A man reviled Abu Bakr in the presence of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet remained seated. He looked pleased and smiled. He insulted Abu Bakr twice, but Abu Bakr controlled himself and remained silent.
He insulted him for a third time, and Abu Bakr then let his tongue loose and responded back. At that, the Messenger of Allah got up and left.
Abu Bakr followed after the Prophet and said: “Messenger of Allah! He insulted me and you just sat there. Then when I responded to some of what he said, you became angry and got up.” The Prophet said: “There was an angel with you who was responding to his insults on your behalf.”
Then the Prophet said: “Abu Bakr, (keep in mind) three things which are always true, one of which is that whenever a person is subjected to an injustice but leaves the matter to Allah, then Allah will come to his aid.” (Musnad Ahmad).
It is not a weakness to remain silent. It takes real strength. What others say will only hurt you if you let it. Construct within yourself a “refuse treatment plant” and try to turn other people’s insults into something constructive and positive that you can use for your own betterment and the betterment of others.
There are a lot of well-known stories about people who kept quiet in the face of accusations and insults. Some people do not feel the need to defend themselves and clear their names.
When someone criticizes you, insults you, or calls you names, do not respond. Do not try to defend yourself. Allow yourself to appear at a loss. See the positive effect that this has on you. As Allah said to Mary when she gave birth to Jesus: “And if you see any person, say: Lo! I have vowed a fast unto the Beneficent, and I may not speak this day to any mortal.” (Qur’an, 19:26)
For a few moments, let yourself feel that your stature has diminished. Then you will feel as if something mighty inside you has woken up and you will know that you have not diminished in the least.
I have many times found myself the brunt of people’s abuses. Sometimes the arrows that were aimed at me were friendly fire. I found nothing more consoling in such situations than keeping quiet and saying to myself: “Allah is sufficient for me, and He is the best one for me to trust my affairs.”
It is not good for you to get into the fray when the sides are unclear, and when those who are ignorant are mixed in with those who have knowledge. When tempers settle down, that is the time to comment on the situation.
Speaking when tensions are high and issues are unclear can simply confuse matters further. You might say things you do not mean and that you cannot easily retract. You are more likely to have your worlds misunderstood even if they are true. You are more likely to alienate and drive away the very people whom you are trying to convince.
Also keep in mind that silence can sometimes be egotistical.
This is something we need to be aware of. It can become an expression of arrogance, aloofness, and disdain for others. Do not use silence be a way to act haughtily and put other people down. Silence is a form of expression, and can be used for better or for worse, so endeavour to use it only to further goodness and truth. (en.islamtoday.net)
Our master Sheikh Shahab uddin Suharwardi (Allah have mercy on him) said, ‘It is mentioned that (spiritual) prosperity has ten components. Nine of them are in keeping silent and the tenth in remaining in solitude.’ Awarif al Ma’arif, page 619
I grew up steeped in the idea that silence was sacred. As observant Muslims, my family and I would make time to pray five times a day — five distinct, quiet, contemplative moments. This time would interrupt what was going on in our daily lives, no matter what.
These days, as an adult and a busy working mom, I often forget about the importance of silence. It’s a realization that hit me recently when I had a break during my baby’s nap — instead of allowing myself to sit still, I immediately filled my head with other people’s voices. I caught up on emails. I texted an old friend. I checked Twitter.
Today’s plugged-in, chatty world seems built to make us uncomfortable with silence. The pressures of our always-on culture make me feel like I should be forever filling downtime with conversation, music, or a podcast or lecture. Relishing silence for long periods of time feels lazy and time-wasting.
But really, nothing could be further from the truth. Now, when I find myself losing sight of the importance of silence, I return to the teachings of my childhood. Islamic traditions offer wisdom about silence that help anyone, no matter what your background:
You don’t always have to speak
In Islam, silence is considered to be one of the first stages of worship. One of the great leaders in Islam, Syedina Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA), noted that someone who speaks less often actually embodies more wisdom. According to Syedina Ali's (RA) teachings, when you’re quiet, you avoid unnecessary talk that might lead to lying.
We’ve all been there — you start speaking without a plan and end up saying things you don’t mean to say. Sarcastic volleys get a little too pointed. You shoot down an idea in a meeting just for the sake of contributing something to the discussion. What if we trusted that our input mattered—even when we weren’t constantly talking?
Take time to reflect
The Prophet Muhammad encouraged the more expansive kind of silence that leads to reflection. You can’t really think clearly if your mind is muddled with constant chatter.
