MANNERS OF SPEAKING ADVISED BY THE HOLY QUR’ĀN

The Holy Qur’ān, which has the most powerful ways of expression, requires from us to imitate it as much as possible. In order to express our purpose in the finest way, a soothing and eloquent manner of speech is a requirement for any speaker; because goodness, elegance, and kindness in Islam need to be presented through the fineness of our words.

The wisdom and secrets of the Qur’ān are very deep like the oceans. However everybody benefits from it, in as much as the abilities of their hearts allow them to. If someone’s heart is as small as the thimble of a tailor, his share from this endless ocean will be no larger and no greater than the size of his heart. 

Faith means sincere and affectionate devotion to Allah the Almighty. The most valuable asset of a believer in his path to union with Allah the Almighty is his love. However, love alone that is only spoken but not reaching its way into the heart is not enough. The perfect level of love can be achieved through observing good manners.

Good manners are like the nice fragrance of a rose, which soothes the spirit. This fragrance needs to infuse into the depths of a believer’s heart and needs to be felt in every aspect of one’s life. When good manners become the dominant quality of a person’s behaviors, this also means the manifestation of achieving perfection in his faith.

According to Jalal al-Dīn al-Rūmī’s words:

“My reason asked my heart: what is faith? And my heart bent down to the ear of my reason and said: Faith is good manners.”

Therefore all behaviors and acts of the friends of Allah are teachings of elegance and good manners. Our Lord, too, invites us to the manners of servitude according to the principles stated in the Qur’ān.

“Speaking” comes at the top of the list of things that must be shaped by good manners. Speaking is like a polished mirror, which reflects someone’s state of heart and reason; and level of faith and morality. Like the famous proverb says “a person is hidden under his tongue.” Hence the speech of someone who is elegant and has a fine spirit will be elegant and fine. The following is the best example of this:

Qubās b. ‘Ushaym (r.a) said that:

“I and the Prophet (pbuh) were born in the year of the elephant.”

‘Uthmān b. Affān (r.a) told him:

“Which one of you is bigger (in age), you or the Prophet (pbuh)?” He gave the following exemplary answer:

“The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is much bigger than me. I am only earlier than him in respect to getting into this world…” (Tirmidhī, Manāqib, 2/3619)

This is an example of the spiritual fineness of the generation of the companions reflected in their speech. We should think about what kind of discipline and education indoctrinated them to use such elegant, courteous and fine language.

All beings in the universe remember and repeat the Divine names according to their special way of speaking. The most perfect manner of speech has been bestowed upon mankind. This is stated in the Holy Qur’ān as follows:

“The Beneficent Allah, Taught the Quran. He created man, Taught him the mode of expression.”(55; 1-4)

There are very nice and wise points in the above statement of Our Lord. We should contemplate upon why Our Lord taught us the Qur’ān and right after that bestowed upon us the ability to express ourselves.

First of all, our Lord requires from His servants to have a mode of expression which is disciplined by the principles of the Qur’ān. This is why Qur’ānic education comes first. On the other hand, one of the significant characteristics of the Qur’ān is its eloquence and rhetoric, or its unique literary style. While literary works written by human beings bore the reader after some repetition, the more we recite the Qur’ān the more we get pleasure from reciting it.

It is stated in the Qur’ān:

“Allah has revealed the fairest of statements, (in the form of) a Scripture consistent, (wherein promises of reward are) paired (with threats of punishment) …”(Zumer, 39; 23)

History has it that when the Arab poets, who got the biggest prizes at the literature fairs of the Arabian Peninsula, heard the unique rhetorical and eloquent style of the Qur’ān, they had to take their poems off the walls of the Kaaba.

Therefore Muslims who are the addressee of the miraculous expression of the Qur’ān should try to adorn themselves with its ethical principles and try to understand its rhetorical beauties. In other words the Holy Qur’ān, which reflects the most powerful style of expression, require from us such a beautiful crystallized language. In order to express our purpose in the finest way, soothing and eloquent speech is a requirement for a speaker; because goodness, elegance, and kindness of Islam need to be presented through fineness of our words.

