Islamic Character Reflections

A-cuss-tomed to Profanity

By Sabeen Mansoori

There is a path that I walk on almost every day. It is a curved, narrow strip of concrete between a patch of lush woods and a winding road. In the early morning when it is deserted, it is easy to step on it and get lost in thought. There is the rhythmic monotony of foot touching concrete and the soothing sound of the wind surrendering to the trees.

Deep in thought, I invariably forget about the nasty curse word scrawled into the concrete. The filth of someone’s mind carved into the path forces its ugliness upon anyone who steps near. Its stench pollutes the crisp clarity of the morning and I draw back in disgust. But the word has already formed in my mind and it seems to resound all around me, conjuring images of all the other times I have heard it.

Curse words, profane expletives, and disgusting swear words have become such an integral part of speech today that no one even notices or objects to them anymore. We participate and walk past many such conversations daily. These words that would never be heard in polite conversation a decade ago are spoken brazenly in our mosques, in the schools, and sometimes even in our homes.

The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said: “The believer is not a slanderer, one who curses frequently, one who indulges in obscenity, or one who engages in foul talk.” (Tirmidhi)

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) gives us a sneak peek into hellfire and we find the inhabitants of hell cursing and blaming each other for their fate. It was considered “cool” to use dirty language in this life, but in the hereafter those that are receiving a sizzling “warm” welcome from Allah (swt) are found engaging in cussing. Are these the kinds of people we want to emulate in our lives? Is theirs a desirable end? On the other hand, those who turned away in disgust from laghw (dirty, false, evil vain talk) in this world will be protected from it in the hereafter. In Paradise there will be scintillating conversations but no sign of indecency or vulgarity in speech.

In our daily lives we cross paths with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Etched into our demeanor, our attitudes, and our conversations are words that we live by and that seep into our conversations almost unconsciously. These could be words of sincere remembrance like masha’allah (what God wills), alhamdulillah (praise be to God) and subhan’allah (glory be to God), or they could be vulgar obscenities. We have the choice of what we speak, but the angels have no choice as they are bound to write down whatever comes out of our lips.

It is said, “Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk.” The opposite seems to be true now. People dress the ‘acceptable’ Islamic way: the hijab is perfectly matched to the tint of their clothing, the thoub (robe for men) is the perfect length, and the kufi (cloth cap for men) is fitted nice and tight. However, the language they use among their peers is foul to say the least. When you find young men with near flawless recitation of the Qur’an walk over from the prayer hall to the basketball court and start to cuss it makes your hair stand on edge. What happened to the concept of haya’ (decency) in this ummah (nation)? Do we not claim to be the followers of the Prophet ﷺ who said, “I was sent to perfect good character”? (Muwatta Imam Malik Book 47, Number 47.1.8)

The Masjid should be on the daily or at least weekly route of the believer. It is a place where we find refuge from the outside world and hope that we can briefly escape the indecency that pervades most of society in general. However, when I visited a remarkably beautiful mosque in another city, I realized that I was deluding myself. I looked around in awe at the breathtaking calligraphy and the poignant perfection of its architecture and felt all holy inside. But the moment was not to last. Scribbled inside a small scratch in the paint was the same curse word that I had found on the path; the filth of someone’s mind polluting even this sacred space.

We have become desensitized to profanity just as we have become desensitized to all the other indecency that surrounds us. We must act now on an individual level as well as among our friends and family to eliminate this repulsive habit. Otherwise, it will seep in through the cracks and profane the moral character of this ummah.

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  • Jazak Allah khayr for a well written article on a much needed topic. I face this struggle daily in my life trying to get someone close to me to stop using foul or crude language. One thing this article doesn’t address is how people sometimes substitute a well known profanity with a similar sounding word or an abbreviation believing that somehow that makes it ok. An example is saying “BS”, or “what the flip”, or “a-hole” and so on (excuse the explicitness).

    • I personally don’t think it is appropriate to use those either. The mind automatically substitutes the profanity for the seemingly harmless word and the effect is the same. The intention is also the same:to say something startling and unconventional and get some attention.

  • Alhamdulillah, an article with deeper sense of how the words we speak matters both in this life and next.
    May allah bless all of us, aameen.

  • So true. And a malady that has become so common. I once made it the exclusive topic of a juma khutba titled “what’s laghw got to do with it”. Will dig it out and share.

  • Mashallah. Jazak Allahu Khairan for posting this. Such a great reminder! I have a questiong though: Would you say it is vulgar/profane to say things like “Yakri Baytak!” or to call your children “bint al kalb” or “ibn jahsh!”. I am married to an Egyptian and we recently moved here to Egypt and even his own children (ages 17 through 2.5) talk to one another this way and no one seems to think it’s a problem…

  • JazakAllah. Seeing profane grafitti on trains and walls, too, cause the same result – we’re exposed to things we don’t want to see…and we see it without even meaning to, yet the effects stay on.

    I think this kind of danger also gives broader perspective to the Islamic etiquette of ‘lowering the gaze’. It’s not just looking at the opposite sex that can lead down the wrong path, but it’s seeing ANYthing potentially harmful – and unfortunately, we’re exposed to it in even the most public of places.

    Lowering the gaze and minding your own business is a somewhat effective way to protect against those dangers.

  • Assalamu alaykum,

    Like smoking, this is something that is very hard to stop when it’s been ingrained in you for years. I’m embarrassed to say that even though I’ve been Muslim for many years, bad words still come out when I’m very angry. I know that it’s a choice I make, and I’ll be held accountable, but they come out before I even have time to think. So as I tell my children, don’t ever start this habit!

    • The problem is that we have to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ our children and the accountability reaches to what they learn from us as well. You have the intention, mashallah, so Allah (swt) will help you overcome this ingrained habit. Either quit ‘cold turkey’ or place a ‘patch’ on it when you feel your temper flaring.
      Your children will admire you for making the effort and they will apply it to their lives as they have to struggle with unhealthy habits of their own.

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