الحمد لله، الحمد لله الذي جعل من جوارح الإنسان اللسان، وأمره أن يستخدمه للبيان، نحمده تعالى ونستعينه، ونشكره تعالى ونستغفره ونستغيثه، نعوذ بالله من شرور أنفسنا ومن سيئات أعمالنا، من يهد الله فهو المهتد ومن يضلل فلن تجد له وليا مرشدا، ونشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له، له الملك و له الحمد، يحيي ويميت، بيده الخير، وهو على كل شيء قدير، ونشهد أن سيدنا و مولانا محمداً عبده ورسوله، وحبيبه وصفيه، بلغ الرسالة وأدى الأمانة ونصح الأمة، النبي الأمي الذي أرسله الله بالهدى والدين الحق، بشيرا ونذيرا بين يدي الساعة، صلى الله عليه وسلم وعلى آله وأصحابه ومن تبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين.
أما بعد! فيا عباد الله اتقوا الله حق تقاته ولا تموتن إلا وأنتم مسلمون. يأيها الذين ءامنوا اتقوا الله وقولوا قولا سديدا يصلح لكم أعمالكم ويغفر لكم ذنوبكم. ومن يطع الله ورسوله فقد فاز فوزا عظيما. اتقوا الله فيما أمر وانتهوا عما نها عنه وزجر.
We are told that we are living in an age of great progress, an enlightened age, an age of high culture. But if that is true, then why, whenever we look around us, all that we see is disaster, all that we see is injustice, killing, unprecedented economic inequality, depravity and human misery, all that we hear is half-truths and profanity? Is this the great world that modernity has produced? Why do we accept the lies of our politicians? Why do we ignore the evidence before our eyes and continue to believe that we are the most advanced and civilised society ever to exist? Why do we continue to believe that we are at a cultural high point when all evidence points in the opposite direction? The answer lies in language, or rather in lack of language.
Language has always been the thing that separates us from other animals – we have a capacity to express ourselves and put our thoughts and ideas into words which they do not. It is not for nothing that the Arabs define us the hayawanun naatiq/ the animal that speaks. But, with the passage of time, this capacity is being eroded, and our ability to communicate and express ourselves adequately diminishing. And this, in turn, affects our ability to think and understand. As time passes, as a race, we become ever dumber and less capable, and continue to perpetuate the same mistakes, time and time again, without learning our lessons.
The reason for the sorry state in which we find ourselves and the reason we cannot extricate ourselves from it is, to a large extent, due to the impoverishment of our language. And that applies regardless of what our native tongue is. All languages in this present time are in decline.
They are in decline in terms of the number of words that are used and understood. In a study conducted in 1999, it was discovered that the average teenager of that time had less than half the spoken vocabulary of a teenager in 1950, and it continues to shrink with the passing of every year.
And they are in decline in terms of the capacity to use correct grammar – studies show that even a high proportion of university graduates are unable to construct sentences properly.
But worse than both these points is that words that are in use are far too often used out of context or out of place. Nouns are used as verbs, adjectives as adverbs, and metaphors and similes that obfuscate and hide meaning rather than clarify and reveal it. Words are used ambiguously without their meanings being adequately defined. Now, people expect a lot of this from the common folk, from general people on the street, but what many do not realise is that our politicians, academics, journalists and leaders are equally culpable, and in fact are often leading the way in destroying the language.
And they do it with an agenda, for to place limits on a people’s language and their capacity to express themselves is to place limits on their ability to think and come up with ideas and statements that rock the boat and upset the status quo. In a mechanical society where people are measured as units and viewed as cogs that keep the whole thing running smoothly, it is best that they are kept in an unthinking, automatic, robotic state. But even those who consciously use language in this way, in other words, to limit other people’s capacity, they themselves are not immune to its effects, for as George Orwell says in a fascinating essay on politics and the English language, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”
In his essay on Newspeak at the end of his famous book, 1984, Orwell describes how corrupting, limiting and changing language can be used to control and limit thought and encourage conformity, and although to a much lesser degree, that is exactly what is happening in the present day, especially with the rise in the use of social networking, and the preponderance in the use of political double-speak and euphemism in all areas of the media, and vulgarity and profanity in nearly every movie and every tv series. When people cannot express what they think is wrong or how they think things ought to be in words that hit the mark and are easily digested and understood, then there is no way they can bring those things about or cause them to happen.
