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Etiquettes of Dialogue and Speech

Saturday 27/03/2010

All perfect praise is due to Allah; I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His Slave and Messenger, may Allah exalt his mention, as well as that of his family and all his companions. 

Islam came to instil and spread fine manners and noble etiquettes. When in conversation or discussion, a Muslim must maintain these because Islam comprehensively addresses all aspects of life, and requires a Muslim to be distinct in his character, creed, worship, manners, etiquettes and appearance.
 
Undoubtedly, Islam is the superior and lofty religion. There can be no doubt that its legislation is the final one and the finest amongst all revealed legislations.
 
This issue is vital and must be borne in mind when addressing our Lord, when speaking to people of knowledge, when conversing with friends, when talking to one's spouse, and when in a public gathering. If the manners and etiquettes of speech disappear, people’s gatherings will become futile and fruitless, and a source of enmity and hatred.
 
Guarding One's Tongue: Allah commands us to guard our tongues and His Messenger  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) warned us against setting them loose. 
 
Abu Hurayrah may Allah be pleased with him, reported: “I heard the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) saying:“A person utters a word thoughtlessly (i.e., without thinking about whether it is good or evil) and as a result, will plummet into the fire of Hell deeper than the distance between the east and the west.”[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
 
Abu Hurayrah may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said: “A man may utter a word pleasing to Allah without considering it of any significance, but for which Allah elevates his ranks (in Paradise); another one may speak a word displeasing to Allah without considering it of any importance, but for which he would be plummeted into Hell.”[Al-Bukhari]
 
Abu 'Abdur-Rahmaan Bilaal bin Al-Haarith Al-Muzani may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “A man may speak a good word without knowing its worth, for which Allah records for him His good pleasure until the Day he will meet Him; another man may utter an evil word without realising its importance, for which Allah records for him His displeasure until the Day he will meet Him.” [Maalik & At-Tirmithi]
 
People often carelessly utter words, some of which may include or imply transgression of the limits of Islam. Such negative words may even be about Allah, or an objection to His decree, or the like, which would lead the person uttering them to the Hellfire.
 
For this reason, when the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) was talking to Mu’aath, may Allah be pleased with him, he told him: “The root (i.e. foundation) of this matter is Islam, its pillar (mainstay) is the prayer and its apex is Jihaad (fighting in the cause of Allah).” Then he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention )asked: “Shall I tell you of that which holds together all these things?” Mu’aath may Allah be pleased with him, said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” So he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) held his tongue between his fingers, and said: “Restrain this.” Mu’aath may Allah be pleased with him, asked: “O Messenger of Allah! Will we really be held to account for what we say?” The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) exclaimed: “May your mother lose you! Most people will be thrown on their faces into the Hellfire on account of their tongues.” [Ahmad & At-Tirmithi] The phrase: “May your mother lose you” is certainly not a supplication or a wish, as the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) would never have supplicated against any of his companions, but rather it is an idiom used by the Arabs to draw people's attention to the importance of what follows it, which in this case was to highlight that misuse of the tongue is the basis for the punishment of most people.
 
Statements from the Salaf regarding Controlling and Guarding the Tongue: There are many statements that came in this regard, such as the words of Ibn Mas’ood, may Allah be pleased with him: “That which requires imprisonment the most is one's tongue.” [End of quote] This is why many scholars have written books about the excellence of remaining silent.
 
The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) was silent most of the time, and only spoke when absolutely necessary. He encouraged us to use kind words when we do have to speak. `Adiyy bin Haatim, may Allah be pleased with him, reported the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) as saying: “Allah will surely speak to every one of you without an interpreter. He (i.e., the one being spoken to) will look to his right and see nothing but (deeds) which he had done, and will look to his left and see nothing but (deeds) which he had done. Then he will look in front of him and will find nothing except the Hellfire facing him. So protect (yourselves) from the Fire, even if by giving in charity half a date, and if you cannot find that, then with a kind word."[Al-Bukhari & Muslim] He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) therefore clarified that kind words protect one from Hell and are thus a main cause of gaining entry into Paradise.
 
