The Virtue of Talking Less and Avoiding Vain Speech

Most of the quarrels arise out of evil and irresponsible talk, and the major sins that are commonly committed, also, are related, for the most part, to the tongue. The Prophet, thus, has stressed upon his followers the need to keep their tongues under control and avoid gainless and rotten conversation. It was better to keep quiet if one had nothing good or useful to say. It is among the important teachings of the Prophet upon which, as he tells, depends the salvation of man. The acceptance of the fundamental duties like Prayer, Fasting, Zakah and Hajj, and their effulgence, too, is contingent on the control of the tongue.

(1) Muad relates that, one day, he said to the Apostle of God; “Sir! Tell me of something on account of which I may gain admission to Heaven and stay away from Hell.” To this, the Prophet replied, “You asked a great thing, but (in spite of its gravity and magnitude), it is easy for whom God makes it easy. Now, listen! First of all, worship God and associate no one with Him, and offer Salah correctly, and pay Zakah, and keep the fasts, and perform the Hajj.” The Prophet then asked: “May I, also, tell you about the doors of goodness?” Seeing the keenness of Muad, the Prophet went on to say: “Fasting is a shield (to protect against sins, and against the Fire of Hell), and charity puts out the sins, (and the fire that results from them), in the same way as water extinguishes the fire, and the same is the case with Salah of the middle part of the night (Tahajjud).” The Apostle of God, after it, recited the following verse from Surah Sajda regarding the superiority of Tahajjud and Sadaqah (Charity): “Who forsake their beds (in the night) to cry unto their Lord, in fear and hope, and spend of what We have I bestowed upon them” (Qur’an 32:16). The Prophet added: “May I (also) tell you of the head of the matter (Faith), and of its pillar and highest peak?” “Do, please,” replied Muad. The Prophet, there upon, said: “The head or upper end of Faith is Islam, and its pillar is Salah, and highest peak is Jihad.” He further asked: “May I tell you of the thing upon which it all rests, i.e., without which these things are of no value?” “Do, please,”Muad replied. The Prophet, then, held his tongue (between his fingers), and said: “Check it. (Keep the tongue under control and do not let it function freely and without restraint).” Upon it, Muad enquired: “Will we, also, be called to account for what we say?” “May my mother weep over you,” exclaimed the Apostle of God. “People will be cast head foremost (or nose foremost) into Hell mainly owing to the indiscretions of their tongues.”

~ Musnad Ahmad, Tirmizi and Ibn Majah

Commentary

In it, the reference to Fasting and Sadaqah by the Prophet, as the ‘doors of goodness,’ after he had spoken of the principal tenets of Islam, denotes, in our view, the supererogatory fasts and charity, and, that is, probably, why he has included Tahajjud as well which is the most superior of all the supererogatory prayers.

The Prophet has, further, declared that Islam was the ‘Head of the Faith.’ Apparently, Islam, here, signifies the acceptance of it as one’s religion, and its purport is that if a person does good deeds and his moral conduct and monetary dealings, too, are up to the mark, but he does not confess his faith in Islam, he will be like a body whose arms, legs etc., may be intact, but it is headless.

Besides, the holy Prophet has described Salah as ‘Pillar of Faith’ which shows that just as a building cannot endure without the pillar, Faith, also, does not last without Salah. The Prophet, again, said that Jihad, was the ‘Highest peak of Faith.’ The glory of Faith, obviously, is dependent on Jihad.

The last part of the saying, for which it has been reproduced here, tells that all the things mentioned in it are subject to the condition that one guarded one’s tongue. The indiscretions of the tongue deprive the good acts of their virtue. When Muad expressed his surprise at it and wanted to know if men will also be called to account for what they say, the Prophet exclaimed that people will go to Hell mostly owing to the sins they commit with their tongues. In our time, we can see that the major evils and transgressions that are prevalent in the society, and in respect of which we, on the whole, are negligent are mostly related to the tongue.

(2) Sahl bin Sa’ad relates that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever undertakes to guard his tongue and his private parts, I take for him the responsibility of Paradise.”

~  Bukhari

Commentary

Apart from the tongue, it is the private parts, among the limbs of a man, whose protection against improper use is of highest importance. Hence, in this Tradition, the Prophet has stated that he could give the assurance of Paradise, on behalf of God, to anyone who promised not to use his tongue improperly as well as to keep his sexual desires within the limits of the Divine law. It may be advisable, again, to stress that exhortations like these of the sacred Prophet are addressed to believing men and women who have realised the basic truth, through his teachings, that such assurances hold good only for the bondmen who believe and observe the fundamental duties.

(3) It is related by Abdullah bin Amr bin el-‘Aas that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever held his tongue attained salvation.”

~ Musnad Ahmad, Tirmizi, Daarimi and Baihaqi

Commentary

It denotes that a person who guarded his tongue against foolish and undesirable talk was saved from punishment in the life after death. As we have, already, seen in Muad’s narrative, people will be cast headlong into Hell owing to the misuse of their tongues.

