By Imaam ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdisee [d.620H]
Flaws Pertaining to the Tongue:
There are various flaws which are related to the tongue and for which man finds special inclination in his heart towards stimulated by his human temperament. Silence is the only way with which man can escape from or get rid of such flaws. With this in mind it may be better to speak first about the virtue of silence before dealing with the flaws pertaining to the tongue.
First of all, it should be known that silence comprehends mans determination and rids his mind of wasteful thoughts.
It was reported that the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“Whoever can guarantee [the chastity of] what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs [his tongue and his private parts], I guarantee Paradise for him.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree]
Also, in the well known hadeeth reported on the authority of Mu’adh ibn Jabal [radee Allaahu ‘anhu], the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain this!” Mu’adh said: “O Messenger of Allaah, will what we say be held against us?” He [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said: “May your mother be bereaved of you, Mu’adh! Is there anything that topples people on their faces – or he said on their noses – into Hell-fire other than the jests of their tongues?” [Reported by at-Tirmidhee]
The noble companion, ‘Abdullaah ibn Mas’ood said: “There is nothing that is in more need of imprisonment than my tongue.”
And Abu ad-Darda’ said: “Be just to your ears as [you are] to your tongue. You have been provided with two ears and [only] one tongue so that you may hear more than you speak.”
Yunus ibn Ubayd said: “I have never seen anyone mindful of his tongue except that it had a good effect on the rest of his deeds and actions.”
Flaws Pertaining to Speech:
The first flaw: speaking about meaningless and insignificant matters.
Whoever realises the true value of his time and that it is his capital in life does not spend it in useless matters. This is because such recognition prevents his tongue from indulging into meaningless speeches. The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] was reported to have said:
“Part of someone’s being a good Muslim is his leaving alone that which does not concern him.” [Reported by at-Tirmidhee]
The second flaw: indulging into falsehood, by speaking about acts and things reflecting disobedience to Allaah, the Almighty, such as places where intoxicants are taken and where indecent acts are committed.
There are many forms of disobedience to Allaah. It was reported on the authority of Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“A servant [of Allaah] may say a word because of which he may fall into the Fire [a distance that is] more than what is between the east and the west.”
An example of such a form of words may be a person’s hot argumentation that he launches against some other person in order to prove that he is right and the other is wrong; this may stimulate and reflect pride and showing off. In order to remedy this flaw, the Muslim should suppress the “pride” that drives him to show his superiority over the others.
The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“The most hated person in the sight of Allaah, is the most quarrelsome one.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree]
This refers to quarrel that is originally stimulated for the sake of falsehood or out of ignorance. It is worth noting that even a person who has some right and seeks to get it should avoid arguing and quarrelling as much as he can, as they normally cause wrath, animosity, and hatred.
The third flaw: speaking harshly.
However, this does not include manners of speech and expressions that speakers use when teaching, advising and admonishing people without exaggeration or indulging into strange or awkward words. This is because such manners, words, and expressions are used in this connection for addressing the hearts and feelings of the audience directly, so that they may be affected positively by what is being said.
The fourth flaw: insulting and uttering indecent words.
A person is afflicted with this flaw when he expresses embarrassing matters with explicit words and phrases, especially expressions related to sexual intercourse and the like thereof. Pious and righteous people often avoid such expressions and get to the point concerned indirectly.
The fifth flaw: extravagant joking.
There is no harm, however, if a man jokes politely saying only the truth. The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] would joke but would never lie when joking.
As far as the Prophet’s [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] joking was concerned, everyone should know three facts:
1. That it was handled through true statements.
2. That he used it mostly with women and kids, as well as men who needed a special kind of discipline through this way.
3. And that the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] used it rarely.
The sixth flaw: mockery and ridicule.
A person is afflicted with this flaw when he draws people’s attention to the vices and shortcomings of someone by means of mockery and ridicule. This may be done through imitation, gestures or hinting. Undoubtedly, Islam forbids and condemns such acts.
The seventh flaw: revealing secrets, breaking promises and oaths and lying.
This is entirely forbidden, except in cases where mans intention is directed towards some good goal.
As long as they are needed, indirect speech and gestures are recommended as better ways than direct and explicit speech. It was said that:
“Indirect speech [and gestures] helps man to avoid lying.”
If, however, one is not obliged to use indirect speech, it becomes detestable, since it resembles lying.
The eighth flaw: backbiting.