This rang especially true for me recently: I was trying to brainstorm an idea for a work project, but was constantly bombarded by the pinging of social media and text messages on my phone. I couldn’t think at all until I put it away and muted the noise to focus without interruption.
If you don’t have something nice to say…
Abu Hurairah, a great scholar and narrator of Prophet Muhammad, narrated a hadith that said , “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day should speak a good word or remain silent.” (Bukhari) This isn’t unlike the advice we’re all told as children: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
But maybe we’d do well to remember this more often. After all, in a time when we’re constantly encouraged to express any and all opinions, the chatter can become something just to fill the void.
Learn the art of silence
Scholar Bilal Ansari, a teacher at the Darul Qasim Islamic learning center in suburban Chicago, says, “One of my teachers once told me that as a people we need to learn the art of silence like we learn the art of communication. There is, in fact, a powerful form of communication in one’s silence that only the one who engages in long periods of silence is able to appreciate.”
We need to be careful about when and how we are silent. For example, being silent in times of injustice is problematic, and sometimes it’s important, or even morally imperative, to speak up.
But when the stakes are lower, we can and should be judicious about when we choose to speak. Anyone can incorporate silence into their daily routine. In conversation, consider what you have to add, and trust that it’s what you say—not how much you say—that defines your impact. Carve out a little time each day without distractions. It doesn’t have to be a time for prayer, of course, but a little contemplation and reflection never hurt anyone. Put it on your calendar so you’ll be sure to make it happen. Whether you end up sitting still or looking out the window to appreciate nature or just meditating, I guarantee it will feel good to turn the dial of life’s noise down for a moment
In the famous hadith that we’ve all heard before, the Prophet ﷺ said:
من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيرا أو ليصمت
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
3854284117_24007b7269_bWhen looking at the Arabic language, this hadith is very powerful. The first thing that we notice in the Arabic narration is that the Prophet ﷺ uses “laam al-amr” – the laam of command in the words, Falyaqul and li-yasmut. He is not only advising the believers to speak good or remain silent, but rather it is an order and a command to either speak what is good or keep silent.
The second powerful aspect of this hadith is the choice of words. In this narration, the Prophet ﷺ says, speak good or “li-yasmut.” However in another narration, the Prophet ﷺ says, speak good or “li-yaskut.” Yasmut is from the root samt, and yaskut is from the root sukoot; both are translated as silence, but what is the difference between these two and which is more powerful?
Many times these words are used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between sukoot and samt. Sukoot is when someone is silent but they still have the ability to speak; they choose to be silent. Samt is when someone is silent because they do not have the ability to speak, such as a mute person. This type of silence is not from free will; rather it is as if they do not have a tongue, and silence is their only option.
In the first narration the Prophet ﷺ uses samt – he says we should speak good; but if we have nothing good to say, then we should be like the one who does not have the ability to speak – remaining silent is all that he can do.
How many of us implement this?
An Explanation of this Hadith
Imam Shafi’i states that the meaning of this hadith is that if someone desires to speak, then he should speak only that which is good. But if it is clear to him that his speech may cause harm, then he should refrain from speaking. Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen says it is as if the Prophet ﷺ said, “If you believe in Allah and the last day, then speak what is good or be quiet.” He also states the benefits of this hadith:
“Silence is incumbent except if there is good in a person’s speech. Speech is of three types:
Khayr (good): this is the type of speech that this hadith is encouraging.
Sharr (evil): this is the type of speech which is evil and forbidden.
Laghw (vain): this is the type of speech that is neither good nor evil. It is not forbidden for a person to speak laghw but rather it is better to keep silent and refrain from it.”
It is said, “If speech is silver, then silence is gold.”
We also learn from this hadith the importance of guarding the tongue. The Prophet ﷺ said to Mu’adh (radi Allahu `anhu – may Allah be pleased with him), “And shall I not tell you of the controlling of all that?” I said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” So he took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain this.” I said: “O Prophet of Allah, will we be held accountable for what we say?” He said: “May your mother be bereft of you! Is there anything that topples people on their faces (or he said, on their noses) into the Hell-fire other than the jests of their tongues?” [Tirmidhi, Sahih]
Be mindful; aspire to speak only when your words are good. This is better for your iman (faith), a protection for your tongue, and more honorable for you with your Muslim sisters and brothers.
SubhanAllaah we never realise how much we speak and most of the time it is speaking without any benefit to ourselves or the people.
