The Beauty of Our Speech Lies in its Honesty

The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) on many different occasions prohibited his followers from exaggeration and from speaking in an unnatural, pretentious manner, just as he forbid them from obstinacy and affected airs. All of these tendencies distance what we have to say from the truth and mark our words with the taint of dishonesty and impropriety. Our words in this way lose their ability to influence the hearts of others and instead provoke suspicions of hypocrisy, deception, and chicanery.

The Prophet (salallahu. alayhi wa sallam) said:

"The obstinate in speech will meet with destruction." (Muslim)

"The excessive in speech will meet with destruction." (Ahmad)

The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) also said:

"The most despised of you to me and the most remote from my company on the Day of Resurrection will be the prattlers. the braggarts. and the verbose." (Tirmidhi)

 From an Islamic perspective, true eloquence of speech eschews contrivance and pretension. Such a manner of speaking, as we have already mentioned, belies any notion of genuineness, while demanding a deliberate and forced effort on the part of the speaker. It indicates neither a sound disposition nor a clear literary style. As 'Umar relates:

"We were prohibited from putting on affected airs." (Bukhari),

Moreover, affected eloquence and verbosity, aside from sounding ugly and contrived, makes the ugly and contrived, makes the others or at least get the better of them. Indeed, we find that the braggart or the verbose speaker only fills his mouth with words and gushes them forth out of ostentation and haughtiness, in an attempt to flaunt this eloquence.

The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wasallam) made this clear when he was asked:

"We know what prattlers and braggarts are ... but who are the verbose?" To which he replied: "They are the Prideful ones." (Tirmidhi)

The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) emphasized just how strongly forced and contrived speech should be shunned when he said:

"Truly Allah detests the man of eloquence who rolls his tongue (in speech) like a cow rolls Its tongue." (AbiDawud) 

A group of people approached the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) and spoke to him about a stillborn child that they were liable to pay compensation for. They objected to this liability, saying "Pay we indemnity for one who neither ate nor drank nor cried, so as upon life it naught betook? Bade we not then its blood to overlook?"

The Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) turned to them and said, lamenting their ostentation in speech and deriding their pretentious rhyming:

'are you rhyming in the manner of the people of ignorance?" (Nasa'i)

In another narration, it reads 'are you rhyming in the manner of soothsayers?"

Pretentious speech and the hunt for the most wild, exotic, and unfamiliar words is contrary to good literary taste and balanced literary instincts. It is as far as one can get from a beautiful or elegant style. On the other hand, showing concern for perfecting one's speech, beautifying it, and judiciously choosing one's words carefully has nothing to do with the odious practices that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) has warned us against.

Al-Ghaz ali points out this distinction in his landmark work Ihya 'UlUm aI-Din , wherein he explains how perfecting one's speech and being precise in one's choice of words is something desirable. Along with choosing words that are elegant and beautiful, they are the essentials of eloquence. Pretence and artifice, on the other hand are loathsome, since they actually bequeath to one's speech a sense of baseness and ignobility. In this context, al-Ghazali discusses the Prophet's statement:

"Indeed, in eloquent speech there is magic." (Abi Dawud)

He shows how this statement can be taken in two ways. In one way, it can be seen as implying a form of praise; in another, a type of censure. It is obvious how it implies praise. It is saying that eloquent speech has the ability to move people's hearts and can inspire them to accept the truth and respond favorably to it and to act upon it. As for the implication of censure - which is what some have understood from the statement - this is when a person resorts to pretence and to artifice in order to influence people and corrupt them, making falsehood seem like truth and making truth appear as falsehood. It is as if he employs in this way a bewitchment to take them from the truth, beguile them, and beautify the image of falsehood.

Al-Khattab i writes in his commentary on this hadith: People have disagreed regarding its interpretation. Some have said that it is a condemnation of employing artifice in speech and the use of contrivance in embellishing and beautifying it in order to please one's listeners, influence their' hearts, mislead them from what is clear, and beguile them " (Ma ' olim al-Sunan)

Speech, when employed in this way, is a means of deception and of misrepresenting the truth by using the sugar-coating of artifice and the confusion of wordplay It is a bewitchment that takes souls away from the truth. It is related that the Prophet (salallahu alayhi wa sallam) explicitly forbade employing speech for this purpose, saying: 

"Whoever learns the art of embellished speech to imprison with it the hearts of men, Allah will not accept from him on the Day of Resurrection any excuse or compensation."  (Abi DawOd)

with weakness in its chain of transmission] From this we should be certain that the definitive qualities of the literary arts in Islam are honesty and the rejection of pretence, excess and exaggeration.

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited