The Islamic Etiquettes of Talking in Company
Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, has given precise instructions concerning things one should be careful about in conversation and while cutting a joke or when sneezing or yawning. The substance of these teachings is that a person conducted himself at such a time and during these natural acts with grace and dignity, and, at the same time, made them an occasion for remembering God, and paying attention to His commandments.
(1) Amr b. al-Aas narrates that, one day, as a person stood up, (in his presence), and spoke, (by way of a sermon), and prolonged it much, the Apostle of God remarked: “It would have been better if he had made it short.” Amr b. al-Aas goes on to relate that, “I have heard the Apostle of God say: ‘I think it fitting (or have been commanded by God) to be concise in speech for it is better to be brief and to the point’.” – Abu Dawood
(2) Bilal b. Haris narrated to us, saying that the Apostle of God said: “Sometimes, a person lets fall a good and virtuous thing from his lips whose true worth is not known even to him, but upon that very speech the Lord decides to favour the bondsman with presence before Himself. On the other hand, sometimes, a person lets fall a bad and vicious thing from his lips, the full range of the wickedness of which is not known even to him, but upon that very speech the Lord decides to send down His wrath upon Him until the Day of Last Judgement.”
(A similar narrative has been quoted by Imam Malik in Muwatta, Imam Tirmizi in Jama’i, and Ibn-i-Maja in his Sunan)
The purport of the above Tradition is that a person should not forget God and sequel of the Hereafter while speaking. The words he utters can make him worthy of the good pleasure of the Lord, and, also, deprive him of His beneficence and take him to Hell.
(3) Narrates Abu Bakr that once a person praised someone in the presence of the Apostle of God (and did not exercise enough care or restraint in it), upon which the Apostle of God remarked: “You have cut off the neck of your brother, i.e., done something that may be his ruin, by praising him like that.” The Prophet said it thrice. (After it), (he observed): “Should anyone of you find it necessary to praise (a brother), and regard him worthy of it he ought to say: ‘I think so of such-and-such a brother (and this is my opinion of him), and the reckoning is with Allah. (He is aware of all things).’ He should refrain from issuing a command to God concerning the piety and purity of anyone. (He must not, for instance, say about anyone that he is, definitely, holy and virtuous in the sight of Allah for it would amount to issuing an order to God which is most unworthy of a bondsman).” – Bukhari & Muslim
(4) It is related by Miqdad bin al-Aswad that the Apostle of God said: “When you see the ‘praisers’ i.e., those who are too lavish in praise, throw dust at their faces.” – Muslim
In it, ‘Praisers’ has, probably been, used for flatterers, sycophants and adulators who shower praises for personal gain or any other unworthy purpose. It is for such people that the holy Prophet has said that when we see anyone being extravagant in praise and portraying a person too favourably we should throw dust at his face.
Commentators have offered various explanations of it. Some believe that dust should, actually, be thrown at the faces of the ‘praisers’ as an expression of dislike while others hold that they should not be patronized or treated condescendingly, and to throw dust has been used here as an idiom denoting ‘discouragement’ or ‘turning away’. Yet others think that such ‘praisers’ ought to be told that dust may be in their mouths which is the same as throwing dust at their faces.
The narrator, Miqdad b. Aswad, tells that once, in his presence, a person praised Uthman b. Affan before him upon which Uthman, acting upon the above Tradition, picked up dust from the ground and threw it at his face. Similar incidents are related concerning latter-day religious and spiritual leaders as well.
It needs, however, be remembered that if with a good intention or out of a religious consideration, a genuine compliment is paid to anyone, at his face or behind his back, and there is, also, no likelihood of his beginning to overrate himself, it is not forbidden. On the contrary, the giver of such a praise will, Insha Allah, be deserving of Divine reward, in accordance with the soundness of his intention. There are instances of the holy Prophet commending the merits of the Companions and the Companions commending the merits of brother-Companions. These instances fall within the same category of praise.