January 15, 2021

The Significance of Words in the Light of Islam

Dr. Bilal A. Bhat & Intizar Ahmad

Almighty Allah, the creator of all the heavens and the earth, has blessed us with the gift to speak. He, the Exalted, gave us this ability so that we may communicate with each other, express our feelings and reveal our intentions. The tongue is a great endowment of Allah (SWT) – which may be used to praise and thank him for which one earns reward. In holy Quran, Surah Al Balad (The City), 90:8-9, Allah (SWT) says: “Have We not made for him two eyes? And a tongue and two lips?” Allah is reminding us of this blessing he has given us – something we have just been fortunately born with – something we did not even earn, it was just given to us. Nevertheless, some words may earn us the greatest reward and others may lead to the worst punishment. The tongue has the power to do good and to do bad and indeed, it will be a witness for us on the day of judgement. Allah (SWT) has ordained the Muslims, not to belittle the value of their words, and not to utter words of no use. He warned us to be weary of our speech and having the ability to foresee the repercussions of what we say. Indeed, Allah (SWT) reminds us in Surah Qaf (50;18), “Not a word does he (or she) utter but there is a watcher by him ready (to record it).” In fact, Allah has praised believers who refrain from vain pursuits (curiosity), gossip and backbiting, “Certainly will the believers have succeeded, they who are during their prayer humbly submissive, and they who turn away from ill speech.” (Surah Muminoon, Verses 1-3) Allah had sent Prophets and Messengers from time to time for our guidance. Their mission has always been to reform society, purify it from corrupt practices and set it on a course which Almighty Allah has defined for it. Man’s status as Allah’s vicegerent on earth requires him to follow a certain code of conduct to deserve this title. The last in the chain of Messengers of Allah, our beloved Prophet Mohammad (SAW) has given us golden principles and comprehensive rules to live by, which are a key to our over all success in this world and hereafter. World accepts this fact that no one was, is, and will ever be as aware of human psychology as was the greatest benefactor of humanity, the last of Allah’s Messenger Prophet Mohammad (SAW). Holy Prophet (SAW) guides us in every field of human activity. The core values, which he (SAW) taught us form the very foundations of a balanced, moderate and healthy social order; a social order which promotes and establishes love, brotherhood, peace, tolerance, mutual respect, understanding and good will. He (SAW) has also warned us of those practices which corrode and weaken those foundations endangering the whole edifice of society. Islam considers man to be responsible for himself, his actions as well as for others. It prompts upon him towards reforming society and standing against all kinds of corruption: moral, political, economic, and social …etc. The tongue with the ability to speak is a gift that Almighty Allah has bestowed on man in His creation. This has been stated in the following verse in Holy Quran (Sura Rahman 55:3-4): He has created man: He has taught him speech (and intelligence). The Messenger of Allah(s) says: Blessed is the man who speaks good and is triumphant; or keeps silent in the face of evil and is secure. Tongue which expresses our inner thoughts and feelings is one of our greatest blessings. We should judge ourselves before being judged by others. The Holy Prophet (SAW) said, A man utters a word pleasing to Almighty Allah without considering it of any significance for which Allah exalts his ranks (in Jannah); another one speaks a word displeasing to Allah without considering it of any importance, and for this reason he will sink down into Hell [Al-Bukhari]. Speaking is one of the most effective means to achieve social improvement or corruption. An influential speaker can lead a human society towards moral and spiritual decay or corruption. The extent of the influence of the tongue is so much that the most pious man who lived his whole lifetime to establish the prayer, is presented as being one who does not pray in the minds of the other people. It is important that one should think before he speaks. Abu Hurairah (R.A) reported: I heard the Prophet (SAW) saying, A person utters a word thoughtlessly (i.e., without thinking about its being good or not) and, as a result of this, he will fall down into the fire of Hell deeper than the distance between the east and the west [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. This hadith shows the disadvantage which can be caused by the improper use of the tongue. In another hadith Prophet (SAW) said, The most excellent among Muslims is one from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. At present the most common social evil are backbiting (gibah), tale-bearing, slandering, or rumour mongering. Among all things, the tongue deserves to be prisoned longer than anything else (because most of our sins are committed by it). Backbiting (ghibah) is a grave sin and is only permitted in certain exceptional cases, such as: mentioning to someone who will be able to get you your rights, asking a religious ruling, warning someone of the potential harms, about someone who sins openly, etc. It is better to talk directly to the person who hurt your feelings and sort out matters with gentleness and politeness. Keeping your feelings in your heart will only make you suffer. It’s good to talk and sort out the ill-feelings that exist. Abu Hureyrah (R.A) narrates that Allah’s Messenger asked: Do you know what is backbiting? The companions submitted: Allah and His Messenger know best. Thereupon he (SAW) said: Backbiting is talking about your [Muslim] brother in a manner which he dislikes. One companion submitted: What if my [Muslim] brother is as I say. Prophet (SAW) replied: If he is actually as you say, then that is backbiting; but if that is not in him, then it is slandering [Muslim]. Allah the Exalted made it clear in Noble Quran that defaming another Muslim in his/her absence is like eating the flesh of one’s dead brother (Qura, 49:12), which obviously, everybody hates. Hence, it is the most dreadful sin. Abu Musa Al-Ash`ari (R.A) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (SAW): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.”