Counsel on the Tongue

As-salaamu Alaykum

Jazakallah khair. May Allah forgive us all!

Your email was very thoughtful, and I appreciate your gesture. We all have faults, and our faith requires us to address and change ourselves to become beacons for this beautiful deen. I know I have too many faults to enumerate, but life is about changing our core habits and traits to come closer to Allah.

In the spirit of forgiveness, I feel I should also share some advice. The believer is the mirror of their muslim brother / sister, and we look at mirrors to discover our blemishes and faults. The key advice I would like to offer is to be mindful of the tongue and what it speaks. The prophet ﷺ warned about its dangers in many hadith:

  • Abu Huraira narrates that the Messenger of God (ﷺ) said, “Verily a person utters a word, that he deems harmless, but it results in his falling into the depths of the Hell fire.” [Tirmidhi; Ibn Majah]
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  • Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” [Muslim].
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  • Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): “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].
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  • Sahl bin Sa’d (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard what is between his jaws and what is between his legs, I shall guarantee him Jannah.” [Al-Bukhari].

In the age of social media, people have become used to simply expressing their thoughts out loud without thinking about the consequences. In fact, people praise others for being up front and speaking their mind. From my reading of the sunnah and the examples of my teachers, it is more proper to be mindful of everything that is said, verbally and non-verbally. The prophet (ﷺ) would be delicate with how he spoke to people and make them feel like they were the most beloved person to him. As we see in the hadith of Amr ibn Al-Aas, every companion was left with the impression that they were the most beloved to the Prophet (ﷺ). When He (ﷺ) saw something which displeased him, he would advise in the best of manners, careful not to upset the person. Look at how the prophet (ﷺ) dealt with the young man who came requesting permission to fornicate. He welcomed him to the gathering when others shunned him, embraced him, rationalised the argument with him, hugged him and prayed for him. His interaction with him was so great that there wasn’t a single man in that gathering who didn’t wish he was that man!

Diplomacy with our words and actions is a prophetic sunnah. We should strive to find the delicate balance of knowing what to say and how. Often, publicly chastising a person often has almost no benefit as people will feel belittled and small. It is far better and wiser to first teach the person through one’s own actions, manifesting to them the person they should be. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight – contrary to what most people think. It is far better to build a rapport with a person, gain their trust and friendship, demonstrate to them how they should act and then gently remind them with the passage of time. A friend is in a much better position to advise than a stranger, and implicit change is the most effective and long lasting. Of course, this is a rule of thumb and not a strict method. Different circumstances will dictate different protocols. You are probably going to shout at a child who is about to run into a fire rather than gently warning them. The wisdom of what to do and when will come from experience, so consult those who have it and always ask Allah for his aide.

The key is to have the other person’s best interests at heart. A common phrase you will here is to imagine yourself in their shoes! This is one of the most misunderstood practices of today. The issue was never about how you would react, it is about how they will! The very fact you wish to advise them already tells us that you view things differently to how they do. One needs to understand how they would like to be addressed, what their background and upbringing is and how they viewed the action they did. Its not about how you would like to be advised; its about how they would, and if your motivation for advising them is genuinely their interests, then you should consider their perspective!

So, apologies for the long email 🙂 This is advise for us both as each of us will struggle in this respect. Diplomacy in our words and being careful with what and how we say things is the essence of our faith. That is because the prophet (ﷺ) declared “I was sent to perfect good character.” [Sahih, Adab Al-Mufrad], and manners only demonstrate themselves when we interact with one another.

Jazakallah khair! Please pray and forgive this poor servant.

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