Gems from Prohibitions of the Tongue, Class 4 with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

  • In Arabic, the word haruma is a very interesting word because it has the idea of sanctity and it has the idea of something that is not to be touched. The Arabs traditionally called the women’s section the harem, the section that was inviolable. One of the words in Arabic that is used for a women is hurma, which is the one who is inviolable, in other words should not be dishonoured or attacked. In pre-Islamic Arab tradition seen as gross abuse.
  • The idea of hurma was an important concept before Islam. And they had ashur ul hurum. Sacred months where the Arabs would stop fighting. And then they had the haram. Anyone who fled into the sanctuary was inviolable, could not touch them. Even the animals in the haram were inviolable. All pre-Islamic concepts. All Abrahamic remnants.
  • Makkah and Madinah are inviolable places, Sanctuaries. To disobey Allah in those places is much worse than other places. Not because because the thing isn’t sinful in other places, but because these places have their special inviolability.
  • So the tongue has its things that should not be breached. Haram ul lisan are those things should not engage in, should not use your tongue for.
  • This is probably one of the most important aspects of our religion – guarding the tongue.
  • Probably a day doesn’t go by, when don’t regret something i say. I met a man in Mauritania who spoke slower than anyone else I have ever met. Asked his son if he had a speech impediment and his son said as a young man he made a nadr that wouldn’t say anything until that thought about how he would justify it to Allah.
  • If you look at the Illiad, one of the things Achilles says he hates most in a man is what says on his tongue is different than what is in his heart. Speaking the truth, being upright, these were the virtues of the ancients. They hated lying, they really hated those qualities in human beings. That’s why the oath was such a serious thing. The ancients took oaths very seriously. One of the worst things you can do.
  • One of the foundational hadiths of Islam, from Muadh ibn Jabal. He was brilliant and loved the Prophet, and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him loved him.
  • Tell me about an action that will cause me to enter Paradise and will distance me from Hell.”
  • One of the geniuses of the sahaba, if you look at the questions of the sahaba, they asked amazing questions. This is a perfect question. Tell me what will cause me to enter Paradise and prevent me from entering Hell. The positive and the negative. Really asking at the essence.
  • That is why the Prophet said, “You have asked something vast.” This is a vast thing. This is about the human condition. What you’re asking about is your eternal fate. How do you make sure that your life is lived in a way that will be felicitous for eternity and avoid wretchedness. That is what he is asking about.
  • “And this is an easy thing for the one who Allah facilitates”. (yasir for the one who Allah gives taysir) Allah is the Muyasir.
  • “This is the first thing. Worship Allah and don’t associate with Him anything.” Ibadah and no shirk. And that first statement is the foundation of what will get you into Paradise and what will avoid Hell. And the first commandment in the Qur’an in the linear passages of the Qur’an, the first commandment is worship your Lord. Ibadah. The second is a prohibition, “and don’t associate with God anything. Shirk. And that is what he is saying here.
  • “And that you establish prayer.” Maintain your relationship with Allah. “And then you should pay your Zakat, fast Ramadan, and make the pilgrimage to the House.”
  • So he gives him the 5 Pillars. That this is the foundation of your worship of Allah and this is what will enter you into Paradise and keep you from Helflire.
  • And then he says “ Can I not indicate to you, direct you to you, the doors of al-khayr, all good?”
  • Open the doors, show you the doors so you can go in, of all good?
  • “The first thing, the fasting is a protection. And charity will put out sins, or remove sins, or obliterate sins, just as water will obliterate fire.”
  • And this is important because one of the things that Muslims tend to do when they become devotional people, often they will take on personal piety and forget about social responsibilities. And Islam is a religion that demands a commitment to personal rectification but also personal rectification. This is why the Prophet is indicating sawm, rectify your soul, and then go out and rectify society.  And then he says, “And then the prayer of a man in the night.”
  • So look, between the social, are two spiritual.  This is really the Muslim. His spiritual concerns, purification of the heart, getting close to Allah. So the sawm is emptying out, jihad ul nafs, and then the prayer in the night is to adorn oneself spiritually.
  • And then “they are people who get up in night and leave their beds, the enjoyment of their beds.  From Surah Sajda. They call out to their Lord and also give from what we have given them.
  • Then the soul does not know what has been hidden to them. These are rewards of their actions.
  • “Should I tell you, what the head of this matter is? What is its foundation? What is its pillar? What will hold it up?” Muadh says “indeed tell me.”
  • Prophet says “ The peak of the matter is Islam”. State of submission to Allah, can also be understood as comprehensive term as the deen of Islam.” And then he says,  “the foundation is prayer. The convenant between me and you is prayer, if you leave the prayer, you’ve gone into a state of disbelief, i.e. – broken the convenant.
  • The ulama clarify that  to mean leaving the prayer rejecting it. If leave the prayer but doesn’t leave it not believing its obligatory, (ie- out of laziness) still in Islam.
  • Really the acme of this is struggle. Jihad. The greater jihad is the jihad of the soul. If conquer inward enemies, outward enemies are nothing.
  • “Can I tell you how to get all of this?” This is an amazing statement. Do you want to know how you can get all of this?
  • He took hold of his tongue, “ Just control this”. That’s how you’ll be able to possess all those other things if you can do this thing.
  • Muadh is amazed. “Are we going to be taken to account for what we’re talking?” Because the Arabs to them speech was not action. Their understanding was that a man could have words, but he had to have deeds. The words glorified the deeds. Their poetry was a glorification of deeds.
  • “And he says, (and this is a hyperbole to mean, you’re really missing the point here), will people be dragged in the hell, or by their noses, other than by the harvest of their tongues?
  • That hadith should be enough to tell you the importance of the tongue. I don’t think you need anything else. But there are books that have been written. Imam Ghazali has a whole chapter that deals with this.

