The power of words
EVERY organ of the human body is valuable but the tongue, through which we speak, is the most important in the whole scheme of our relationship with the society around us.
It is a medium through which we interact with the outside world. We converse with others and form opinions regarding their character, rectitude, trustworthiness, seriousness, pretentiousness etc.
Similarly, in every vocation one can be successful through the proper use of words. One can leave a lasting imprint of his or her personality on others through the decent use of words.
Yet not all people are successful in society and many face difficulties in dealing with others. Among the reasons for this may be the rough use of words. If one’s speech is filled with invective, it not only creates hatred and hostility in society but also displeases Allah. Therefore, Islam is quite particular in asking believers to be extra conscious while using language.
The Quran says “O you who believe! Keep your duty to Allah and fear Him and speak (always) the truth” (33:70). At another place Allah says that “On the day when their tongues, their hands and their feet will bear witness against them as to what they used to do” (24:24).
It is said that an injury by a sword can be healed, yet an injury inflicted by words remains incurable.
The tongue can break a heart, while it can also console a broken heart. It can establish peace, create friends, impact others, win hearts and minds and also leave long-lasting memories in others’ hearts.
Conversely, the tongue, if used negatively, can hurt people, create foes, establish animosity and above all destroy the peace of society. Therefore, all world religions, including Islam, urge us to be aware of our language.
Islam, being a religion of peace, is very emphatic that one should be mindful of his or her daily utterances. It even declares in the Quran that “Kind words (spoken) and forgiving of faults are better than sadaqa (charity)….” (2:263).
The human being is the crown of creation, endowed with intellect. He is usually called a speaking animal as he can speak his mind and thoughts through his tongue. Every word spoken or written consciously or unconsciously has a tremendous impact.
This is a distinctive feature that marks us out from all other species.
The Holy Quran refers to the covenant made with the Children of Israel. Among the conditions set forth include the use of the tongue. For example the holy book says “…Speak good to people….” (2:83). When Hazrat Musa was ordered to visit Pharaoh, he was directed to “Speak to him mildly; perhaps he may accept admonition…” (20:44).
This elaborates clearly the importance of tone and tenor through which one speaks to family, friends and society at large. Our words should be appropriate to make statements civilised and decent. Also, words once uttered cannot be taken back.
Islam has endowed us with an excellent value system which has been instrumental in impacting the lives of people of all cultures. The mystics and scholars who served Islam by spreading its message to every nook and corner of the world used language filled with love, persuasion and appeal.
However, our present-day society is extremely polarised. We have drifted away from Islam’s perennial message. It can easily be observed that many people are involved in gossiping, backbiting, loose talk and character assassination. These are negative traits which are detrimental to society.
It is time to look within and reflect on the state of our society, which needs overhauling. In order to refine society, the Islamic message regarding the proper use of words needs to be highlighted.
The very first step needed is to teach people to avoid diseases of the tongue which include lying, backbiting, mudslinging, rumour-mongering etc. Like the diseases of the body, diseases of the tongue can do major damage. Allah says in the Quran that “…Man was created weak” (4:28). Therefore, every one of us is prone to illnesses of various kinds. Similarly, our egoistic nature is also weak and attracts various forms of negativity.
The life pattern of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is worth emulating for all of us. In the Quran Allah refers to those who used to hurt the Prophet with malicious remarks, which the Prophet would hear without uttering a word. This indicates that the Messenger was listening much more than speaking. Those who listen and reflect without uttering too many words tend to have a greater understanding of issues.
Every child learns language in his or her home environment. He or she also acquires basic traits from the home. In nurturing the future generations, all parents should take special care. They should create a spiritual environment, where a strict regimen for physical, social and spiritual wellbeing should be the order of the day. Abusive words should have no room in any corner of the home.
Institutions which are directly or indirectly linked to the development of the new generation, such as schools and colleges, teach subjects regarding the correct use of language. Yet they pay more attention to syntax rather than to the social use of language.
In order to create a peaceful, loving society, children need to be taught interactive skills coupled with the temperate use of words.
The writer is an educationist.