Controlling the Tongue and Repentance
Undoubtedly, the tongue is amongst Allah’s greatest gift to mankind, for without it, man would never be able to reveal what is in his heart. It is only with it, that man can disclose his thoughts to others, and conversely also learn about the minds of others. It is with the tongue that man acquires proximity with Allah, through his supplications and prayers and by reciting Allah’s greatest bounty to man, viz. the Quran. It is the tongue by which an apostate (kaafir), on reciting the ‘Kalemah’, turns a Muslim. In fact, the tongue acts as a yardstick to estimate the intellect of a person, so that an ignorant person is deemed to be intelligent so long he does not speak anything.
While the tongue’s merits, if it is used correctly, are innumerable, and can not be denied, but if misused, its demerits are equally perilous. In other words, the tongue can be deemed a bounty only if it is employed in the manner for which it was created. Because the tongue is akin to a wild beast, and has to be controlled at all times, else it will prove to be fatal. That is why it has been narrated in traditions that, a wise man’s tongue is concealed behind his intellect, while an ignorant conceals his intellect behind his tongue. It is critical to train and instruct the tongue in a manner so that it only speaks what is beneficial and avoids the harmful. For apparently, the tongue is only a piece of flesh, but can determine the fate of a person on the Day of Judgement.
While it has immense benefits, the tongue also shoulders immense responsibilities. If used correctly, it can make man worthy of Paradise. But if not reined in, and abandoned to follow one’s desires, then it can sink man to the depths of Hell. Mentioned below are some of the demerits of the tongue, if not controlled:
Lies and falsehood are some of the most serious crimes committed by the tongue. Allah has castigated the liars in several places in the Quran, and has warned them of a most painful chastisement.
2. Backbiting (Gheebat)
This means to discuss the defects and vices of a person in his absence. The Holy Quran has condemned such people, and has compared this despicable action to eating the flesh of one’s dead brother.
3. Accusation (Tuhmat)
Accusing is distinct from backbiting. Accusing implies to charge a person of a vice that is not found in him. Backbiting means to charge a person of defect or vice that is found in him. In some places, the Book of Allah has fixed 100 lashes as penalty for the accuser.
This means to gossip, and relay news from one person to another with the sole purpose of creating disputes and squabbles between people. The Majestic Quran has threatened such people with hell.
5. Bad language
To use the tongue for unworthy language and useless talks, or to use it to pain a believer. The wounds caused by a sword can heal, but the damage done by the tongue does not heal easily.
Traditions reveal that Allah has prohibited Paradise to the one who abuses.
To taunt and ridicule a person. This hurts a person intensely, resulting in anguish and grief.
8. Revealing of secrets
To disclose another person’s secrets and hidden negative points which is a most contemptible trait. This is opposite to the one who closely guards another person’s secrets, which is a most praiseworthy trait according to the Holy Quran.
9. To slander
10. To utter apostasy (Kufr)
11. To deviate a person from truth towards falsehood
Backbiting means to discuss the defects and vices of an individual in his absence, which is disapproved by the latter, resulting in his displeasure and resentment. From the viewpoint of the Islamic Shariah, this action is forbidden (haraam). Quran has described the effects of this detestable act in a most unusual manner,
‘Does any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?’
Just as man finds eating the flesh of one’s dead brother repulsive, his nature must also abhor backbiting and slander. Backbiting is a serious crime inviting chastisement not only for the backbiter, but even for the one who lends his ear to it or reflects over it. This is because a person who lends his ear to backbiting and slander is in a way encouraging the backbiter to go on with his slanderous talks. In fact, under such circumstances, a person’s duty is to defend the person who is being slandered. For although that person may not be present, one must bear in mind that Allah is all Seeing and all Knowing.
In this regard, the Prophet (s.a.w.s.) advises us, ‘When you are in a gathering where a person is being slandered and defamed, then you must defend that individual and forbid the people in the gathering to speak about him in such a manner, and (to express your disgust) leave the gathering.’
He (s.a.w.s.) exhorts us further, ‘If a person defends his (believer) brother’s honour in his absence, Allah will protect him from the chastisement of the hereafter.’
Backbiting and slander affect that person most, who backbites and not the one who is the subject of backbiting. This is because the backbiter only portrays himself in a poor light and moreover, incurs divine wrath. Also those around him learn about his detestable character of exposing people’s faults and defects. They will avoid him, and never confide in him. The backbiter will find himself getting lonelier and ultimately, himself will become the subject of slander and backbiting.
The truth is, backbiting eliminates whatever virtues a backbiter may have, and replaces it with vices and immorality. Although apparently backbiting is a physical action, it has serious effects on one’s spirituality, and should therefore not be taken lightly. Scholars of ethics have enumerated some important causes that drive a person towards backbiting, viz. envy, anger, egotism, evil intentions and deceit. All these are like the flaming fire that engulfs a man, and force him to use his tongue to slander and malign. This is because the tongue is considered to be an indicator of what is concealed in a person’s heart. Therefore, backbiting only reveals the evil intentions of the backbiter. Backbiting is among the most unmistakable signs of hypocrisy and treachery in a person. That is why a wise man never indulges in it.
Ameerul Mo’mineen (a.s.) has this to say about a backbiter,
‘Backbiting is the endeavour of a very weak person.’
In another place, he (a.s.) declares,
‘It is obligatory upon you to refrain from backbiting, since it will make the people rise against you in enmity, and will nullify all your rewards.’ He (a.s.) further exhorts us, ‘Don’t make yourselves habituated to backbiting, for surely the backbiter indulges in dangerous sins.’
Therefore, we should make a firm resolve and never give into the temptation to backbite and slander, and for that matter, neither should we lend our ear or shoulder to the backbiter.
Before we proceed on this topic, we would like to highlight our point by way of an illustration. Say, for instance, we own a plot of land that we decide to cultivate. But to ensure that we harvest a good crop, before we commence cultivation, we dig out all shrubs and bushes and remove all stones and gravel, that would in any way hinder the cultivation process and affect the harvest. We then proceed to sow the seeds, and reap a crop in the harvest season. All this was possible only because of our painstaking efforts for a good harvest.
Similarly, if we wish to plant the seed of Islam in our heart, we must first cleanse it of all impure thoughts, and cleanse our existence of all sins, big or small. Only if our heart and mind is free of all impurities, will Islamic beliefs and edicts dwell in them, and only then will we be able to benefit from the guardianship (vilayat) of the Ahle Bayt (a.s.). We shall then ascend the exalted station that Allah desires of us.
The cleansing process mentioned in the previous paragraph is possible only with intense repentance and deep remorse over one’s sins. Repentance means to turn towards Allah, in regret and contrition. Accepting the repentance of a servant is characteristic of Allah’s generosity and munificence, and it is one of the doors leading to Allah’s mercy that He has kept open for all His servants without exception. That is why He declares,
‘O You who believe! Turn to Allah a sincere turning; maybe your Lord will remove from your your evil and cause you to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow.’
The all-merciful and oft-turning Allah has not only kept the door of repentance open at all times, but He further asserts,
‘Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him).’
The all-beneficent Allah not only forgives the sins of those who seek repentance, but also loves them. In fact, as a measure of His love, He converts the evil deeds of the remorseful ones into good deeds. That is why He declares,
‘Surely good deeds take away evil deeds.’
Then it is necessary for us to adopt the way of repentance. After confessing our sins in front of Allah, it also necessary for us to abandon the way of transgression and embrace the path of goodness and piety.