Hadith in its entirety

“O Messenger of Allah, tell me of a deed which will take me into Paradise and will keep me away from the Hell-fire.” He said: “You have asked me about a great matter, yet it is, indeed, an easy matter for him to whom Allah Almighty makes it easy. (It is ) that you worship Allah without associating anything with Him, that you perform the prayers, that you pay the zakat, that you fast during Ramadan, and that you make the pilgrimage to the House.”

Then he said: “Shall I not guide you to the gates of goodness? Fasting is a shield; charity extinguishes sin as water extinguishes fire; and a man’s prayer in the middle of the night.” Then he recited: “Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope, and spend of that We have bestowed on them. No soul knoweth what is kept hid for them of joy, as a reward for what they used to do”. [Qu’ran, Surah al-Sajdah (32): Ayah 16-17] 

Then he said: “Shall I not also tell you of the peak of the matter, its pillar, and its topmost part?” I said: “Yes, O Messenger of Allah.” He said: “The peak of the matter is Islam (submission to Allah), the pillar is prayer; and its topmost part is jihad.” Then he said: “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?”

[Related by Al-Tirmidhi]

  • Prohibitions of the Tongue is written by a Mauritanian scholar. And Mauritania, is an interesting  place for this time because Mauritania is one of the last places where a pre-modern Islam has been preserved. It has some limitations undeniably. The Mauritanian tradition is a bedouin tradition which is very rare in the history of Islam.
  • One of their great contributions was in summation. They made didactic poems, and memorized them.
  • You can have all the rules, but if you don’t have a sound heart, the rules don’t work. If you don’t have something internally that is telling you that something is wrong, you will do things that are wrong, when you have the opportunity. Opportunity crimes.
  • Anthropologists differentiate between shame and guilt cultures. Shame cultures, is a culture where you’re afraid of what others are going to say, guilt culture, you’re afraid of having a feeling inside of you. So don’t do things because own conscience is telling you don’t do it. Problem with shame culture (and many of Muslims societies have become shame cultures), problem with shame cultures is when you can get away with it, you do it. Because there is no one to shame you. So you can get someone who lives in a country where they are very concerned about morality and then travel to a far away place where no one is around from their country and then they do the worst things and have absolutely no moral compunction about doing them.  None whatsoever, because there is nothing inside to prevent him from doing it. It’s a rule based society.
  • Author also wrote “Purification of the Heart” (which is translated by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf)
  • He begins “I praise my Lord and prayers and peace be upon the Prophet Muhammad and his noble family”
  • The essence of praise is it is basically speaking highly or well, honouring someone through the tongue. It can be either something that they have done for you, which generally goes under shukr, which is a type of hamd. Or its because it simply because they are worthy to be Praised.
  • Allah Hears the One who Praises Him.
  • For the human being to want praise, is unworthy of the human being to desire praise.
  • Allah demands of us praise.
  • To know Allah is to praise Allah, and He called His beloved Muhammad, and that name was given to him by Allah. Muhammad which is a form of the one who is intensely praised. Which is one of the miracles of his name, he is intensely praised. The ones who criticize the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him or say things, they’re not talking about the Prophet, they’re talking about themselves. You cannot criticize the Prophet, because he’s beyond any criticism.
  • Rumi says “the moon hears nothing of the howling dogs as it traverses across the sky
  • Unfortunately as Dr Winters says, Muslims have to ask themselves if they have helped paint this modern portrait that many people see Islam by. The ugliness of what they perceive to be an ugly religion, or things they perceive about the Prophet of this religion.
  • “The one who has silence, he has gained 9 sources of salvation” – the Arabs have a system where they assign every letter a number –
  • There’s a hadith where the Prophet said “Wellbeing is ten parts. 9 of them is in silence and one of them is  avoiding people.” So if you want to be a state of wellbeing, this is how you do it. By not talking and avoiding people. You’re not going to have any problems in life. Just stop talking and avoid people. In other words, this is what the hermits do. They go to the mountains.
  • Read a UTNE reader about a monastery on a mountain where visitors have to go up in a basket.
  • And then he says “There is a saying that you get 7000 blessings just by being silent.” The Arabs say that silence is golden. The Arabs say if speech is from silver, than silence is golden.
  • “This is because of all of the things that have come about the harms of the tongue for the human being. And this is also because the hearing and the sight also will testify and about them we will be asked, including the heart.”
