The Power of the Tongue


99535218_fdfab8c28b_bImam An-Nawawī said regarding the tongue: “Whoever wishes to speak should reflect before saying anything. If any benefit is found, then let him speak. Otherwise, let him remain silent.”1

In a world where politicians, talk show hosts, entertainers, and gossipers never seem to stop talking, Islam reminds us that the tongue is like a loaded weapon: the safety latch should always be on. Muslim scholars throughout time have warned us about the dangers of misfiring the tongue, something that almost everyone has been guilty of. The Prophet’s ﷺ concise statement should serve as sufficient evidence that the above is true: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say something good, or keep quiet.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] Speech has been tied to belief in this Prophetic statement in order to drive home the idea that what we speak is almost as important as what we believe.

With advancements in technology, weapons are able to inflict much more harm that anyone previously ever dreamt of. Whether it’s a nuke or a cluster bomb, the effects of modern assault is a phenomenon that every person of conscious looks at with regret. The tongue is no different: by means of mass media and satellite, the power of speech has the ability to wreak havoc upon entire communities through deception, propaganda, and instigation.

However, just as nuclear technology can be harnessed for immense good, the power of the tongue can also be amplified for positive things. The Prophet ﷺ said: “The greatest struggle [Jihād] is a word of truth2 in front of a tyrant ruler.” [An-Nasā’ī] This statement should not fool anyone to think that the effect of prohibiting someone from doing wrong is confined only to the next world. One of the ways that ‘wrong’ is made ‘right’ is through the tongue. In fact, according to the Messenger ﷺ, this oral activism becomes a necessity when unable to physically correct something: “Whoever perceives something wrong must correct with their hand. If unable to, then with their tongue. If still unable, then with their heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.” [Muslim]

A detailed analysis of this command reveals a number of things:

  • First, the perception that something is wrong must be correct and based upon knowledge, rather than suspicion or false accusation. Had the command been limited to what every ignorant person perceives to be wrong, it would lead to chaos.
  • Next, correcting something with the heart means to hate it in your heart. You can only hate what you know. Therefore, the Prophetic wisdom is commanding people to know what evil is happening around them. Those people who live in an environment surrounded by injustice and oppression but are ignorant of what is taking place are just as guilty as those who know about it but don’t hate it.
  • Lastly, the sequence that was mentioned deserves special attention. The first step is to acquire the knowledge of what is defined as ‘wrong.’ Islam rejects the idea of moral relativism, in its absolute sense. What is right and wrong has been defined by our Creator, not by the creation. The second step is to have the knowledge of what is taking place around you. If you do not know what is taking place, you cannot even attempt to hate it.

However, hatred is not the end goal. It is a means to an end, the same way that knowledge is a means towards action, rather than a goal in itself. The awareness and hatred for ‘wrong’ will manifest itself on the tongue when a person is in a position to do so. In turn, that oral struggle will manifest into action when the opportunity presents itself.

The tongue has so much power because of its ability to lead to action, whether it is the individual speaking, or others who are listening. It is because of this power that the safety on this weapon should remain on, but it is also because of this power that those who are in a position to do so should aim with it, and shoot.


  1. Az-Zarqānī, Muhammad. Sharh Az-Zarqānī ‘alā Muwatta’ Al-Imām Mālik. Vol 4, pg. 517.
  2. Or in some narrations: “a word of justice”.
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3 Comments

  1. muslimun says:

    indeed the tongue is the most deadliest weapont on earth. It can shoot more 30 insults per minuite keeping the angel on your left shoulder trying to keep up with the fire rate!

    indeed the young is the most useful tool on earth. It can shoot more then 60 dhikr of of allah per minuite.

    on valentines day, how many “no”s does it require to get a desperate and suicidal man to kill himself? Onely one “no”. The “no” that is transmitted into a guy holding a cellphone on top of a bridge.

    the tongue is very dangerous.

    muslimun

  2. Mohammad says:

    Assalamo alaykum Imam Mustafa. Great reminder Alhamdulillah for us to to be careful to never drop the guard with our tongue, be it the workplace or gym or home. Also I sincerely hope that the readers realize and implement the deep wisdom hidden in your statement in sha Allah: “…, the same way that knowledge is a means towards action, rather than a goal in itself.” Too many times we do not internalize the ‘knowledge’ that we have learnt (in this case religious knowledge specifically), and consequently do not observe any change in our attitude and resultant behavior/action. May Allah preserve you and have mercy on you.

    wasalam.

  3. Zaufishan says:

    Asalamu’alaikum!
    An insightful and illuminating piece, relevant to contemporary society in how to differentiate between truthful speakers, and deceitful ranters. I love that metaphor; keep the safety latch on your tongue, inshaAllah.
    Very similar to a sheikh I once heard whom said each vessel (person) will only pour it what is in it; the tongue is the ability to express what lies within it – television, friends etc – all that are environmental forces that shape that person. And the moment we ‘open’ our tongue what we are doing is essentially squeezing what is in us. And so for the outcome to be positive the input needs to be positive insha’Allah. A safety latch is required.

    Jazak’Allah khairan.
    http://www.muslimness.com

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