Quarterly: Issue No 66
GUARD OUR TONGUES
All Praise is due to Allah, Exalted be His name, and peace and blessings of Allah be upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad, his family and all his companions.
The tongue is a great blessing from Allah. If we look at the animals that are unable to speak, we realize the importance of this great tool of communication.
One of the hallmarks of righteous behaviour is good speech. A person who stays mindful of Allah will want to refrain from sins of the tongue such as backbiting, slander, gossip, lying, swearing, cursing and vain talk. The Qur'an and Ahaadith (the authentically narrated traditions of the Prophet Muhammad - Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) has warned us against these types of sins of the tongue.
Guarding one's speech is so important that each person will be held accountable for everything they say. Allah says in the Noble Quran: (Surah Qaaf: Chapter 50: Verses 16-18) (Also refer: Surah Infitaar: Chapter 82: Verses 10-12)
And indeed We have created man, and We know what his own self whispers to him. And We are nearer to him than his jugular vein (by Our Knowledge). (Remember!) that the two receivers (recording angels) receive (each human being after he or she has attained the age of puberty), one sitting on the right and one on the left (to note his or her actions). Not a word does he (or she) utter, but there is a watcher by him ready (to record it).
The rules for recording of deeds are detailed in a Hadith Qudsi. Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) related this Saying from his Lord:
“Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) has written down the good deeds and the bad ones. Then He explained it (by saying that) he who has intended a good deed and has not done it, Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed; but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) writes it down with Himself as from ten good deeds to seven hundred times, or many times over. But if he has intended a bad deed and has not done it, Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) writes it down with Himself as a full good deed, but if he has intended it and has done it, Allah (The Glorified and the Exalted) writes it down as one bad deed.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
As evidence from the Qur’anic verses quoted above, we note the following facts. On the one hand, Allah directly knows man’s actions and movements, even his hidden thoughts; on the other hand, every man/women has two angels appointed over him/her, who are recording whatever he/she does and says; none of his/her actions or words is left unrecorded. This means that when man is produced in the court of Allah, Allah - at that time - Himself will know what each person has done in the world. Besides Him, there will also be two witnesses who will produce documentary evidence of the person’s actions and deeds. As to what will be the nature of this documentary evidence, it is difficult for us to have a precise concept of it. But from the facts that we are witnessing today, it seems certain that the voices and pictures and marks of man’s actions and movements are being preserved and imprinted on every particle of the environment in which he lives and works, and each one of these can be reproduced in exactly the same form and voice so as to leave no difference whatsoever between the original and its copy. Mankind is currently doing this on a very limited scale with the help of his material inventions, but the angels of Allah neither stand in need of these devices nor are they bound by any limitation in this regard. Man’s own body and everything around it is their tape and their film upon which they can record every voice and every image along with its minutest and most delicate detail precisely and exactly, and can make man hear - on the Day of Judgement - with his own ears, in his own voice, those very things which he talked in this world, and can make him see, with his very own eyes, the pictures of all his misdeeds, whose genuineness he would not be able to deny.
Here, one should also understand that in the court of the Hereafter, Allah will not punish anybody only on the basis of Allah’s own knowledge, but will punish him after fulfilling all the requirements of justice. That is why an exhaustive record is being prepared of every person’s words and deeds in the world so that a complete proof with undeniable evidence becomes available of everyone’s life, deeds and activities.
“Wounds inflicted by the tongue are deeper than the wounds inflicted by the sword,” is an adage that we have often read, hear and experience. These wounds cut deep into the heart and are not easily cured. Even after years, a person may feel their pain. At times, these wounds are caused inadvertently and at others in a planned and cold-blooded way. However, whatever be their nature, as human beings, it is our foremost duty to make an all-out effort to tame our tongue. Let alone the ordinary Muslims, even Ulama are not safe from these blemishes.
