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Imam al-Ghazali on Guarding the Tongue

Shaykh Walead Mosaad presents Imam al-Ghazali’s thoughts on guarding the tongue to protect the heart from nonsense and make room for dhikr of Allah.

Imam al-Ghazali puts a particular emphasis on the importance of guarding one’s tongue and that the tongue is indeed like a double-edged sword. It can do much good but it can also do much harm. There are two major things we need to know about what we say.

    1. 1. What we say is significant, it’s not insignificant.

 

    2. It has an effect.

It affects other people who are in earshot of it. It can affect people who may not even be in earshot of it, by hearsay. Someone might say, “Well, I heard NN say this and this about you.” And if you actually said that or you disseminated that, then it does have the potential to do a lot of damage.

Speech Is Not Just Verbal

While the pre-modern books such as the Ihya are talking about things we actually say, that we pronounce [verbally], obviously, that extends to any which way we may communicate. That includes not just what we say, but what we write, what we tweet, what we disseminate. Even what we retweet. What we propagate. We may not have said it, we may not have originated it, but if we contribute to its dissemination, then we have a role in whatever they said or what is retweeted in affecting other people. It’s significant.

How often have people’s reputations been completely maligned, if not destroyed, based upon something that happened on the social media, or something along the lines of the Internet? This is particularly important because as some of our ulama have stated, there’s this type of call you out, gotcha, culture that we have going on. Many people assume that somehow that’s supported by our Islamic principles. That if someone makes a grievous error, then we need to name and shame.

If they’re caught on camera doing something or saying something or maligning someone or even saying something that’s racist or abusive to other people, and we catch them on camera, then there’s this automatic assumption: name and shame. Let’s make these people famous. Let’s put them out on the Internet. Let’s get their photo everywhere, so everybody knows who they are.

When I see stuff like that, my next question is, and then what? Now we know who they are. Now what? Are we supposed to completely erase them from humanity, because they said something under their breath, even if it was to one of our Muslim sisters that was offensive? Does that fit the offense? Can they be completely maligned and destroyed, and lose their job, and publicly humiliated?

It’s a very powerful tool, especially now when we have access to these tools that – depending on how many followers someone may have or other people may have – within a matter of minutes something can exponentially be spread to all parts of the globe. That power, and it is powerful, wasn’t there ten years ago, let alone 20 and 30 and 40 and and 50 years ago.

The Book and the Wisdom

I think it behooves us to be even even more careful. To heed the words of our Imams, of our ulama, like Imam al-Ghazali and others, who pondered these issues and studied the Qur’an and Sunna very closely. They arrived at this articulation of the hikma, the wisdom. And the Qur’an refers to the Sunna itself as hikma, as wisdom. Everything about our Sunna is wise. Everything about what the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, did – the way he acted, his mannerisms, the way he treated people. There was a wisdom about it. Nothing was done in vain. Nothing was haphazard.

One of the Sahaba asked him, “Are we taken to task by what we say?” You read the hadith and it is as if he’s surprised. Is that like a big deal? The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, replies back very emphatically: “Are people not dragged on their noses [or on their faces] to Hellfire as a result of what their tongues harvest?” In other words, it does have an effect. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, talked about the night of ascension where he saw some of the types of punishment people go through. Among them were the people who backbite, who slander. They will have punishments that reflect what they did in the dunya.

Think of the dunya the life that we live now. It’s representative of something that is more figurative and metaphoric. When we get to the Akhira, those things that are metaphoric will now be literal. The one who slanders will, literally, be carrying the weight of his tongue. It will become huge and he’ll have to carry it on his back like a satchel or a burdensome thing. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in the dunya.

Speak Only of What Concerns You

Sura al-Hujurat 49:12 gives us a very physical description of the person who backbites. “Would you like to eat the dead flesh of your brother?” One of the hadith mentions that there were two women who were fasting and they started backbiting people and they became very ill. Then they regurgitated, they threw up, and the hadith says that meat and bones and blood came out. And the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said: “These two were backbiting.” It became literalized within them, because that’s how ugly it is in the eyes Allah, Exalted and Most High.