Backbiting is forbidden in the Glorious Qur’aan where a person who commits it is given the similitude of a person who eats the flesh of his dead brother. It is also condemned in the Sunnah. We read in a Prophetic hadeeth:
“Verily, your blood [i.e. life], your property, and your honour are secure from violation [and sacred] among you…” [Reported by Muslim]
And he [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“Do not annoy the Muslims nor seek out their faults, for he who seeks out the faults of his fellow Muslim will have his faults sought out by Allaah, and when Allaah seeks out someone’s faults, He exposes them, even if he is in the interior of his house.” [Reported by at-Tirmidhee]
Backbiting is that a Muslim mentions his Muslim brother in a manner that he dislikes, whether by referring to a defect in his body, such as shortness or a squint; or in his lineage, as to say, for example, that his father is immoral or indecent; or in his morality, as to say, for instance, that he is dirty.
The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] was asked about backbiting, he answered:
“To mention your brother in a manner which he dislikes.” Then he was asked: “What if my brother actually has [this failing] that I made a mention of?” The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said: “If [that failing] is actually found in your brother, you have in fact backbitten him, and if that is not in him it is a slander…” [Reported by Muslim]
Whoever listens to backbiting is regarded as a participant therein unless he denies it either with his tongue, or with his heart if he fears to do so in public; he may also leave the place where it is being committed or turn the speech being circulated into another subject. In all situations, he must deny backbiting. This is, of course, part of the Muslim’s duties towards his fellow Muslim brothers.
What are the causes and what are the remedies for backbiting?
There are many things that lead to backbiting, including the following:
1. Alleviation of or a response to one’s anger: A person may be led by his anger with another person to backbite him.
2. Compliance with one’s friends: By means of compliment, a person may share in his friends backbiting of others, thinking that this is a requisite of good social relations or that they may deny his act if he does not do so.
3. Upgrading one’s position by degrading that of another person: For example, a person may say that so-and-so is ignorant or narrow-minded, aiming to show that he is knowledgeable and broad-minded and, consequently, better than him.
4. Joking and jesting: A person may backbite some people just for the sake of making some others laugh; this even represents a means of livelihood for some people.
As far as the remedy for backbiting is concerned, the backbiter should know that, by backbiting people, he subjects himself to the wrath and punishment of Allaah, the Almighty, and that his good deeds will be paid to those whom he backbites, and if he has no good deeds their evil deeds will be loaded onto him. It is a very effective remedy for any backbiter to remember and comprehend these facts.
In addition to this, whenever a person is about to backbite someone, he may think about his own shortcomings and how to rectify himself. In this way, he may feel ashamed of himself when realising that he himself has defects that others can see. Even if a backbiter thinks that he has no defects, he may show gratitude to Allaah for His uncountable favours and bounties by not defiling himself by backbiting others, which is one of the ugliest of flaws.
A person should remedy the sin of backbiting by overpowering the cause or causes leading to it. So, if he knows that he backbites someone because he is, for example, angry with him, he should suppress his anger, and so on.
Backbiting may be committed by the heart, and this is what may be called: “thinking ill of the others.” A Muslim should not think ill of another Muslim unless he explicitly knows about him some evil thing that cannot be interpreted as meaning otherwise, especially when he knows it through a trustful, faithful Muslim.
In Islamic law, there are certain matters that drive away the sin of backbiting:
Firstly: complaining about oppression or injustice.
It is lawful for an oppressed or wronged person to mention the evil things committed against him by one who has oppressed or wronged him, in the presence of someone who is supposed to bring him his right back.
Secondly: seeking the help of others for changing something wrong and bringing an oppressor back to the way of righteousness.
Thirdly: asking for a religious ruling regarding a certain matter.
It is recommendable for the person who wants to do so to use hints or indirect references when asking a Muslim scholar about his legal opinion concerning “someone” who has wronged him.
Fourthly: warning a Muslim against some evil.
One, for example, is permitted to warn a pious person against some wicked or immoral person whom he visits frequently without knowing about his wickedness or immorality. This is also recommendable in consultation regarding matters such as marriage and entrusting money. However, if the consulted person here has to warn against some evil, he must do so out of good advice, and not out of spreading gossip and slander.
Fifthly: if a person is known with a special title, it is not an act of backbiting to call him as such. But, if he can be recognised with another means, it is preferable to use this means instead of calling him with such titles.
Sixthly: if a person commits immoral and indecent acts in public and does not feel shy of doing so, it is not an act of backbiting to tell the others about these acts.
