Ramadan is less than a month away, and I want to talk about something important that is happening within our communities—both on-line and off, but especially on social media.
I am noticing what I consider a very negative trend amongst Muslims, which is the use of bad or vulgar language. It started off somewhat mildly, where you would occasionally see a young person use some trendy abbreviation to express displeasure with something.
I always found these abbreviations somewhat questionable (a proverbial “slippery slope” I feared might erode the social norm of polite language the Muslim community is generally known for), but it didn’t stop there. Little by little, open swearing became the norm.
This phenomenon has not remained confined to the youth, as one might expect, but has also become somewhat commonplace with educated adults, including many writers who serve as role models and influencers in our communities. If you find yourself in this category, please remember the following:
People often idealize writers and look up to them for guidance on various issues. People from all walks of life are listening to you, which means an even greater responsibility to choose your words with care.
Allah SWT has gifted you with your intellect and given you the ability to elevate the quality of public discourse by expressing yourself with the best of speech. Are you making full use of this gift? Do you strive to be like the Prophet (PBUH), who never insulted people, used obscene language, or cursed anyone?
As Muslims, we have many wonderful expressions to make use of in times of calamity or hardship, including:
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
“To Allah we belong, and to Allah we return.”
Hasbi-Allahu wa Ni’ma Al-Wakil.
“Allah is sufficient for us, and He is the best Disposer of affairs.”
Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa Billaah.
“There is no strength or power except with Allah.”
“Glory be to Allah.”
“Allah is the Greatest.”
La ilaha illallah.
“There is no deity but Allah.”
“May Allah grant me patience.”
“I seek the forgiveness of Allah.”
Obviously, these are religious phrases that we might not be able to use in all contexts. In many cases, it may not be appropriate to walk around saying these phrases to people who do not share our beliefs. But they can definitely be part of the vocabulary we use at home, with our families, with other Muslims, in our minds, and even under our breaths.
And how appropriate is it to use swear-words in these same contexts, anyway?
You can think of your own alternatives—or simply choose to stay silent when you feel that you might make a verbal slip.
One thing I have enjoyed while traveling in Jordan is seeing road-signs which say “Subhan Allah” and “La ilaha illallah,” often strategically placed near speed-bumps or difficult areas of the road which may otherwise provoke one’s anger or impatience (I don’t know if this specific sign is located in Jordan, but this is what they look like in general):
سبحان الله وبحمده pic.twitter.com/ytDA2bPaEg
— Muslim Culture (@CulturedMuslim) November 15, 2017
These signs serve as reminders to praise God and remember Him often. The more we read and recite the Qur’an and keep our tongues moist with dhikr, the better we will become at purifying our speech as well.
Am I saying that one should never get angry or express that anger in strong terms when needed?
We must speak out firmly against injustice and comment about important issues. I am simply urging you to use an educated tone when doing so. People will respect and listen to you more when they see how much care you have put into your words.
Ramadan is a month of self-reflection and provides us a means to shed bad habits.
As the month draws closer, however, I have not seen any slowdown in careless language. I am also seeing a lot of harshness, including rude, mocking language, between Muslims as they discuss various issues. The level of rudeness feels unprecedented.
Remember that the purpose of fasting is to attain the quality of righteousness (taqwa), as stated in the Qur’an (2:183):
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become righteous.”
Certain etiquettes are associated with fasting, including abstaining from bad behavior and language.
“When one of you gets up in the morning in a state of fasting, he should neither use obscene language nor behave ignorantly. And if anyone slanders him or quarrels with him, he should say: ‘I am fasting, I am fasting.’”
“Whoever does not give up false and ignorant speech, and acting in accordance with that, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.”
Regardless of age, gender, and social status, we should all be concerned about the impact of our words. I, too, have certainly said things I regret when feeling upset and have to work on things like not sounding annoyed when someone interrupts me.
What about you? What do you struggle with?
Do you share the same concerns I’ve raised in this article?
Spread the word—and let’s try to do better in Ramadan and beyond.
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