There is no way to exhaust various ways of speaking about Allah except it would exhaust the speech itself. Yet, reflecting on the very gift of speech gives us a glance at the qualities of the giver. And why should we not consider reflecting on it while Allah Himself mentions it to us:
عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ “
What a gift it is! How, if not by means of speech, would man manifest fruits of his knowledge and understanding? How could one soul unveil some of its' vast hidden world to another soul? And while we are too far from appreciating the ability to express our thoughts, Allah is too Exalted for us to imagine that he would merely provide us with a tool. Rather, He has provided a tool that is perfectly designed and is suitable for the perfectly designed creature. A tool which has a variable sophistication and strength to match the skill of the user. Thus, the design of Allah made eloquence possible. And then there is another level and dimension of the miracle of human speech, a dimension we might have witnessed in the words and supplications of Amir al Mu'mineen, lines of poetry or the words of some of the brightest novelists: art. Indeed, artistic speech is unlike simple expression and is beyond eloquence: not only it can perfectly reach the target but it also has some degree of power to direct, move and transform receptive hearts.
As we can see, we have been endowed with a highly sophisticated, intricately designed and eminently powerful faculty. How strange would it be to believe that it is safe to use it without thorough consideration and restraint!
The dangers of uncontrolled and abundant speech have been heavily emphasized by the Holy Prophet and and his pure Household. From the multitude of well-known narrations in this regard, a few can be mentioned to illustrate their stance:
Ma`adh ibn Jabal asked the Noble Prophet : “Shall we be held responsible for what we say?” The Prophet said:
ثَكَلَتْكَ أُمُّكَ يا بْنَ جَبَلٍ! وَهَل يَكُبُّ النَّاسَ (في جَهَنَّمَ) عَلى مَناخِرِهِم إلاّ حَصَائِدُ ألْسِنَتِهِمْ؟
“O Ibn Jabal! May your mother be bereft of you! Does anything else throw people down on their faces (in Hell) other than the harvest of their tongues?”(1)
Imam Ali(sa) has said:
إن لسان ابن آدم يشرف كل يوم على جوارحه فيقول: كيف أصبحتم ؟ فيقولون: بخير إن تركتنا، ويقولون: الله الله فينا ! ويناشدونه ويقولون: إنما نثاب بك ونعاقب بك"
"Indeed, every day the tongue of the son of Adam checks upon his limbs, saying: "How have you started the morning?" They say: "We are in a good condition as long as you spare us!" Then they say: "Allah Allah [we enjoin you for Allah's sake] [to be mindful] about us!" They petition him and say:"Verily we are rewarded because of you and we are punished because of you!" (2)
He has also said:
اللِّسَانُ سَبُعٌ إنْ خُلِّيَ عَقَرَ.
“The tongue is a beast that will cause an injury when unleashed.”(3)
The above warnings are sufficient for us to realize the magnitude of consequences and consider the value of silence as much as we consider the value of speech. However, the merit of silence does not only lie in protecting us from sin. Silence, in fact, is a condition for meaningful speech. There is no real substance and meaning to manifest by means of speech if there was no prior learning and contemplation, which are only possible in a state of deep silence. In words of imam Ali(sa),
أَلصُّمْتُ رَوْضَةُ الْفِكْرِ
“Silence is the garden of contemplation” (4)
Today, more than ever, we tend to seek big things, profound impressions and intense experiences to satisfy our thirst for inner transformation. We wish to travel to the farthest countries, try the most unfamiliar things and experience the rarest of miracles. And while being useful, this is neither necessary nor sufficient. The great mystic of our times, Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Bahjat is reported to have said: “If one deserves it, meaning that he is eager to seek Ma'rifah (Divine Cognizance), and if he has endeavor and a sincerity of intention, with the permission of God, all of creation would become his teacher.” One of the things we can understand from it is that we need not to search for new teachers. Instead, we should give due attention to the great multitude of teachers that Allah has already assigned for us. Let's start with our inner teacher. Be silent, listen to him. What is he saying?