TO BE ACCUSTOMED BY THE LANGUAGE OF MERCY OF THE QUR’ĀN

The wisdom and secrets of the Qur’ān are as deep as an ocean. However, everybody benefits from it, in as much as their hearts let them. If someone’s heart is as small as the thimble of a tailor, his share from this endless ocean will be as big as his heart. All Muslims, the high and the low, sit before the same reading desk and read the Qur’ān; however everybody benefits from it to the extent that their hearts allow them to. The meanings of the verses of the Qur’ān reveal themselves to the extent of the closeness of the servant to Allah the Almighty.

Therefore we should ask ourselves whether our interest and curiosity towards the Qur’ān, which is in a way a letter sent from our Creator to us, is beyond comparison with our interest to the letters sent by human beings. How much do we try to read and understand its wisdom? For example, do we go and ask the wise when we do not understand something from it? In short do we pay sufficient attention to it?

We may get acquainted to the language of mercy in the Qur’ān as soon as we give satisfactory answers to the above mentioned questions.

Let’s think about how much time and effort we spend to learn a foreign language. Especially in modern times, we live in a global world. This is why we attend language courses, spend huge amounts of money and time to learn a foreign language. We even go and live among the native speakers of that language. This has become a big commercial sector of recent time.

Of course learning another language is a wonderful thing, but the Creator of all languages asks from us first to learn “the language of the Holy Qur’ān.” This is not just learning Arabic, but learning how to understand the Qur’ānic language of mercy. And the path to understanding the Qur’ān goes through disciplining our speech through the warnings that the Qur’ān has laid out for us, and then beautifying it through Divine teachings.

Most of the problems in our relationship with others usually originate from misunderstandings and misuse of the language; because language can be a key to both goodness and evil. This is why we should be very careful not to turn our tongues into thorns stuck into other people’s hearts. In fact it is stated in a proverb that “wounds of a sword get healed, but wounded feelings caused by harsh words do not get healed.”

Therefore we should think twice and calculate what will be the results before saying something. Because speaking is like throwing a rock. We should be careful where the rock will land.

The Messenger of Allah points out this fact and says that:

“Do not say something for which you have to apologize…”(Ibn Mājah, Zuhd, 15)

Speaking is like shooting arrows, when an arrow leave the bow it is impossible to return it back, similarly, the words are impossible to be taken back once they are uttered. While we have the control over our words before we speak, they take over the control after we utter them. We can always speak the words that we haven’t spoken yet; however we cannot take back the works already spoken and we may have to defend them.

Mature believers first think about if their words will be beneficial, then if their words will cause problems for themselves or for the addressee, they prefer silence. They are also careful about which words they will say and how they will say them.

How nicely Abū Bakr (r.a) warns us in this regard:

“Think well about what you will say, to whom you will say and when you will say…”

A believer must have intuition and adjust his words according to the person whom he speaks; because words which are good for some people might hurt others. This is why first the psychological state of the listener must be determined and before saying something, two three steps ahead must be calculated. In other words, we should be careful not to say something first which we need to say at the end. People trust and pay attention to such mature and intuitive believers.

This is why the Prophet (pbuh) would tell people the issues which they will be interested and talk to them according to the level of their comprehension. He would not use the same language for a bedouin and a competent companion. He (pbuh) would say simple facts to Bedouins whereas he would state deep spiritual realties to the mature companions.

Once when ‘Omar (r.a) witnessed a conversation between the Prophet (pbuh) and Abū Bakr (r.a), even though he was one of the most knowledgeable and wise companions, he had to admit that:

“I was like someone who does not know Arabic. I did not understand a single word from their conversation.”

This is why the Prophet (pbuh) warned Ibn ‘Abbas:

“O Ibn ‘Abbās! Do not speak to people with language they cannot understand; because if you do that, it may lead them to mischief.”(Daylamī, V, 359)

Rumī advises in this regard that:

“Do not sell mirrors in the bazaar of the blind; and do not recite gazelles in the bazaar of the deaf.”

