CURSING AND PRAISING:
The Causes and Effects of Good and Bad Speech
by Wael Abdelgawad
About cursing and evil speech in general, Allah says,
O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group,
it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let
(some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter
are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult
one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one's brother
after having Faith. And whoever does not repent, then such are
indeed Dhâlimûn (wrong-doers).
O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicions
are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one
of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate
it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allâh. Verily, Allâh
is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful. (Qur'an, 49:11-12)
Woe to every slanderer and backbiter (Qur'an, 104:1)
The worst of all speech is that which ridicules or in any
way criticizes Islam or any aspect of Islamic belief. Muslims,
if its not within their power to put a stop to it, are
at least forbidden to remain in such company, as Allah Subhanahu
Wa Ta-aala (Glorified and Exalted be He) has said in the Noble
And indeed He has revealed to you in the Book that when
you hear Allah's communications disbelieved in and mocked at
do not sit with them until they enter into some other discourse;
surely then you would be like them; surely Allah will gather
together the hypocrites and the unbelievers all in hell. (Qur'an,
These verses are very clear and need little explanation. How
should a Muslim speak? The Muslim has been commanded and encouraged
to be kind, gentle and just in his speech. Allah says,
And if you turn away from them and you are awaiting a mercy
from your Lord for which you hope, then, speak unto them a soft
kind word. (Qur'an, 17:28)
And say to My slaves (i.e. the believers) that they should
(only) say those words that are the best. (Because) Shaytân
(Satan) verily, sows disagreements among them. Surely, Shaytân
is to man a plain enemy. (Qur'an, 17:53)
Among the many ahaadeeth on the subject of speech, is this
one: the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him
"A man speaks what is pleasing to Allah and he does
not suspect that it will have the result that it does, and Allah
will write for him His good pleasure for it until the day when
he meets Him. And a man speaks what excites the anger of Allah
and he does not suspect that it will have the result that it
does, and Allah will write His anger for him for it until the
day when he meets Him." (al-Muwatta)
Words hold power. Words propel armies into battle and topple
dictators from their thrones. Words inspire revolutions. Words
deliver Truth from the highest heaven to the human heart. Countless
men and women have been executed for their words alone. To underestimate
the power of words is a dangerous mistake, spiritually and materially.
The right word at the right moment can earn a man a permanent
entry in history. The wrong word can cost a man his wealth, his
career, his wife or his children's respect. A man's words us
give us an immediate impression of his background, education,
attitudes and spiritual state. This essay will focus on words
of passion in particular, and on the powerful ways in which they
describe the speaker's worldview.
The difference between a kafir (disbeliever) and a
Mu'min (believer) can be seen immediately in the words
he speaks, and especially in the expressions that he utters at
stressful moments. These are the moments - when one receives
important news, or has a potent experience, whether good or bad
- when one is most likely to forget himself, to react spontaneously
and speak without thinking. In a way, these moments - for example,
a car accident, a fight, an argument, receiving the news of the
death of someone close, losing money, winning a prize, receiving
test scores, getting fired or getting a promotion, and so on
- these moments reveal a person's innermost character. What a
person says and does at these times is an uncensored expression
of his core values, and of that which he holds sacred, because
men always call upon their gods in moments of joy or desperation.
By analyzing the expressions that the kuffar (disbelivers)
utter at these instants of passion, and comparing them with the
speech of the mu'mineen, we can gain some insight into the vast
difference between the jahiliyy (ignorant, un-Islamic)
mentality and the Islamic worldview.
This essay is written for the Muslim, that he might gain a
greater appreciation of the importance of praising Allah and
avoiding bad language. As for the disbelievers, they are certainly
in need of this advice, but there are more pressing issues to
discuss with them first, such as the purpose of creation, our
relationship with the Creator, the worship of Allah alone, the
Messengership of Muhammad (saaws), the revelation of the Qur'an,
the reality of the Judgement and the aakhirah (Hereafter),
and the establishment of justice on earth based upon the commands
As for the Muslim who imagines this to be a subject of minor
importance, he is not the first to have such a thought. Consider
carefully the following narration: The sahabi (companion)
Mu'adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) once asked the
"O Messenger of Allah, tell me of an act which will
take me into Paradise and will keep me away from Hell fire."
He (the Prophet) said: "You have asked me about a major
matter, yet it is easy for him for whom Allah Almighty makes
it easy. You should worship Allah, associating nothing with Him,
you should perform the prayers, you should pay the zakat, you
should fast in Ramadan, and you should make the pilgrimage to
the House." Then he said: "Shall I not show you the
gates of goodness? Fasting is a shield, charity extinguishes
sin as water extinguishes fire; and the praying of a man in the
depth of the night." Then he recited: "Who forsake
their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend
of that We have bestowed on them. No soul knows what is kept
hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do".