Imam al-Ghazali goes in an order of least worst to the worst. From the one that is it’s bad but not really bad to the last thing he talks about; the one that’s really bad. He says, “The first one is to speak about those things that do not concern you.” We know the hadith. “From the good Islam, the good din, of the person – the woman or the man – is to leave that which does not concern one.”

The question will be, “What is it that concerns me then?” Well, the Sunna makes tafsir of the Qur’an, and the Qur’an makes tafsir of the Sunna. So when the verse says, “There is no good in their private conversations (najwa),” talking about the Quraysh, “except for three things: to enjoin to charity or something that is good or to rectify between two people or two parties; ” (Sura al-Nisa 4:114) This is good speech. These are examples of things that would concern us. It means that pretty much everything else is going to fall at least in the category of not concerning us.

Giving Yourself a Break

Obviously, there is the other concept also. What we call istijmam (recreation), which is like tarwih (relief). You do need to go to less serious times in order to have aid and help for your more serious times. We are human beings. We can’t be very on 24/7. We’re not angels in that regard.

Some of the Sahaba complained to the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. They said, and I paraphrase, “You know, when we’re with you we find that we are on, but when we go back to our families and our homes and so forth it’s not the same thing. Is this a sign of nifaq (hypocrisy)?” – Even Umar ibn al-Khattab and Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, Allah be pleased with them, were part of this conversation. – The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “No. If you were to do that, then, the Angels would have greeted you in the streets as you walk, but some time for this and some time for that.”

So there is a halal type of taking a break, istijmam, and things like this. But we have to be careful that that thing of itself doesn’t lead us to falling into something that would be blameworthy, something that would be either makruh, disliked, reprehensible, or haram. People want to take a break and watch a little bit of the game, and enjoy the athleticism of the athletes. I’m not going to say that’s wrong. Athleticism and paying attention to one’s physical prowess and things like this, that is part of the din. We can’t deny that. If you’re not healthy physically, it’s going to be very difficult for you to be healthy spiritually. They go hand in hand.

At the same time we should recognize that it’s very easy to fall into a cycle where these things dominate our thoughts and our attention and our time. It’s about indibat. It’s about trying to do it in a way so that we’re not falling into a place where we lose sight of what’s important.

Excessive Speech

So fudul al-kalam, it’s about leaving that which is doesn’t concern one. It’s better to err on the side of caution. The Sahaba used to count the number of words they would say in the day. I’ll bring up social media again because social media makes you feel like whatever you have to say is important. It also makes you feel like “I need to have an opinion about this thing.” If you see other people putting their opinions, “Well, I have more followers than them I should have an opinion too. I should be getting those likes and comments as well, because I have to say when I need to say and so forth.

We have to be very, very careful with that impulse and recognize it as a nafsani impulse. It’s an impulse of the nafs. It’s an impulse of the ego. It’s not something that the din is going to exhort you to. The din will tell you that you have good counsel for the people, no matter where it comes from. It doesn’t have to be you, and actually, preferably, it shouldn’t be you. I prefer it not to be me. I prefer that it be someone else who can do a better job than I can.

Imam al-Ghazali is strict in that sense. He’ll say, “Where you went on your trip and who you saw and what you did and how much you pay for the onions at the market are all things that are in the category of not that important.” Obviously, he’s addressing people who are not from the awwam. He’s addressing people who have made a commitment to living a life dedicated to the prophetic principles and ideals.

If that’s what you want to do, then what it’s saying is, if you’re going to go that route, then go all in. Do it the right way. Don’t just focus on the ritual aspects of the din: the number of prayers and number of days that you fast and things like this, and then neglect what really is the important underpinning of the whole thing altogether, which is to avoid those things that the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, avoided. Avoid the haram and embody the character of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him.

What Distinguishes the Awliya

How many of the people who can boast of their ritual prayers, how many prayers they’ve done, how many days they’ve fasted, how much money they give to sadaqa. Then this comes emblematic of the din. It’s an aspect of the din, even pillars of the din, but it doesn’t mean that that’s the measure of where one is with one’s relationship with Allah Most High. Especially if you want to have a committed, dedicated, principled way about living your life. These are the things one has to be aware of. These are the things that separate the people who are true awliya and then those who just make claims.

Another thing is talk that is a trivial or repetitive of something that’s not important. Sometimes people just speak so that they can bring people’s attention to themselves. They’re looking for people’s attention. This is called fudul al-kalam. Remember these are in increasing order, so these are the two least bad ones. As we go to the three, four, five, six, all 20 of them, they get worse and worse.

The third one is to talk about things that are actually haram to be doing. Haram to do, but then you go speak about them. You talk about some illicit type of gathering that took place. “I couldn’t believe I saw that roulette wheel on TV, and look at how much money that guy made from a slot machine, and wow, that’s interesting. Look at that drunk person and how much of a fool he made out of himself,” and things like this.

That’s talking even in a condemning way. To talk about it in a praiseworthy way is even worse. I would also include in this, the mushahadat, the things that we see, that we look at, that also depict things that are haram. They should also be avoided. There’s a general principle: “Everything that is not permissible to speak about, it’s also not permissible to look at or to engage with. The images that enter us, we think that are innocuous and don’t have a long-term effect, they do have an effect. They stay with you. Especially images, pictures, or video, because any type of simple reminder will have you recollect them, as long as they’re imprinted on your heart.

Free Up Your Memory

Ibn Ata’illah al-Sakandari says, “How are you going to reach a greater understanding of the divine, Allah Most High, and the pictures of the forms are imprinted on your heart?” They occupy your thoughts. Your subconscious works continuously and your subconscious can work for you or against you. You may not be actively watching that last movie or listening to that last pop song or rock song but your subconscious may be busy with it. And when your subconscious is busy with it that means it’s not busy with other things.

One of the things about creative people is that even when they’re not actively doing something creative their subconscious is helping them do that creative thing. That’s why ideas come to them sort of spontaneously, but they’re not really that spontaneous, because in the background you were working on it to begin with. If we’re going to use an example of software: you have an app running in the background. Your subconscious is kind of like that app. It’s running in the background. If you have too many other apps open that are nonsense, then they’re taking up all of your computer power, your RAM, your memory, and as a result the thing that’s in active mode doesn’t run that well.

The app that you’re on right now which is you as well as the things that you’re doing. I would venture to say that this is one of the the secrets of dhikr, of the remembrance of Allah Most High. It is one of the reasons why the ulama say that it’s better to do dhikr and with no hudur, no presence of mind, than to avoid dhikr. It’s obviously better to have dhikr and have hudur or presence of mind and heart, but that doesn’t preclude you from doing dhikr even without that, because that has a benefit as well.

Even when only the tongue is working it’s at least getting you on a spiritual level, so that even when you’re not doing the dhikr actively with your tasbih or reading the Qur’an, it begins to get imprinted upon the conscious of your spirit. Then it’s working for you even when you’re not actively doing it. And the adverse is true. When you’re working with nonsense things, those things are also working against you even when you are not actively doing them.

Increasing Presence with Allah

That’s why when people ask, “How do I have more presence of mind and heart in the prayer? I just get in the prayer and I’m just busy and I can’t focus and I can’t concentrate.” The problem is not your prayer, the problem is what you’re doing outside of the prayer. When you begin to have hudur or presence outside of the prayer, then you have presence inside of the prayer, because they feed off one another.

That is why in the hadith of Bukhari, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, mentioned that “If the prayer time is upon us and the food is ready at the same time, then begin with the food.” Why begin with the food? Because that is what’s keeping you busy. You’ll be not focused in your prayer. So when you go into the prayer and you’re not focused on the food, you’ve at least removed the busyness and the lack of focus at least with the food.

During Ramadan for example ,also a hadith of Bukhari, the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, would single out a particular space in the Rawda, in his masjid, and pray in that space consistently, because it helps one focus better. All the things that would lend us to focus more not just in the prayer but outside of the prayer, if it leads us to a greater focus, then that thing becomes meritorious in and of itself.

Imam Malik is reported to have said, “If I knew that sitting on a pile of trash would bring my heart closer to Allah, then I would do it.” Because the point is to bring you closer to Allah Most High. That’s the whole idea. Sometimes a sin brings you closer to Allah. Ibn Ata’illah al-Sakandari said, “Perhaps a sin that breeds within you, that engenders within you humility and a sense of poverty towards Allah Most High, a sense of a need of Allah Most High, is better than obedient acts that breed within you arrogance and haughtiness.” If it makes you arrogant and it makes you feel like you’re better than everybody else, and that you have a degree over others. If that’s what your ‘ibada is doing for you, it’s having the opposite effect.

