Language is a great gift from Allah. It makes humans superior to all other creatures. Allah says in the Qur’an:“The Most Gracious Allah has taught us through the Qur’an; He has created man; He has taught him speech.” (Sura 55, verses 1 through 4)
The greater the gift, the greater responsibility we have to Allah. We must show gratitude and we must use the gift of speech for goodness and truth. Islam gives special attention to speech, its style, its etiquette and rules, because the talk that comes from our mouths reveals our level of “hikma” (wisdom), morality and decency. To be able to control our tongues can be very difficult, but it has great rewards from Allah. Abdullah bin Masud says, “By the Being other than whom there is no God, on this earth there is none more deserving of long imprisonment than the tongue.”
Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas says: Five things are more valuable than horses with black-striped legs:
(1) Do not indulge in senseless talk, for I fear that you may commit a sin.
(2) Talk purposefully when there is a reason and occasion for it.
(3) Do not indulge in hot discussions with an intelligent man or with a fool. If he is intelligent, he will be angry with you and will hate you, and if he is a fool and uneducated, he will try to harm you.
(4) In the absence of your brother, speak of him in the same words in which you would like him to speak of you in your absence, and consider him innocent of the things you would like him to consider you innocent of.
(5) Act like a man who thinks he will be rewarded for a good deed and who will be punished for committing a crime.
Muslims can develop these attributes when we keep our tongues in control and are able to keep silent when necessary. The Prophet advised Abu Zar in this way: “Adopt silence. This is a way of causing Satan to run away. It is a support to you in the matter of your deen.” The Prophet has also said: “The faith of a man cannot be straight unless his heart is straight, and his heart cannot be straight unless his tongue becomes straight.”
The first step to achieve this is to avoid any matters that are irrelevant and not to interfere with things for which we are not answerable. The Quran has mentioned this along with salaat and zakaat, which tells us how important it is:
“Successful indeed are the believers who are humble in their prayers, and who shun vain conversation, and who are payers of zakaat.” (Sura 23, verses 1 through 4)
Secondly, when a Muslim must speak, we should say something good and worthwhile, as was commanded to Prophet Musa and the Bani Israel:
“Worship none save Allah, be good to parents and kindred and orphans and those in need; speak aright and kindly to people, establish salat and pay zakat.” (Sura 2 verse 82)
It is interesting to note that this verse again mentions decent conversation along with salaat and zakaat.
Allah warns us in the Qur’an that Satan hopes to create enmity and discord among the believers:
“Say, O Prophet, to my slaves to speak that which is kindly. Verily, the devil sows discord among them. Verily, the devil is for man an open enemy!” (Sura 17 verse 53)
Even with our enemies, we should speak with restraint and not lose our tempers. The Prophet said: “You will not be able to rule over the people through your wealth. But through good appearance and good manners you can win their hearts.”
Allah has commanded us to adopt decent and serious matters of speaking when we discuss matters with the followers of other religions, but allows us to use better techniques of argument with those who are aggressive towards us.
“And argue not with the People of the Book unless it be in a way that is better, save with such of them as do wrong.” (Sura 29, verse 46)
Sometimes, it is difficult to control our anger when faced with an ignorant or foolish person. The following hadith is a beautiful reminder to us: Saeed bin Musayyeb said: “When the Prophet was sitting with his companions, one person used insulting words against Abu Bakr, causing him pain, but Abu Bakr was silent. A second time also he used bitter words against him, and still Abu Bakr was silent. When a third time he hurt him with his tongue, Abu Bakr tried to answer him. The Messenger of Allah got up. Abu Bakr asked him, ‘Are you displeased with me, O Messenger of Allah?’ The Prophet replied, ‘No, but from the heavens an angel came down and he was denying that man’s talk, and when you started to answer that man, the angel went away and the devil sat down. And I cannot sit where the devil is sitting.’”
Thirdly, Muslims should avoid topics of disagreement and debates with our fellow Muslims, in regards to foolish and petty issues. The Prophet has said: “He who has given up controversial discussion on senseless and false matters, for him there will be built a house in the lower section of paradise; and he who has corrected his morals, for him there will be built a house in the upper section of paradise.”
Allah is very displeased with nonsensical talkers who shout at the top of their voices. The Prophet said, “Before Allah the most hated are the quarrelsome debaters.” In another tradition it is stated that, “After receiving guidance no community went astray or deviated from the path it was following, except when debaters turned them away from it.”
Another beautiful hadith teaches us a great deal about the condition of the ‘ummah today and how we should deal with each other in matters of the deen: A number of companions of the Prophet have reported that once they were discussing and debating some religious point, when the Prophet arrived, more angry than he had ever been seen before. He admonished them, saying, “Stay put, O community of Muhammad! Nations before you were destroyed by this only. Give up this debating. The portion of good is very little in it. Give up this discussion and argumentation, for this is not a quality of a Muslim. Give up this debating, because on the Day of Resurrection there will be none to intercede for the debater. Wash off your hands of this wicked habit, for in paradise I will lead only to three kinds of houses, it lower floor, middle floor and the upper floor, which will be for that man who has given up debating with good intentions. Keep away from this bad habit because after idolatry, the first thing that my Lord has forbidden is this very debating.”