In the famous hadeeth that we’ve all heard before, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good or remain silent.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
From an Arabic perspective, this hadeeth is very powerful.
The first thing that we notice in the Arabic narration is that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam uses what is known as the “laam al-amr“, the laam of command in the words, Falyaqul and li-yasmut.
He is not only advising the believers to speak good or remain silent, but rather it is an order and a command to speak what is good or keep silent.
The second powerful aspect of this hadeeth from an Arabic perspective is the choice of words. In this narration, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam says, speak good or “li-yasmut“. However in another narration, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam says, speak good or “li-yaskut“. Yasmut is from samt and yaskut is from sukoot, both are translated as silence, but what is the difference between these two and which is more powerful?
Many times these words are used interchangeably, but there is a significant difference between sukoot and samt. Sukoot is when someone is silent but they still have the ability to speak. They are silent because of their own choice. Samt, on the other hand, is when someone is silent because they do not have the ability to speak, such as a mute person. This type of silence is not from their own free will, but rather it is as if they do not have a tongue, and silence is their only option.
So we see here in the first narration, where the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam uses samt, we should speak good but if we have no good to say, then we should be like the one who does not have the ability to speak and remaining silent is all that he can do. SubhanAllah, how many of us implement this?
Sharh (Explanation) of this Hadeeth
Imam Shafi’i (rahimahullah) states that the meaning of this hadeeth is that if someone desires to speak, then he should speak only that which is good. But, if it is clear to him that his speech may cause harm, then he should refrain from speaking.
Shaykh ibn Uthaymeen (rahimahullah) says it is as if the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, ‘If you believe in Allah and the last day, then speak what is good or be quiet.’
He also (rahimahullah) states the benefits of this hadeeth,
Silence is incumbent except if there is good in a person’s speech. Speech is of three types:
-Khayr (good): this is what the hadeeth is ordering.
-Sharr (evil): this is forbidden type of speech that is evil and bad.
-Laghw (vain): this is the type of speech that is neither good nor evil. It is not forbidden for a person to speak laghw but rather it is better to keep silent and refrain from it.
It is said, “If speech is silver, then silence is gold.”
We also learn from this hadeeth the importance of guarding the tongue. The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said to Mu’adh radi Allahu anhu, “And shall I not tell you of the controlling of all that ?” I said:” Yes, O Messenger of Allah”. So he took hold of his tongue and said: “Restrain this.” I said: “O Prophet of Allah, will we be held accountable for what we say?” He said: “May your mother be bereft of you! Is there anything that topples people on their faces (or he said, on their noses) into the Hell-fire other than the jests of their tongues?” [Tirmidhi, Saheeh]
So be mindful and aspire to speak only when your words are good; for this is stronger for your emaan, and a protection for your tongue, and more honorable for you with your Muslim brethren.