  • And this is from the ayah in the Qur’an “the human being is responsible”. Responsible means you have to be able to give a response. You’re answerable. So you’re answerable for your sight, hearing and  heart. And the ulama say that the sight and the hearing are the inroads into the heart. They’re the inroads into the heart. And that’s why the hearing and the sight you have to guard them, because they will affect the heart. And this is why the ulama say that there’s no kabira related to the eye, in looking at something, just to look at something is not a kabira, but it is the quickest of all of these organs to corrupt the heart. If you want to corrupt the heart, the eye is the way to do it. And this is why, we’re living in a very dangerous time, because there are so many elements, we live in an image based culture, and there are many things that are corrosive for your spiritual heart. The inner eye, what is called the basira. The inner eye, the spiritual eye is more sensitive than the physical eye, and we know how sensitive the physical eye. If you get a tiny grain, a hair in your eye, you can’t do anything until you get it out.
  • Some of the things people do, it’s literally like taking a spike and gouging out the inner eye.
  • The blindness that people have, you can go spiritually blind. Allah says, it’s not the eyes that go blind, its what’s in the breasts that goes blind.”
  • So these are all responsible. And janan are one of the words for heart. Many different words for hearts. Janan is from what’s hidden. Because the heart is hidden from the angels and the shaiteen. The shaiteen do not have access to what is in your heart. Shaytan never knows what you’re thinking, The heart is Allah’s domain.
  • And then he says, “The one who is described with the two truthful,  what he says is truthful and he’s believable. He’s the two truthful.
  • You will be freed for the sharr of two things. “If you will guarantee what is between your jawbones and between thighs, will guarantee for you Paradise.” (Hadith).  Guard your tongue and guard your chastity. One of the things Socrates said is that “your teeth are like the jail bars and your tongue is imprisoned, and you should never open the jail unless it’s on good behaviour. But you have to be able to put it back behind the bars.
  • So Allah has put your tongue in your mouth, and you have to open your mouth to speak and that’s what gets you in trouble.
  • Whoever is protected from his tongue, his stomach and his private problems.
  • Guard this, but in reality Allah is the One who Protects you. Even though Allah is the One who Protects,  you’re still responsible because He has put us in a world of asbab. Will be asked about it.
  • Here you have the knowledge of lisan, not many people know these things. These things occur far more in these lands than things dealing with zakat collection and pawning things. So what he is saying you’re all busy learning all these rulings that you’re not going to apply, and yet you don’t know these things are much more important. Much more oft occurring.
  • One of the things people do with the tongue, is they make things that the shariah has deemed ugly, they make them seem beautiful. Haraam to do. Also haraam to censure something that the shariah has deemed good.
  • “So for that reason, anyone who calls something prohibited by name that would falsely allude to its permissibility is a wrongdoer.”
  • “And also the sinner, is something that makes the permissible, appear prohibited.
  • “Or someone who praises the oppression of unjust tyrants.”
  • A lot of people who do this. Role of the ulama is to give nasiha. People forget the wisdom and the ulama has great wisdom. (Story of advising a ruler out the prohibition of wearing silk)
  • One of the most beautiful books that I’ve ever read is  Sidi Al-Mawaq Abdihi. Qadi of Granada.
  • Muslims surrendered, they surrendered with 80 stipulations. Schools, mosques, scholars to be protected. (They got a papal dispensation to renege on these stipulations)
  • In the book, enjoining good and forbidding evil is specific to the individual, not to the ruling. Entire book to explain that Muslim are in three categories.
  • a) People who Allah loves but are in disobedience b) People in the middle
  • In each category, 3 degrees, depending on the level of their station so altogether 9 degrees. Going down and coming up. The lowest are people in gross disobedience to Allah. If drinking alcohol get them to learn a musical instrument. At least get them in a khilaf position. Help  them get out of drug addiction. This is hikma, and it shows at each stage about how to talk to people.
  • Prophet did not like people to stand for him, did not like protocol in that sense, and did not like that people should like others to stand for them.
  • Fiqh is understanding, not all these rules that are rigid. There are maqasid. There are aims and imports of the shariah. If you don’t understand those, you’ll be one of these puritanical madman who do the worst things in the name of religion. And they abuse people. It’s a great calamity to have these people running around in the name of Islam and do these things in their own stupidity and ignorance. Ignorant people and they don’t know what they are doing. One of the European philosophers said only bad people will do evil, but it takes religion to get good people to do evil. No. It takes bad religion to get good people to do evil. There’s bad religion and good religion. Just like everything. Bad secular philosophy and good secular philosophy.