Abusing and cursing others, making fun of them, lying, misreporting facts, backbiting, slandering, swearing false oaths and bearing false witness, lustful chatting, bragging, enticing others to sin, speaking disrespectfully, expressing arrogance, gossiping, giving sweeping statements and being judgemental, teasing, flattering and even talking incessantly are some prominent areas where restraining and controlling of the tongue is required.
The first step to overcome such faults is to realize that they are sins. Realizing our own faults means that half of the job is done. The other half requires a concerted and sustained effort. The starting point after this realization is to plan - beforehand - to hold back the tongue from its evil habits or letting it enter into a frenzied state. More often than not, this is due to some reaction that arises within us.
Faults of the tongue can be classified in two main categories.
- Faults that are habitual and do not involve rage: like lying, backbiting and misreporting facts etc.
- Faults that occur in rage, like abusing, screaming and shouting etc.
Faults of the tongue that are habitual and do not involve rage:
If a person is good, it reflects in his/her speech. Allah has made it very easy for the tongue to move. It is not difficult to realize that a person’s tongue moves much more compared to his/her limbs. So if a person is not careful about what he/she says, even a single saying of that person can invalidate his/her other deeds. It is for this reason that the whole body warns the tongue saying, “Fear Allah concerning us, for we are (dependant) upon you. If you are upright then we will be upright and if you are corrupt then we will be corrupt.” (Tirmidhi, Mishkaat and Riyaadh as-Saliheen)
Allah says in the Qur’an, “And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah.” (Chapter 49: Surah Hujuraat: Verse 12) Abu Hurayrah (RA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Do you know what is backbiting?” The Companions said: “Allah and His Messenger know better.” Thereupon he said, “Backbiting is talking about your (Muslim) brother in a manner which he dislikes.” It was said to him: “What if my (Muslim) brother is as I say.” He said, “If he is actually as you say, then that is backbiting; but if that is not in him, that is slandering.” (Muslim, Abu Dawood and Muwatta)
The gratitude that we should show for this great blessing of the tongue should include, using it for the obedience to Allah, for reading the Qur’an, for seeking Knowledge and enjoining good and forbidding evil. Allah says in the beginning of Surah al-Mu’mineen, “Successful indeed are the believers; those who offer their Salat (prayers) with Khushoo (all solemnity and full submissiveness). And those who turn away from Al-Laghw (dirty, false, evil vain talk, falsehood, and all that Allah has been forbidden).” (Chapter 23: Surah Mu’minoon: Verses 1-3)
Here Allah mentions that refraining from Al-Laghw (evil vain talk) is a sign of successful believers. Allah also mentions refraining from vain talk after he mentions ‘Khushoo’ (solemnity and full submissiveness). This is because too much talk makes the heart hard. It is not possible to reach the level of ‘Khushoo’ unless one refrains from vain talk. Imam Nawawi (ra) said: “Know it is incumbent upon all to guard their tongues from most speech, except a word that has some benefits in it....” (Kitaabul-Adhkaar)
Abu Hurayrah reported that he heard the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) say: “Indeed, the servant will speak a word, while being unaware of (its consequences), and due to it, he will be cast into the Hellfire, farther than the distance between the east and the west.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or keep silent.” (Bukhari)
Imam Shafi’i (ra) is reported to have said. “When one desires to talk, then it is upon him to think before he speaks. If there is beneficial good in what he will say, then he should speak. And if he has doubt about that, then he must not speak until he clears that doubt (by making his speech good)” (Quoted in Kitaabul Adhkaar by Imam Nawawi)
Exceptions to Backbiting
Islamic Scholars have classified a few exceptions to what is termed ‘backbiting’. And amongst them are:
• Oppression: If one has been harmed or one’s property has been unlawfully taken away by another, and this person goes to the ruler or judge in order to seek justice, this is not classified as backbiting.
• Changing the Munkar: If one finds a person involved in evil actions or innovations, and one is unable to correct his Munkar. It is allowed to seek the help of a more knowledgeable person, even if it means defining the Munkar of the evil-doer or innovator.