One day the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was riding his camel and his friends were walking in front of him. Mu’adh b. Jabal (r.a) asked him:

“O Messenger of Allah! Would you mind if I come close to you?”

When the Prophet let him come closer, Mu’adh asked again:

“O Messenger of Allah! May my father and mother be sacrificed for you. My wish from Allah the Almighty is to take our lives before taking yours. But in case Allah takes your life before us What kind of worship do you advice us to perform after you?”

Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) did not answer this question. Mu’adh (r.a) asked again:

“Should we fight in the path of Allah the Almighty?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

“Fighting for the sake of Allah is a nice thing to do, but there are better deeds to do.”

Mu’adh asked that:

“Do you mean fasting or giving charity?”

“Fasting and giving charity are also good deeds.”

Mu’adh counted all the good deeds he could think off., and every time Allah’s Apostle said:

“There are better deeds to do.” Finally when Mu’adh (r.a) asked:

“May my father and mother be sacrificed for you. Tell me, O Messenger of Allah, What is a better deed?” He pointed to his mouth and said:

“To stay silent If it is not going to tell something nice.”

Mu’adh (r.a) asked:

“Are we going to be questioned for what we talked?”

The Messenger of Allah touched Mu’adh’s knee and told him:

“May Allah reward you with goodness O Mu’adh! What else pushes human beings into Hell face down? He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good or remain silent. Speak good and gain reward; reach peace and tranquility by not speaking hurtful words.”(Hakim, IV, 319/7774)

Therefore a believer should never forget that his words are constantly recorded by Divine cameras. In fact it is stated in a verse:

“He utters not a word but there is by him a watcher ready (to note it).” (50; 18)

Even if we do not get questioned for our words in this world, we will certainly be questioned about them in the Hereafter. This is why we should seriously be careful about our words just like we are careful about what we eat. Maybe because of this Holy Qur’ān gives much importance to manners of speaking in other words how to talk or not to talk.

WHAT KIND OF LANGUAGE DOES THE QUR’AN EXPECT FROM US TO USE?

First of all, the Qur’ān invites us to use an eloquent and proper language. It orders people to say “Qawl-i Hasan[1] or the best words.

It also orders us not to say any word out of contempt to our parents but rather say ÞóæúáÇðßóÑöíãÇð (qawlan karīmā)[2] in other words it wants us to speak to them with kind and gracious words, qawlan, literally meaning kind and gracious, and karima, meaning words.

The Qur’ān then orders us to speak unto the poor, if we cannot find anything to give them, (qawlan maysūrā)[3], or comforting, soothing, and conciliatory words.

It reminds us that kind words (qawlun ma’rūfun)[4] with forgiveness is better than giving almsgiving to the poor followed by words taunting and hurting their feelings.

The Qur’ān tells us to use kind and nice words (qawlan ma’rūfā)[5] to the orphans, needy, and close relatives.

 Then it tells us to use proper, righteous, and appropriate words (qawlan ma’rūfā)[6] to those who have spiritual diseases in their hearts, in order to prevent misinterpretations, mischief, or imputation.

In order to soften the hearts of the oppressors, the Qur’ān has ordered us to speak to them using gentle words (qawlan layyinā)[7]. It reminds us that harsh and rude words leave negative effects on the addressee. This is why it advises us to use a language that is heralding and loving, not provoking hate.

Again in conveying the message of Islam, the Qur’ān tells us to use (qawlan balīghā) or plain and effectual words, which will influence the addressees’ hearts. In order to achieve this, our words should come from the depths of our heart; otherwise, words coming just from our tongues would only go in one ear and out the other. The Qur’ān warns us that the life span of these kinds of words will be very short.

To choose our words from effectual and kind ones not from ordinary ones is another Divine command. In this respect, it is stated in the Qur’ān that:

“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner…”(16; 125)

Souls are passionately in love with wisdom. Wise words are the sustenance of the soul. ‘Ali (r.a) says that:

“Relax your soul with wise and witty words and behavior; because just like your body, your soul gets tired, too.”