(Quran) Then he said: " Shall I not tell you of the peak
of the matter, its pillar, and its topmost part?" I said:
"Yes, O Messenger of Allah." He said: "The peak
of the matter is Islam; the pillar is prayer; and its topmost
part is jihad." Then he said: "Shall I not tell you
of the controlling of all that?" I said: "Yes, O Messenger
of Allah", and he took hold of his tongue and said: "Restrain
this." I said: "O Prophet of Allah, will what we say
be held against us?" He said: "May your mother be bereaved
of you, Muadh! Is there anything that topples people on their
faces into Hell-fire other than the harvests of their tongues?"
(related by Al-Tirmithi, who said it was a fine and true hadith).
This is a highly significant hadith. The Messenger of Allah
is describing all these great acts of worship, such as praying
in the middle of the night, hajj, charity, and jihad. He describes
these acts as the keys to paradise, the gates of goodness, the
peak and pillar of Islam, and then he names the one thing that
controls all of these great deeds. One might think this one thing
would be martyrdom in Allah's cause, speaking truth to a tyrant,
or perhaps giving away all of one's worldly possessions. Imagine
Muadh's surprise to learn that this one great act, this controller
of all other deeds, is one's speech! Words! Why is this? Because
words are the daily expression of our spiritual state. Words
are the means with which we relate to all other creatures, showing
them compassion or harming them. Words, good or evil, are seeds
that we plant all through our lives, not realizing that we shall
reap the harvests of those seeds in the aakhirah: sweet fruit
or bitter fruit, Paradise or Hell. "A man speaks... and
he does not suspect that it will have the result that it does."
Not only can our speech drag us down to Jahannam, it
can also lift us up to Jannah, as the Messenger of Allah
"Whoever guarantees me (the chastity of) what is between
his legs and what is between his jaws (i.e., his tongue), I guarantee
Guaranteeing the chastity of what is between the legs (i.e.,
the private parts) does not mean to abstain from sex completely,
rather to engage only in lawful sexual relations. Still, it's
no small task, and when we add to it the command to speak only
what is good, we realize we're facing a tremendous challenge,
one that only the righteous believer can achieve. We'll take
a closer look later at the habits of good speech, but first let's
study the speech habits of the kuffar, so that we can come to
a better understanding of how their speech reflects and affects
their mindsets, and so that we can see exactly what we must avoid
at all costs.
For the purposes of this essay, when I speak of the kuffar
and of the jahiliyy worldview, I am referring specifically to
the Western world. Cursing may or may not be a global phenomenon,
I don't know. Some linguists have claimed that only Japanese,
American Indian and Polynesian languages lack swearwords. I have
not lived in any of those places nor studied their cultures,
but I have lived in and traveled extensively in both the Western
world and the Muslim world, and therefore I am confining my analysis
to these two cultures.
Most of us, especially those living in the West, are familiar
with the manner in which most kuffar react in moments of stress.
Of course, there are those rare Christian souls who are polite
and temperate, and who in heated moments respond with a quaint,
"Gee!" or "Wow!" (Tellingly, even "gee"
is an obfuscation of "Jesus" and should be considered
blasphemous by a Muslim). But for the most part, such people
are anachronistic oddities. Nowadays, the average kafir is much
more likely to respond to stress with outright violence, or at
the least with one of the following phrases. I'm sure you can
figure out what they are:
There are other common curse words, but these three are ubiquitous.
Those of you who have a lot of contact with the kuffar, especially
in social situations, know that I am not exaggerating. These
words roll off the tongue of the disbeliever day and night, like
slag from a steel mill. And, sad to say, some Muslims who spend
a lot of time with them absorb this stream of vitriol and find
themselves, in moments of stress, spitting out some of these
ugly words. I once saw a khateeb (Islamic lecturer), while giving
a speech in the masjid, utter one of these curse words in a moment
of passion. He was horribly embarrassed and apologized profusely,
but that's what happens when you work with the kuffar or otherwise
spend a lot of time around them. Their values and habits attach
themselves to you. But the question I want to ask here is, what
do these words say about the mentality of the kafir? What do
they say about his worldview, his spirit, and about the things
he holds sacred? Let's study these curse words in the order they
are listed above.
I. CURSING AS AN EXPRESSION OF CHRISTIAN
HATRED OF THE BODY
By far the most common curse word in the English speaking
countries is the word "f--k". The F word"
is spoken incessantly, and has dozens of ugly variations. Its
used as a noun, a verb, an adjective and of course an exclamation.
But what is it really? What does it mean? Does it simply describe
the sex act? No, the English language has other words that do
that better. "Copulate", "coitus" or "intercourse"
describe the sex act in a straightforward, acceptable manner.
"Lovemaking" is a good word to describe what happens
between a husband and wife. "F--k", on the other hand,
is a word which is rooted in two attitudes: hatred of the body,
and misogynistic violence. Merriam-Webster defines the word thus:
"To engage in coitus with
Sometimes used interjectionally
with an object (as a personal or reflexive pronoun) to express
anger, contempt, or disgust (emphasis is mine)."
The first factor that comes into play here is the Christian
hatred of the body. The body, in Christian theology, was always
considered suspect. The body was the bearer of original sin and
the source of all corruption. Piety lay in vanquishing the body
and the senses through celibacy, austerity and masochism. The
Bible says, "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the
spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the
other." The Christians embraced this idea with a perverse
vengeance. Bathing was discouraged because it was a glorification
of the body. Monks wore horsehair robes, took vows of celibacy,
bound their genitals and flagellated themselves. Among the common
folk, sex was a necessary evil, allowed only for the purpose
of procreation and performed with as little enjoyment as possible.
Couples were to remain clothed even during intercourse. In this
environment, the sexual act was the dirtiest thing imaginable,
so naturally when a man wanted to "express anger,
contempt, or disgust", as Merriam-Webster said,
he would exclaim, "f--k!" (or some local equivalent).
The influence of Christianity is slowly waning in the Western
world, but the behaviors and linguistic habits engendered by
the Christian fear of sex are still with us. Sex is still considered
to be fundamentally dirty and perverted, and the more it is enjoyed
the "nastier" it is. In the U.S., an actively sexual
young person is labeled a freak", a "slut"
or a "whore". Descriptors of the sexual act are (except
for the most clinical terms) dirty words. An insult currently
popular in the U.S. is "scumbag", a word which has
been dissociated from its meaning through common use, but which
describes a used condom. Since the sexual act is seen as dirty,
naturally the sexual fluid is the dirtiest thing imaginable.
This conception of sexuality as dirty and perverted is a basic
element of the Western worldview, which they imagine to be the
same everywhere. Of course it is not the same everywhere,
as we will see later.
II. CURSING AS AN EXPRESSION OF MISOGYNISTIC
While the Christian hatred of the body plays a role in defining
the vulgarity of the word "f--k", it's not enough to
account for either its universality in jahiliyy culture, or the
vehemence with which it is often used. There is a second and
more important factor at work here, and that is the violent and
misogynistic character of this word.
According to Origins: an Etymological Dictionary, the
word "f--k" is most likely a combination of the Latin
word "futuere" and the German word "ficken",
to strike. The English word is a cognate. I quote now from Origins
(emphasis is mine): "Now, Latin futuere is formed similarly
to Latin battuere, to strike, hence to copulate with a
woman... battuere, says Malvezin, is borrowed from Celtic and
stands for bactuere; and futuere recalls the Celtic root *buc-,
a point, hence to pierce (malvezin); compare also Gaelic *batair,
a cudgeller, and Gaelic buail, English/Irish bualaim, I strike.
Both Latin battuere and Latin futuere (compare Latin fustis,
a staff, a cudgel:? for *futsis) could have got into Latin
from Celtic, which, it is perhaps worth adding, had originally
no "f": basic idea. 'to strike', hence `to copulate
with'." Another source mentions the dialectical Swedish
focka meaning to strike, push, copulate.
So there's a lot of speculation regarding the precise origin,
but virtually all of it revolves around a collection of words
that describe either implements of violence (cudgel, staff),
or actual violence (strike, pierce). This juxtaposition of coitus
(sex) with violence throws all of Western culture into stark
relief. The fact is that sex and violence are inextricably linked
in Western societies. Remember that for most of Europe's history
women were considered property, with no more rights than a horse
or a sword. A man does not make love to his sword. He owns it
and uses it. The sexual act, therefore, was not an expression
of love between equals, but of aggression and dominance of the
man over the woman. This attitude is still a fundamental part
of the Western psyche. A man is valued for his wealth, a woman
for her beauty. A man who is rich enough can "own"
any woman he desires. This is not a relationship between equals,
but of power to powerlessness. Such a relationship naturally
begets violence. These attitudes are deeply embedded in the Western
consciousness, and one of the ways they are expressed is through
this ever-present word, "f--k". Look at some of the
synonyms to this word: screw, bang, nail. Visualizing
what a screw or nail does to wood is enough to demonstrate the
violence of sexual imagery in the West. A culture that is obsessed
with such imagery is a culture obsessed with the sex act as an
act of violence.
