What should our style of speech be like? What are the appropriate manners for speaking? What about the appropriate manners for listening?

The Details of the Question
What should our style of speech be like? What are the appropriate manners for speaking? What about the appropriate manners for listening?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

“Everything man says is against him; except for suggesting goodness, preventing others from badness or invocating Allah the Glorious.”

Do not say anything for which you will have to say you are sorry!” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 15). 

The hadith related to the topic is as follows: 

Umm Habiba reports: “The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Everything man says is against him; except for suggesting goodness, preventing others from badness or invocating Allah the Glorious.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 63, (2414).)

Aliyyu’l-Kari says: “The obvious meaning of the hadith indicates that all kinds of speeches except for suggesting goodness and preventing badness or invocating Allah the Glorious are against people, and there is no other kind of speech. However, these kinds of hadiths must be understood as a means of preventing people from going to extremes and from aimless speech. It is sure that allowable (mubah) speech will not be useful in the hereafter. 

When Quranic verses and hadiths related to the topic are taken into consideration, this hadith means: “Man’s words which are other than those mentioned in the hadith and the likes are a means of sadness and regret for him. There is nothing good in them for him. Many other hadiths on the same topic strengthen this view, too. It is possible that this hadith was taken from the following Quranic verse: “In most of their secret talks there is no good: But if one exhorts to a deed of charity or justice or conciliation between men, (Secrecy is permissible): To him who does this, seeking the good pleasure of God, We shall soon give a reward of the highest (value).” (an-Nisa, 114) 

In this case, all kinds of speech other than speeches on topics such as goodness, helping, friendship and the likes mentioned in hadiths are not for people’s goodness. Stating only three exceptions in the hadith indicates both the importance of speaking about these three things and warns us to be very careful in other allowable topics. Scholars stress that speeches which are allowable (mubah), which means there is no objection to talk about them in religion, will not be useful for people in the hereafter, although they are not bad for them, either. Ordinary daily talk is allowable; however, it runs the risk of getting involved in backbiting, gossiping and useless matters. All kinds of allowable (mubah) things are like this. Therefore, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) asked believers to be very careful in their manners of speech, while showing them the ways of a lifestyle that is the most appropriate for Allah’s content and the hereafter. (See Canan, Ibrahim, Kutub-u Sitte, 16781-2).

Appropriate Manners of Speaking

Thinking and speaking are the most important characteristics which distinguish human beings from other beings. Due to the relationship between them, speaking is like a smooth mirror which shows the speaker’s level of intellect and structure of thinking. Therefore, what makes a human being a human being is his ability to speak. Islam demands believers to discipline their words and has determined many principles in this field. 

A believer, first of all, should start speaking after saying basmala and praising Allah. Every important thing started without basmala and praising Allah will be incomplete. (Abu Dawud, Adab 18; Ibn Majah, Nikah 19). Speaking too much without mentioning Allah makes hearts tougher and people with tough hearts are alienated from Allah. (Tirmidhi, Zuhd 62) 

Ability of speaking is a great gift from Allah, which enables communication, affection and agreement among people. That is to say, people usually express their feelings, thoughts, desires and demands by speaking. A style of speech and words that one employs can make him either successful or unsuccessful in life. Moreover, controlling one’s tongue is listed amongst things that lead people to Heaven. The Messenger of Allah says: 

Whoever promises me to protect what is between his two chins (tongue) and honor and virtue, I will promise him Heaven.” (Bukhari, Riqaq 23). In another hadith, when the Messenger of Allah is asked who the most virtuous person is, he answers: “He is the one from whose tongue and hand Muslims are safe.” (Bukhari, Faith, 4-5). The Prophet determined some rules related to the appropriate manners of speaking, which can be listed as follows: 

1- One must speak clearly and understandably, in a way that his addressee can understand him. Important issues must be repeated when necessary. As a matter of fact, the Companions have got very important remarks about the Prophet who spoke clearly and fluently: 

The Messenger of Allah’s speech was so clear that every listener could understand it easily.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 18). 

