As you walk down a hallway at school, someone hurls an insult at you. Turning to respond, you think of the best comeback you can give – one that will floor the person who just dared to pick a fight with you, that too in public. You get into a shouting match full of the most obscene words ever invented – every insult getting more vulgar with each round as you try to top each other – and a crowd gathers to cheer you two on. Of course, once the bell rings for the next class, the audience leaves, and your two minutes of fame are over. What did you achieve?
It is an unfortunate occurrence – and yes, it occurs among Muslims too – to easily slip into dirtying the tongue which Allah has blessed us with. It starts off with using what is considered "low-key" foul language only during moments of anger. Then it escalates to moments of sadness and happiness, and eventually daily conversation is naturally peppered with dirtiness. This escalation is tragic in itself, but what is even more tragic is that sometimes this escalation starts when we are mere children!
Foul language is now considered normal and is used even when the context makes no sense! Having questioned some youth about why they feel the "need" to use foul language or raise their voices, they replied with causes such as problems of anger and frustration; they go on to say that it is a habit which will "wear off" eventually. Yet so often, habits such as these get even stronger with age unless there is a will to change oneself.
Whenever we hear the justifications for vulgarity, we are led to wonder – what problems do we face in life that lead to anger and frustration being expressed by swearing and shouting? Have humans not been facing difficulties since the time of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him)? Do we not have examples of how to speak decently, even when we are troubled?
Having graced this earth with such an inspiring infallible as the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon him) – the one whose words are known as The Peak of Eloquence – the Almighty also blessed humanity with the eloquent personality of the Lady of the Women of the Universe (peace be upon her). Having been born into such a noble household as that of the Prophet and Lady Khadija, Lady Fatima had a most sweet upbringing filled with pure words. However, she saw and heard of the atrocities committed against her father, and there came times in her life when she was displeased with others – what was her speech like then? How did she express herself?
Lady Fatima always maintained self-control and self-respect. Rather than resort to expressing herself by using vulgar words or by shouting, she turned towards Allah to ask for His help. Even during her last moments in this world, Lady Fatima was reciting the praise of her Creator. Likewise, rather than using foul language when in moments of anger, sadness or happiness, we should be praising Allah!
If we take the route of disrespecting our tongues, then we achieve nothing in this world or the next: we say things which we will regret later, we turn ourselves into pieces of entertainment for others who gather to "watch the show", we earn a poor reputation, we lose our own self-respect, and to top it all off, we have compromised our hereafter. There is no benefit whatsoever.
On the topic of rights of the tongue in the Treatise on Rights, Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) has said: "It is the right of your tongue that you should consider it too respectable to utter obscene language; and you should accustom it to good [speech], and discipline it with good manners, and keep it silent except in time of necessity and for spiritual or material benefit, and keep it away from superfluous, reviling, useless talk, which may cause much harm, with little benefit. It is considered a proof of intelligence and a guide to it; and its good discipline edifies a wise man in his wisdom. And there is no power but with the High (and) Great Allah."
Such is the blessing which we have been given, yet take so lightly!
A wonderful example we should learn from is the speech which Lady Fatima gave to the usurpers of her rightful inheritance. Not even two weeks had passed after the Prophet's death that she had to face oppression at the hands of unjust rulers. In that tense situation, Lady Fatima still expressed herself with the utmost eloquence – her words were so powerful and so full of justice that no one could give a response of the same quality. Indeed, there is no one who can match her magnificent manner of speech besides Imam Ali.
We learn from Lady Fatima how to spread the Truth effectively: by using logical reasoning, by speaking the truth, and by having unshakeable faith in the Almighty. It was not by abandoning hijab via shouting, not by disrespecting the blessing of voice via use of foul language, not by flinging false accusations, and not by degrading oneself by turning into a piece of entertainment for others to watch. Yes, there was a crowd of people listening as she gave her speech, but they were not cheering anyone on or watching her as a source of entertainment – they were crying when she cried, and they listened when she spoke. That is how we should strive to be, as someone who speaks when necessary and speaks in such a way that Allah is still pleased with us.
In the weekly Ziyarat for Lady Fatima, we send greetings of peace upon her and say: "…We claim that we are your followers, believing in you, and (believing and) bearing with everything that has been brought unto us by your father and that which his successor brought unto us…" (Mafatih al-Jinan)
As her followers, it is vital to study the impeccable character of Lady Fatima so that we may improve ourselves in all dimensions. Her speech about Fadak is a source of inspiration for so many things, including how to speak without stooping to the lowly levels of Shaitan's followers.
Besides talking with individuals in society, even our speech in the household should be clean. Sometimes it seems that our family members are less honorable than others (the twisted philosophy that "My family will always be there no matter what, so it doesn't matter how I treat them."). Again, we should look to the example of Lady Fatima and how she spoke so lovingly with her family. In Hadith al-Kisa for instance, she addresses her children as "the coolness of my eye"! It is no wonder that her children were so loving and respectful to each other, having grown up in the folds of pure speech.
With practice, improving our character will come easier. Fasting regularly is a way of practicing self-control, and that concept can then be applied to controlling the tongue as well. Constantly being in the state of Wudhu acts as a deterrent from displeasing Allah, because it evokes a more obvious sense of God-consciousness. Gaining more knowledge and understanding the meaning of prayers helps bring about a sense of humility, which leads to more silence and contemplation. These are just a few methods, but there are so many ways which help in improving character in general, and specifically in controlling the tongue.
The youth of today may have troubles, but Lady Fatima suffered unrivalled difficulties. She – a youth herself! – was able to maintain such a high level of character despite all that, and she serves as a great example for us. The Awaited Savior (may Allah hasten his reappearance) has also said: "In the daughter of the Messenger of God is a great example for me to emulate." (Lisan Al-Mizan)
Unfortunately, what qualified as foul language ten years ago is now acceptable or is considered less harmful. Or, as an alternative to saying the actual obscenity, people are finding substitutes or abbreviations to work their way around it. In the end though, why disrespect the tongue by saying or implying foul language? Just avoid it altogether! Before shouting out an obscenity, before saying something rude, before typing "lmao" in chats, just consider whether Lady Fatima would approve. She heard vulgarities from the ignorant and went through many difficulties, yet she maintained the purity of her speech at all times.
We claim to be her followers, so why not live up to the title? Rather than swearing in moments of happiness or frustration, it should become second nature to say Alhamdulillah, or A'udhubillah. Rather than shouting when proving a point, state the argument calmly yet confidently. Rather than disrespecting Allah's creation by turning into a source of amusement for others, shine brightly with the character of a true follower of Lady Fatima. Thus, rather than having dirtied our tongues with vile and vain speech, let us attempt to make our tongues pure enough to utter praises of the Lady of Light.