Is it any wonder, then, that the West is plagued with crimes
such as rape, wife-battering, and child molestation? The greatest
killer of men in the United States workplace is work-related
accidents, but the greatest killer of women in the workplace
is murder. These are all acts which either combine sexual elements
with violence, or which enforce the violent dominance of a man
over a woman or child. Is it any wonder that one of the most
common Hollywood movie plots is that of the serial killer who
murders women? Hollywood churns these out by the dozens, and
they get sicker and more violent every year. Movies like "Silence
of the Lambs", "Copycat" and "Seven"
win awards and make millions of dollars. And the amazing thing
is that women love these movies! I saw "Copycat" in
the theater, and what I remember most is sitting in front of
a row of young women who gasped in horror or fear at the appropriate
moments, and then twittered at themselves in embarrassment. Their
fascination with extreme misogynistic violence was palpable.
After that I quit watching movies of that kind. But I realized
that American men and women are enthralled with this dynamic
of sexual violence. It is such a basic part of Western culture.
And of course, women too use the word "f--k."
Somewhat related is the use of the word "c--t" as
an insult. When a man wants to express the utmost contempt for
a woman he calls her a "c--t." The female sexual organ
here represents the female gender itself. By using the coarsest
descriptor of the female sex organ, and by using it as an insult,
the man makes it clear that whatever is despicable about her
is the result of her gender, i.e. that to be female is in itself
a despicable and contemptible thing.
III. CURSING AS A SYMPTOM OF SPIRITUAL
The second contender for most common curse word in the jahiliyy
culture is the word "s--t." In fact, calling it a curse
word doesn't do it justice, since, like the word "f--k"
it is also uttered at moments of great joy or excitement. It
can also be used as a noun, as in, "This is good s--t",
or "I keep all my s--t locked up." It can be used as
an interrogatory, as in, "No s--t?" It is even used
as a verb, as in, "You must be s-tting me." Men, women
and children use it, with very little social stigma attached.
Variations are the milder "crap", and "poppycock",
which may sound frightfully British and nonsensical, but is actually
an adaptation of pappekak, a Dutch word for dung.
In fact, it's not uncommon for the kafir, when expressing
very strong emotion, to say, "Holy s--t!" This disgusting
expression brings the issue into sharp focus, because the fact
that the exclamation is an expression of what is sacred or sanctified
is being declared openly. Why this obsession with excrement?
Why preface it with the word "holy"? It is because
western culture is diseased and cancerous; it sanctifies and
glorifies that which is dirty and foul. In the seventies Pink
Floyd sang, "I need a dirty woman; I need a dirty girl."
A decade later Michael Jackson boasted, "I'm bad, I'm bad,
you know it." The word "bad" has, in fact, become
a descriptor of that which is cool, admirable, or impressive.
Gangsters and mass murderers are folk heroes. What American doesn't
know the names Charles Manson, Sam Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, or Jeffrey
Dahmer? Video games such as Mortal Kombat feature decapitation
and disembowelment. Perverted sexuality is risqué, violence
is hip, sorcery and black magic are popular entertainment, and
murder is a badge of honor. In this kind of upside-down moral
zoo, goodness and purity are hopelessly old-fashioned, while
evil, filth and moral decay are the apotheosis of modernity.
Minds that are rotted and fouled in this way will naturally favor
language that calls forth foul images. This reality finds its
expression, among other ways, in Western culture's obsession
with the word "s--t".
The Prophet Muhammad (saaws) said, "When a man curses
something, the curse goes up to heaven and finds the gates of
the heaven closed against it. Then it comes down to the earth
and finds its gates closed against it. Then it goes right and
left and if it finds no place of entrance, it goes to the one
who was cursed and attaches itself to him if he deserves it.
Otherwise, it returns upon the one who uttered it."
The Hindus, Buddhists and Jains would call this karma, or
moral energy. A biologist or electrician might call it a feedback
loop. The attitudes that produce the word "s--t" combine
with the actual use of the word to form a vicious mental circle.
When a man responds to moments of excitement or passion by exclaiming
"s--t!" he is plunging his mind into the toilet. He
is sullying his soul and degrading himself by constantly calling
forth the image of that which is putrid. Because all of his curses
have nowhere to go, because "the gates are closed",
they return upon him, degrading and demeaning him. The end result
is that not only does he prevent himself from achieving a higher
spiritual state; he plummets in the opposite direction and debases
his thinking, furthering the venality and corruption of society
as a whole. This isnt spiritual mumbo-jumbo, its
a simple reality: you are shaped by what you ingest, and you
are defined by what you put out into the world.
IV. CURSING AS A BLASPHEMY AGAINST
Imran bin Husain reported: 'We were with the Holy Prophet
(saaws) on a journey and there was a woman from the Ansaar riding
a she-camel. She abused and invoked a curse upon it. The Holy
Prophet heard it and said, "Unload the she-camel and set
it free because it has been cursed."