(4) Narrates ‘Uqba bin `Aamir that “(Once), I presented myself before the Apostle of God, and said: ‘Sir, tell me, what is the secret of salvation. (What am I to do about it)?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Keep your tongue under control, and let there be room enough for you in your house, and shed tears over your sins before the Almighty’.”

~ Tirmizi

Commentary

The meaning of exercising restraint over one’s tongue and weeping over one’s sins in the presence of God is clear. As for the second advice, that it should be that there was enough space for oneself in one’s house, it denotes that people should better stay at home and take an interest in their household affairs and devote themselves to worship instead of wasting their time in aimless wandering. As we know, the habit of staying out unnecessarily and moving here and there purposelessly can lead to numerous ills and evils.

 

(5) Imran bin Hattam Tab`ee related to us, saying: ‘(One day), as I went to see Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari, I found him sitting alone in the mosque, wrapped in a black blanket. ‘Oh, Abu Zarr!” I said to him, ‘Why this seclusion?’ He replied, ‘I have heard the Apostle of God say: ‘To be alone is better than to sit with bad companions, and to sit with a good companion is better than to be alone, and to tell a good thing to anyone is better than to keep quiet and to keep quiet is better than to tell a bad thing.’”

~ Baihaqi

Commentary

The virtue of silence lies only in comparison to foolish or vicious speech, otherwise to tell a good and useful thing is better than to keep quiet. Similarly, it tells that though solitude is better than the company of undesirable persons, the society of good and virtuous men is preferable to remaining alone.

On Giving Up What is Foolish and Absurd

(6) It is related by Ali bin al-Husain Zainul Abedin that the Apostle of God said: “It is also a part of the beauty and perfection of Faith that one abandoned what was not necessary and useful to him.”

(This Tradition has been quoted, as a Mursal, by Imam Maalik in Muwatta, and by Imam Ahmad in Musnad, or authority of Hazrat Ali bin el-Husain, and by IbnMajah, in Sunan, on the authority of Abu Hurairah, and by Imam Tirmizi, in his Jaam’i, and Baihaqi in Shu’b-al-lman, in the same form and from the same narrators).

Commentary

It shows that to give up, or desist, from what is worthless is a sign of perfection in Faith.

Tale-bearing

Among the detestable habits that are related to the tongue and have been condemned by the Prophet as a grievous sin a most common is tale-bearing or carrying of reports from one person to another with a view to poisoning their relations and making them mistrustful of each other. Since promotion of mutual affection and sympathy is among the aims and objects of the raising up of the Prophet, to the extent that, in some Traditions these social moral attributes have been described as more important than duties of worship, anything that creates bad blood between two persons and gives rise to suspicion and hatred must be sin of the highest order. Anyhow, tale-bearing has been denounced by the Prophet as a most hateful offence against the law of God and warned the perpetrators of it of a painful sequel in After-life.

(7) It is related by Huzaifa that he heard the Apostle God, saying: “The tale-bearer shall not enter Heaven.”

~ Bukhari and Muslim

Commentary

It shows that tale-bearing is such a despicable habit that no one possessing it will be able to gain admission to Paradise except, of course, that the Lord forgave him out of His Mercy.

(8) It is related by Abdullah bin Masud that the Apostle of God said: “None of my Companions should carry tales concerning any other (Companion) to me. I want that when I come to you, i.e., meet you, my heart should be free from taint (against everyone).”

~ Abu Dawood

Commentary

Its purport is that people should avoid even listening to things against others that are likely to produce the feelings of anger or enmity in their hearts. It should, however, be clear that there can be occasions on which it may be in the interest of the Faith or necessary from the viewpoint of the Shariah to say, or hear, such a thing. In such an event, the rule will not apply.

Slander and Back-biting

Speaking ill of others behind their backs, scandal-mongering, slander and vilification are moral vices that are more woeful in their consequence than tale-bearing, Back-biting, malicious upbraiding, and spreading false reports against anyone that tend to cause him pain or injure his reputation is the height of perversity. To stress the foulness of back-biting, it has been likened in the Qur’an and the Traditions to ‘eating the flesh of one’s dead brother.’

(9) It is related by Abu Barza Aslami that the Apostle of God said: “O people who have affirmed Faith (only) with the tongue, and Islam has not yet entered into their hearts! Do not speak ill of Muslims behind their backs, and do not pry into their secrets, for whoever does so, God, too, will treat him in the same manner. And whoever will be treated like that, from the side of God, will be made lowly and debased, by Him, in his own house.”

~ Abu Dawood

Commentary

It shows that to malign and vilify a Muslim and speak ill of him behind his back is the characteristic of a hypocrite and only those will do so who are Muslims simply in name and their hearts are devoid of real Faith.

(10) It is related by Abu Sa’eed Khudri that the Apostle of God said: “Back-biting is worse than adultery.” He was asked: “Sir, how can back-biting be worse than adultery?” The Prophet explained: “If a person, unfortunately, commits adultery, he can be forgiven by God, if he offers repentance, but a back-biter will not be forgiven until he is forgiven by the person he had spoken ill of behind his back.”

~ Baihaqi