Humility Is the Child of Dhikr

The effect it should have is to make you more humble, to make you more agreeable with people. Not more difficult with people. More agreeable, more humble, easier to get along with. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, said, “The closest people to me on the day of judgment will be the ones who are best in character,” the ones who get along with people very easily and people get along very easily with them “and they lower their wing for people.” He always had a smiling face. He always greeted people with a smiling face. He had that quality about him, Allah bless him and give him peace.

So, aimless disputatious and arguing about things that may in and of themselves be haram to argue about and discuss. These would be discussion many people have about political realities or political situations and things like this, and then people have heated arguments. It happens in Ramadan so much too, because our routines are upended a little bit and we see each other more often and so there’s more of a opportunity for people to start talking about things like that. That has a you know a damaging effect on the heart. You come away with conversations like that and you feel constricted.

Obviously, it takes two people to to engage in it. What do you do when somebody is talking about things like that? How do you disengage? Either you try to change the topic or you could say, “You know what? I rather talk about something else.” Sometimes you just have to walk away, but exhaust the other possibilities first. Do it in a nice way, but if that doesn’t work … at the end of the day we’re all responsible for ourselves.

 


 

Leaving Sins, Both Manifest and Hidden

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani expands on Sura al-An‘am 6:120, detailing what it means to leave manifest and hidden sins, and to find contentment in Allah.

One of the times when people really hurt themselves is in trials, because outwardly the trial itself doesn’t harm you in any way whatsoever. Whatever happens outwardly doesn’t harm you in any way whatsoever. What harms you is how you respond to what happens to you.

If you drown in a tsunami you’re not harmed in any way. If you respond to it right; you accept that you die. You die a martyr. You’re eternally in paradise. You weren’t harmed. Someone beats you up, but you were patient. It’s not the outward that harms you. It is how you respond to it.

So in trials, knowing how you turn to Allah Most High, how you respond, is one of the greatest of possibilities, because if Allah loves the servant He sends them trials.

Whoever Is Content Shall Find Contentment

If you respond to the trial in the way that is pleasing to Allah, you are the beloved of Allah Most High. At the same time the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, told us that Allah sends us trials. Whoever is content with Allah shall find contentment. Whoever is angered, whoever is upset, shall find anger and upset.

Whoever is content shall find contentment, meaning that they’ll find Allah’s contentment and Allah will place contentment in their hearts. Whoever is angered and upset will find the anger and upset of Allah upon them. And they will find a heart state of anger and upset.

This is one of the hidden sins. No one sees it. And it’s subtle because it is not simply what you claim, but actually how you are. One way of looking at leaving outward and inward sin. Leaving outward sin is leaving disobedience to Allah Most High. Leaving inward sin is leaving objection to Allah Most High.

That is integral to faith. One of the pillars of faith is that you believe, that you have conviction in, and accept and submit and surrender to the reality of divine decree. That it’s good and it’s bad are from Allah Most High.

Trials Are Tremendous Opportunities

This is why trials are a tremendous opportunity from Allah Most High. The righteous would rejoice more in trials then the common person rejoices in blessings. As the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him said: “The people most tested are the prophets, and then the righteous, and there were those from the people before you who would rejoice more in tribulations than you rejoice in blessings.”

Why? Because they saw the trials, the tribulations, the difficulties as being opportunities of expressing one’s love of Allah. Of expressing the true thankfulness to Allah. Of expressing one’s slave-hood to Allah. Of expressing one’s recognition of the Lordship of Allah Most High.

Shaykh Abd al-Rahman al-Shagouri said: “The slaps of the beloved, how sweet they are.” Because the lover realizes that everything is from the Beloved, and everything that is from the Beloved is beloved.

Ibn Ata’illah al-Sakandari said: “Let your knowing that it is He who is trying you diminish the pain of trials.” And are you accustomed to anything from Him except excellence and has He has he made you habituated to anything but what is good for you? You just need to learn how to turn in each situation in the way that is entailed by that situation.

