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Let us change 5 – mind your tongue

Publishing Date : 09 July, 2019


If you think about it there is something that we have in our mouths that is about 100 mm long, pink, soft, flexible tissue that is even more dangerous and mightier and can cause even more hurt and damage than a ‘weapon’ - it is called the human tongue.

We may not believe or realise it but the tongue is so powerful that it can inflict much hurt and damage through the use of harsh, hurtful, rude and insensitive words that they can penetrate into the very fibre of our body and soul. The wounds of a sword can and may heal over time, but the hurt and anger of words can and also remain within the hearts and minds of some of us for a long time – even to our graves. That is the raw power of the tongue. Yet how many of us are mindful of what we say?

There is a saying that was common some years ago; ‘sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. But let us remember that those hurtful words may not break our bones but they may penetrate into our hearts and minds and remain there for a long time. Without doubt some of us still carry the hurt within us of something that someone has said to us or about us.

 Another saying was that; ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’; meaning that what is written may be more hurtful than a sword. Just like spoken words what is written can also squeeze and wedge into our hearts and in our minds. Nowadays the ‘written’ may not be by pen, but with the new technology that has social media and platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook etc. and if some of the things posted therein erroneously or deliberately can be emotional and hurtful.    

Think about it on a daily basis how many of us are guilty of the doing the following things related to our tongue? Telling lies, back biting, slander, foul language, making fun of and teasing and mocking other people thereby hurting their feelings, idle talk, talking back in a rude manner to one’s parents, breaking some one’s heart…and so many more. That is why one of the important virtues of being a Muslim is guarding his tongue. The Prophet (PBUH) said:” Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say what is good or be silent.”

In Islam mindful, kind and gentleness of speech is a righteous virtue whereas rudeness is a sin. The Quran declares ‘treat with kindness your parents and kindred, and orphans and those in need and speak fair to people’ (Quran: 2: 83) Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said ‘to speak politely is piety and a kind of charity’ and ‘to indulge in intemperate language and harsh behaviour is to perpetrate an injustice, and the home of injustice is Hell’.

The way we speak to people, minding what we say, how we say it and in what tone it is said, ‘speaks’ volumes of our character and the inner person that we are. If we speak to people in a polite, genuine, sincere and respectable manner over time it brings about within us many noble and virtuous qualities, some of those qualities are good manners, self-restraint, trust, discipline, humility and sincerity of heart. Whilst these qualities form the basis of religious teaching they are also a given for every parent in the moral upbringing of their children.

The ability to speak and express ourselves is a separation point between us as humans and from animals. The proper use of this great gift or its absence is what further separates us humans from one another.  Anyone of us can be immodest by being explicit, rude, crude and vulgar in speech, but it does take an effort to guard our tongue. More often than not those of us that tend to be loud, boisterous and reckless with the use of words often suffer from or have a low self-esteem and are actually looking for some form of recognition.

These values and qualities are not only confined to any particular religion or faith but also espoused in the values of most cultures. For example in the Bible: ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger’ (Proverbs 15:1)
In African culture, Eastern culture and to a lesser degree in the ‘west’, from observation, children from a young and tender age are taught the values of respect the use of ‘kind’ words and even keeping their voices ‘low’.

Regrettably these are in short supply in today’s society because in our quest to become ‘modernised /westernised’ we are forgetting our upbringing based on the traditional values of ‘Botho’. More so under the mistaken guise of ‘freedom of speech’ some of us tend to take that as a carte blanche licence or a blank cheque to say whatever nonsense, balderdash or drivel that we want to, simply because we take it is our right to do so thereby making a ‘freedom square’ out of our speech.

But in Islam we have to remember that our parents, elders, kith and kin, neighbours and even strangers and the society at large, have certain rights over us – among those rights are the right to be treated with respect including that of being spoken to with dignity. Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Giving a good word is a type of remembrance of Allah, telling the truth, guarding one's own tongue against slandering of others are good deeds.’

The Quran straight forwardly and beautifully describes such people, in chapter 31 verse 19 when it says; ‘And be moderate in thy pace, and lower your voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is that of the braying of the ass.’  Yes we have all heard the sound of a donkey braying. Islam reminds us that a person’s greatness lies not in how powerful he is in the use of words but rather in how careful he is in their use.

However we should remember that on the other hand it does not automatically mean that when someone talks in a soft and mild manner that there is sincerity in his heart, after all diplomacy has been described as - the art of telling a person to go to hell in such a nice manner that he even looks forward to the journey. Just a thought: we go to school to learn to read, write and speak a language, but seldom are we taught how to tame and control the raw power of these words or speech – to use it for promoting truth and not falsehood; spreading virtue and not evil.  

Remember: Always keep your words soft and sweet – just in case you have to swallow them. Also remember: be careful of your thoughts when you are alone, and take care of your words when you are with people. So let us learn to control our thoughts and guard our tongues so that we ourselves do not begin to sound like those braying asses mentioned above. What better way than to keep the tongue moist and busy with the remembrance of Allah?



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