The popular quote by Joseph Albers, “Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers’ is not without merit. However, there is no doubt that the art of questioning involves both the right questions and the techniques employed in their use.

Teaching Instruction invariably becomes more effective with the inclusion of questioning strategies. With the support of research data, it can be said that questioning strategies and techniques produce positive results, whether the setting be in the classroom, the workplace, or the home. There are several well- established questioning norms used in teaching. These strategies, addressed by educators, further enrich the craft of teaching. There is, however, another profound source of knowledge, bypassed in the usual discourse on the methodology of questioning – the questioning techniques used by Muhammad, (peace and blessings of God be on him), God’s final Messenger to humanity. 

Role Model

The blessed Prophet (s.a.w.)1 in an authentic hadith (saying) is reported to have said, “I have been sent as a teacher”.2Therefore, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.) is also a role model as a teacher and was the best of teachers. From the accounts in the Seerah (his life history), we see that the Messenger (s.a.w.) often questioned his companions as a means of instructing them. There are several reasons why this approach to teaching is beneficial. A question reveals what the questioner values and wants to convey. Moreover, it motivates students and focuses their attention, and causes them to engage in a deeper processing of information.

Questioning of Ubay ibn Kaab

The unlettered Prophet (s.a.w.) displayed the best of techniques in his questioning approach. Let’s take a few examples of his Sunnah (practice), to examine some of the strategies utilized. Once he asked Ubay ibn Kaab (r.a.1), “O Abu Mundhir, which verse in the Book of God is the greatest?” “Allah and His Messenger knows best”, came the reply. The Prophet (s.a.w.) repeated the question, and Ubay replied by reciting verse 255 of chapter 2. The Prophet (s.a.w.) was very pleased with the answer, thumped his chest, and said to him, “May knowledge delight and benefit you, Abu Mundhir.”3

On another occasion with Ubayy ibn Kaab in the mosque, the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked him, “Shall I not teach you a surah, the like of which has not been revealed …?” “Certainly”, replied Ubayy. On leaving the mosque, the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked him, “What do you recite when you stand up for prayer?” In response, he recited the opening chapter of the Quran. The Prophet (s.a.w.) expressed his pleasure at Ubayy’s answer.4


Wait Time

In the foregoing exchanges we come across some interpersonal skills of the praised Prophet (s.a.w.) in questioning. Such as expressing great admiration for the answer, and repeating the question when Ubay declined to answer, instead of delivering the answer. This latter technique is many a times ignored by the teacher.  Allowing time to elapse so that the student is given adequate time to think and then provide an answer, the “wait time”, is a well-known questioning technique in education. This strategy allows time for the one questioned to think, and it instills self-confidence with the correct answer.5

Framing A Question with An Analogy

Another technique shown in the prophetic teaching method was framing a question with an analogy to capture the listener’s full attention. Once the noble Prophet (s.a.w.) asked his companions, “If there was a river at the door of anyone of you and he took a bath in it five times a day would you notice any dirt on him?” They said, “Not a trace of dirt would be left.” The Prophet (s.a.w.) added, “That is the example of the five prayers…”.6 Sparking an interest for the answer is also shown in the hadith of Abu Hurairah (r.a.), when the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) questioned his companions: “Should I not suggest to you that by which Allah obliterates the sins and elevates the ranks?”7

Clear and Succinct Questions


The noble Prophet (s.a.w.) questions were clear and succinct – critical characteristics of a good question8 – not leading to ambiguity and uncertainty. A further example of this is the following question that the blessed Prophet (s.a.w.) posed to his companions, as narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar (r.a.), a youth at that time: “Indeed there is a tree from amongst the trees that does not shed its leaves, it resembles a Muslim. So tell me, which one is it?” The people started discussing the trees of the countryside, and then requested the answer. The Messenger (s.a.w.) answered, “It is the date palm tree”.9 The question clearly grabbed the audience’s attention and aroused their curiosity, including the youth. The reference to the tree resembling a Muslim, one could assume, would be a cause for deep reflection by the listeners.

Questions Were Interactive

In these gatherings where the honorable Prophet (s.a.w.) was the teacher, we saw also the questions were interactive, involving the responses of the assemblage. A further example of this interaction is shown in the following episode. On one occasion, He (s.a.w.) asked, ‘Who among you considers the wealth of his heirs dearer to him than his own wealth?’ They replied, ‘There is none among us but loves his own wealth more.’10 The Prophet (s.a.w.) then followed up by encouraging the spending of wealth. 