What Is Entailed by Leaving Sin

Part of what is entailed by leaving sin that is hidden his contentment and surrender to Allah Most High. This is from hidden sin and from the sin that a lot of people are in. “Why is a lot doing this to me?” You are married you wanted a happy marriage. That’s not the way of the believer.

What should the believer seek? “I consign my affair to my Lord. And Allah indeed knows well His servants.” He knows what they need. He knows what they’ll benefit from. He knows what’s good for them. Allah is telling us that He will test us both with good and with bad as a trial. And the trial of good is sometimes more intense than the trial of difficulty.

One of the great Imams of the spiritual path, Ibn Ajiba, in his dictionary of spiritual terms, says that rida (contentment) is to face destruction with a smiling face. Everything that’s coming to you is coming from Allah, so you face it with a heart that is smiling.

The Vision of the Believer

The believer sees with two eyes. One eye is the eye of faith. “Say, It is all from Allah.” At that level the believer is smiling regardless of what’s happening. It’s from Allah. This is the creating of Allah. If He is your beloved, the lover has no objection to their beloved.

Ibn al-Farid says: “Punish me with what You will other than distance from You. For You will find me the most loyal of lovers.” And this is love. This is how love is, otherwise it’s mere pretense.

Another definition of contentment is happiness that one finds in one’s heart as destiny (qada) descends. Qada refers to the blows of destiny. You lost your job and the heart should be smiling. It’s from Allah. You take the outward means because that is what slave-hood entails. You take the means but you see everything as being from Allah Most High.

Another definition of contentment is to leave your choice for the sake of Allah – in what Allah has chosen and made to pass. We make our plans, we take our means, but it is Allah’s choice that comes to pass and you surrender your choice to His.

Leaving Your Plan for His Plan

You are planning to do your PhD and you’ve saved for it and worked for it, and done this and that. Then something happened and your parents need you. They need you to work and not to do your PhD right now. So you leave what you planned for what Allah is pointing you towards.

Yet another definition of contentment is for one’s hard to find expansiveness and to leave all objection to what comes to one from the One and Overwhelming: Allah Most High. That’s contentment. Surrender.

This is a reality of Islam: it is taslim. To leave self-direction. That is that you try to force your preferences in life rather than submitting to what is from Allah and what Allah is pointing one too. Leaving your personal choice.

You take the means. This is what you’d like to do. This is what appears to be good. But as things unfold, if you are awake and conscious and reflective, other things are entailed. So as things unfold you leave your choice for what is preferable with Allah Most High. You leave what you would like to direct yourself to to what Allah is directing you to.

Consigning One’s Affairs to Allah

This is the meaning of consigning one’s affairs to Allah Most High. How do you attain this contentment in surrender? Ibn Ajiba says: “It begins with patience,” which is to hold yourself to what is pleasing to Allah. “And to struggle.” To force yourself to be content. To surrender. To say, “Okay, this is what is right. I’ll do it even though I don’t feel like it.” Fake it…

The first step is patience. The intermediate level of contentment and surrender is to find serenity and to hold yourself to serenity. When the thoughts of objection and dislike come, you don’t even listen to the whisperings of why. “The lover is death to those who deny love.” To be a believer you need to learn how to love.

The end of contentment and surrender – to be fully realized by contentment and surrender – is when you find rejoicing along with that serenity and no impulse towards objection or dislike. These are stations of believers, because in every moment you are in a state of being completely enveloped by divine bounty, and by divine mercy, and by divine blessings.

The Lover Moves by the Grace of the Beloved

Hence the divine command: “Say, in the bounty of Allah and His is blessing, in that let them rejoice,” (Sura Yunus 10:58) because the contentment and surrender is with Allah and to Allah, so that whatever comes from Allah is accepted. True contentment and true surrender is with Him, Most High.

This is a little of what can be mentioned regarding this great verse: “Leave sin, both manifest and hidden.” (Sura al-An‘am 6:120). One has to be careful that one not only leaves disobedience manifest and hidden, but also leaves objection to one’s Lord, Most High.

The first step on the path to Allah is to leave the thing that calls you to turn away from the path to Allah, or that holds you back on the path to Allah, which is what the essence of sin is. May Allah make us of those rush to Him and who draw close to Him. Amin.