Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen. Was salaatu was salaamu ala ashraful mursaleen sayyidina Muhammadi wa ala aali sayyidina Muhammadi wa ashaabihi ajma’een.
All praise is due to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the entire universe. And the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad (saw) his family and his companions.
In Islam there is a concept known as Hifzul Lisaan. This means protection of the tongue, i.e. to protect it from saying evil things. And this is what I wish to speak about today.
Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran: “Wa qul li ibaadee yaqool ulllatee hiya ahsan… – Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best: Shaitaan seeks to sow dissension among them: For Satan is to man an avowed enemy.” This ayah is conveying a command from Allah (swt) to us that we should only say that which is “ahsan”. Ahsan here, encompassing everything which is regarded as good speech. This is because Shaitaan seeks to sow discord and enmity amongst people, and he does so by means of what people say. People say things without thinking which might hurt another person and this then causes bad blood between these two. And Allah (swt) has warned us about the plans of Shaitaan, and has told us clearly that he is an open enemy towards us. So Allah (swt) is telling us here that we should be careful of what we say and speak only of good things.
In another ayah of the Holy Quran Allah (swt) also says: “Yaa ayyuha alladheena aamanoo ittaqullah wa qooloo qawlan sadeedaa – O you who believe! Fear Allah, and say a qawlan sadeedaa”. Some mufassirun say that this means to say “Laa ilaaha illa Allah” and others say that it means to make reconciliation between two people. But it is a general statement and includes all good speech. So it is another command, similar to the first one. And what will be the result of doing this? Allah (swt) continues and tells us: “Yuslih lakum a’maalakum wa yaghfir lakum dhanoobakum.” Allah (swt) will correct our deeds and forgive us our sins. “Wa man yuti’illaha wa rasoolahu faqad faaza fawzan azeemaa – Whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has attained the highest achievement.”
The Prophet (saw) said: “Man kaana yu’minu billahi wal yawmil aakhiri fal yaqul khairan aw liyasmut – Whoever believes in Allah (swt) and the Last Day should speak good or remain silent.” This hadith here is the most important one concerning this topic of hifzul lisaan – protecting the tongue – as it provides comprehensive guidance for us as to what should be said and what should not. Speech is divided into three kinds: al-khair, which is good, al-sharr which is bad or evil and al-laghw which is vain speech.
Good speech is things such as making dhikr, reciting Quran, teaching other people, enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil and many others. Evil speech is things like lying, backbiting, swearing, slander and so on. And then there is laghw. This is termed as vain speech and it is anything which does not belong to one of the above two categories. It is neither good nor bad; you don’t get rewarded for it and you also don’t get punished for it.
Now the important thing here is that the Prophet (saw) did not only order us not to say evil things, he also prohibited us from vain speech. He said: “Whoever believes in Allah (swt) and the Last Day should speak good or remain silent.” So if there is no benefit in saying something, then it is better to remain silent. As Muslims, we should only be speaking good. And if you look at what people say, the conversations that they have, then most of their speech is really laghw, it is vain speech. It is things which do not benefit, and very often because of indulging in speaking a lot, they would easily fall into speaking of evil things. Which is why in another hadith the Prophet (saw) has said: “Man samata najaa – Whoever remains silent has saved himself” meaning, from the Fire of Jahannam. This is because by keeping quiet, one protects himself from speaking about irrelevant things and things which are sinful.
Another hadith states: “’Alaika bi tooli samt, fa innahu matradtun li Shaytaan – Upon you is long silence, (meaning that you should be silent a lot) for it is a defense against the Shaitaan.” A lot of people speak without actually thinking about they are saying, and Shaitaan uses this to direct them towards sin. And this is contrary to the way of the Prophet (saw). Being silent was one his characteristics. Jabir bin Samurah (ra) described the Prophet (saw) and said: “Kaana taweela samt, qaleela dahik – He used to be silent for long and used to laugh little.” And we should try to follow him in all matters, including this as well.
