Watching What We Say
|Sheikh Salman al-Oadah|
The tongue must be the most overworked of all our voluntary muscles. It does not cease to wag in speech no matter how much of an invalid a person might otherwise become. Because of this, it is crucial to know the etiquettes of speaking and take care in what we say. We need especially to be careful to ascertain the truth of what we say and what we relate from others.
People today are so careless about repeating what they hear. It could be a fatwâ, a claim about the religion, some news item, or a current event. It does not matter who it concerns – a prominent scholar or a politician or an ordinary bloke. It seems the more ignorant the speaker is about the topic, the more likely he is to speak on it.
Allah tells us: “And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge; surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that.” [Sûrah al-Isrâ: 36]
This verse applies to every statement that a person makes without knowledge. No one should accuse anyone else of something without knowledge. No one should ever say: “I saw…” when he did not see, or “I heard…” when he did not hear. No one should ever give false testimony.
The Qur’ân gives us a clear and precise approach to verifying the truth about what we say. To begin with, the Qur’ân says: “Indeed We have made the communications clear for a people who are sure.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 118]
In this verse, Allah has singled out the “people who are sure” since these are the one’s who verify the truth about thing. They are the one’s who seek evidence and strive for accuracy and certainty. These are the people who truly benefit from a message that is free from doubt, since they are not satisfied with mere words and claims, but seek after certainty.
Allah says: “O ye who believe! If a sinful person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly and afterwards become full of regret for what you have done.” [Sûrah al-Hujurât: 6]
This verse provides an essential principle of Islamic teachings. It instructs us to pay attention to the character and circumstances of a person who tells us something. We are not supposed to passively accept all the rumors and doubtful claims that circulate in society.
The verse sets forth the principle of verification and warns us against believing things that may very well be false.
A claim made by a person of suspect character is one that warrants extra scrutiny. It can certainly not be used as a basis for ascertaining the facts. It needs, rather, to be verified by the facts. An unscrupulous person does nit possess the moral imperative to shy away from lying and saying things that can hurt individuals or the public at large.
The verse warns us of the consequences of being reckless in passing on unverified information, where it says: “…lest you harm people unwittingly”.
How often does a person mention something bad he heard about someone else at a gathering or a social function or on an Internet forum, only to find out – after the damage has been done – that it was untrue. Certainly, he will feel regret for unwittingly spreading that hurtful lie, but he cannot undo the damage that he has done. Words can be like bullets – once they are shot, they cannot be called back.
This verse was revealed with respect to al-Walîd b. `Uqbah when he was dispatched to collect the Zakâh from al-Hârith b. Dirâr al-Khazâ`î and his people. However, he was worried about something that took place between them during the time before Islam, so he returned to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and told him that those people refused to pay the Zakâh.
This account has been related by al-Tabarânî, Ahmad b. Hanbal, bn Abî Hâtim, Ibn Mardawayh, and others with an acceptable chain of transmission. The scholars of the Qur’ân agree that this is the occasion for which the verse was revealed.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) warned us against speaking without knowledge when he said: “Telling a lie about me is not like telling a lie about someone else. Whoever lies about me intentionally has prepared his seat in the Hellfire.”
We read in Sahîh al-Bukhârî the account of Khâlid b. al-Walîd being dispatched to deal with the belligerent tribe of Banû Jadhîmah. They relented and even declared their acceptance of Islam by saying the words: “We have become Sabians”. Khâlid did not understand what they meant and assumed they were merely declaring their persistence in their hostilities. He, therefore, continued to fight them.
When the Prophet (peace be upon him) heard about this, he exclaimed: “O Allah! I am innocent of what Khâlid had done.”
Al-Khattâbî draws the following lessons from this event:
The Prophet (peace be upon him) condemned Khâlid’s haste and his failure to verify what the tribe’s stance actually was. He had the responsibility to find out what they meant by their saying “We have become Sabians.” The statement was certainly ambiguous.
It was his obligation to ascertain what they were trying to say. People have different languages, different usages, and different customs.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Deliberation is from Allah and haste is from the devil.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî – with an acceptable chain of transmission]
When `A’ishah was slandered and falsely accused of adultery, it proved to be a valuable lesson to the Muslims about the need to verify rumors and endeavor to ascertain the truth.
Allah says about this scandal: “Why did not the believing men and the believing women, when you heard it, think well of their own people, and say: This is an evident falsehood? Why did they not produce four witnesses? Since they did not produce witnesses, they indeed they are liars in the sight of Allah.” [Sûrah al-Nûr: 12-13]
In the wake of the scandal, Umm Dardâ’ told her husband Abû Dardâ’: “Have you heard what is being said about `A’ishah?”
Her husband replied: “Yes, I have. And it is a lie.” He paused and then said: “Umm Dardâ’, did you consider that had you been in `A’ishah’s place, would you have done such a deed?”
She said: “Certainly not!”
He said: “If I had been in Safwân’s place, do you think I would have done that?”
She said: “No, not at all.”
He said: “Then consider that Safwân is a better man than me, and `A’ishah is a better woman than you.”
These are wise words from Abû al-Dardâ’ that we can all take a lesson from when we hear bad things being said about good people.
We should speak only about permissible matters, things that we will not be held against us in the Hereafter, and not cause us reproach in this world