(Khutbah at Trinity College)
My dear brothers and sisters, today in our brief time together I want to remind you as I remind myself of the responsibility of the tongue in our daily lives and the importance of protecting it from vice and using it for the sake of virtuous deeds.
Prophet Muhammad (S), our beloved Messenger, once said “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.”
If we reflect on this hadith we find the enormous responsibility placed upon the tongue of a believer who is conscious of God in his or her daily life and who is aware of the fact that when it is all said and done, it is Allah and Allah alone to whom we will return for our questioning and accountability on the Day of Judgement.
This is why Allah (swt) says in His Book, “Not a word does he or she utter, but there is a watcher by him ready to record it.”
And, this is why Prophet Muhammad (s) also said that “Whosoever gives me a guarantee to safeguard [from vice] what is between his jaws [meaning the tongue] and what is between his legs, I shall guarantee for him paradise.”
And the Prophet also said, when asked by Uqbah bin Amr, “How can salvation be achieved?” He replied, “Control your tongue, keep to your house, and weep over your sins.”
Indeed in the science of Islamic spirituality, our teachers say that the tongue is the mirror’s heart. If the heart is corrupt, then the tongue will reflect this corruption in speech. And, if the tongue is pure, then the tongue will reflect this purity in speech.
As such, the Prophet (s) said, “Do not indulge in excessive talk except when remembering Allah. For excessive talk without the rememberance of Allah hardens the heart; and those who are the farthest from Allah are those whose hearts are hard.
Allah (swt) says that the home of hypocrisy is in the heart, “In their hearts are diseases,” and interestingly when the Prophet told his companions about the signs of a hypocrite all the qualities he pointed to were qualities of the tongue. When he speaks, he lies. When he promises, he breaks his promise. And, when he becomes angry he uses foul language.
So, my brothers and sisters as we can see the tongue is at the very heart of Islamic spirituality, the very key to our heart’s purity, the organ that can cause utmost happiness and joy in this world and the next or destruction in this world and the next, and it is the tongue that will either testify for us or against us when we stand before our Lord with no more excuses and no more self-deceiving lies to tell.
As such, it is the foremost responsibility of a believer to gain mastery over the tongue, rather than allow the tongue to gain mastery over us. In order to do this, we must first know the major spiritual diseases of the heart. Imam al-Ghazali, master theologian and mystic, identifies 8 common diseases of the tongue in his Ihya Ulum Al-Din, “Revival of Religious Sciences.”
1) Lying: Considered one of the worst sins in Islam, and the Prophet (s) even warned against telling false stories in order to make people laugh, because once the tongue becomes used to lying it will spread to other spheres of your life.
2) Breaking promises: Do not break your promises for it is a sure sign of hypocrisy in the heart.
3) Backbiting: Allah (swt) likens the one talking ill about another behind their back as disgusting and blameworthy as one who eats the dead flesh of his brother or sister. And, if you think about this it is a true analogy, because when you speak ill behind someone’s back you are dishonoring them as one who eats the dead flesh of his brother would dishonor, and by speaking ill behind a person’s back they are unable to defend their honor and reputation just as the dead flesh is unable to defend himself or herself.
And the Prophet (s) relates that when he went on the ascension in his spiritual journey to the high heavens, he saw a group of people who were scratching their chests and faces with their copper nails. And the Prophet (s) asked Gabriel who are these people? And Gabriel replied: “These are the people who ate the flesh of others [backbiting] and trampled people’s honor.”
4) Wrangling, arguing and disputing with others: This does nothing but increase enmity between the hearts and pride within oneself. Therefore, abandon argumentation and disputation with others, especially when you know it is of no use or benefit.
The Prophet (s) said, “If a man avoids disputing when he is in the wrong, God builds for him a mansion in the middle part of paradise. And if a man avoids disputing when he is in the right, God builds for him a mansion in highest part of paradise.
