Raise your words… not your voice…
“He has created man: And taught him how to speak and convey his feelings and thoughts.” (55:3/4)
Allah has gifted man with the power of speech that sets him apart from the rest of creation. Words are not only tools of communication but are also the means of expressing our innermost thoughts and feelings. People do not only hear what we say, they also feel what we say. We can, through the use of words, build lasting relationships or destroy them. Our tongues can either be instruments of love or weapons of mass destruction; one kind word can change someone’s entire day, it can inspire, uplift and motivate or it can destroy our brotherhood, family relationships, reputations and the lives of people.
The Qur’aan is replete with instructions pertaining to our manner of speech, some of which are:
Avoid sarcasm and doublespeak:
“O you who have attained to faith! Remain conscious of Allah and [always] speak words straight to the point…” (33:70) Words that clearly convey the intended message and are devoid of hidden meanings, insinuations, exaggeration and fabrication. That also includes sarcasm which is hostility disguised as humour. It is intended to hurt, and is often bitter and caustic. This verse instructs us against saying one thing and meaning another. Speech that is honest, sincere and clear-cut contributes towards building trust, transparency and confidence.
Be polite and civil:
“Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury…” (2:263) Speak in a manner that does not erode the self- esteem and human worth of individuals. It includes considering the feelings, thoughts and opinions of other people when communicating with them. It requires us to be aware of how our own words, actions and expressions may affect those around us. The best way to show respect to others is to think about how we would feel if we were standing in their shoes.
“Allah knows what is in their hearts, so turn away from them, but admonish them and speak to them with words that penetrate their souls.” (4:63) Speak to those who have sinister motives in an unemotional and impartial manner. Show them the error of their ways in a manner that will allow them to reflect on what you are saying and thereby win them back. Focus on winning the person rather than the argument.
Speak in a manner that will motivate people, that will touch the inner recesses of their hearts, and will spur them to reflect and to react appropriately. Words have energy and power to help, to heal and to humble someone.
“But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear Allah…” (20:44) Moosa ‘alayhis salaam and Haroon ‘alayhis salaam were instructed to engage with Firoun in a gentle and soft manner so that he may not construe their message as a threat to his authority and so that he may become receptive to their message for his own sake. Gentle, reassuring and supportive engagement especially when dealing with people preoccupied with preserving their status and power is essential. It also includes the intention or hope with which the message-bearer should approach his task. It is in line with the command of the Qur’aan to replace evil communication with something that is better. As a result, the enmity between one another will be transformed into friendship
Choice of words:
“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], ‘uff,’ and do not repel them, but speak to them a noble word.” (17:23) We are encouraged to display humility and honour, more so when talking to our parents. This verse establishes an important principle; our manner of communication must take into consideration the different role, status, age and background of the listener. Hence, a Muslim should be able to adapt himself in different situations and be able to speak to others accordingly. The hadith clearly states: “Treat people according to their position and status (in society).” (Abu Dawood)
Adopt the best standard:
“Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best: for Satan doth sow dissensions among them: for Satan is to man an avowed enemy.” (17:53) Do not lower yourself to the level of your adversary by reacting with the same level of harshness or disrespect. Do not succumb to the temptation of being vulgar or obscene, but speak politely according to the best standards of human speech. A false or unkind word may destroy all your efforts at building up unity, because the forces of disruption are more numerous than the forces of unity.
“And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; behold the ugliest of all voices is the [loud] voice of an ass….” (31:19) Communication is not only about what we say but also how we say it. We all have heated discussions or arguments where voices are raised or we, at times, yell at our spouse, a family member or our kid. But if you look back and ask yourself, “did the yelling actually accomplish anything?…”
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” (Rumi)
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force to nurture and harness relationships or destroy them by speaking without thinking. We also can potentially destroy our good deeds through the abuse of the tongue.
Abu Hurairah radhiyallahu ‘anhu reported: Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Do you know who is bankrupt?” They said, “The one without money or goods is bankrupt.” Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Verily, the bankrupt of my nation are those who come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers, fasting, and charity, but also with insults, slander, unlawfully consuming wealth, shedding blood, and beating others. The oppressed will each be given from his good deeds. If his good deeds run out before justice is fulfilled, then their sins will be cast upon him and he will be thrown into the Hellfire.” (Muslim)
May Allah protect us from ruining ourselves through the misuse of our tongues.