May Allaah protect us from our own tongues and make our tongues for us rather than against us on Yawmil Qiyamaah, Allaahumma Ameen.
Ash-Sheikh Muhammad Saeed Raslan writes about the manners of the Student of Islamic knowledge. From his book titled “Adab Tullaab Al-I’lm“.
– Silence – As for reducing your level of speech, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“من كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليكرم ضيفه ومن كان يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر فليقل خيرا أو ليصمت“
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him say what is good or remain silent.” [Reported by Ahmad (2/267, 433, and 463), al-Bukhari (6018, 6136, and 6475), Muslim (47), Abu Dawud (5154), at-Tirmidhi (2500), and Ibn Hibban (506 & 516)]
Imam an-Nawawi said:
“This means that if one wants to say something, he should decide whether what he wants to say is definitely good and praiseworthy, obligatory or encouraged. If so, he should say it. If he doesn’t see that it is good and praiseworthy, he should not say it, whether it is forbidden, disliked, or permissible they are all the same. In this case, speech which is normally allowed should be avoided out of fear that it can lead to forbidden or disliked speech, and this happens a lot. Based on this hadith, al-Imam ash-Shafi’i (may Allah be Pleased with him) said that if you wish to say something, let him think. If you conclude that there is no harm, speak. If you conclude that your words will bring about harm, do not speak.” [‘Sharh Sahih Muslim’ (2/18)]
Ibn Hajar (may Allah have Mercy on him) said:
“And this is from his (peace be upon him) ability to combine many meanings on few words, as every statement is good, bad, or leaning to one of the two. Included under good speech is everything obligatory or encouraged, and he allowed this speech despite its various types, as well as anything that could lead to it. As for speech that is bad or could lead to what is bad, he commanded us to be quiet if we ever wanted to indulge in it.” [‘Fath al-Bari’ (1/461)]
(1) Ibn Abd al-Barr (may Allah have Mercy on him) said:
“From the tests that the scholar is put through is that he likes to talk more than he likes to listen.“
(2) Yazid bin Abi Habib said:
“Listening is safe and increases one’s knowledge, and the listener is the partner of the speaker. Talking consists of confusion and deception, excess and deficiency. The one who talks awaits fitnah, and the one who listens awaits mercy.“
(3) And Abu adh-Dhiyal said: “Learn to be quiet just as you learn to talk, because if talking guides you, being quiet protects you. By being quiet, you attain two characteristics: you are able to take knowledge from those more knowledgeable than you, and you are able to repel the ignorance of those more ignorant than you.“
Speaking about good things is a prize and is better than silence, because the best thing that silence has to offer is safety, and by speaking what is good, you actually gain something extra.
(4) It was said: “Whoever speaks what is good wins, and whoever remains silent is saved, and speaking about knowledge-related matters is from the best of actions, and it is of the same level as dhikr and recitation of the Qur’an if it is done to repel ignorance, attain the Pleasure of Allah, and discover the reality of its meanings.” [‘Jami’ Bayan al-’Ilm wa Fadlih’ (1/182)]
(5) Abu Hatim said: “Two men went to seek knowledge. When they became learned, one of them became known as a speaker, and the other came to be known as quiet. So, the speaker wrote to the quiet one:
I never sought to gain anything in life “With something better than my tongue…”
So, the quiet one wrote back:
And I never sought to gain anything in life “With something that deserved to be imprisoned more than the tongue”” [‘Lubab al-Adab’ (p. 274)]
(6) And a man came to Salman (may Allah be Pleased with him), saying: “O Aba Abdillah! Advise me!”
So, he said: “Do not speak.”
The man replied: “It’s impossible for one who lives amongst the people not to speak.”
He said: “Then if you speak, say what is correct, or be quiet.”
The man said: “Tell me more.”
Salman said: “Do not become angry.”
The man said: “You tell me not to become angry, and I am sometimes overcome and unable to control myself.”
He said: “Then if you become angry, at least control your tongue and hands.”
The man said: “Tell me more.”
Salman said: “Do not mix with the people.”
The man said: “One who lives with the people must mix with them!”
He said: “Then if you mix with them, speak the truth and fulfill your promises.” [‘Kitab as-Samt wa Adab al-Lisan’ (p. 558)]
(7) And Abu Hayan at-Taymi said: “It was said that the man should pay more attention to his tongue than to where he places his feet,” [‘Kitab as-Samt wa Adab al-Lisan’ (p. 206)] and this is because of the danger the tongue and excess talking pose to the believer’s heart. The traps of the tongue are many and deadly, and just one of these traps is enough to make one spend their entire life trying to avoid. However, Allah tests His Creation in order to make clear the righteous from the evil.