• Seeking a Fatwa (religious verdict): For example, there is a dispute between a husband and his wife, and if either of them seeks the advice of an Islamic Scholar or a Mufti, then this situation is not classified as backbiting.
• Warning a Muslim from evil: For example, if a fellow Muslim is going to do a business with a dishonest person or if a Muslim is unaware that the person to whom he is marrying his daughter to, is an unreligious person; then to advice and guide him is exempt from backbiting.
• Advising against innovators and sinners: If an innovator (bid’ati) is openly involved in spreading his innovative beliefs or a sinner remorselessly declares his sin and is thus being a bad example for others; then warning others against him is allowed. However, if a person commits a sin secretly and as such harms just himself, then to openly declare his sins is still strictly prohibited.
Faults of the tongue that occur in rage, like abusing, shouting and screaming:
The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) said: “The strong man is not a good wrestler; the strong man is in fact the person who controls himself at the time of anger.” (Bukhari)
Imam Fakhruddin Razi (ra) narrates an incident in his Tafsir Al-Kabir. Once, prior to receiving his Prophethood (nubuwwah), Prophet Moosa’s (Alayhis Salaam) lamb ran away from his flock. Prophet Moosa ran behind it for miles on end in order to catch it. In the process he hurt his feet by running through thorn thickets which pierced his skin causing him to bleed as well. The lamb continued running until it too was bruised and battered. Finally, it stood at one place, breathing heavily, unable to run anymore. Prophet Moosa caught the tired little animal and instead of being angry at it, consoled the animal with tears flowing from his eyes, saying, “O sheep, if you did not feel sorry for Moosa, you should at least have pitied yourself. Why did you put yourself through so much trouble?” Before removing the thorns from his own feet, Prophet Moosa first removed the thorns from the sheep, then rubbed and pressed its legs, lifted it up onto his shoulders and carried it back to the flock.
Imagine what we would have done to the animal if it had caused us so much trouble and pain. Perhaps we would have beaten the poor animal or even slaughtered it. But what did Prophet Moosa do? He showed no sign of anger, instead he showed great mercy for the weak creation of Allah. Imam Fakhruddin Razi (ra) writes that the angels said to Allah: “O Allah! This person is worthy of becoming a Prophet because of his qualities of tolerance and patience. O Allah! Make him a Prophet.” Allah replied, “I have already chosen him as My Messenger.” Those for whom Allah has destined high stages, He imbues them with noble qualities and strength of tolerance. It is not correct to become mad with anger at the slightest of provocations.
Faults of the tongue that are habitual need a concerted effort. They can only be overcome if a person makes up his mind to root them out by realizing that they are grave sins. They not only defile one’s own inner-self but also cause hurt, deceit and damage to others. These faults are a shame to humankind and bring disrepute to it. We should first of all enlist all these faults and work out a plan to eradicate them one by one. We should pray to Allah to help us and alert us right before we commit such faults of the tongue and also ask Him to give us the courage and strength to overcome it. Being helped and alerted by Allah is essential because in faults and sins - committed as a habit - we often are not even aware of what we are doing. The next step is to apply brakes. This needs will power to stop short of entering the highway that leads to excesses of the tongue. We are not angels and neither can we ever be. We have to realize that we cannot be good all the time. However, we must try to be good most of the time.
Faults of the tongue which occur in rage and anger need prior planning as well. When overcome with rage, we need to delay our reaction. Merely deferring our response at that time can go a long way in reducing the results of the harm caused. Inhaling a deep breath, taking a glass of water, changing one’s posture or location can help a lot. Fasting helps to restrain anger and hence the misuse of the tongue. Even after adopting all these measures, it will still take time to overcome this habit as it will not go away overnight.
May Allah help us all to be guided aright with His Great Blessings and Mercy! Ameen!
O Allah! Your Forgiveness is far greater than my sins and I have more hope in Your Mercy than in my own deeds.
Requesting your humble duas!
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir
Kyalami Glen, Gauteng
Johannesburg, South Africa