I mentioned this in a khutba last year and am repeating it again today, because it is something against which we as Muslims must always be on our guard, especially in the light of the current mass bombardment from politicians and media against our great deen. It is all too easy to fall for the honeyed words and get swept up in the propaganda, it is all too easy to accept their misrepresentations as truth when our language is too limited to refute it. We feel hopeless and inadequate and therefore our convictions start to feel the same way. We lose our true identities and fall into the roles they have built for us, thereby losing our capacity to restore this great deen. A poor grasp of language will often equate to a poor grasp of deen. We cannot stand by and allow this to happen to ourselves and our Muslim brothers. The destruction of our linguistic ability is one of the greatest dangers we face. Language is the bedrock upon which our identities are built and our deen is brought to life. The main miracle of this deen was one that was linguistic in nature, and one of the chief qualities of its Messenger, the Messenger of Allah, was his eloquence.
Let us start with the Book of Allah – the very first thing our Lord commands us to do is iqra – read,
اِقْرَأْ بِلسْمِ رَبِّكَ الذِي خَلَقَ
“Read in the Name of your Lord who created.” And one of the earliest oaths He makes is,
وَالْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطَرُونَ
the translation of which is, “By the Pen and what they write down.” The pen being the means by which language is transferred from within to without and preserved for future generations. Language is the very start of the affair, and lies at its very heart, for the challenge Allah makes to those who oppose the Quran and oppose the Messenger is based on the language of the Quran – its combination of forms, words and meanings. In a series of challenges, Allah calls on them to first come with a Quran like it, then ten suras and then just one sura like the Quran. Now, while these ayas indicate the divine nature of the Quran, and the impossibility of man coming up with anything rivaling it, they may also be taken as a call for us to always aim for the highest when expressing ourselves, and that is indeed the way the great ulama of this umma understood them with many mirroring the style of the Quran in their own works and essays.
This chief style of the language of the Quran is indicated by the word Allah uses to describe it, mubin. Allah says,
وَهَذَا لِسَانٌ عَرَبِيٌّ مُّبِينٌ
the translation of which is, “This is a clear and clarifying Arabic tongue.” The Quran is clear and well-expressed – it does not obfuscate or unnecessarily complicate. It uses a language that is elevated but still accessible, and uses metaphors to deepen and clarify, rather than deceive and distract. This is bayaan – eloquence and clarity of expression, and is one of the most profound gifts that Allah has given the human race. Allah says, near the beginning of surat ar-Rahman,
خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ
the translation of which is, “He created man and taught Him bayan,” taught him how to express himself. Of all the wonders of this creation that are mentioned throughout surat ar-Rahman, Allah mentions bayaan first. And so to lose it is to lose a large part of what it means to be human. This is further emphasised in a statement of Umar ibn al-Khattab,
تعلَّموا العربيةَ فإنها تُنبِتُ العقلَ وتزيدُ المُروءةَ
“Learn Arabic for it it causes the intellect to grow and your manliness to increase.” Not only is language the means to expanding your intellect and increasing your understanding of the world, but it is the means of men realising their potential as men and women realising their potential as women. It is not for nothing that the Arabs elevated those who had attained a mastery of language to the ranks of their nobility and looked with contempt on those who lacked it. One of the poets said,
كفـى بالمـــرء عيبـــاً أن تــراه له وجــهٌ وليــس له لســـانُ
وما حُســنُ الرجـال لهـم بزينٍ إذا لم يُسعد الحُسـن البيانُ
“It is enough of a defect in a man that he is seen to have a face but not a tongue.
