visual methods of attraction in the sunnah1
these methods are divided into two kinds; either prior to the educational process or during it. they all aim to attract the attention of listeners to what is going to be said. they are as follows:
visual methods prior to the educational process
they are the methods the teacher uses before starting teaching to attract the attention of his students and make them listen to him. this usually happens when the lesson is very important as it is the case in hadiths or sunnah in general.
abdullah ibn omar said: "my father, omar ibn al-khattab, told me that one day they 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 al-islam. the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) said: al-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…" [sahih muslim, the book of faith - kitab al-iman, hadith number:102, narrated by: omar ibnul-khattab]
this accurate description of the unknown man by the narrator shows that their attention was raised because everything mentioned about the newcomer is interesting. this is based on the scene or how he looks, which makes it one of the visual methods for attracting the attention.
the things mentioned in the hadith that caused the attendees to be alert are:
- a stranger appeared in white clean clothes and tidy manner.
- none of them knew this man, because if he was known to any of them, they would have thought that he cleaned himself from the dirtiness of travelling in the desert at his house and then joined them.
- the aspects of traveling do not appear on the newcomer because if he was really traveling, his clothes would have been dusty and his hair untidy.
- the way he entered and greeted the prophet (peace be upon him) caught the attention of the companions (ra)2. they were used to see the crudeness of bedouins of the desert when they came to the prophet to ask him about their matters in an inconsiderate way. these details reveal that the hadith includes a lot of stimulators that inspired the narrator to mention them accurately one by one.
[the man's clothes were pure white and his hair extraordinarily black. there were no signs of travel on him such as dusty clothes or untidy hair. he was very clean as if he was coming from a nearby house to the place they were sitting in. none amongst them recognized him, if he was a citizen in madina, they would have recognized him. if he was a traveler coming from a far distance, his hair would have been messy and his clothes dusty. how did he look that neat, clean and tidy without a traveler or someone from nearby. also, the behavior of the man is peculiar, which made the companions even more observant. he walked through them towards the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him), he sat with the prophet (pbuh), knelt before him placed his palms on his thighs. he sat before the prophet (pbuh) in a polite way, he was sitting like someone who is ready to learn and listen to the prophet (pbuh).]
another example of this visual educational method is the haidth narrated by abu said al-khidri when he said: "allah’s apostle (peace be upon him) sat on the pulpit and we sat around him…" someone might ask: what is noticeable about this as the prophet (pbuh) used to talk to them that way? we may answer that it has always been the case of how the prophet (pbuh) addressed muslims but this was while he was delivering a sermon. so, talking from above the pulpit is natural during the sermon, but here it is different because the narrator mentioned that the prophet (pbuh) was sitting on the pulpit. while delivering the sermon, the imam has to stand this is why when it was mentioned that the prophet was sitting, it attracted the attention of the narrator and listeners and this is why it was mentioned in the narration of the hadith.
a similar hadith is what ibn abbas narrated when he said: "one day the prophet sat on the pulpit wearing a garment and wrapping his head with a dark headband. the prophet (pbuh) thanked allah…"
another example is what muslim narrated in his sahih (collection of authentic hadiths): "when the prophet (peace be upon him) finished his prayer, he sat on the pulpit and he laughed. he said 'each of you stay where he prayed, do you know why i gathered you?' they said: allah and his apostle know best…"
these are visual methods of attraction prior to the text of the hadith. they were effective in raising the companion’s attention; this is why they described them accurately before narrating what the prophet (peace be upon him) said. the last hadith included more than method; the narrator mentioned that the prophet (peace be upon him) sat on the pulpit and laughed. these are all ways that would attract the attention of the listeners to what would come next.
visual methods during the educational process
they are visual methods of attraction during the speech or educational process. some might say this contradicts with the nature of visual methods, because they should be used prior to the speech to raise the attention of listeners, but the prophet (peace be upon him) used a number of methods during his speech to the companions to ascertain some important matters. he wanted to direct their attention to what is going to be said or done. some of these visual methods are:
shifting from talking to gesturing
it is well known that words and expressions explain the aim of the speaker than gestures because gesturing might not be understood by everybody when there is no need to use it, but it is more effective and clearer if it is linked to what signifies it, namely linking words with gestures to establish the meaning.