5) Self-justification or self-praise: Praising yourself is a sign of arrogance, and the Prophet (s) said that a person with even a seed of arrogance in his or heart will not enter the gates of paradise. Self-praise is something that brings both people’s dislike and God’s dislike upon you both in this world and in the next.
6) Cursing: Do not curse anyone or even anything that Allah has created. Even when you are wronged, respond with peace and kindness not with the same ignorance that was hurled at you. Allah (swt) says about the servants of the Merciful, “And when the ignorant call upon you, reply to them “Peace.”
7) Invoking evil on creatures: Pray even for your worst enemies and those who hurt you rather than evoking some sort of evil upon them. In the end invoking evil on people hurts no one but your own soul and your own destiny on the day of judgement.
8) Jesting, ridiculing, and scoffing at people: Allah (swt) says, “Believers, people should not ridicule other people; these maybe better than they are. And women should not ridicule other women, these maybe better than they are. And don’t defame each other, or call each other insulting nicknames. Evil the name of impiety after faith; and any who do not refrain are doing wrong.”
And the Prophet (s) once chastised his wife Aisha when she called made fun of another person’s short height by saying, “You have indeed uttered a word which would pollute the sea if it were mixed in it.”
So, now that we know the 8 major diseases of the heart, it is important to know how to purify our tongues of these spiritual diseases that will enable us to gain mastery over our tongues.
1) First we must remain conscious of these diseases, and refrain from allowing any of them to take residence in our tongues.
2) Secondly, and most importantly we must adopt silence, silence, and more silence. Know that every word that is uttered is recorded, so be sure that whenever you do speak, you speak words that are pleasing to God. As our spiritual masters teach us, speak little, think much. And this is why Abu Bakr (ra) would place a rock in his mouth and remove it only when he found it useful and beneficial to talk. This is the extent to which our role models went to discipline their tongues, and we should follow these examples.
3) Increase our fasting for fasting teaches us self-control and teaches us to gain mastery over our own souls. In fact, before the shariah (law) of Prophet Muhammad (s) it is evident in the story of Maryam (as) that fasting also consisted of remaining silent for long periods of time. So, fasting is a natural way to train the tongue in self-control.
4) Keep good company, for it is natural to adopt to the company of the people you are with. If you are with company that uses the tongue loosely, it is likely that you will also become loose with your tongue because of the culture that is created among your circle. On the other hand, if your company is good and the culture among your circle is such that the tongue is only used for good purposes, it is also likely that you will become used to using your tongue for pure purposes only.
5) Finally, and most importantly, train your tongue to be in constant dhirk, rememberance of Allah (swt), especially before going to bed in the night and when waking up in the morning. The Prophet (s) said “When the son of Adam gets up in the morning, all the limbs humble themselves before the tongue and say: “Fear Allah for our sake because we are with you. If you are straight, we will be straight; and if you are crooked, we will become crooked.”
So, constantly keep the praise of Allah on your tongue, not only after prayers, but even while walking to classes, driving your car, or whenever you can. This way the tongue becomes purified from the diseases and it in turn purifies the heart, for Allah (swt) says, "Indeed in the rememberance of God do hearts find tranquility
In conclusion, I leave you this week with the advise that Imam al-Ghazali gives in his Ihya Ulum Din regarding the tongue:
“The tongue was created for you chiefly that you might frequently engage in the mention of God most high and in reciting of His Book, that you might direct the creatures of God most high to His way, and that you might declare to God the religious and secular needs of which you are conscious. If you use it for some purpose other than that for which it was created, you deny the goodness of God most high in giving it to you. It is the part of your body with most power over you and over the rest of creation. It is, above all, the slanders of the tongue which throw men into Hell on their noses. So gain the mastery over it to the utmost of your ability, lest it throw you to the bottom of Hell.
May Allah (swt) purify our tongues, and give us the ability to gain mastery over it so that we may be successful and saintly in this world, and so that we may return to our Lord with bright faces and cheerful smiles, basking in the glory that awaits those who purify themselves for the sake of God.