There is no point to a man’s beauty if that beauty is not aided by eloquence.” History is full of ugly and seemingly unremarkable men rising to the very pinnacle of society through their skill with words, such as al-Jahiz and many others. It was their defining quality, their capacity to communicate is what set them apart. May Allah increase our capacity to communicate and increase our capacity to express ourselves in ways that allow us to understand and those who hear us to understand and to then succeed in acting upon what we say that are not ranked among those who say what they do not do.
أقول قولي هذا وأستغفر الله لي ولكم ولسائر المسلمين من كل ذنب فاستغفروه إنه هو الغفور الرَّحيم.
الحمد لله الحمد لله رب العالمين، وأشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له وأشهد أن محمداً عبده ورسوله، صلى الله وسلم وبارك عليه وعلى آله وصحبه، والتابعين وتابعي التابعين ومن تبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين.
أما بعد! فيأيها الذين ءامنوا اتقوا الله ما استطعتم واسمعوا وأطيعوا وأنفقوا خيرا لأنفسكم. يا عباد الله أوصيكم وإياي بتقوى الله وطاعته وأحذركم وإياي عن معصيته ومخالفته
This capacity of speaking well, of making proper use of language and honouring the gift of bayan and the gift of the tongue, was also a fundamental quality of the man whom we are all commanded to follow and emulate, the Messenger of Allah. Indeed, he had that quality to a higher degree than any other in the history of existence. Imam as-Suyuti said,
أفصح الخلق على الاطلاق سيدنا ومولانا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم حبيب رب العالمين
“The most eloquent of all existence without exception was our lord and master, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, the beloved of the Lord of all the worlds.” And the Prophet himself said,
أنا أفصح العرب، بيد أني من قريش، واستُرضِعت في سعد بن بكر
“I am the most eloquent of the Arabs since I am from Quraysh and was brought up among the Banu Sa‘d.” He would never use more words than was necessary, nor speak too briefly and cryptically to be understood. He was given the jawam’i l-kalim as he famously said in a hadith. That is to say, he would use whatever words and phrases most completely expressed the meaning he was trying to get across and would never pad his words with pointless and extraneous waffle. He would be brief and not long-winded, but with words and expressions that his intended audience always understood. Qadi Iyad said in his Shifa,
“He learned the dialects of the Arabs, and would speak to each of their communities in their own dialect and converse with them in their own idiom. He answered their arguments using their own style of rhetoric…”
And that is because one of the chief roles of the Prophet, and by extension is umma, is balaagh – passing on the Message truthfully and accurately. Allah says,
وَمَا عَلَيْكَ إِلَّا الْبَلاَغُ الْمُبِينُ
the translation of which is, “Your job is but to transmit with clarity,” to pass on and communicate to others this great deen so that they can come to know it and understand how to put it into practice and pass it on to others in their turn. But that can only happen if people have the capacity to communicate on the one hand and the capacity to understand on the other. Anything that weakens or damages that capacity is reprehensible and must be avoided. And that is why the Prophet said, when he heard someone misuse language,
أرشدوا أخاكم فقد ضلّ
“Guide your brother, for he has gone astray.” This was someone who misused language, lahan. “Guide your brother for he has gone astray.” For his misuse of language either indicated a lack of understanding on his part or caused those who hear him to develop a faulty understanding. It is damaging to him and damaging to the society in which he lives. Indeed, impoverished language poses a greater threat to a society’s well-being than war, as Sayyidina Umar indicated when he said,
والله لخطؤكم في لسانكم أشدّ علي من خطئكم في رميكم
“By Allah, the mistakes you make with your tongue are worse than the mistakes/ the misses you make when shooting your arrows.” So we Muslims must act to restore language and reverse the trend of the present age. And that does not refer just to Arabic, but to our native tongue, for it is our native tongues that are the languages with which we habitually communicate.
We must speak in a clear and accurate manner without obfuscation or unnecessary ambiguity. That is bayaan.