The Messenger of Allah (saaws) was doing more than just teaching
the Ansaari woman a lesson about bad language. He was describing
a reality: that a curse is a real thing which calls genuine misfortune
upon the thing that is cursed, if it deserves it, and
which returns upon the curser if it does not, as we know from
the hadith in the section above. Once again we have our self-degrading
feedback loop. So when a person goes around saying "Damn
this" and "g-ddamn that", cursing his car, computer,
job, the fact that he stubbed his toe, etc., he is in reality
cursing himself again and again. He is in effect asking Allah
to damn him, to make his life miserable and to prepare for him
a place in Hell. And why should Allah not do so, when one is
using His name as a trifle and a curse word?
1. Rationalization: Cursing is natural, powerful language:
Some notable Western authors, such as Norman Mailer, have
made the claim that the word "f--k" is simply an earthy,
more natural way to describe the sex act, as opposed to stuffy
Latin words like "copulate." Rhetoric aside, the fact
that the word "f--k" is an expression of violence is
hardly debatable. Picture this: a man is driving along in his
car, when suddenly another vehicle runs a stop sign and smashes
into him. What does he say? Most likely something like, "f--k!
g--------d m----r f----r!" Is he referring to the sexual
act? Of course not. He is angry and is uttering an expression
of violence. When a man is insulted and he responds, "f--k
you!" is he saying, "I want to make love to you?"
No, he's shouting an expression of hate and violence, an expression
that also happens to be tied to the sexual act. As for the argument
that cursing is powerful, emotive language and is therefore inherently
better than the boring Latin equivalents, this is a non sequitur.
Yes, these words are powerful - powerfully ugly, that its. Yes,
they carry an emotional punch - because they are violent and
Anna Wierzbicka in her English Speech Act Verbs: A Semantic
Dictionary, offered a definition and description of the
act of swearing:
- I'm thinking
- I feel something
bad because of that
- I want to say
something bad because of that
- I want to say
some words because of that that people think one should not say
- I say: [#@!?*!]
- I imagine that
by saying these words I could cause something bad to happen to
- I imagine that
by saying these words I could cause myself to feel better
- I say this
because I want to show what I feel
This definition recognizes that swearing is a deliberately
"bad" act, designed for emotional expression. That
doesn't make these words acceptable, it makes them repugnant
and worthy of excision from an Allah-conscious person's vocabulary.
2. Rationalization: Cursing is just habit:
One might say, "You're making too much out of this. These
are just words that are spoken out of habit. They don't mean
anything." If this were the case, however, one might as
well exclaim, "Peanut butter!" or "Bazoom!"
After all, the word is meaningless, right? It's the tone of voice
that expresses the emotion, right? Wrong. Words such as "f--k",
s--t" and "g-d----n" are used to express strong
emotion because they possess inherent shock value. Why do they
shock? Because they are violent, dirty or blasphemous. They're
certainly not meaningless. Everyone knows exactly what they mean,
or thinks they do. It may be true that cursing for many people
is a habit - but so is drug addiction, wife-beating or shoplifting.
"Just a habit" doesn't excuse an action that's vile
and repugnant. We are responsible for every element of our behavior.
Speech, one of the most powerful of behaviors, is certainly no
3. Rationalization: Cursing is cultural:
Some cultural anthropologists have said, "What you call
cursing is a part of our culture and our dialect. These words
are accepted and are used to carry many different meanings."
Somehow this idea has arisen in certain circles that simply calling
a habit or a practice "cultural" is enough to justify
it and indemnify it from criticism, as if it's somehow racist
or narrow-minded to criticize a cultural practice. This is ridiculous.
Foot-binding was a Chinese cultural practice for thousands of
years; it is now recognized as oppressive and controlling. In
traditional Hindu culture a woman's existence had no purpose
after the death of her husband. She was expected to throw herself
upon his funeral pyre. Even today it is not uncommon for widows
to be doused in kerosene and lit. This is a cultural habit with
a long history. Does that make it acceptable? To consider another
example, there are many organizations in the West dedicated to
the eradication of so-called "female circumcision"
in Africa. These organizations argue, rightly, that this practice
is a cruel mutilation and must be stopped. But what about the
fact that it is also most certainly cultural? The reality is
that all cultures embody some practices that are admirable, others
that are clearly barbaric (or at least detestable), and a large
gray area in between. We must embrace the good, condemn the bad,
and avoid the gray. The epidemic use of filthy, violent and misogynistic
language is an abominable Western cultural habit. It both reflects
and feeds back into the jahiliyy worldview. It is a mental and
spiritual trap that the Muslim must avoid at all costs. Run from
it as if it were flesh-eating bacteria. Even better, wash it
away with the elevated language and vocabulary of Islam.
Islam is a deen - a way of life - which, when practiced sincerely,
suffuses the heart of a man and brings him into a state of constant
consciousness of Allah. He prays at least five times a day and
he says "In the Name of Allah" before he performs any
significant action. After all, the very first Qur'anic revelation
was, "Read in the name of your Guardian-Lord who created..."