When he spoke, one could count his words if he wished to.” (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23) 

He used to repeat the words and sentences which he wanted to be understood very well three times.” (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 9). 

Sometimes it may be necessary to repeat the words so that they will be understood by addressee very well. Therefore, matters which are worthy of utmost attention are repeated a few times in the Quran. For instance, Satan’s rebelling against the Divine Order and refusing to prostrate is repeated seven times and the situation of magicians who believed in Prophet Moses is repeated four times.

Our Prophet used to repeat remarkable verses sometimes two times and sometimes three times while leading prayers. Sometimes he repeated some words when he warned and gave advice to the Companions. It is possible to see such repetitions frequently in speeches of the lovers of Allah. however, it should be with the aim of instilling, should not be boring and should be appropriate for people’s level.

Speaking in places where there is nobody who can understand what is said means nothing but wasting breaths. Actually, just like Mashhhuri said “Smart ones do not speak a word unless it is timely.” 

2- It is strictly prohibited to make insincere speeches with the aim of showing off as a know-it-all and as superior to others or to speaking to people with words that they cannot understand. Our dearest Prophet said:

Surely Allah dislikes those who beat about the bush using verbiage just like cattle chew grass while eating.” (Abu Dawud, Adab, 94). 

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), whose duty was to spread the truth, never worried about artiness in his speeches. Our dearest Prophet spoke with the most natural expressions of his soul, with purest feelings of affection and mercy. Therefore, his blessed words had a different beauty and they were in a beautiful manner that was appropriate for his honorableness. 

3- One must not speak loudly yelling and shouting. It is wrong to speak loudly as if the addressee was dumb and to speak aggressively as if they were quarrelling. It is always the most appropriate way to adopt a kind and gentle style. In the Quran, Luqman suggests the method in question to his son as follows: “(Son!) And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the ass.” (Luqman, 31:19). In another verse, Allah says: 

Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best” (al-Isra, 17:53). Moreover, Allah wanted Prophet Moses and his brother Aaron to warn the Pharaoh moderately. (Ta Ha, 20:43-44). Even though our addressee is an unbeliever, we are ordered to speak to him nicely. A hadith says that we can be saved from the wrath of Hell with a nice word we say: 

Save yourself from Hell by giving even half of a date. If you cannot find it either, save yourself from Hell even with a nice word!” (Muslim, Zakat, 68). 

4- Talking of  two people in whispers between them when there is another one with them is prohibited. The Messenger of Allah stated that such a manner could cause the one who was left out to be upset. (Bukhari, Isti’zan, 47). However, a mature Muslim does not want to do anything that can upset his brother/sister or break his/her heart. 

5- If a topic is being discussed in a community or if a question is asked to be answered, the right of first word belongs to the senior man of the community. However, other people can tell their opinions in an appropriate way when necessary. As a matter of fact, when Abdurrahman bin Sahl, who was the youngest one in the community, started to speak in order to tell something, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said to him “Leave it to your senior (older) ones,  leave it to your senior (older) ones!” and then senior ones narrated it. (Bukhari, Jizyah, 12). 

Abdullah bin Umar reports: One day, the Messenger of Allah said to his Companions: “Tell me a tree which is like believers!” They started to name all trees, which existed in desert, one by one. I thought it was date tree and I wanted to say it right away. However, I hesitated to speak because there were people who were older than me. When they failed to give the correct answer and kept silent, the Prophet said it was date tree.” (Muslim, Munafiqin, 64).

6- One must talk little and to the point, and must avoid unnecessary details. In other words, it is necessary to make it a habit to speak little, to the point and in an appropriate way. While listing believers’ positive characteristics, Allah says: 

“(They are) who avoid vain talk.” (al-Mu’minun 23:3) and considers talking nonsense as perversity and heedlessness. (Luqman, 31:6).