“O the plebeian self! Do you not realize that you are standing in the midst of the magnificent gallery of the Supreme Artist, surrounded and penetrated by the countless masterpieces, each bearing the mark of perfect intelligence, beauty and harmony? Are you searching for life on other planets while you learnt nothing from the breath of life in the movement of billions of creatures around you? O the troubled self! Which miracle do you seek to console you, while you do not perceive the undisturbed honour, peace and harmony emanating from the smallest atoms of creation? O the audacious self! Do you imagine that the deafening chaotic ramblings of your tongue are worth of interrupting this noble gathering of teachers? O the clueless self! Anything you utter is a source of embarrassment except what follows or is dictated by the harmony and intelligence of the creation. “
Verily, the ambition to speak uncovers the imperfections of one's intellect, while the ambition to think and understand results in eloquent speech. Ahlul-bayt(sa) have made a clear distinction between genuine eloquence and faux sophistication created through excessive use of words:
Imam As-Sadiq(sa) was asked about eloquence. He said:
من عرف شيئاً قل كلامه فيه. وانما سُمي البليغ لانه يبلغ حاجته بأهون سعيه.
“Eloquence is to express the idea in as few as possible words. Verily, the eloquent [baleegh, from the root balagha -”to reach”] is called such because he reaches his purport [in expression] with the least effort.” (5)
He(sa) has also said:
الإمام الصادق (علَيه الّسلام):لَيست البلاغَةُ بحدةاللِّسان ولا بِكَثْرةالهَذَيان،ولكنها إصابةُ المَعنى وقَصدالحُجة
‘Eloquence is not exemplified by the sharpness of
the tongue, nor through excess babbling; rather it is through capturing the
intended meaning and aiming at the proof.’(6)
Sayeda Fatima Al-Zahraa(sa) has reported from her father(saa):
شِرارُ أُمَّتي الَّذِينَ غَذَوا بالنَّعِيمِ يَأكُلونَ ألْوَانَ الطَّعامِ وَيَلْبَسونَ ألْوانَ الثِّيابِ وَيَتَشَدَّقونَ في الكَلامِ
“The most wicked people in my nation are those who are feeding off divine blessings by eating various dishes and wearing colorful clothing, but are excessively grandiloquent in speech” ( 7)
Thus we can see that silence, consideration and restraint are conditions of meaningful and eloquent speech. Likewise, it can be said that our “singleness” is a condition for proper engagement within the society. In other words, in Islam silence and being alone with the self don't imply complete separation and seclusion. Rather, they give value to our social presence.
There is no conflict between singleness and belonging to the multitude, no need for balance or perfect point in between what we perceive as two opposites. There is, instead, unity of the two aspects and the need to define one through the other. The greatness of our solitude is measured by the benefit it brings to everyone. Our thoughts, ideas and opinions may only have meaning and legitimacy in consideration with the positive direction of the rest of the creation. Our socialization and belonging to the multitude, on the other hand, cannot be based on a herd instinct. It has as much value as much personal consciousness is involved. Good individuals move the society forward, and good society perfects its' individuals. If we take this principle into consideration, we will neither wish to pollute the hearing of others with vain or sinful talk, nor indulge in the kind of social interaction that pollutes our soul.
Indeed, even if we speak about the online social networks which undoubtedly are a part of modern life, we find that they suggest a wide range of options and settings to accommodate one's personal goals and limitations, and so there is no reason not to exercise consciousnesses and maintain “singleness” while using them. If we don't maintain “online hygiene” when it comes to things we look at, listen to, say and spread, we will surely be overtaken by a diversity of intellectual viruses and diseases of the heart.
I shall conclude with a few lines that illustrate the extent of corruption which, at times, surfaces on social networks. They were written as a reaction to various campaigns of hypocrisy, commanding people which tragedy they should grieve for as which flag may better symbolize their moral qualities, as well as merciless journalism:
Today, an orphan cries
In front of a camera lens.
Tomorrow, the eyes
Of a cynical crowd
Will capture the scene...
I ask for silence..
How vulgar your prayers are:
An intimate talk if a heart
Where neither is present.
Are you casting a vote,
Deciding, whose blood represents
In the mouths of politicians?
A grieving soul
Neither asks for permission,
Nor waits for an order;
It paints the world in colours of pain
From a silent corner.
I ask for silence...
An era of silence,
Not a minute without sounds.
broken only by truth.
1- Al-mahajjah Al-Bayda, v 5, p 193
2- Bihar al Anwar 71 / 278 / 14
3- Nahjul Balagha, Fayzul Islam, Hikmat no. 57
4- Ghurar Al-Hikam, no 546
5- Tuhaf ul Uqul, p 262/ “The Masterpieces of the Minds” p 540
6- Tuhaf ul-`Uqul, no. 312
7- Al-Mahajjah al-Bayda, p.214