So from the very beginning Allah was telling us to begin in His
name, to remember His name, to glorify His name. Even the weakest
of Muslims often has Allah's name on his tongue, though perhaps
without contemplation. For the mu'min the remembrance of Allah
goes much further. The believer remembers, praises or seeks refuge
with Allah upon going to bed, waking up, leaving the house, getting
in the car, entering the masjid, meeting another Muslim, returning
home, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, and on and on.
Allah's name is on his tongue all day long. The effective result
is that in his day-to-day life he practices justice, compassion
and kindness, because the knowledge and awareness of Allah has
permeated his very being and he will not violate that knowledge
by being unjust or cruel.
I. THE ABSENCE OF VULGARITIES IN
THE MU'MIN'S VOCABULARY
Words like the curse words mentioned above don't find a place
on the tongue of the Mu'min, not because he is dainty or a prude,
but because his relationship with Allah is such that they would
never even occur to him. If they did occur to him he would dismiss
them as meaningless and pointless, because the primitive cultural
attitudes that give rise to these curse words do not exist in
Islamic societies. In other words, the concepts that produce
them are not Islamic concepts. Those jahiliyy concepts are, once
1. The dirtiness
Muslims in no way
consider sex to be dirty. Allah the Exalted has has placed boundaries
around the expression of human sexuality, not because it is dirty,
but because unrestricted sexual activity is harmful to individuals
and society. Within the bonds of Islamic marriage, however, the
sexual act is considered to be worshipful and good. It is an
act of love and a healthy expression of human needs. Nakedness
and non-missionary sexual positions carry no stigma. The Prophet
Muhammad (saaws) encouraged young people (today's "teenagers")
to marry in order to achieve a lawful outlet for their sexual
impulses, among other reasons. Young people who marry will not
need to sneak around or engage in promiscuity in order to satisfy
their sexual urges, as is common in the West.
the historical and social factors that in the West have attached
stigmas to human sexuality do not exist in Islamic cultures.
Therefore, curse words related to sexuality have no impact or
2. The connection
between sex and violence:
and honors women as spiritual beings and as partners in this
life of trials and tests, and therefore neither misogynistic
imagery nor violence against women of any kind have any place
in the Islamic mindset. The sexual act is in no way tied to violent
concepts, rather when performed lawfully between a husband and
a wife it is, once again, a gift from Allah and an 'ibaadah
(act of worship). Mu'mineen do not make horror movies, murder
women, commit rape, molest their children, or commit any of the
horrifying crimes so common in the Western world. Even in today's
Westernized and diluted Muslim societies such crimes are highly
uncommon; in a truly Islamic society they are virtually non-existent.
3. The obsession
Curse words relating
to excrement also do not appear in the Muslim vocabulary because
Islamic society is not dirty and does not value, honor or glorify
dirt. The mind of the Mu'min is not diseased and rotted, but
is clean and healthy. To be sure, a Mu'min is not an angel; he
experiences negative thoughts and bad impulses, but he is vigilant
and self-aware. He is constantly examining himself, constantly
striving to purify himself and acheive a higher state of Allah-consciousness.
Bad ideas or words might drift into his mind like fungus spores
on the wind, but they are wiped away and can't take root. The
soil of the Mu'min's mind is clean and nothing evil will grow
there. Five times a day the Muslim bathes in a spiritual stream,
washing away whatever dust has gathered. Rather than being obsessed
with dirty ideas and words, the Mu'min's mind is preoccupied
with the struggle for compassion, kindness, love, brotherhood,
and justice. That such a lofty-minded person could exist might
seem unlikely to a disbeliever or to someone whose mind is used
to more venal things. Of course, such spiritual warriors do exist,
and they are committed to a never-ending internal and external
i.e. words which take the name of Allah, the Prophet (saaws)
or any sacred thing in vain, also have no place in the Muslim
vocabulary and are, in my experience, entirely unknown, since
the concept of everyday blasphemy is entirely foreign to the
Muslim mind. The Muslim recognizes that he owes his health, sustenance,
and very existence to Allah the Most High. Even the non-practicing
Muslim harbors in the depths of his heart an unquenchable respect
for his Creator. Expressions such as "May Allah curse such-and-such"
are used only in a serious manner to inveigh against the enemies
of Allah and those who make war against Islam. The phrases "damnit"
and "g--damnit", used as everyday expressions
of frustration and so common in the West, have no equivalent
in the Islamic world, and do not belong in the Muslim's vocabulary.
The Salman Rushdie phenomenon is enough to illustrate the contempt
that the masses of Muslims hold for one who mocks Allah or the
Messenger of Allah (saaws).
