On the authority of Muaadh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, inform me of an act which will place me into Paradise and keep me away from the Fire.” He said, “You have asked about a great matter but it is easy for whomever Allah, Exalted be He, makes it easy. [You should] worship Allah and not ascribe any partner to Him, establish the prayer, give the Zakat, fast Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House.” He then said, “Shall I not inform you of the gates to goodness? [They are] fasting [which] is a shield, charity [which] extinguishes the sins like water extinguishes a fire and the prayer of a man in the depths of the night [which also extinguished sins].” The he recited [the verses], “Who forsakes their beds” until he reached, “they used to do”. Then he said, “Shall I inform you of the head of the matter, its pillar and its apex?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He said, “The head of the matter is submission [to Allah]. Its pillar is the prayer. And its apex is jihad.” Then he said, “Shall I not inform you of what controls all of this?” I said, “Certainly, O Prophet of Allah.” He took hold of his tongue and said, “Restrain this.” I said, “O Prophet of Allah, will we be held accountable for what we say?” He said, “May your mother be bereaved of you, O Muaadh. Is there anything that has thrown people on their faces – or he said on their noses – into the Fire except that which their tongues reap?” (Recorded in al-Tirmidhi)
“Shall I not inform you of what controls all of this? … that which their tongues reap?”
We have discussed in previous hadith the importance of saying a good word and refraining from evil speech. However in this last portion of the hadith, the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, goes further to indicate that restraining, controlling and holding one’s tongue is the foundation of all good, both in this life and the Hereafter.
Someone might wonder, why is it the case that the deeds of the tongue can have such significance as to take someone to the Hellfire? Can they really be that harmful?
Let’s contemplate the sins of speech. They include backbiting which is saying about others what they would not like to hear; spreading rumours; lying; giving false witness; and associating partners with Allah or shirk which is the greatest sin in the eyes of Allah, all praises and glory be to Him. In fact, all sinful acts in general are usually accompanied by speech that assists those deeds.
Ibn Taymiyah, may Allah be pleased with him, pointed out that even though a person may in control of all their other actions, and they be considered to be very religious, they still may not be able to control their tongue. We may be able to avoid eating forbidden foods, or stealing or drinking alcohol, but we find it difficult to stop saying bad things about others.
In this day and age when the forms of communication are so many, so informal and so immediate, we have to be especially careful. We have to realise that our words form part of our deeds and we must guard them as carefully as our actions.
Let’s remember what Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
“Not a word does he utter but there is a watcher by him ready [to record it]” (Surah al-Qaaf:16-18)