“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” [Qur’an 17:53]
How many times has the following happened to us?
We’re driving down the highway and suddenly, a car swerves in front of us and cuts us off causing us to swear as we swerve sharply out of the way. Or we’re late for work or class and we’re being pushed into the packed bus at rush hour. Someone steps on our foot really hard and we mutter, “#$@!#@”—swearing out of frustration. Or someone did something that really got under our skin and we decide to express our anger at them using the choicest of swear words.
It happens to all of us sometimes. In the heat of the moment we’re not aware of what is coming out of our mouths and sometimes, the words that do come out are not befitting of a servant of God to utter. It is at these times that we need to be extra mindful of what we are saying precisely because this is when we lose control over our tongue. Everything we utter, no matter how insignificant we believe it to be, is being written down by the angels and will be shown to us on the Day of Judgment:
“Man does not utter any word except that with him is an observer prepared [to record].” (Qur’an 50:18)
Our speech is part of our actions and we will be questioned about what we say. Therefore, it is imperative that we try to keep our speech clean and modest. It is not correct for a servant of God, who knows that his Master is watching him, to speak immodestly. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ (peace be upon him) said,
“A true believer does not taunt or curse or abuse or talk indecently.”1
If we are in the habit of losing control and speaking immodest words, can we guarantee that those words that come out of our mouths won’t be our last? What if they are our last?
Imagine that the car that cuts you off on the highway bumps into you and throws you straight into oncoming traffic—and imagine that as you’re losing control of your car and about to run head-on into another, you say the first thing that comes to your mind. What do you want to say at this point? Do you want to remember God and say, “La ilaha illallah (none is worthy of worship except God),” knowing that the one who does so as his final words enters Paradise2 ? Or do you want to swear? Of course, we all want to remember God in those moments but what we forget is that in those situations, we don’t have control of our tongue. Our body takes over and we’re in auto drive. What is within us, the reality of who we are in our heart of hearts, is what comes out. If we are people who remember God often and are constantly in dhikr (remembrance of God) and reciting Qur’an with our tongues, we will be blessed with the ability to say the dhikr and recite the Qur’an at those moments as well. If, on the other hand, our tongues are used to resorting to foul language, then we will by default use that language and it may so happen that those become our final words.
Breaking the Habit
To break the habit of using foul language is not difficult, but it requires a conscious effort. If we train ourselves daily to be engaged in dhikr, even if it is something simple such as uttering, “Alhamdullilah (All praise belongs to God),” or “Subhanallah (God is free of all imperfections),” whenever we can, we can begin to replace the swear words with the words of remembrance. Memorizing Qur’an is also helpful because memorization requires repetition. If we do this, we are not only getting the reward of remembering God but we are also cleaning our hearts and tongues of the darkness of foul language. This will allow us to be conscious of what our tongues are saying and we will be able to catch ourselves before we accidently swear.
“Indeed, Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds to gardens beneath which rivers flow. They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold and pearl, and their garments therein will be silk. And they had been guided [in worldly life] to good speech, and they were guided to the path of the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an 22:23-24)
Good, pure speech in this life is a cause of being admitted into Paradise because it is a sign of a good and pure heart. The words that appear on our tongues are only a manifestation of what is in our hearts. A heart that is aware of God and a tongue that is moist with the remembrance of God will not turn from something so noble to something so low. It is a sign of nobility that one does not use foul speech. In the above verse, God equates good speech to being guided on the path towards Him and the reward described in the previous verse is given to those people who uttered the testimony of faith and followed that up with pure speech—a sign of their pure hearts.
Imagine that every time we used inappropriate language, we remembered God instead. We can begin to do that and resolve to purify our tongues. Once our tongues are used to remembering God frequently, no matter how intense a situation, our tongues and hearts will immediately revert to His remembrance and our tongues will only utter that which is pure. And the amazing thing about this is that, regardless of where we are or what we are doing, we will constantly be in a state of worship and as a result, if God wills, we will be counted amongst those who receive the reward mentioned in the verse above, all by simply purifying our tongues.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “He whose last words are: `La ilaha illallah (There is no true god except Allah)’ will enter Jannah.” [↩]
This cannot be undone and I am sure it will be greatly appreciated.
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