The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) also said: “In Paradise are rooms, the inside of which can be seen from the outside, and the outside of which can be seen from the inside. Allah has prepared them for those who offer food (to the needy), are soft in speech, who frequently fast, and who pray at night while the people are asleep.” [Al-Bayhaqi & Al-Haakim]
 
The Etiquettes of Dialogue and Speech: There are many etiquettes that Islam legislated and encouraged, which reflect the magnitude of this topic. The following are some of these etiquettes:
 
·        Lowering one's voice: Allah says:
واغضض من صوتك إن أنكر الأصوات لصوت الحمير
which means: “…And lower your voice; indeed, the most disagreeable of sounds is the voice of donkeys.” [Luqmaan: 19] Raising one's voice reflects a lack of manners, unless the need arises, such as when delivering a Khutbah, or when warning someone, or teaching, or when it is feared that those at a distance may not be able to hear. On the other hand, one's voice should not be so low that people can hardly hear, nor should it be monotonous, as this instigates boredom on the part of those listening, which can cause them to lose interest altogether.
·        Shunning excessive talk and badmouthing others: Jaabir, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said:“The dearest and nearest of you to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the one who is best in manners; and the most abhorrent among you, and the farthest of you from me (on that Day) will be the offensive (i.e. in speech), the garrulous, and the Mutafayhiqoon.” His companions asked him: "O Messenger of Allah! We know about the offensive and the garrulous, but we do not know who the Mutafayhiqoon are.'' He  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) replied:“(They are) those who are arrogant when they speak.” [At-Tirmithi] This is a stern warning to not sound arrogant or talk to people with words that they do not understand in order to demonstrate that one is knowledgeable or eloquent.
·        Listening to others: This is especially the case when the Qur’aan is being recited; Allah says:
وإذا قرئ القرآن فاستمعوا له وأنصتوا لعلكم ترحمون
which means: “So when the Qur'aan is recited, then listen to it and pay attention that you may receive mercy.” [Al-A’raaf: 204] The worthiest person of being listened to was the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) and when his companions practically applied this, they attained an exalted level of manners and glorified the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) with his due glory. In fact, Allah commanded the believers to lower their voices in his presence, as He says:
يا أيها الذين آمنوا لا ترفعوا أصواتكم فوق صوت النبي ولا تجهروا له بالقول كجهر بعضكم لبعض أن تحبط أعمالكم وأنتم لا تشعرون
which means: “O you who have believed! Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet or be loud to him in speech like the loudness of some of you to others, lest your deeds become worthless while you perceive not.” [Al-Hujuraat: 2] This also applies after his death, by lowering one's voice when his prophetic narrations are being related.
·        Having Sincerity: Some people speak in order to display their knowledge of a certain topic, or show their eloquence. Others hate anyone except themselves speaking in a gathering. Such insincerity does not of course include teaching those who have only a rudimentary understanding of Islam, or to enjoin good and forbid evil.
·        Using comprehensible words: One should not address people with words and phrases that are beyond their comprehension, or use a difficult language. He must adopt simple wording and terminology, even when addressing certain specialities or particular fields of knowledge. This is so that the common people would understand. ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said:“Talk to people with speech that they can understand. Do you wish that people belie Allah and His messenger?” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
·        Speaking slowly: The objective of addressing people is to convey certain points or ideas. Therefore, one must talk slowly enough for them to be able to grasp and understand what is being conveyed. Once, while ‘Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, was praying, sheoverheard a man hurriedly narrating a statement of the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ). Afterwards, she, may Allah be pleased with her, remarked: “Had I finished (praying) before he left, I would have rebuked him for his haste. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) would never speak quickly when addressing people. He would speak slowly and in a manner that would enable anyone listening to understand what he was saying.” [End of quote]
·        Repeating important statements:Some words or phrases may prove difficult to grasp or understand the first time, and it is therefore recommended to repeat them, in order to facilitate comprehension.Anas may Allah be pleased with him, reported:“Whenever the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said something, he would repeat his words thrice, so that the meanings would be fully understood.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim] `Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, reported: “The speech of the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) was so clear that all those who listened to it would easily understand.”
[Abu Daawood] The objective of repeating one's words is to make sure that people understand the words; however, if this objective is met the first time, then there is no need for repetition. The maximum number of repetitions should be three, as it would become monotonous if it exceeded this number.
·        Facing the speaker: Facing the speaker reflects attentiveness to his words. A related issue is that the Imaam who is straightening the rows before starting the prayer needs to do so whilst facing the congregation, as per the practice of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ), and not whilst having his back to them.