Do Muslims curse? Yes, of course, many do. This is why, throughout
this essay, I have emphasized the behavior of the mu'min
- that is, the believing Muslim whose heart has been filled with
faith and whose behavior has been shaped accordingly. Among Muslims
in general, I would say (based upon my twenty years of associating
with Muslims in Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and the West) that
cursing is not uncommon, but nevertheless not prevalent. However,
a distinction must be made between the detestable language common
in the West and what passes for cursing in the Muslim world.
I have known several Muslims whose language was generally quite
clean until they got behind the wheel of a car, at which point
they would begin hurling at other drivers such insults as, "you
donkey!" "you son of a dog!" "you stupid
(person)!" or "you dirty (person)!" These are
certainly rude and improper things to say, and it is haram
(religiously prohibited) for a Muslim to behave in such a manner.
The Prophet Muhammad (saaws) said, "The Muslim is one
from whose hands and tongue the Muslims are safe." Still,
these insults are relatively mild, even quaint, compared to those
common in the West. And they are certainly not acceptable in
everyday conversation. The worst insult I've ever heard a Muslim
use (in the Arab world, anyway) is "a bane on your mother!"
or "a bane on your father!" Only an extremely rude
person would say such a thing, and then he had better be ready
for a fight. From a religious standpoint, these expressions are
strictly prohibited, as the Messenger of Allah (saaws) specifically
forbade the people to curse their own parents. When his listeners
expressed wonder that anyone would curse his own parents, the
Messenger (saaws) explained that a man curses someone else's
parents, then that person curses his parents in return, the result
being that his actions bring curses upon his own parents.
The mu'min does not utter even mild insults such as "donkey"
or "dog". In fact, a muttaqi, one who is truly
conscious of Allah, does not even call a pig a pig, if it is
meant as an insult! There is a report in the Muwatta of Imam
Malik that Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus, peace be upon him) once was
walking and encountered a pig in the road.
He said to it, "Go in peace." Somebody asked,
"Do you say this to a pig?" Isa said, "I fear
lest I accustom my tongue to evil speech."
Pigs, of course, were considered unclean by the Jews; someone
else, upon encountering a pig blocking his way in the road, might
have said, "Get away, you filthy beast!" and perhaps
kicked it for good measure. So imagine the people's surprise
to hear Isa (saaws) greeting the pig kindly, and saying to it
"Go in peace." He did not want to speak harshly even
to a pig, because he did not want his tongue to begin to know
the sensation of harsh speech, whether to a man, pig or anything
else. That is what the mu'min strives for. Musa (saaws) was commanded
to speak gently even to the tyrant Pharaoh: "And speak
unto him a gentle word, that peradventure he may heed or fear."
It's tempting to dismiss sort of behavior as Prophetic saintliness
that we mere mortals can't expect to emulate. But the Prophets
were nothing more or less than examples to us. We are commanded
to love our Messenger (saaws) more than our own selves, and the
expression of that love is imitation, "the sincerest
form of flattery" as they say.
II. PRAISING ALLAH IN MOMENTS OF
What about in moments of stress or passion? What comes to
the mu'min's tongue at those moments? He doesnt curse,
kick, or speak against Allah. When the believer receives news
of death, or when he is injured, he says, "To Allah we belong,
and to Him we will return." At times of difficulty he says,
"There is no strength and no striving except in Allah's
cause." When he makes an error he pleads Allah's forgiveness.
When he attempts a difficult task, he begins in Allah's name.
He keeps on responding in this until it becomes a part of his
nature, and his first impulse in any difficult situation is to
call upon Allah.
III. SELF-CONTROL IN TIMES OF ANGER
On the authority of Abu Hurairah, who said: a man said
to the prophet: "Counsel me". He said: " Do not
become angry". The man repeated [his request] several times,
and he said: "Do not become angry." Narrated by Bukhari
Everyone becomes angry from time to time, and the Messenge
of Allah (saas) was no exception. When he became angry his face
would turn red. That was the only sign. He often expressed disapproval,
but he never cursed, abused or harmed anyone or anything in anger,
and thats the key. Anger is a natural emotion, as much
as happiness, grief, or anxiety. The mumin acknowledges
this but does not act in a state of anger. He says, I
seek refuge with Allah from Shaytan the accursed, then
he waits, or prays two rakaat, or goes for a walk, or goes
to the masjid, or visits his brother, or occupies himself with
any peaceful pursuit until the anger passes and he can think
rationally. If hes in a situation that requires his continuing
presence, he simply controls his anger and deals with it. A mumin
who trains himself in this manner will eventually master his
anger, rather than anger mastering him.
The first step in repenting any sin or bad action is tawbah
(turning to Allah in repentance), the principles of which are:
- Ceasing to commit the sin.
- Feeling sorry that one committed the sin.
- Asking Allah for forgiveness.
