In the famous hadith that we’ve all heard before, the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day let him speak good or remain silent.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
When 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.