In other words a believer’s tongue must be a river of wisdom which presents spiritual and esthetic beauties of Divine realities.

Again the Holy Qur’ān commands us to be just and righteous, and to speak  (qawlan sadīdā)[8] or the truth if we would like to be treated justly and righteously, and forgiven by Allah the Almighty.

In fact speaking the truth and not cheating anybody is an essential condition for being a Muslim. A believer should always tell the truth even if it does harm to him. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) never told a lie; not even when he made jokes. The following incident is a perfect example, which shows the finesse of his heart.

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Amir:

My mother called me one day when the Apostle of Allah (pbuh) was sitting in our house.She said:

“Come here and I shall give you something.”The Apostle of Allah (pbuh) asked her:

“What did you intend to give him?”

She replied: “I intended to give him some dates.”

The Apostle of Allah (pbuh) said:

“If you were not to give him anything, a lie would be recorded against you.”(Abū Dawūd, Kitāb al-Adab, 80/4991; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, III, 447)

Therefore, the Holy Qur’ān, our Divine guide, invites us, the believers, in several verses to use proper, kind, and gentle language and warns us about using their opposite.

WHAT KIND OF LANGUAGE DOES THE QUR’ĀN PROHIBIT?

The Qur’ān informs us that the false statements of polytheists and unbelievers are the most dreadful sayings,[9] empty statements,[10] and discordant doctrines.[11] Islam prohibits all kinds of false words,[12] such as attributing partners to Allah the Almighty, disbelief, and hypocrisy. And the Qur’ān’s threat for one of these lies, i.e. perjury, is really great.

Allah the Almighty prohibits the public utterance of harsh speech[13] and openly revealing bad deeds except under special situations like in front of a judge in order to protect the rights of the oppressed. Because revealing and talking about bad deeds causes them to be known and therefore can spread throughout the society. Impudence and indecent talk is also like revealing bad actions. It is stated in a prophetic saying:

“Filthy talks are a part from hypocrisy.”(Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Birr wa al-Ṣila, 80)

We should also be careful not to let our tongues become accustomed to using foul language. The following story explains this nicely.

One day Jesus (pbuh) came across a pig on his way. He told the pig: “Let us pass in peace” His friends asked:

“Sir, are you talking to this pig?”

“I fear lest I accustom my tongue to evil speech.” (He means that even addressing to an animal, he did not want to use the impolite expression of “pig”.) (Mālik, Muwaṭṭā, Kalām, 4)

Repeating the same expressions, be it necessary or not, is a weakness of speech. If this expression is a rude and inappropriate one, it becomes a much greater problem. Such a language hurts the righteous people and it is not appropriate for believers. In fact, it is mentioned in a hadith:

“O ‘Aisha! Have you ever seen me speaking a bad and dirty language? (Remember that) the worst people in Allah’s sight on the Day of Resurrection will be those whom the people stay away for their bad and dirty language.”(Bukharī, Kitāb al-Adab, 48)

Again the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) warned his followers to use rude and dirty language and advised them to choose polite and elegant words in order to express the same meaning.

The Qur’ān also prohibits using flowery[14] and exaggerated expressions in order to deceive people. A believer should pay attention to using a language that can be easily understood. It should not be forgotten that the goal of speaking is to express clearly whatever the speaker’s intention is. Decorating the speech with unnecessary words and pretending to be a wise person damages the speaker’s prestige and reliability in the eyes of the addressees. On one occasion the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) warned his companions about that these kinds of talks attract Divine anger and said that:

“On the Day of resurrection Allah will not accept repentance or ransom from him who learns excellence of speech and prolongs his speech unnecessarily to captivate thereby the hearts of people.”(Abū Dawūd, Kitāb al-Adab, 86/5006)

This is why it is necessary for us to express ourselves briefly and in a way that can be easily understood. Our words must be clear, plain and fluent. As it is stated by Jalal al-Dīn Rumī:

“Only those who cannot express their intentions prolong their speeches.”

Extending the speech, and saying the same thing again and again bores the listeners. Such talks also mean treating the listeners as uncomprehending people.

