The One on Public Speaking

Bismillahirahmanirrahim.

A few weekends ago, I got a call from Akbar of Critical Xchange. He asked me if I could share this blog during the Young Southeast Asian Muslim Forum. The rational me knew that this would be a great avenue to meet Muslims from the region.

But I was scared.

You see, I have an intense fear of public speaking. I have no idea how it developed because I was once such a confident child. Somewhere, somehow, I’ve cultivated this horrible complex. If you put me beside a stranger, I can talk and talk and talk. Put me on a podium and I will. Just. Freeze. What made it worse was when my teacher pointed out that I have a lisp. Because I’ve always had it, I didn’t even realise that it is a speech impediment.

So… I freaked the heck out.

‘What if I stumble? What if no one listens to me? What if I sound like a bumbling idiot? What if I’m just not good enough for this?’ You know how it is right? You let one doubt creep in and then, BAM! You get an avalanche of uncertainty and uneasiness. I kept asking everyone for their opinions on my speech. I practised it in front of  my husband Firdaus again and again. I couldn’t even sleep properly because I was so worried.

Then, Firdaus quietly told me to stop. I think he knew that things were getting out of hand.

“Alia, why don’t you try reading this? Rabbish rahli sadri, wa yassirli amri, wah lul uqdatan min lisaani, yaf kahu kauli.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s what Nabi Musa AS read before he asked the Pharaoh to let all the children of Israel leave with him. It means ‘My Lord, expand for me my breast with assurance. And ease for me my task. And untie the knot from my tongue. That they may understand my speech.'”

Subhanallah. How easy is it for me to forget? With just one dua, Allah taught me so so much.

We are not perfect and we are not meant to be perfect. In fact, it takes true courage to admit that we are weak. That’s not the problem. The problem is that we tend to turn to people when we face issues. Why do we do that? Why turn to the creation when we can turn to the creator? Why turn to the imperfect when we can turn to the one who is ever living and self-subsisting? Why seek assistance from the one who is equally powerless when we can ask from the one who can, by His mercy and compassion, grant us ease and confidence? Nabi Musa AS is an excellent example. Through this dua, he reminds us that only Allah can empower us. Only Allah can make it easy for someone who stutters to bravely lead his people out of the maniacal Pharoah’s clutches.

Like me, I’m sure you noticed how Nabi Musa AS asked for assurance and ease so ‘that they may understand’ his speech. He didn’t seek help from Allah so that he could look good. He didn’t ask for assistance to impress. He humbly pleaded for relief so that the people listening to his message would be able to comprehend it. THIS is the epitome of empathetic communication. It’s not about me; it’s about the listeners! Instead of being so concerned about myself, I could have considered my audience. I could have asked myself these questions – How would they perceive my message from their frame of reference? What can I share that can help them? What is the best way to start a conversation?

I don’t know about you but I don’t think standing at a podium, above everyone else, is the way to go.

Alhamdulillah, I got a grip on myself and refocused – I’m doing this for the sake of Allah. I’m able to do this only by the grace of Allah. When the day came, I got everyone to take off their shoes and sit in a trust circle. We could look at each other in the eye. We were all equal.

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Before I met them, I thought that they would be learning from my experiences. Through our honest conversations, I learnt more than I could have ever taught them. The kind of stories I heard was so beautiful that they made me cry and cry. Despite facing painful discrimination and even death threats as the minority in their countries, they choose hope. Instead of hating, they insist on being compassionate and courageous. They reaffirm my belief in living an authentic life full of bravery, patience and strength.  

Can you imagine what I would have missed out on if I had stuck to my original plan?

May Allah make us people who turn only to Him and may Allah guide us to be humble listeners no matter how much knowledge we think we have, in shaa Allah amiin!

 

 

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