- Sincerely intending not to commit the sin
- Attempting to make amends for any harm
After that, the Muslim should substitute the bad action with
good deeds, as in the following narration:
On the authority of Abu Dhar Jundub bin Junadah, and Muadh
bin Jabal that the Messenger of Allah said: "Fear Allah
wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one and
it will wipe it out, and behave well towards people." (At-Tirmidhi)
Following up a bad deed with a good one wipes out the bad
deed in more than one way. First, the sayyiaat,
or bad marks which would stain the Muslims
record on Yawm al-Qiyaamah (the Day of Resurrection) are
replaced with hassanaat, or good marks. Second,
the actual physical effects of the bad deed are mitigated. Third,
the Muslims own bad thoughts and thought patterns are replaced
with good ones.
Tawbah, therefore, is not only about salvation in the aakhirah
(hereafter), it is also the most effective tool the Muslim has
for changing his behavior in this life. Do you have difficulty
keeping your speech clean at times of stress? Try this simple
act of substitution. Every time you find yourself saying something
improper, stop, ask Allahs forgiveness, and then replace
with something better, such as SubhanAllah! or Ma-shaAllah!
Just keep on doing this, however long it takes. Gradually the
good expressions will supplant the bad ones in your vocabulary.
Of course, for this to work you must also associate yourself
with good Muslims and people who remember Allah, and avoid people
of evil speech and thought.
FOR A HIGHER STATE
The believers are those who, when they hear the command of
Allah, say, "We hear and obey" (Quran, 2:285). A mu'min
does not curse, insult, backbite or slander, even in response
to someone else. He definitely does not poison his speech with
misogynistic, scatological and blasphemous abominations. He is
as far on the opposite end of the behavioral scale as he can
be. He seeks to purify his speech, as a part of the process of
purifying his soul. His speech becomes an act of constant worship
by which he hopes to draw nearer to Allah. If he has nothing
good to say, at the very least he keeps his mouth shut:
Abu Hurairah narrated that the messenger of Allah said:
"Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day either speak
good or keep silent..." related by Bukhari and Muslim
A simple command but a mighty challenge! I've met Muslims
who speak enthusiastically about Jihad but can't keep from backbiting,
telling rude jokes and speaking out of turn. I'm all for Jihad;
in these terrible times we need as many mujahideen as we can
get. Certainly a mujahid needs tremendous self-control and discipline.
The outer struggle must be matched with an inner struggle. Controlling
the tongue is the most basic form of this inner struggle.
"Allah will admit those who believe and work righteous
deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow: they shall be adorned
therein with bracelets of gold and pearls; and their garments
there will be of silk. For they have been guided (in this
life) to the purest of speeches; they have been guided to
the Path of Him Who is Worthy of (all) Praise." (Quran,
The people of Al-Jannah (Paradise, the garden) are
people of pure speech. The mu'min is in a state of existence
in which he is striving for spiritual purity. His mind and soul
are constantly reaching higher, seeking out sincerity, truth,
and yearning to please Allah. This is reflected in and reinforced
by his manner of speech, and this is why the Messenger of Allah
used to supplicate,
"O Allah place light in my heart, light in my tongue,
place light in my hearing, place light in my eyesight, place
light behind me, and light in front of me, and place light above
me, and light below me. O Allah! grant me light."
"Light in my tongue" means, "O Allah, let me
say only that which is good." And what is the best speech
of all? This is answered in the following hadith:
Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al-Ashari said that the messenger
of Allah said: "Purity is half of faith. Alhamdu-lillah
[Praise be to Allah] fills the scales, and subhana-Allah
[How far is Allah from every imperfection] wal- hamdu-lillah
fill that which is between heaven and earth
This is a famous and potent hadith. We grow accustomed to
such expressions as Alhamdu-lillah and Subhan-Allah,
and we forget the tremendous power and light contained within
them. It's almost beyond our ability to comprehend: a single
sincere utterance of Subhan-Allah Wal-hamdu-lillah fills
"that which is between heaven and earth" with blessings.
It fills the sky with barakaat (blessings); it overcomes
the clouds with its might, it mounts to the very stars, and energizes
the vast emptiness of space with Allah's glory. The power of
all the world's atom bombs is less than the force of a single
Subhan-Allah. Knowing this, the mu'min's tongue is constantly
occupied with the praise and remembrance of Allah, until it becomes
a part of his nature, and the praises of Allah roll from his
tongue with sincerity and awe.
May Allah guide us to the purest of speech and guide us on
His path. And to Allah belongs all praise: to Him belong the
best Names, and all things in the heavens and earth glorify Him.
Note: all of the ahadeeth used in this
essay are collected from Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan
Abu Dawud or the Muwatta of Imam Malik.
First published on Zawaj.com.
Author is Wael Abdelgawad, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprints are acceptable with notification, acknowledgement and
a link back to Zawaj.com.