Empathy is a Powerful and Prophetic Value | SoundVision.com

Empathy is a Powerful and Prophetic Value

We all want to raise successful, healthy, and morally responsible children. Did you know that empathy is one of the most important qualities we can practice if we wish to connect with our kids, instill Islamic values, and help them thrive in the future? 

What is empathy? 

According to Kendra Cherry, M.S.Ed., “Empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, see things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. Essentially, it is putting yourself in someone else's position and feeling what they are feeling.”1

“. . . empathy is about finding a way to connect and to be able to say, ‘I want to understand how this feels to you and let you know that you’re not alone,” adds Educational and Neurodiversity Consultant Amanda Morin.2

Why is it important? 

“Empathy is foundational to social and relational intelligence, which are increasingly valued as top skills in school and in the workplace,” writes Laura Hay, a leader of Young Changemakers for Empathy Education and a writer for Medium. “In one study begun in the 1950s and conducted over the next 40 years, social intelligence was found to be four times more likely than IQ to predict professional success and prestige.”3

Hay cites a 2012 report from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education that states, “An abundance of research has demonstrated associations between empathy and a variety of desirable outcomes including positive peer relationships, better communication skills, and fewer interpersonal conflicts.”4

The Prophet’s Example 

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the perfect role model for us in innumerable ways. When interacting with others, he consistently demonstrated empathy. That was one of the reasons why he was so beloved by his companions of all ages and such an effective teacher, leader, and caller to Islam. He was very sensitive to others’ feelings, and they felt safe with and understood by him. 

One inspirational story of the Prophet’s remarkable empathy has to do with the death of a pet bird. 

Anas bin Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, used to come to visit us. I had a younger brother who was called Abu ‘Umair by Kunyah (surname). He had a sparrow with which he played, but it died. So one day the Prophet came to see him and saw him grieved. He asked: What is the matter with him? The people replied: His sparrow has died. He then said: “Abu ‘Umair! What has happened to the little sparrow?” 

(Sunan Abi Dawud 4969)

The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, recognized that the death of his beloved pet was a meaningful experience for Abu ‘Umair and gave the boy an opportunity to share his feelings. 

Dr. Hesham Al-Awadi addresses this particular hadith in his lecture series The Children Around the Prophet. He explains the wisdom behind the Prophet’s rhetorical question, “What has happened to the little sparrow?” 

Many times, adults attempt to avoid topics that are upsetting to a child. Instead, they try distracting her, dismissing her pain, or minimizing the situation. However, this is not a useful strategy, as it requires the child to repress her difficult feelings. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, realized that Abu ‘Umair needed to speak about his painful experience. When someone is grieving, explained Dr. Awadi, they usually want to talk about the loved one they have lost. It is likely the only thing on their mind! It is helpful for them to know that someone understands the extent of their pain and is willing to listen patiently to their story. When the Prophet asked about Abu ‘Umair’s pet, he already knew the answer. He was simply giving the boy a chance to talk about his pain in the hopes that it would alleviate it.  

Imagine! The greatest man who ever walked the earth – the greatest leader of the Muslim ummah – took the time to listen to the sorrows of a little boy whose pet had died! He, peace and blessings be upon him, cared deeply about everyone and validated their experiences. He was the ultimate empath. 

Dunia Suhaib, the scholar, lecturer, and author, has further reflections on this hadith. She writes, “When Abu Umayr’s pet bird died and he was overwhelmed with sadness, the Prophet (peace be upon him) visited him and consoled him. He (peace be upon him) didn’t shame him for being sad over a bird or didn’t tell him ‘boys don’t cry.’ He (peace be upon him) empathized with him and comforted him. Allah (SWT) told us in the Qur’an that He sent the Prophet (peace be upon him) as our role model and instructed us to follow his example. Let’s revive this beautiful Sunnah of empathy in our homes and communities insha’Allah.”5

Practicing Empathy 

The next time our child comes to us with a problem, let us pause and reflect before we respond. Let us remember little Abu ‘Umair and his bird, and the Prophet’s gentle and compassionate response. Our children’s issues might seem small or irrelevant to us, but to them, they are significant. The way we react will either strengthen or weaken our relationship with our child; it will either model empathy and concern, or indifference and selfishness. If we choose to act with empathy with the intention of emulating our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, then we can earn Allah’s rewards while at the same time investing in our children’s well-being and success, inshaAllah, God willing. 

End Notes

1 What Is Empathy?

2 Teaching with Empathy: Why It's Important

3 A Case for Promoting Empathy in Schools

4 Ibid

5 Facebook Post

Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and the author of the book Made From the Same Dough, as well as over 100 published articles. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com


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