In ayah 83 of Surah Al-Baqarah, we are instructed to speak good. At another place in the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says:
مَّا يَلْفِظُ مِن قَوْلٍ إِلَّا لَدَيْهِ رَقِيبٌ عَتِيدٌ
“Man does not utter any word
except that with him is an observer prepared [to record].” (Qaf 50: 18)
The Prophet ﷺ said that many people will enter Hellfire because of their inability to protect their tongues and chastity. He also said that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala conceals the defects of one who guards his tongue.
A person is known by his speech. His speech distinguishes a learned person from an ignorant person. One’s clothes, cars, accessories do not define his caliber, rather it is the tongue that defines how good of a person he is.
What Should Our Speech Comprise of?
► Speak with a purpose. The Prophet ﷺ said Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala disapproves three things:
– Irrelevant talk [قِيلَ وَقَالَ];
– Persistent questioning [كَثْرَةَ السُّؤَال] and;
– The squandering of one’s wealth [إِضَاعَةَ الْمَال].
Other people should not be the topic of our conversations: what they do, what they ate, where they went, what they wore…should not be our concern. Small minds talk about people while great minds talk about ideas. Check your speech: What do I talk? What interests me? Do I only discuss people and events, or do I also talk about ideas and innovations to improve things?
► Speak the truth and refrain from uttering lies. A believer should always speak the truth and refrain from lying even in jokes. The Prophet ﷺ said that one who always speaks the truth is recorded as the truthful with Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. And he who continually tells lies and intends to lie is recorded as a liar.
► No contradiction between words and actions. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in Surah As-Saf: “O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do? Most hateful it is with Allah that you say that which you do not do.” (61: 2-3) We read a similar ayah in Surah Al-Baqarah about preaching to people but forgetting one’s self.
► Speech should be plain and simple. Avoid uttering superfluous and difficult words. There is no point in speaking difficult and complicated words that people do not understand. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The people I hate the most and who are the farthest from me on the Day of Judgment are those who talk uselessly, and those who put down others, and those who show off when they talk.”
► Good and beneficial speech. Enjoin good and forbid evil. In the Qur’an, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala instructs us to speak words of appropriate kindness (4: 5)and right or true (4: 8). We should not deceive others.
► Speak kindly without harming, hurting or humiliating others. When Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala instructed Musa ‘alayhi salaam to visit Pharaoh, He told him to speak gently or mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear Allah. How do we invite people to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala?
► Keep the age, status and background of your addresses in mind. There should be a difference between how one speaks with their parents, and how they speak to their friends and siblings. Also, there should be a level of respect between one’s children and themselves. Children should not be allowed to talk to their parents as they talk to their friends. Learn the adaab (etiquette).
Give respect to elders, and be kind to the children. Speak at their level. Don’t expect them to understand the mind of a sixty year old when they are only six. Don’t humiliate anyone below you; be it your servants, employees, siblings or children. Give respect to gain respect.
► Keep other’s intellect and personal interests in mind. Once there was a little boy Abu ‘Umair. He had a bird that he named An-Nughair. When the bird died the Prophet ﷺ went to Abu ‘Umair’s house and inquired why he was sad. He (ﷺ) said in a poetic manner: “O Abu ‘Umair, what did Nughair do?” He then placed his hands on Abu ‘Umair’s head and made du’a for him. [Bukhari]
Today, we do not ask children about their health or how they are doing – what to talk of asking about their toys or personal interests.
► Speech should be concise and complete. One must avoid long speeches especially when sitting in a group. He should also give others a chance to speak. The Prophet ﷺ was given the gift of concise speech. We should study his Seerah and learn how he spoke. Abu Darda radhiAllahu ‘anhu said: Exercise justice between your ears and your mouth. The only reason why you were blessed with one mouth and two ears is so you could listen more than you speak.
► Body language. One must be conscious of their body language especially when they are talking. One should not move their hands too much unless you are speaking to a mute person. The Prophet ﷺ would only raise one finger in his sermons.
► Listen carefully. The more attentive you are to what is being said, the better your response will be. Better listening also helps in keeping misunderstandings at bay.
► Be audible. Speak clearly; do not mumble. The Prophet ﷺ would repeat a word thrice.
► Intention. While asking a question both intention and the manner of asking should be correct. Do not ask a question to criticize or insult someone. If you truly desire other’s well-being it will show in your speech.
► Don’t shout.
► Don’t talk too fast or too slow. Let others understand what you are saying. Take appropriate pauses. Do not talk too slow that people feel their time is being wasted.
► Face the person talking to you.
► Keep your facial expressions pleasant.
► Choose your words carefully. Avoid slang, derogatory and hurtful speech. Speak a standard language.
► Do not impose your thoughts on others.
► Avoid humiliation and taunts, backbiting, gossips, and slander. The Prophet ﷺ said the best among you is he from whose tongue and hands other Muslims feel safe.
► Tolerate difference of opinion. It is a trait of a hypocrite that when he quarrels he abuses.
► Do not crush other’s feelings to dominate.
► Do not deceive people with your words. Be clear and honest.
► Talk less about yourself. Do not praise yourself. “So do not claim yourselves to be pure; He is most knowing of who fears Him.” (An-Najm 53: 32)
► Become a serious person. Do not always be looking for fun and jokes.
► Refrain from swearing. Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says, “And make not Allah’s (Name) an excuse in your oaths against your doing good and acting piously, and making peace among mankind. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower (i.e. do not swear much and if you have sworn against doing something good then give an expiation for the oath and do good).” (Al-Baqarah 2:224)
► Speak calmly.
► Stick to the topic. Finish one topic and then move on to the next.
► Do not interrupt others.
► Do not start your conversation with a negative word or disagreement.
► Avoid personal references or differentiating opinions.
The apparent (speech and conduct) will become beautiful
when the hidden (heart) is beautiful.