Among the greatest gifts that God has given us is the ability to verbalize our emotions. God speaks of this blessing in the Quran when He states, “He created the human being and taught him intelligible speech.”1 It is important to recognize that with this blessing, there comes a great responsibility, as our teachers, the Prophet (pbuh&hp) and the infallible imams (pbut) point out to us. Imam al-Askari (p) states, “The heart of the fool is in his mouth, and the mouth of the wise is in his heart.”2 A wise person thinks before speaking, but a fool will talk without thinking about what to say, perhaps just to share an opinion. This tradition has many layers of depth to it as it offers insight into reflecting on the right time to speak and the etiquette of speaking.

How Should We Speak?

The teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) provide us with guidelines in terms of how to care for our tongues. Our fourth imam, Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) states, “The right of the tongue is that you consider it too noble for obscenity, accustom it to good, refrain from any meddling in which there is nothing to be gained, express kindness to the people, and speak well concerning them.”3 In these powerful words, the Imam begins by reminding us of the nobility of the blessing that is the tongue and the ability to speak.  Thus, due to its stature and position, we should not utilize it for vain talk, bad language, or to put others down. Rather, the Imam continues, we should be a people who cultivate it for positive speech, praising God, and encouraging others to do good. As simple as it may sound, we cannot be negligent of the fact that the tongue may be a small organ, but it has the potential to either do serious damage or make the world a better place.

Furthermore, in the Holy Quran, God advises the Prophet (pbuh&hp) how he should bring people to faith and morality when He states, “Call [them] to the path of your Lord through wisdom and good advice and argue with them in the best manner.”4 The two strategies employed are to use wisdom and good advice, for people are much more receptive to the notion of positive speech and kindness than aggressive language and coercion. Similarly, when we are speaking with members of our family or community, we should express ourselves with kindness and we should be careful with our words. If we feel there is no need to state our opinion about a certain subject, then silence is the way to go. This way, we would have followed the advice of our eleventh imam to be one of the wise ones and not one of those who are foolish and lack self-control.

Bits of Advice

1. Think before speaking: As Imam al-Askari (p) advises in the above narration, to be among the wise ones we should always think before speaking, as our tongues have the potential to either destroy relationships or build them. Imam Ali (p) states, “The slip of the tongue leads [a person] to great misery.”5 As mentioned above, the tongue is so small, but when used inappropriately, it causes great harm. Therefore, we should always remember to be very careful with the words we choose to say.

2. Refrain from excessive speech: Imam Ali (p) states, “The one who restrains his tongue from excessive speech will receive abundant blessings.”6 Often, talking too much and feeling the need to state our opinion about everything unnecessarily may get us into trouble. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) states, “Salvation of the believer is in his ability to protect his tongue.”7 It is our responsibility to protect our tongues from speaking too much and utilize this gift to praise God Almighty and speak good to others.

3. Speak to benefit yourself and others: The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) states, “May God have mercy on that servant who speaks to benefit [himself or others], or the one who protects [himself] by maintaining silence. Surely, the tongue is the thing which wields the most authority over a person. Be aware that everything that servant speaks is against him, except for the remembrance of God, the most High, or advising others to that which is right or preventing them from that which is evil, or setting the affair right between two believers.”8

1. The Holy Quran 55:3-4.
2. Mizan al-hikma, vol. 4, p. 2778.
3. The Treatise of Rights, The Right of the Tongue.
4. The Holy Quran 16:125.
5. Mizan al-hikma, vol.4, p. 2779.
6. Mizan al-hikma, vol. 4, p. 3350.
7. Mizan al-hikma, vol. 4, p. 2779.
8. Alam al-din fi sifat al-muminin, p. 335.

1. خَلَقَ الْإِنسَانَ * عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ.
2. الإمام العسكري (عليه السلام): قلب الأحمق في فمه وفم الحكيم في قلبه.
3. الإمام زين العابدين (عليه السلام) : وَأَمَّا حَقُّ اللّسَان فَإكْرَامُهُ عَنِ الْخَنَى وتَعْوِيدُهُ الْخَيْرِ وَ تَرك الْفُضُول الَّتي لا فائِدَةِ لَها و البِرُّ بالنَّاسِ و حُسْن القَولِ فيهم.
4. ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ ۖ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ.
5. الإمام علي (عليه السلام) : زلة اللسان تأتي على الإنسان.
6. الإمام علي (عليه السلام) : طوبى لمن أنفق الفضل من ماله وأمسك الفضل من كلامه.
7. الإمام الصادق (عليه السلام): نجاة المؤمن في حفظ لسانه.
8. النبي الأكرم (صلى الله عليه واله) رحم الله عبداً تكلم فغنم ، أو سكت فسلم ، إنّ اللسان أملك شيء للانسان ، ألا وإن كلام العبد كله عليه ، إلا ذكر الله تعالى ، أو أمر بمعروف ، أو نهى عن منكر ، أو إصلاح بين مؤمنين.


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