‘ABD ALLAH B. ‘AWN (d.151H), one of Islam’s early pietists, said: « ذِكْرُ النَّاسِ دَاءٌ، وَذِكْرُ اللهِ دَوَاءٌ » – ‘Remembrance of people is a malady, while the remembrance of God is a remedy.’
After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi proclaimed with jubilant caution:
إِي وَاللهِ، فَالعَجَبَ مِنَّا وَمِنْ جَهْلِنَا كَيْفَ نَدَعُ الدَّوَاءَ وَنَقْتَحِمُ الدَّاءَ؟ قَالَ اللهُ تعالى: ﴿فَاذْكُرُونِي أَذْكُرْكُمْ﴾ ، ﴿وَلَذِكْرُ اللهِ أَكْبَرُ﴾ ، ﴿الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللهِ أَلاَ بِذِكْرِ اللهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ ﴾. وَلَكِنْ لاَ يَتَهَيَّأُ ذَلِكَ إِلاَّ بِتَوْفِيقِ اللهِ، وَمَنْ أدْمَنَ الدُّعَاءَ وَلاَزَمَ قَرْعَ البَابِ فُتِحَ لَهُ
‘Yes, by God! Yet it is odd how, in our ignorance, we ignore the cure and race to the disease. For God, exalted is He, says: Remember Me and I will remember you. [Q.2:152] And also: But the remembrance of God is greater. [Q.29:45] And: Those who have faith and whose hearts find tranquility in the remembrance of God. For in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility. [Q.13:28] But this will not be attainable, except with God’s enabling grace (tawfiq). So whoever persists in supplication and on knocking at the door, it shall be opened for him.’1
Most of what people say today can probably be put into the malady category, as opposed to the remedy one. So much of what passes as conversation nowadays is either words of dislike, spite or contempt of others, in the form of backbiting, slander or tale-carrying; or it is expressions of greed, vice, self-infatuation and self-love; or words that are pointless or meaningless, which are said simply for the sake of saying something.
Both the Qur’an and the Sunnah teach us to be economical with our tongue and to think twice before we utter anything. Among the many verses which urge us with respect to hifz al-lisan, or ‘guarding the tongue’, are the following: And the Book [of deeds] will be placed and you shall see the sinners fearful of that which is [inscribed] in it. They shall say: ‘Woe to us! What kind of book is this that omits nothing small or great, but all is noted down?’ They will find all that they did put before them, and your Lord wrongs no one. [Q.18:49] And more specifically: Not a word does he utter except it is noted down by a vigilant scribe. [Q.50:18] And while estimates vary a lot, there are credible claims to suggest we utter 7,000 words a day! That’s a lot of words, bearing in mind: Two scribes, sitting on his right and his left, are recording [everything]. [Q.50:17]
One hadith informs: ‘Let he who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak good or keep silent.’2 Another cautions: ‘Is there anything that topples people on their faces (or their noses) into Hell, other than the harvests of their tongues?’3 Given such a dire upshot, it won’t come as a surprise, then, that the Prophet ﷺ also instructed: ‘Speak good and be enriched, or else refrain from speaking evil, and be safe.’4
We live in a noisy, chatty, cacophonic world, made even chattier by the arrival of the Internet and of mobile phones. We need to cultivate a degree of discipline so as to resist the urge to join in any and every chat. Islam wants us to cultivate a habit of retreating from conversations that are pointless, untruthful, ungodly and not beneficial. It teaches us to be, for the most part, silent and not to speak except when there is a benefit in doing so. And whilst we might be excused for some light chat or a little idle chatter, gossiping about people is usually wholly unbecoming of a believer; and doing so by way of bad mouthing others, or out of a devilish desire to cause schisms or tension between people, is ugly, ungodly and outright sinful.
However we retreat from too much talking, especially negative or meaningless remembrance of others (celebrities, work colleagues, family, neighbours, etc.), and however we begin to turn the volume down around us as well as in us, we can start to heal and become whole. The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘The loners have taken the lead.’ On being asked who these loners (mufarridun) were, he replied: ‘Those men and women who remember God abundantly.’5 He ﷺ also said: ‘Let not your tongue cease to be moist with the remembrance of God.’6 Thus as ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Awn stated, as we wrestle ourselves away from the grip of gossip, idle chatter, and sinful speech; as we retreat from the malady, we are able to make space in our souls for God’s remembrance and thus be bathed in tranquility and the beautiful remedy.
Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.
1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 6:369.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.6475; Muslim, no.47.
3. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2616, saying: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’
4. Al-Quda‘i, Musnad, no.666; al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, no.7774. It was graded sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.412.
5. Muslim, no.2676.
6. Ahmad, no.17227; al-Tirmidhi, no.3372, who said that the hadith is hasan.