A backbiter commits two sins: one is a violation of Allaah’s right, as he has committed something that Allaah has forbidden him to do; the expiation for this sin is repentance and regret. The other sin is committed against the honour of the backbitten person; if the latter comes to know about the backbiter’s act against him, he should ask him for forgiveness. The Messenger of Allaah [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“Whoever has wronged his brother with regards his wealth or honour, should ask for his pardon [before his death], before he pays for it [in the Hereafter] when he will have neither a Dinar nor a Dirham. [He should secure pardon in this life] before some of his good deeds are taken and paid to this [his brother], or [if he has no good deeds] some of the bad deeds of this [his brother] are taken to be loaded on him.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim]
If, however, the backbitten person does not know about the backbiter’s act against him, the latter should keep asking Allaah to forgive him [the backbitten person], so that he may not know about it and thus become angry with him [and that he himself may forgive him if he is to know about it].
The ninth flaw: tale-carrying.
It was reported that the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“A tale-carrier will not enter Paradise.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim]
Tale-carrying is generally committed when a person tells someone about the evil speech said about him by someone else, but it is also connected to the revelation of anything that is disliked to be revealed, be it a saying or a deed.
Whoever receives a tale-carrier, someone who tells him that someone else has said such-and-such words against him, has to do six things:
1. Not to believe the person who has told him, because a tale-carrier is an immoral person whose testimony is to be rejected.
2. To advice him [the tale-carrier] not do so again.
3. To hate him [for this action] for the sake of Allaah, because Allaah hates him,
4. Not to think ill of his fellow Muslim brother who has been accused of saying those evil words about him.
5.Not let this evil claim drive him to spy on his brother to investigate the truth, for Allaah, the Almighty, commands: “…and spy not on each other…” [Al-Hujurat 49:12].
6. And not to do himself that which he has forbidden the tale-carrier to do, what is meant is not to tell others about that which the tale-carrier has told him.
It was reported that once Suleiman ibn ‘Abdul-Maalik said to a man: “I have been told that you said such-and-such evil words about me.” The man assured him that he did not say. Suleiman commented: “But the person who has told me is truthful.” “A tale carrier cannot be truthful”, said the man. “You have told the truth! You can leave peacefully”, said Suleiman.
Yahya ibn Abee Kathir said: “A tale carrier ruins in an hour what a magician cannot ruin in a whole month.”
The tenth flaw: the speech transformed by a double-faced person among disputants.
Such a person tells each party what he has heard from the other party against them, adding to this speech what conforms with the party concerned and promising that he would help them. Such a person is the worst amongst people as the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“The worst amongst the people is the two-faced one; he comes to some people with one face and to others with another face.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim]
The eleventh flaw: praising.
Praising may produce a number of flaws, some of which are connected to the one who praises and others are related to the one being praised.
A person who praises another person may say things which may not be true. He may exaggerate in his praising so much that he may lie, or he may praise someone who is worth dispraising.
As for the praised person, he may be negatively affected by this praise and may turn into a person full of pride and as a result of this he becomes subject to destruction. That is why the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said to a man when he heard him praising another:
“Woe to you! You have cut off your fellow’s neck [i.e. the praised one]…” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim]
When a person is praised he may become self-admired and think that he has perfectly carried out what is required of him do and as a result starts to adhere to idleness. That is why the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said to the man: “…You have cut off your fellow’s neck…”
If praising is free from these flaws, then there is no harm because the Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] praised Abu Bakr and ‘Umar [radee Allaahu ‘anhum] and other Companions [radee Allaahu ‘anhum].
The person who is praised should not let praising lead him to pride, arrogance, or inactivity. The only way to save himself from these flaws is to remember what he really is and that if the one who has praised him were to know about him what he himself knows, he would never praise him.
The twelfth flaw: mistaking the content of words regarding religious matters, especially those connected to Allaah, the Almighty.
Only eloquent scholars can use such words properly, so whoever is not eloquent and knowledgeable enough to do so is not free from committing mistakes in this regard.
By contemplating what we have said so far about the flaws pertaining to the tongue, it becomes clear that the more man speaks, the more he is subject to fall into these flaws. So it may be true that silence is much better than speaking on many occasions.
Before moving to another subject, we may conclude this subject by highlighting the fact that among the flaws which are widespread among the common people is asking [so much] about the Attributes of Allaah, the Almighty. It should be realised that Satan may whisper to a common person that by indulging into matters that concern scholars he becomes a scholar and one of the people of superiority. Satan may also keep making this “indulging” likeable in his eyes until he says words that lead him to disbelief whole he does not perceive it. The Prophet [sall-Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam] said:
“People will not stop asking questions until they say: ‘This is Allaah, the Creator of everything, then who created Allaah?’.” [Reported by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim]
What the common people are entitled to do in this regard is to avoid indulging into such serious matter, to believe in them as they are, to accept what is mentioned in the Qur’aan and the Sunnah thereabout, and to occupy themselves with worshipping Allaah as they are commanded.