpit "and the heavens will be folded in his right hand.all extolment be to him, and supremely exalted be he above whatever they associate (with him)3 !" he said: allah (awj)4 will say: i am the superb potentate, i am the supremely proud, i am the supremely exalted and glorify himself. ibn-omar said: the messenger of allah (pbuh) kept repeating these words till the pulpit shook and we thought it would fall with the prophet (pbuh)))
these two hadiths show that the prophet (peace be upon him) kept repeating these words to attract the attention of as many listeners as he (pbuh) can. this was manifested in the accurate description of the narrator about this repetition.
talking and acting in an uncommon manner
addressing listeners in an uncommon manner is one of the methods of excitement and alertness during delivering a speech or teaching. this can be divided into two points:
first: talking in an uncommon manner:
the speech of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was comprehensible, intelligible and elaborate. anyone who listened to him could hear him (pbuh), as he was not so loud in a way that would hurt listeners, and he was not too low to be heard as well. his voice was clear and easy to be understood. he (pbuh) also did not like to raise the voice to a degree that would hurt listeners.
narrated al-tabarani based on a weak chain of transmission which was later strengthened by al-soyouti that abi omama said that the prophet (peace be upon him) ((hated to see the man with a sonorous loud voice and preferred him to lower his voice)).
al-manawi explained this hadith saying:
((this shows that the scholar has to keep his gathering or class void of any shouting, loud voices and disorder of students. the scholar should not raise his voice loudly unless there is a need to do so. the son of al-shafai’s daughter said: i have never heard my father debating with anyone with a loud voice. al-bayhaqi said: he means not louder than how it usually is, as his voice should not reach beyond his gathering or class.))
the speaker or reader should talk in a way that he can hear himself and others can hear him too. he should not talk louder than what is needed in a certain situation, and he should not lower his voice unless it is necessary to do so. he should be moderate in the way he talks following the path of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him).
so, if the speech is not according to this description (moderate voice, not loud and not low) for a certain need, then it would be considered a method of raising the attention and exciting listeners.
an example of this uncommonly way of speaking by the prophet is what jabar narrated that ((when the prophet was giving a sermon, his eyes would turn red, his voice would be loud and he would become angry, as if he was warning an army to be always alert day and night.))
in the hadith, the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was addressing them in a loud voice which is something he did encourage, so how come? it is true that the prophet did not like loud voices, but in this situation it is necessary to do so.
the loud voice, anger and redness of the face do not reflect the nature of the prophet (peace be upon him), it only happened in certain cases for a particular purpose such as in battles or sermons when he was warning muslims against the hellfire for example.
ibn uthaymeen commented on the hadith saying:
((he did so (talking in a loud voice etc) because it is more powerful on the listener in this situation in particular.))
these are stimulators to attract the listener to what will be said, so the hadith contains more than a stimulator or influence.
second: acting in an uncommon manner:
imam ahmed ibn hanbal narrated from abu bakr al-sidiq that:
((the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) woke up one day and prayed fajr, when it was the time after sunrise the messenger of allah (pbuh) laughed then he sat down till he prayed dhur, asr and maghrib prayers and the whole time he did not talk till he prayed isha prayer and then he went to his household.))
the people said to abu bakr:
why don’t you ask the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) what is the matter, he did something today he never did before? abu bakr said: i asked him and he (pbuh) said:
((yes, i was shown what will happen in the present life and the hereafter. the early generation of humans and late ones are to be gathered in one plain, so the people would be horrified by this, and they will hurry to adam as if they would drown in their own sweat. they said: o adam. you are the father of humans. allah [glorified and sublime be he] chose you. plead in behalf of us to your lord [glorified and sublime be he]. he said: i am facing the same situation you are facing… the hadith))
in this example, it is quite clear that the prophet (peace be upon him) intentionally created this interesting atmosphere, as if he (pbuh) was encouraging them to ask him, but they were in awe of asking about the uncommon state of the prophet (peace be upon him) so they sent abu bakr to undertake this mission, because of his rank and nearness to the prophet (peace be upon him). no doubt, they were waiting for the answer anxiously, especially that the time of excitement was a long period, namely from dawn till night, so that everybody can notice and hear about this change to come and know the reason for this unusual behavior from the prophet (peace be upon him).
another example of this interesting uncommon manner is the change of color during talking,
this is also another method of causing excitement and attraction such as the hadith that abu hurirah narrated:
((we were walking with the messenger of allah, peace be upon him, we passed by two graves. he stood alarmed and we stood as well. his color changed and his sleeve trembled. we said to him: what is it, o prophet of allah? he said: do you hear what i hear? we said: what do you hear, o prophet of allah? he said: these are two men who are being tortured severely in their graves for small sins. we said: for what are they tortured, o prophet of allah? he said: one of them never saved himself from being soiled with his urine while the other used to go about with calumnies (to make enmity between friends). the prophet then asked for a green leaf of a date-palm tree, broke it into two pieces and put one on each grave. we asked: would that benefit them? he replied, "yes, they will lessen their torture, till they get dry."
another example is the hadith narrated by ali (ra) who said:
((we were sitting in the house of the prophet (peace be upon him), while he was sleeping. we mentioned antichrist at the prophet (peace be upon him), so he woke up and his face was red. he said: what makes me worried about you more than the antichrist is misleading imams.))
these two examples show that the change of the facial color during speech attracts the attention of listeners and raises their curiosity to what will be said.this is why the narrator mentioned this condition of the prophet in both hadiths.
