Speak a good word or remain silent

Abu Hurairah relates that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should not harm his neighbor, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should entertain his guest generously and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet. (i.e. abstain from all kinds of evil and dirty talk).” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Book #75, Hadith #47]

The importance of this hadith

This hadith discusses some of the ways a Muslim’s faith should affect the way he relates to others. Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani writes: “This hadith speaks about three matters, and in doing so it brings together everything that good manners entail with respect to both word and deed.”

Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day…

This is a conditional sentence. It is repeated three times in this hadith, each time with a different condition. The first of these three conditions is to either speak a good word or remain silent, the second is to show hospitality to one’s neighbors, and the third is to show hospitality to one’s guests. This hadith is showing us that these three qualities are among the many qualities of faith. A person who fails to fulfill any of these conditions is a person whose faith is incomplete and in want of improvement.

Speaking a good word or remaining silent

This is an encouragement to speak what is good and beneficial; at the same time it is a warning, cautioning us to be careful in what we say, lest we say something that is harmful or false.

It is part of a Muslim’s faith to speak the truth and to say things that bring about benefit to others. Allah says: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and speak a word that is right. He will set right for you your deeds and forgive you your sins. And whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great achievement.” [Surah al-Ahzab : 70-71]

Allah informs us in the Quran some of what constitutes good in our speech and benefits other people. He says: “No good is there in much of their private conversation, except for those who enjoin charity or that which is right, or bring reconciliation between people. And whoever does that seeking Allah’s pleasure, then we shall grant him a great reward.” [Surah al-Nisa’ : 114]

When we have nothing beneficial to say, silence is golden.

Once, Mu`adh b. Jabal asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) to inform him of some good work that would admit him into Paradise and distance him from the Hellfire. The Prophet (peace be upon him) mentioned to him the virtues of many good deeds, then said: “Shall I inform you of the foundation of all of that?”

Mu`adh said: “Certainly.”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain yourself from this.”

Mu`adh then asked: “O Prophet of Allah! Are we held to task for the things that we say?”

The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “May your mother be bereaved of you, O Mu`adh! Does anything topple people headlong into the Hellfire save the harvests of their tongues?” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi and Sunan Ibn Majah]

We should avoid speaking ill of others. We should rather remain silent unless we are seeking justice for some wrong that has been perpetrated against us. Allah says: “Allah does not like that evil should be mentioned in public except by one who has been done injustice. And Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing.” [Surah al-Nisa’ : 148]

Our tongues are like double-edges swords. They can work for us and against us, both in this world and the Hereafter. We will be held accountable for what we say. Allah tells us: “He does not utter a statement except that there is an observer by him ready to record it.” [Surah Qaf : 18]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Indeed a servant will speak a word pleasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it Allah raises him by many degrees. And indeed a servant will speak a word displeasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it, He will consign him to the Hellfire.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî ]

We must be vigilant not to speak falsehood. We must think about what we are saying and the possible consequences of our words before we go ahead and speak. Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The servant speaks words that he does not understand its repercussions but he sinks down in Hell-Fire farther than the distance between the east and the west.” [Sahih Muslim, Book #042, Hadith #7121]

Al-Nawawi comments on the meaning of this hadith, saying: “This hadith encourages us to guard our tongues. A person who wants to speak should think upon what he is about to say before he utters it. If it then shows itself to have some benefit to it, he may speak it; otherwise he should refrain from doing so.”

Showing hospitality to the neighbor and the guest

From the perfection of a person’s faith is his showing kindness to those with whom he has dealings, especially his neighbors and his guests.

Allah says: “Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and show kindness to parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, the near neighbor, the distant neighbor, the companion at your side, the traveler, and those whom your right hands possess. Indeed, Allah does not like those who are conceited and boastful.” [Surah al-Nisa’ : 36]

Islam emphasizes the right of the neighbor. Ibn Umar reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Gabriel impressed upon me (the kind treatment) towards the neighbour (so much) that I thought as if he would soon confer upon him the (right) of inheritance.” [Sahih Muslim, Book #032, Hadith #6356]

There are many forms that this hospitality can take. It can take the form of help in times of need. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “He is not a believer who lets himself be satiated while his neighbor goes hungry.” [Mustadrak al-Hakim]

It can mean making allowances for the neighbor’s needs, even by waiving some of one’s own rights.  Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “None among you should prevent his neighbour from fixing a beam in his wall.” [Sahih Muslim, Book #010, Hadith #3918]

It can take the form of gift giving. Abu Hurairah reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “O Muslim women! None of you should look down upon the gift sent by her she-neighbour even if it were the trotters of the sheep (fleshless part of legs).” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Book #73, Hadith #46]

Islam teaches us to be generous and hospitable to those who come to us as guests. Indeed, those who come to our homes have a right over us.

Abu Shuraih Al-Adawi narrated that:

“My ears heard and my eyes saw the Prophet when he spoke, “Anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day, should serve his neighbor generously, and anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should serve his guest generously by giving him his reward.”

It was asked. “What is his reward, O Allah’s Apostle?”

He said, “(To be entertained generously) for a day and a night with high quality of food and the guest has the right to be entertained for three days (with ordinary food) and if he stays longer, what he will be provided with will be regarded as Sadaqa (a charitable gift). And anybody who believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quite (i.e. abstain from all kinds of dirty and evil talks).” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Book #73, Hadith #48]

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