- the gesture might be addressed after a question or request. since the question needs an answer, when the asker and the audience do not hear the answer from the teacher, then the expected behavior is to look at the speaker and this way they will receive his gesture clearly. an example is when the prophet (peace be upon him) pointed at his tongue when sufian ibn abdullah al-thaqafy asked the prophet (pbuh): "what should i be cautious about?"
when the prophet muhammad (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." [sahih al-bukhari]
- the gesture or hint might be coupled with terms to denote it such as when the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) used the terms: "like this, here, like these two…" this is clear when the prophet (pbuh) said: "woe to the arabs, for a great evil which is nearly approaching them. today a gap has been made in the wall of gog and magog like this (he illustrated this by forming the number of 90 or 100 with his fingers)..."
the previously mentioned examples are some cases when speech shifts to pointing, gesturing or hinting. they are clear and engaging because they are coupled with what denotes them. there are other examples in which gestures and signs are used in a way that are more clarifying than talking such as when the prophet (peace be upon him) said: "i and the caretaker of the orphan will enter paradise together like this, raising (by way of illustration) his forefinger and middle finger jointly, leaving no space in between." [saheeh al-bukhari]. in this hadith, there is shifting from speech to a gesture that intensified the expression “like this”. this finger gesture by the prophet (peace be upon him) expressed the meaning very clearly and abbreviated the usage of words. the expression could not give the same effect without the gesture that clarified the meaning; this is why the usage of the gesture is more beneficent than mere words. we couldn’t have understood what the prophet (pbuh) meant when he said “like this” without the narrator’s description “raising (by way of illustration) his forefinger and middle finger jointly, leaving no space in between.” this illustration by the narrator (ra) is the main point and fruit of this great style. the narrator conveyed it accurately without overlooking any detail by saying “jointly, leaving no space in between”, that means that the caretaker of the orphan will be with the prophet (pbuh) like these two adjoining fingers in the same hand. the narrator’s words “leaving no space in between” denotes that they will share in entering paradise, yet in another narration the narrator said “expanding between the two fingers” which also denotes that although they both enter paradise there is a difference between the prophet’s status in paradise and the status of orphan’s caretaker. the hadith is a parallel to the other hadith in which it was narrated by sahl bin sa'd: i saw allah's apostle pointing with his index and middle fingers, saying. "the time of my advent and the hour are like these two fingers." this denotes that shifting from speaking to gesturing has many significant meanings, as gestures might be clearer and more effective than words. this is why it is appealing and more engaging to the listeners.
changing the posture during speech
the second method is changing the posture or making a sign to attract the attention of listeners for more understanding. for example, the speaker can be in a certain sitting or standing position, and then he changes it and continues his speech to attract listeners and engage them. the change of posture implies the importance of what will be said next to this change. it is quite clear that this is a visual method to attract the attention. we might realize the effectiveness of this method through the narrator’s description of this change and how much it was noticed.
narrated 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 part that shows the change of posture is "he was leaning [when he mentioned that], and then sat up straight". this change of motion is to raise the attention and attract listeners to what will be said. this is why ibn hajar said: "it is felt that it is important because he (pbuh) sat straight after he was leaning."
the previously mentioned hadiths all contain visual methods of attraction during the educational process or before it to achieve the aim. this is why in this kind of hadiths there is no usage of visual methods after the educational process because it will be aimless. it is worth mentioning that the scholars of hadith took notice of this kind and classified it in a certain hadith category under the sequential hadith…
the visual methods of attraction are used to engage learners and catch their attention through visual gestures. the vision is mentioned first because it is the fastest sense in humans; this is why people realize things faster through the eyesight.
(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]