The Tongue: A double-edged sword

by Faraz Baig

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…

Or at least that’s what they say.  Even though it’s a cute little rhyme, I gotta say:  this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.

Words are probably one of the most powerful tools known to mankind.  Words can literally transform lives.  They can rally an entire nation.  They can drive ever-lasting changes in very short periods of time.

Words also happen to be the ultimate double-edged sword.  On the one hand, they can heal more effectively than the strongest medicines known to man.  And on the other hand, they can cause more destruction than the most potent of weapons.

To illustrate how powerful words are, consider a hadith from the Prophet (SAW): A man utters a word pleasing to Allah without considering it of any significance, and Allah exalts his ranks (in Jannah) for it.  Another one speaks a word displeasing to Allah without considering it of any importance, and for this reason, he will sink down into Hell. (Bukhari)

It’s very scary to think that saying some words can cause one to face such severe punishment.  And what’s even scarier is that the tongue has a couple unique qualities that make it a recipe for disaster:

1. The tongue is a muscle that virtually never gets tired.  If you walk a lot, your legs get tired.  If you lift a lot of heavy things, your arms get tired.  But if you speak a lot…nothing happens.  Maybe your jaw or your throat will get a little tired, but the tongue itself can just go on and on and on.  Sometimes, it even feels like your tongue gains momentum as you get going!

2. Very few people can control their tongues.  Any time an opportunity presents itself to leave a snarky/sarcastic/inappropriate comment, we just have to take the bait for whatever reason.  And unfortunately, you can’t really physically restrain the tongue the way you can with the limbs.  It’s pretty much just your mind that has to do all the work with stopping the tongue.

The good news is that even though the tongue is a big challenge, the reward for controlling it is immense.  As a matter of fact, the Prophet (SAW) said: Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard his tongue and his private parts, I shall guarantee him Paradise. (Bukhari)

Pretty sweet deal, right?  All your problems are solved, you’re given everything your heart desires, and you never have to worry about anything ever again…the only price is you have to protect those 2 things.

Still…it sounds great on paper, but it’s not that easy sometimes.  But it is definitely do-able.  The following are some of the most common ways the tongue can get us into trouble.  Being mindful of these is a great first step to safeguarding one’s tongue!

1. Backbiting/Slandering

This is any time where you speak about someone in a negative way behind their back.  If you’re saying true statements about the person, you’re backbiting.  If you’re saying false statements about the person, you’re slandering.  But either way, you’re losing because you’re wronging someone.

True story: one of the great scholars of the early Muslim generations was a man named Sufyan ath-Thawri.  Someone once told him that a group of people had been backbiting about him.  So Sufyan ath-Thawri, being a pretty well-known scholar and all, could have easily just bashed these guys in a speech and exposed them to the community.  But instead, he sent them a bowl of dates with a note attached to it reading, “It has come to my attention that you have assigned me some of your good deeds.  I couldn’t think of another way to thank you besides this bowl of dates, so please accept it.”

Could the scholar have been any more of a boss in that situation?  The truth is, when someone wrongs others, he risks having his good deeds given away to the people he wronged on the Day of Judgment.  So firstly, don’t wrong others, and secondly, don’t freak out if you see people wronging others and seemingly getting away with it.  Allah will certainly take care of things.

Last point on backbiting: the opposite of backbiting someone would be to cover up their faults.  And the Prophet (SAW) said: Allah will cover up on the Day of Resurrection the faults of the one who covers up the faults of the others in this world. (Muslim)  So the next time you have a chance to cover for someone, remember that you are also covering for yourself!

2. Lying

A 2002 study from the University of Massachusetts concluded that 60% of adults told at least 1 lie during a 10 minute conversation (  Yikes!  The sad thing is that these conversations were recorded, and many of the participants weren’t even aware at just how often they bent the truth.

Here’s the thing with lying:  besides being prohibited in Islam, most of the time, it’s completely unnecessary anyways.  Very rarely do you have a life-threatening situation that requires you to lie (and if you did, you’re allowed to lie if it means the difference between life and death).  Many of our lies are just little exaggerations and fibs that are just used to spice up conversations.  Totally not worth it.  If you can avoid lying, rest assured that you’ve won a major victory.

3. Curse words and immodest/vulgar language

See the embedded YouTube video for a nice discussion on using foul language.

Video: Making the angels write down curse words

4. Idle talk/useless talk

It’s not haram to talk about sports, games, clothes, food, etc.  That said, one useful piece of advice I’ve heard is to watch it and not let the conversation go overboard.  A 10-minute discussion can easily become 3 hours.  Again, maybe it’s not haram to talk about some of these things, but that sure is a lot of time to flush down the toilet.

Also, many of these discussions wind up leading to areas that should be of no concern to people.  There are some things that it’s better to just not know about.  The Prophet (SAW) said: Part of a person’s being a good Muslim is leaving alone that which does not concern him (at-Tirmidhi).

5. Statements which constitute shirk or kufr

This might be the most destructive one on the list.  Even Muslims can fall into this trap, although sometimes it’s very subtle.  The good news is that this one can be avoided pretty effectively when you arm yourself with knowledge of the basic creed (i.e. ‘aqeedah) of Islam.

One final comment: please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that saying bad things via electronic messaging (such as texts, e-mails, social media chats, and YouTube comments) is ok.  Electronic messages are really the same thing as talking.  You are still communicating ideas and thoughts to others; you’re just using a different medium than sound waves.  At the end of the day, electronic messages accomplish the exact same thing as speech.  Actually, the electronic format can just amplify the impact of your words: since the messages can be saved and archived, they continue to spread to others without any effort from you.

At the end of the day, like all of our other gifts, the tongue can be a means for us to reach salvation, but it’s also something that needs to be monitored for our own sake.  We ask Allah to help us all do what is pleasing to Him.

And Allah is the source of strength, and Allah knows best.  We ask Allah to send His peace and blessings upon His final Prophet (SAW).


2 thoughts on “The Tongue: A double-edged sword

  1. Yasin Haffary says:

    I found this article extremely interesting, I enjoyed how you added some facts like how 60% of adults told at least 1 lie during a 10 minute conversation, which is a depressing fact :(


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