it is also uncommon to call on irrationals or those who are not in our world, namely the dead such as when the prophet (peace be upon him) called the murdered polytheists in the battle of badr, when he threw them in the well (al-qulaib).the companions were curious and they asked the prophet (pbuh): how does he call them while they were all dead?
the prophet (peace be upon him) told them that they (the companions) don’t hear him more than the killed polytheists, which means the dead can hear him as much as the companions can hear him, they just can’t answer back.
also, the prophet (peace be upon him) employed another method to raise the attention of the companion, namely to tell them terms that they might not be aware of. he (pbuh) knew that they did not know the meaning of some of words he uttered so that they would ask him for clarification and explanation of what he said.
it is a very successful method, because if the teacher managed to encourage his listeners to inquire about what he said, then he achieved his mission. what is even more curious is to mention things they do not know or not familiar with such as the haidth about the signs of the hour. the prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned the signs of the hour when he said: "(religious) knowledge will be taken away, ignorance (in religion) and afflictions will appear; and harj will increase." it was asked, "what is harj, o allah's apostle?" he replied by beckoning with his hand indicating killing."
when the prophet said 'haraj will increase', it was not known to them the meaning of this word; this is why they asked about the meaning. in the hadith we can see the shifting from talking to gesturing. also, it was narrated by imam al-bukhari from abu musa the narrator of the hadith that he said:
((haraj means killing in the language of ethiopia)).
imam muslim narrated from abu hurirah that the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
((avoid the lianan “two acts which provoke cursing”. they said: what is the lianan? he (pbuh) said: urinating in the roads people pass by, and under the shadows where they rest.)) [muslim: 269 and others]
the previous example shows that the prophet (peace be upon him) used expressions they do not know to raise their curiosity to ask about what they didn’t understand.
another example is what the prophet (pbuh) said:
((who can do like the person of the one faraq (three saa5) of millet, then he should. they said: o messenger of allah, who is the person of one farq of millet? he said:….the hadith))
the parallel of this hadith is what abu hurairah (ra) narrated that the prophet (peace be upon him) said:
(("seek refuge with allah from the pit of sorrow." they asked, "messenger of allah, what is the pit of sorrow?" he replied, "it is a valley in hell from which hell seeks refuge a hundred times a day." he was asked, "messenger of allah, who will enter it?" he replied, "those who recite to show off their actions."…))
in the above mentioned hadiths, the prophet (peace be upon him) said expressions they did not know. the prophet (pbuh) mentioned them intentionally to encourage them to ask and interact with what is said and this is exactly what happened so this method was fruitful.
third: stimulating sayings and deeds
they are sayings and deeds to excite and raise the curiosity of listeners to be more attentive and alert because they do not expect them from the speaker or teacher.
an example of this method is the long hadith of the angel gabriel:
abdullah ibn omar narrated from his father omar ibn al-khattab: “one day we were sitting in the company of allah's apostle (peace be upon him) when there appeared before us a man dressed in pure white clothes, his hair extraordinarily black. there were no signs of travel on him. none amongst us recognized him. at last he sat with the apostle (peace be upon him) he knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs and said: muhammad, inform me about islam. the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) said: islam implies that you testify that there is no god but allah and that muhammad is the messenger of allah, and you establish prayer, pay zakat, observe the fast of ramadan, and perform pilgrimage to the (house) if you are solvent enough (to bear the expense of) the journey. he (the inquirer) said: you have told the truth. he (omar ibn al-khattab) said: we were surprised that he asked and then he would himself confirm the answer... "6
as we have seen in the hadith, the stranger (angel gabriel) asked the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) about islam, then the prophet answered him. so, the angel gabriel said: you have spoken the truth. this is a very stimulating and intriguing answer and this was expressed in the narrator’s words when he said: ‘we were surprised that he asked and then he would himself confirm the answer.’ it is well known that any inquirer from the muslims asked the prophet and the prophet (pbuh) answered him and the inquirer would take the answer and follow what was told to him by the prophet (pbuh). but in this case the asker confirmed the answer by saying ‘you have said the truth,’ this proves that the asker knew the answer to what he was asking about.
this surprised the attendees and made them curious to listen to the rest of the dialogue between the prophet muhammad (pbuh) and the inquirer (angel gabriel who appeared in the form of a man and they did not know his identity except after he left when the prophet (pbuh) told them later). so, thanks to this interesting dialogue the attendees were listening anxiously and thinking attentively about the identity of this asker who asks then confirms the answer to what he asked which proves that he knows it already.
al-qurtuby said: ((they were surprised because what the prophet muhammad (pbuh) said was things that can be only known from him, and not from an unknown asker whom they had not seen before. yet, he looked like an asker who knows exactly what he was asking about and the answer to his question. this is why they were intrigued because no one knew these things except from the prophet (pbuh)))
another example is what imam al-bukhari narrated from aday ibn hatim when he said: the prophet (peace be upon him) said:
((save yourselves from the hellfire, then he looked away and waved. then, he said: save yourselves from the hellfire, then he looked away and waved (thrice). the narrator said: we thought he was looking at it. then he said: save yourselves from the hellfire even by giving half a date-fruit in charity)).
(1) the sunnah is the ways, teachings and activities of prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). muslims should emulate the sunnah of the prophet to be good muslims.
(2) ra: radya allah anhu/anha/anhum [may allah be pleased with him/her/them]
(3) surat az-zumar: aya 67.
(4) awj: aza-wa-jal [glorified and sublime be he]
(5) saa: a measurement that approximately equals two kilos and a half.
(6) sahih muslim, the book of faith, kitab al-iman, hadith number: 102, narrated by: omar ibnul-khattab