[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. Indeed it is very true that not hurting other peoples feelings and having good manners in general is one of the most important aspects of Islam. Unfortunately, many of us overlook certain social ills, which are rampant in our society and we not only have become insensitive towards them, but also practice them day and night without thinking that by doing so we are disobeying Almighty Allah and His Messenger (SAW). Many Muslims restrict Islam to modes of worship (ibadaat) and outer appearance, whilst social affairs, one’s relationship with fellow family members, friends, other Muslims and humans in general is not even considered to have anything to do with Islam.
Among Allah’s blessings upon man is that He made him a thoughtful and sane being and created a tongue for him. He made him able to utter sounds and clarify what he wants through the words which he speaks. He has only to speak to let people know what he wants. Thus, we should thank Allah for the blessings which He bestowed upon us. We should use our speech in useful ways; not to speak but goodness. A wise man first thinks and then speaks, and a fool speaks and then thinks. For example, if we are in a meeting or a gathering or in a office/factory and want to speak with people, or any discussion comes up then we should first think what we want to say and choose which words to use. If we can offer useful counsel to people or offer advice, we should speak in such a way to make others want to listen. Hence our words will be acceptable to Allah and the people because our speech is beneficial in guiding towards goodness or reconciling people, or teaching useful knowledge, and will increase the love of people to each other. If we say a word of goodness we will get Allah’s reward and the love and respect of the people and so we will be triumphant. As our glorious Prophet Muhammad (SAW) says: If man is not able to say something useful, he should keep silent from bad words and his silence will keep him far from Allah’s wrath and from the harm which might befall him as a result of saying bad words. Whoever does evil deeds to people, people will surely confront him with evil too. And certainly, if we speak bad words it may cause us problems and harm and make us regret and wish we had kept silent and had not spoken. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) says, A believer’s tongue is located behind his heart. Whenever he wants to talk, he first presents his words to his heart. If the heart approves of what he wants to say it issues an order to the tongue to utter the words. However, if the heart does not issue a permit, then the lips stay sealed. But the hypocrite’s tongue is the leader of his heart. Whenever he wills to say something, he utters it without the approval of his heart. Some of the scholars of ethics used to state that Allah, the Exalted, has placed teeth in front of the tongue and he has placed lips in front of the teeth in order to imprison the tongue behind them. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW) educates us with good manners saying: Either you speak a useful and good word, or be silent which is better for you than speaking evil words. Sahl bin Sa`d (R.A) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “Who so ever gives me a guarantee to safeguard what is between his jaws and what is between his legs, I shall guarantee him Jannah.”[Al-Bukhari]. The Holy Prophet (SAW) has given the assurance of Jannah to every Muslim who protects these two parts of the body. Protection here means their use permitted by the Islamic Shari`ah. They should be guarded against every act that is prohibited by the Shari`ah. To conclude among the best characteristics of a Muslim is to speak only the words of goodness and reconciliation. It is better to remain silent if you cannot speak the word of goodness. A still tongue makes a wise head’, says one proverb. And in other one: ‘The wounds of a sword may heal one day; the wounds of the tongue, they never may.’ Holy Prophet (SAW) said, Affliction caused by the tongue is worse than (that caused by) the strike of the blade of a sword. A person must ask himself before saying anything: Is there any need for me to talk? If there is a need, then it is fine to talk. Otherwise, silence is better because refraining from unnecessary speech is a form of worship. Whoever does not keep a check on his tongue will regret it. For those who do good is good (reward) and even more than that. Of course, nowadays, it’s not just our speech that we need to be concerned about. We need to guard what we text or tweet about too; for that too is part of our speech. Let’s not let our tongues, or our activities on social media, become the nail in the coffin of our spirituality. As the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, once said whilst pointing to his tongue: ‘Restrain this. Is there anything that topples people on their faces into Hellfire other than the harvests of their tongues? We ask Allah Almighty to give us a sound heart, to make us of those who control our tongues and keep our tongues busy with His remembrance. … Ameen!
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics for “Kashmir Horizon” exclusively. Views are their own)

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