“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.