We must use language that will be welcomed by the ears of our audience and not distress them. Thus we must avoid unnecessary longwindedness that exhausts, bores and distracts, and foul vulgar language and profanity that repulses and disgusts. Allah says,
لَا يُحِبُّ اللَّهُ الْجَهْرَ بِالسُّوءِ مِنَ الْقَوْلِ إِلَّا مَنْ ظُلِمَ
the translation of which is, “Allah does not like evil words being voiced out loud, except in the case of someone who has been wronged.”
This restoration of language starts with education, the education of both ourselves and our children. We must rediscover great literature and poetry and place greater emphasis on vocabulary and the study of the forms, rules and uses of language, and how they may be re-introduced into everyday speech. The modern day fascination for sms speak, twitterspeak, jargon and political euphemism must be discouraged, and a return to reading, memorisation and letter or journal writing encouraged and engendered. When we have sufficiently recovered our language then we will start to be able to diagnose and heal the ills of the present day. And Allah knows best. We ask Allah to give us the necessary guidance to do just that. And we ask Allah to unlock our tongues and unlock our intellects so that they may reach their full potential.
إِنَّ اللهَ وَمَلَائِكَتَهُ يُصَلُّونَ عَلَى النَّبِيِّ، يَا أَيُهَا الذِينَ آمَنُواْ صَلُّواْ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلِّمُواْ تَسْلِيماً.
اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ وَسَلِّمْ وَبَارِكْ عَلَيْهِ وَعَلَى آلِهِ وَصَحْبِهِ أَجْمَعِينَ. وَارْضَ اللَّهُمَّ عَنِ الْخُلَفَاءِ الرَّاشِدِينَ أَبِي بَكْرٍ وَعُمَرَ وَعُثْمَانَ وَعَلِيٍّ، وعن أم المومنين عائشة التي أمرنا الله في سورة النور أن ندافع عنها، وَعَنْ سَائِرِ الصَّحَابَةِ أَجْمَعِينَ، خُصُوصاً اِلأَنْصَارَ مِنْهُمْ وَالمُهَاجِرِينَ، وَعَنِ التَّابِعِينَ وَتَابِعِي التَّابِعِينَ وَمَنْ تَبِعَهُمْ بِإِحْسَانٍ إِلَى يَوْمِ الدِّينِ.
اللَّهُمَّ اهْدِ وُلَاةَ أُمُورِ المُسْلِمِينَ لِمَا يُرْضِيكَ وَلِاتِّبَاعِ سُنَّةِ نَبِيِّكَ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَهُمْ عَلَى الصِّرَاطِ المُسْتَقِيمِ، وَأَصْلِحْهُمْ يَا رَبَّ الْعَالَمِينَ.
اللَّهُمَّ بَارِكْ عَلَى شَيْخِنَا، وَعَلَى أَمِيرِنَا، وَعَلَى جَمِيعِ أُمَرَاءِ وَزُعَمَاءِ المُسْلِمِينَ.
اللَّهُمَّ بَارِكْ عَلَى المُسْلِمِينَ فِي هَذِهِ المَدِينَةِ، وَوَفِّقْهُمْ لِمَا تُحِبُّهُ وَتَرْضَاهُ يَا أَكْرَمَ الأَكْرَمِينَ.
اللَّهُمَّ أَعِزَّ الإِسْلَامَ وَالمُسِْلمِينَ، وَاخْذُلِ الْكُفْرَ وَالْكَافِرِينَ، وَانْصُرِ المُجَاهِدِينَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللهِ. وَاجْعَلْ كَلِمََتَكَ هِيَ العُلْيَا وَكَلِمَةَ الْكُفْرِ هِيَ السُّفْلَى.
رَبَّنَا ءَاتِنَا فِي الدُّنْيَا حَسَنَةً وَفِي الآخِرَةِ حَسَنَةً وَقَِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ.
إِنَّ اللهَ يَامُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَى، وَيَنْهَى عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالمُنكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ، يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَّكَّرُونَ، وَلَذِكْرُ اللهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ. وَقُومُواْ إِلَى صَلاتِكُمْ يَرْحَمُكُمُ اللهُ.