·        Shunning obscene words:`Abdullaah bin `Amr bin Al-`Aas, may Allah be pleased with him and his father, stated: “The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) never used foul speech, nor did he like to listen to it.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim] If a bad word was used in his presence, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) would turn his face away to reflect his objection to it. Abu Sa`eed Al-Khudri, may Allah be pleased with him, reported:“The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) was even more bashful than a virgin behind her veil. Whenever he saw something he disliked, we could perceive it on his face.” [Al- Bukhari & Muslim]
·        Allowing elders to initiate: When people gather for a meeting, the elders in the gathering should be given precedence, if they possess the required knowledge, to address people. The honouring of elders is of the elementary manners that Islam ordains.Sahl bin Abu Hathmah Al-Ansaari may Allah be pleased with him, reported that: “`Abdullaah bin Sahl and Muhaysah bin Mas`ood, may Allah be pleased with them, went to Khaybar during the truce period (after its conquest). They then separated to perform their duties. When Muhaysah, may Allah be pleased with him, returned to `Abdullaah bin Sahl, he found him murdered and drenched in his own blood. So he buried him and returned to Al-Madeenah. Then, `Abdur-Rahmaan bin Sahl, along with  Huwayyisah and Muhaysah, who were the two sons of Mas`ood, went to the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) and informed him about the case of their (murdered) friend. `Abdur-Rahmaan, who was the youngest of them, initiated and began talking, but the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) interrupted him and said: “Let those older than you speak first.” So he stopped talking and the elder spoke about the case " [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
·        Giving the floor to the most knowledgeable: If the need arises in a gathering for one to comment on a matter, then the most knowledgeable person present should be invited to address the issue, as he would be the most capable of convincing others, based on the knowledge Allah has blessed him with. An example of this is when Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him, was given priority to speak in the presence of ‘Umar and Abu ‘Ubaydah, may Allah be pleased with them, regarding the selection of a caliph after the death of the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ).
·        Giving an introduction before the main point: This is especially important when one is addressing a scholar, or any other person of knowledge.
·        Not interrupting the speaker: If a person enters into the presence of people whilst they are talking, then he should not interrupt them. Once Ibn ‘Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with him, was advising a group of men who taught others; he said: “Address people once or twice every Friday, and the most you should address them is thrice a week… If you happen to arrive whilst people are talking, do not interrupt their speech. When they permit you to speak, address them.” [End of quote]
·        Beginning by greeting people before addressing them:The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “If a person begins talking to you before greeting you, then do not reply to him until he greets you.” [Abu Nu’aym]
·        Refraining from lying, even in jest:  It is impermissible for a person to lie, even in jest. The Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “Woe to the one who talks to people and lies in order to make them laugh! Woe to him! Woe to him!”[Abu Daawood & Ahmad]
·        Avoiding talking to a person to the exclusion of a third:Ibn `Umar may Allah be pleased with him and his father, reported that the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “When there are three people present, two of them should not hold a secret counsel to the exclusion of the third, until more come to the gathering, lest this saddens him (i.e. the third person).” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim] This is because the third person may think that he is the subject of discussion, or that he is being conspired against. Two people speaking privately in a group containing more than three people is not included in this prohibition, as the prohibiting factor no longer applies. However, if there are ten people in the gathering and nine of them speak secretly to the exclusion of the tenth, then the prohibition applies. Likewise, if two people speak a different language than the third in a group of three, then the prohibition also applies.
·        Not revealing the secrets of the gathering: If the person to whom one is speaking to clearly requests him not to reveal what took place in the gathering, or even hints at this, then it is binding upon him to honour the request, unless doing so entails harm being afflicted upon other Muslims, in which case one must inform the concerned people. The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) said: “If a person speaks to another some words, then he turns around, then it is a trust.” [Abu Daawood & At-Tirmithi]Meaning, if the person who speaks first turns left and right to make sure that nobody can hear him, then this indicates that he does not want anybody else to hear. Therefore, the one who is spoken to is not allowed to reveal what went on between the two of them, or else it is considered a betrayal.
·        Not abandoning or boycotting a fellow Muslim for more than three days: The limit of abandoning or deserting a fellow Muslim and therefore not speaking to him can only be for a maximum of three days, as set for us by the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ); after that, one is Islamically obliged to talk to him.