In order to be a good speaker, one first needs to learn how to be a good listener. Allah the Almighty has bestowed upon human beings two ears and one tongue for they should listen more and talk less. Unnecessary talk causes someone to lose people’s grace. One should also avoid wasting his time extending one’s speech.

Imām Awzaī (d. 157 AH) says:

“If Allah wills to harm a community, He opens the gate of redundant arguments for them and prevents them from performing good deeds.”

This is why unnecessary and empty talks are considered as waste of time. Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) says that:

“People’s talk is not for them but against them, except the talks for commanding right and forbidding evil.” (Ibn Majah, Fitan, 64)

“O afsa! Abstain from too much talk. If talk is not for remembering Allah’s names, then it kills the heart. Say Allah’s attributes as much as you can for it revives the heart.” (‘Ali al-Muṭṭakī, no: 1896)

“…Talking about good is better than silence; and silence is better than talking evil.”(Ḥākim, III, 343; Bayhakī, Shuab, 256/4993)

Therefore we should be very careful where, when, and how much we need to talk. Sheikh Sādī Shirazī says that:

“Two things show weakness of intelligence: Silence when talk is needed and talk when silence is needed.”

Level of voice should also be nicely adjusted according to the listener’s state. Speaking too loudly with bad voice and hurting listeners’ ears is also among the prohibitions of the Holy Qur’ān. It is stated in the Qur’ān:

“And pursue the right course in your going about and lower your voice; surely the most hateful of voices is braying of the asses.”(31; 19)

In fact, when some of the companions increased their voices in front of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), they received the following Divine warning:

“O you who believe! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive.”(49; 2)

This verse also points out that lowering the voice before the elderly and respected people are among the good manners.

We should also avoid defiling our language by backbiting, slander, and suspicion. These are among the calamities of the language which show mischief of the heart.

In short, believers adorned by ethical principles of the Qur’ān are like flowers, they should touch others’ souls by their beauty and nice flagrance. Every one of their words should be nourishment for the souls. They should never stop smiling and spreading mercy among the society by their pleasant speaking. They should be among asan, ajmal, and akmal members of the society through their personality and behavior.

They should be asan which means all of their actions must be the best and always distribute goodness.

They should be ajmal or their personality should give peace and tranquility to the people around them.

They should be akmal or they should be the most mature and perfect people in the society.

All acts and works of such ideal believers reflect the beauty, magnificence, esthetic, peace, and smiling face of Islam.

According to the reports of ilya-i Sharifs, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) had light of beauty in his face; fluency in his speech; elegance in his actions; and eloquence and purity in his words. His speech was extremely nice and touching, his words were neither too many nor too few. He would speak clearly and everybody could understand every one of his sentences. He would not speak fast. In short he was the most eloquent, laconic, and wise speaker of humanity.

Abū Kursāfah (r.a) says that:

I, my mother, and my aunt went to the Prophet (pbuh) and expressed our allegiance. When we left, my mother and aunt told me:

“We have never seen such a person in our lives. We do not know anybody whose face is more beautiful than his; anybody whose clothes are cleaner than his; and anybody whose speech is more eloquent than his. His blessed mouth is like spreading light to the world.” (Haythamī, VIII, 279-280)

Dear Lord! Make us accustomed to the language of our Prophet (pbuh). Bless us to be adorned with the ethical principles of the Qur’ān and help us to regulate all our actions and behavior according to principles of the Qur’ān.

Amin…

[1].      Qur’ān 2; 83, Qur’ān 17; 53

[2].      Qur’ān 17; 23

[3].      Qur’ān 17; 28

[4].      Qur’ān 2; 263

[5].      Qur’ān 4; 5, 8

[6].      Qur’ān 33; 32

[7].      Qur’ān 20; 44

[8].      Qur’ān 4; 9, Qur’ān 33; 70

[9].      Qur’ān 17; 40

[10].     Qur’ān 13; 33

[11].     Qur’ān 51; 8

[12].     Qur’ān 22; 30

[13].     Qur’ān 4; 148

[14].     Qur’ān 6; 112