And the Prophet emphasizes the topic with the following hadiths: 

Do not talk unless you mention Allah! Talking too much, except for mentioning Allah, makes hearts tougher. And it is doubtless that people with tough hearts are away from Allah.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 62). 

It is because one is a good Muslim when s/he quits something which does not interest him/her directly.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 11). 

Taslicali Yahya, to mean that those who speak too much make lots of mistakes, says: 

This parable is told by people of heart

Whoever speaks a lot errs a lot.” 

7- One should strictly avoid talks which have neither worldly nor otherworldly benefits but are harmful because

Not a word does he utter but there is a sentinel by him, ready (to note it).” (Qaf, 50:18). This Quranic verse states that one will be called to account for every word he spoke in his entire life. And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: 

He who believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment should either say something good or keep silent.” (Bukhari, Adab, 31, 85). 

8- It is inappropriate for one to say a word of which he is not sure if it is halal or haram, ugly or nice, good or bad yet. The following stated in a hadith: 

One says a word without thinking about it well and he falls down to somewhere far away between the east and the west of Hell.” (Bukhari, Riqaq, 23). Actually, our ancestors were inspired by hadiths like this when they said “Think a thousand times and say it once” and other nice proverbs. 

9- It is very important to avoid words which can put us in trouble in bilateral relations in order to continue friendships. The Prophet said: 

Do not say a word for which you will have to apologize!” (Ibn Majah, Zuhd, 15). 

10- A believer must always tell the truth and must avoid lies and falsified news strictly. The Messenger of Allah said:

When one wakes up in the morning, all of his organs address the tongue and say: Fear Allah when protecting our rights! We will be punished only for what you say. We are bound to you. If you are upright, we are upright, too. If you bend and stray from the right way, we will follow you and be like you.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 61). And the Quran warns us as follows:

O ye who believe! Fear God, and (always) say a word directed to the Right: That He may make your conduct whole and sound and forgive you your sins: He that obeys God and His Apostle, has already attained the highest achievement.” (al-Ahzab, 33:70-71).

11- It is another ethical principle related to speech to say “inshaallah (God willing) when talking about future. Humans’ free will is not an adequate reason for something to happen. What matters is Allah’s will. Actually, saying “inshaallah” when making a wish about the future means that you are aware of Allah’s will and that you do not recognize any other will superior to Allah’s. As a matter of fact, a Quranic verse says: “Nor say of anything, "I shall be sure to do so and so tomorrow" - without adding, "So please God!" and call thy Lord to mind when thou forgettest, and say, "I hope that my Lord will guide me ever closer (even) than this to the right road." (al-Kahf, 18:23-24). It is stated in a hadith that Prophet Solomon’s wish related to future did not come true because he did not say “inshaallah.” (Bukhari, Ayman, 3).

Appropriate Manners of Listening

Allah the Glorious gave humans two ears but only one mouth. One should be a good listener to be able to be a good speaker. Ears were endowed upon people so that they could listen to and learn goodness and listen to orders of Allah and His Messenger, of parents and teachers/masters and obey them. And Allah’s verses are for those who hear and listen. It is bad for people to listen to lies, gossips, backbiting, talks which lead one to sinning and secrets of other people. And it is fornication of ears to listen to nasty talks. (Bukhari, Isti’zan 12; Fate 9; Muslim, Fate 20-21). It is because nasty words have a negative effect on people and spoil their minds.

It leads one to make mistakes to listen to everything and to say everything he has heard. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “It is enough as lying for someone to say everything he hears.” (Muslim, Muqaddima 5).

Beautiful voices and sounds sound nice to the ear but when one is captivated by them, they waste his time.

One should listen to the Quran recitation and advice a lot as a means of thanks-giving for his ears. One should keep quiet and listen to the Quran as soon as he hears it being recited so that he can receive mercy.

One should not be one of those who say they have heard although they have not indeed and should turn his back to nonsense talks right away.

May Allah let all of us be one of those true servants who listen to and follow what is the best! Amin!

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