The person who calls the prayer in the mosque led the prayers as the imam one day, and he mistakenly stood up for a fifth unit of prayer. After he had been standing like that for a while, one of the people in the ranks mustered up enough courage to say “Subhān Allah” – Allah be glorified – which is what one says to alert the imam that he has made a mistake. Right after this man said “Subhān Allah”, everybody else in the congregation started saying it as well, whereupon the imam immediately offered the prostrations of forgetfulness and completed the prayer.
This got me thinking: Why did all those people keep silent, and only after one man spoke up, they all began saying: “Subhān Allah”? The reason is they were uncertain to begin with. They were not 100% sure that the imam had made a mistake. When the one man spoke up, he confirmed what they were all thinking, and his certainty made them bold enough to join in. They, in turn, strengthened his convictions with their confirmation. It is possible that if they had remained silent, because they did not believe a mistake had been made, the imam would have disregarded the lone “Subhān Allah” and continued in his prayer.
What happened here with a mistake in prayer might also apply to other kinds of mistakes, like errors of judgment or incorrect opinions. Sometimes a bad idea gains currency in society. People have their doubts about it but say nothing, too shy to speak out against the prevailing point of view. This can go on for years. Then, if one person gets up the courage to question that opinion with a strong and clear argument, other voices join in with their agreement. They say: “Believe me, I had been thinking this way for a long time, but I was shy to speak up, afraid others would refute me. But when I heard you say it, it convinced me that I had been right all along.”
By contrast, someone might express an opinion or an idea that gets forgotten with time. No one pays it any heed, since they see no evidence to support it, or do not find the arguments in its favour to be compelling. Of course, it may be that they simply do not know about the evidence that would convince them it is true. This is the reason why some ideas circulate for a period of time and then disappear.
Opinion leaders can improve the chances that their new and beneficial ideas catch on by cultivating two important qualities:
1. They need to possess leadership skills that prevent them from being satisfied with what is familiar, while not being hostile to what is familiar either. In the realm of ideas, familiarity should never be the sole standard for acceptance or rejection. Rejecting the familiar and commonplace for the sake of novelty is just as bad as clinging doggedly to what is comfortable and well-known. In either case, familiarity has an inappropriate affect on one’s thought processes. We should be aware of this influence on our thinking and try to minimize it as much as possible.
2. The second quality is to have the courage to present a new idea and bring about progressive and tangible change through it. If the advocates of an idea demand change too quickly, the idea will be too impractical to implement. At the same time, if it is not presented with enough conviction, it will simply whiter away. An idea will fail to take hold when its advocates do not believe in it enough, because they cannot see how to translate it into something vital and relevant. Such an opinion never amounts to more than a conversation piece.
The prophets and messengers of Allah came with clear arguments and scriptures. They preached to their people day and night. They showed patience and clemency. They never let the abuse of their detractors make them act ignobly. They never let their desire to win the agreement of people make them compromise their beliefs.
Allah says to the last of the messengers: “And if their turning away, (O Muhammad), is hard on you, (know) that if you had sought a way down into the earth or a ladder up to heaven to bring them a sign, (it would make no difference). If Allah had pleased, He would certainly have gathered them all upon guidance; therefore be not among the ignorant ones. Those who listen (in truth), be sure, will accept: as to the dead, Allah will raise them up; then will they be returned unto Him.” [Sūrah al-Anʿām: 35-36]
Indeed, Prophet Muhammad was a perfect example of a successful opinion-setter. He opened people’s minds, dispelled their ignorance, and clarified their misunderstandings. He presented his teachings as a practical way of life.