Of all those things which can be regarded as good speech, the best of all is dhikr – the remembrance of Allah (swt). This is because the one who remembers Allah (swt); Allah (swt) remembers him. “Fadhkurooni adhkurkum – Remember me and I will remember you.” And dhikr is of three kinds: dhikr of the tongue, dhikr of the heart and dhikr of both the tongue and heart. The goal of dhikr is to remember Allah (swt), and this can be done without speech, but to involve the tongue in this as well is a good thing. It is mentioned in a hadith Qudsi: “Ana ma’a abdee maa dhakaranee wa taharrakt bee shafataahu – I am with My slave when he remembers Me and his lips move with My mention.” Another of the categories of good speech which is regarded very highly is to make da’wah – i.e. to call people to Islam. This is because Allah (swt) has said: “Wa man ahsanu qawlan mimman da’aa ilaa Allahi wa ‘amila saaliha wa qaala innanee minal muslimeen – Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah, works righteousness, and says, “I am of those who bow in Islam?”
Of evil speech, one of the worst things is backbiting and it is a very grave sin. One who speaks a lot and engages in idle chat can easily fall into this sin because very often such people would be talking about other people. If you speak about someone else, then you should be careful of not falling into this sin. From an Islamic perspective, backbiting has a very simple definition. It is regarded as saying something about somebody else which he would not like to be said about him. Even if the thing being said is the truth, that does not matter. If you say something about somebody else, and this would cause him to be sad or grieved if he would come to know about it, then this is backbiting. And backbiting has been describe by Allah (swt) as eating the flesh of your dead brother. This is how serious it is. He (swt) says: “Ayuhibbu ahadukum an ya’kula lahma akheehi maitan – Would any one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?”
Another of the evils of speech is swearing. This is an ugly habit and is something we should try to abstain from. The sad thing is that this has become very commonplace and people seem to think very little of it. Some people even swear for no reason at all – it just a part of their speech and they use it all the time without even thinking about it. And the prohibition against this has already been mentioned before in the ayah where Allah (swt) says: “Wa qul li ibaadee yaqool allatee hiya ahsan”.
What we should realise is that our speech is going to count either for or against us on the Day of Judgment. It is not only physical deeds which will be weighed on the Scales, but also our words as well. Every single word we utter is recorded and we will be taken to account for it. We will be questioned about it and be held responsible for it. Allah (swt) says: “Maa yalfizu min qawlin illaa ladayhi raqeebun ateed – He does not say anything except that there is a watcher by him (ready to note it).” And Mu’adh ibn Jabal (ra) asked the Prophet (saw): “Will we be held responsible for what we say?” The Prophet (saw) then said: “… And is there anything that topples people on to their faces into the Hellfire other than the harvests of their tongue?” So the intelligent one who reflects about this will become inclined towards silence and would speak less. It is said that silence is a beauty for the scholar and a concealment for the ignorant one. And this is also why there is safety in silence. Whoever speaks little, will have less things to account for on the Day of Judgment.
Based on all of this, it is better for us to be silent and speak as little as possible. So I’m going to take my own advice and keep it short and end this talk here. It was not the way of the Prophet (saw) to give long speeches. He said that one of the signs of a persons understanding of his Din was his keeping his khutbah short and his extending his Salah. Nowadays people speak and speak but those listening to them take very little away from it. But when the Prophet (saw) spoke he would keep things short and repeat himself so that people could understand and remember. So if you do not take away anything from this then at least remember this one thing, as it covers everything else that has been mentioned: “Man kanaa yu’minu billahi wal yawmil aakhiri fal yaqul khairan aw liyasmut – Whoever believes in Allah and the Last day should speak good or remain silent.”
And I would like to end with these words of Amirul Mu’mineen ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (ra), and this is something to think about: “A person who talks too much is a person who often makes mistakes, and someone who often makes mistakes, often has wrong actions. The Fire has a priority over such a frequent sinner.” And in a similar narration, or perhaps it is the same saying with a different translation, he said: “The more one speaks, the more sins he commits. The more sins one commits the further in the Fire of Hell he will be.”
Wa aakhiru da’waanaa ‘anil hamdu lillahi Rabbil ‘aalameen.