·        Speaking in the same language as the addressed:Some Arabs are so fond of the west that they even speak its languages amongst their fellow Arabs in the Arab lands. A lot of them do so in order to show off their fluency in those languages, so that they may impress others. However, if the person that one is addressing does not speak the native language of the one addressing him, then it is permissible, and indeed recommended, to speak to him in his own language in order to better explain the religion. Another case where it is not disliked to speak another language is when there is no suitable word or term in one's own language that would reflect the concept or idea that he is aiming to convey.
·        Deserting an innovator or sinner for a sought benefit: Refusing to talk to a sinner or innovator can at times be beneficial, and in such a case it is permissible to do so.A close relative of `Abdullaah bin Mughaffal, may Allah be pleased with him, was once flicking pebbles at animals using his index finger and thumb. `Abdullaah, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) has forbidden this, saying that it does not kill the game.” The man ignored him and repeated the act, so `Abdullaah, may Allah be pleased with him,said to him: "I told you that the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) has prohibited this, but you persisted. I shall never talk to you again."
·        The ruling on talking to a person in prayer: This is permissible if the need arises. Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, once saw the Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) praying two Rak’ahs after the ‘Asr prayer, so she sent a female slave and told her to stand next to him in order to remind him that he had forbidden praying after the ‘Asr prayer (and before Maghrib). When she did so, he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) waved his hand at her, indicating that she should leave him be. After he  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) finished praying, he informed her that he had been caught up in explaining certain matters of the religion to another Muslim and therefore could not pray the optional prayer after Thuhr, so he was making up for it.
·        Talking to one's wife in a pleasant manner: This is one of the means to establish harmony between the man and his wife, as well as to increase love and strengthen marital bonds.
·        A woman should not discuss her husband’s affairs except with his permission: This is based on a narration in which the Prophet  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) forbade this.
·        It is not recommended to talk after the ‘Ishaa’ Prayer: The exception to this is if one has guests in his house, or if he is in a circle of knowledge. Abu Barzah, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of Allah  sallallaahu  `alayhi  wa  sallam ( may  Allaah exalt his mention ) disliked sleeping before the `Ishaa' (night) prayer and indulging in conversation after it.” [Al-Bukhari & Muslim]
·        Not to talk unnecessarily:If one knows that speaking will bring a benefit or remove an evil, then he should do so. Otherwise, it is best that he remains silent. When he does speak, he should choose the appropriate words. Also, he should never mix serious topics with jokes, and avoid speaking at length.
·        Avoiding ostentation: If one is listening to a story that he is familiar with, he should not interrupt, or show that he knows about it so that others would realise this. Also, if one is addressing the masses, he should avoid using ancient language, so as to be understood.
·        Refraining from backbiting: When addressing people, one should not mention other groups or nations in a negative way, because people usually have no respect for people who do this. Moreover, the speaker should not talk about himself and the knowledge he possesses unless absolutely necessary.
·        Listening attentively: This is a reflection of respect for the speaker. One should also be tolerant during arguments and give the chance to others to speak. The speaker should alter his focus on different people in the gathering so that he looks at them all equally. Also, he should never get excited or angry during his speech.
 
Etiquettes of Criticism: The following are some etiquettes regarding criticism:
 
·        It is recommended to use a pleasant introduction when criticising the speaker, like: “Allow me to comment…” or, “We all make mistakes, and please correct me if I am wrong, but…” or, “I might be wrong, but I understood such and such from you, and I think the correct thing is …” or, “With all due respect to my beloved brother…” However, some people start off in a good manner but then ruin everything by using harsh or inappropriate words of criticism.
·        It is better to hint than criticise directly, and one should refrain from using insulting words.
·        One should endeavour to be a good listener and write down his comments. When his turn comes to comment, he should then state what he thinks to be correct.
·        Before replying to the other party, one should be calm and deliberate. He should not act stubbornly and be realistic in what he says. He should also make sure of sticking to the topic at hand and not to digress to other topics.
·        When criticising someone or something, the idea is not to prove him wrong and oneself correct; one should therefore avoid embarrassing the opponent and preserve his dignity, as it is more desirable for the person to admit to his own fault or mistake and then adhere to the truth.
·        One should not object to the words of his opponent until he fully understands what he means. Also, when talking, one should be precise and to the point.
·        If the gathering is being run by a moderator, he should give an equal opportunity to everyone to participate and should be impartial.

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