Likewise, in another hadith, the Prophet (s.a.w.) asked, “Who is the Muslim?” After the audience replied, the Prophet (s.a w.) elaborated on the understanding of what the term Muslim means. Then he continued the back-and-forth exchange, by asking, “Who is the muhajir?” Then, subsequently by posing the question, “Who is the bankrupt person?”11

Critical Thinking

Another crucial dynamic in questioning is the type of question asked. Questions of a higher cognitive level fosters ‘critical thinking’ – “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement”12. The use of questions to foster critical thinking is borne out by the conversation when The Prophet (s.a.w.) questioned Muadh Ibn Jabal (r.a.) in the process of sending him to Yemen. The discourse ran as follows:

“How will you judge?” Mu’adh said, “I will judge according to what is in the Book of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the Book of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then with the tradition (sunnah) of the Messenger of Allah.” The Prophet said: What if it is not in the tradition of the Messenger of Allah? Mu’adh said, “Then I will strive to form an opinion.”13 The Prophet (s.a.w.) voiced his appreciation at what he heard.

Redirecting the Question

Consider the example of a technique used in redirecting the question to one that is more beneficial, requiring self-reflection, and critical thinking. At one time, a Bedouin asked the Prophet (s.a.w.): “When is the hour (Day of Judgement)?” The Prophet (s.a.w.) replied, “What have you prepared for that final hour?”Introspectively, the enquirer bared his inner feelings and received encouragement from the noble Prophet (s.a.w.).14


Question and Answer Role Playing

The hadith also records a dialogical encounter between Muhammad (s.a.w.) and his group of followers with the Archangel Gabriel or Gibreel (a.s.1). The illustrious Prophet (s.a.w.) answered the questions posed by the Angel. The Prophet (s.a.w.) left no doubt that this question and answer role playing session was a method of instruction. He stated that the questioner was “Gibreel, who came to teach you your religion”.15


 A Tool from the Sunnah Toolkit           

The questioning techniques are just one tool from the toolkit of teaching stratagems in the Sunnah of the Messenger )s.a.w.(They are congruent with what the professionals in the field of education tell us, but they go beyond that, having a unique flavor of their own). Inculcating these Sunnah practices into one’s repertoire will serve to enhance the pedagogical approach of the practitioner, whether as an instructor, trainer, or parent.


1. Abbreviations:

s.a.w. for sallalaahu alaihi wasalam – peace and blessings of God be on him

r.a. for radiallahu ‘an – may God be pleased with him

a.s. for alaihi salam – peace on him

2. Hadith: Sunan Ibn Majah, #229

3. Hadith: Sahih Muslim #810

4. companions-of-the-prophet_stories-of-the-sahabah_abdul-wahid-hamid.pdf (

5a. Importance of Wait Time in Education (

5b. Questioning Techniques for the Classroom | Created by Amanda Irvine and Bianca Garling (

6. Hadith: Sahih Bukhari #528

7. Hadith: Sahih Muslim 251a

8. 8 Characteristics of Good Questions (With Tips) |

9. Hadith: Sahih Bukhari #61

10. Hadith: Sahih Bukhari 6442

11. full text muhammad alshareef 21 teaching methods of the prophet – Australian islamic library www.australiaislamic city – Search (

12. critical thinking definition – Search (

13. Tariq Ramadan – The Importance of Critical Thinking for Muslim Societies both in the West and East | Halal Tube

14. 6 Teaching Methods of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – IslamiCity

15. Hadith: Sahih Bukhari 50


  • Imtiaz Zaman

    S. Imtiaz Zaman, B.Sc., M.A., Dip. Ed. is a retired NYC public high school science teacher with 30 years of service. His expertise is in Earth Science, Biology, and AP Environmental Science. He also holds an educational Diploma in Administration and Supervision. Before migrating from Guyana, he served as an Environmental Officer in a government agency, and taught in the public high school. Bro Imtiaz has long been involved with the work of the local Muslim community in Georgetown, Guyana and New York. Part of his contribution included the role of a weekend Islamic school teacher. Currently he participates in the leadership of the localized NYC Muslim community.

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