  • Imam Ghazali says if you want to speak, shouldn’t speak. Obviously there is human conversation, but Sidi Ahmed Zarruq said that the most dangerous thing that you say when you meet someone is “how is so and so”. Opens the door to backbiting.
  • There are 4 temperaments. Similar to Myers Brigg. If you talk too much, important to learn how to curtail.
  • Ancient Greeks called it “idiot winds” that blows from the mouths of people who have nothing to say. Some people don’t. Trivial conversations. Vacuity. Jane Austen wrote books full of characters that have nothing to say. She poked fun. James Thurber, the humorist, when he was going blind, he went in a state of despair, and said to van Doren, blindness is a punishment for making fun of people. And van Doren said no, you are showing us our human follies and doing such a service. So Jane Austen was like that. If you read her books, she is teaching ethics through literature. Don’t be like Sir Walter Elliott, this vacuous person, all he cares about is himself. Much of what we talk about is insignificant. Doesn’t mean anything. But small talk is important, Part of life. Though the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him never said anything that wasn’t significant, he did speak, and asked people how they were, those things are important. That’s part of being human. But the tongue is our great challenge and we all have a lot of work to do.
  • To treat the diseases of the heart is easier than treating the diseases of the body. So that’s bushra. And diseases of the heart can be obliterated through tawba. No matter what you’ve done, can be removed forever.



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