Gems from the Qur'an
Adapted from: Tayyiba Publishers Newsletter, Shawwal 1420

Do you not see how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven. Yielding its fruit in every season, by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for people that they may be mindful. (14:24-25)

The words uttered by the human tongue have a great impact, on the life of the speaker as well as the lives of those it reaches. Words can comfort and console, but can also hurt and sadden. The ability to affect with the spoken word is the most potent tool of the human being. Using it wisely, he can achieve great results. He can win hearts and gain the respect and affection of others. A hadith of Imam Ali (a) says: Nothing attracts the heart of a human as much as the (good) tongue.

Islam wishes its followers to use the power of speech to achieve goodness, to spread love and happiness, wisdom and guidance. The beautiful simile in the ayat above compares a good word to a fruitful tree. Just as a good tree is rooted firmly under the earth, a good word is also rooted in faith and the desire to serve and help others. The good it creates rises high above the surface of the speech, and its effects are continuous. The fruits of a good word are the encouragement, the boost in morale, the lifting of spirits, the warmth and the happiness that it creates. These continue long after the words are spoken.

The believer who wishes to do good in this world should maximize the effective use of the tongue. It is the best form of charity. The Holy Qur'an says: Kind speech and forgiveness is better than charity followed by injury. (2:263) The Holy Prophet (s) has said: By the One in whose hand is my soul, mankind has not spent anything in charity better than the good word. The following are some types of words that can blossom into beautiful fruits like the good tree. These words may be spoken, or sent through the written form. In the world of modern technology, e-mail and other ways could be used to spread the good word.
  1. Words of wisdom and guidance - use the power of speech to guide others whenever possible. Encourage others towards good and show them the right way. Imam Zaynul Abidin (a) prays in Dua -e Makarimul Akhlaq; O Allah, and make my speech be guidance. It is not necessary to be preachy. Tact and gentleness can be used to spread the word of God among people.
  2. Words of comfort and sympathy - one who consoles a grieving heart does great good. Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (a) has said: He who consoles a believing brother would be dressed in the place of standing (on the Day of Judgement) such that he will be proud of it. According to a wise saying: Words of comfort, skillfully administered, are the oldest therapy known to man.
  3. Words of praise - compliment and recognize the good in others.. The good in others must be acknowledged and expressed. According to hadith, when someone does good to us, and we cannot recompense him, we should praise him - for that is a way of thanking him.
  4. Words of compassion - understand the plight of others. Feel for them, and express compassion and understanding. Every human being has the desire for compassion. Before rejecting and condemning, say a word which shows understanding. It could go a long way in bolstering someone's spirit.
  5. Words of love and affection - show others you care by the words you say to them. Say a good and kind word that will leave a treasured memory in the heart of the listener for a long time. According to a famous proverb, a kind and loving word is enough to warm three winter months.
Once the habit of saying good and kind words is formed, it becomes instinctive and natural to use the tongue in this manner. This succeeds in pleasing the Almighty, and makes the person loved and respected by others. Says Imam Ali (a): Accustom your tongue to saying gentle words and spreading salaam, the number of those who love you will increase, and those who dislike you will decrease.

The Perils of Speech
Although the tongue can be used to achieve a great deal of good, it is often a cause of evil and corruption. The ayat following the ayats discussed above, says: And the parable of the evil word is like the evil tree pulled up from the earth's surface; it has no stability. (14:26) The dangers of the tongue have been discussed in Islam, and many warnings have been given about the perils of the tongue. The following are some aspects of the tongue we should be careful of:
  1. Excessive speech
    Excessive speech is harmful for the speaker and irritating for the listener. It lowers the dignity, leads to sins and generally has many disadvantages. A wise saying of Imam Ali (a) says: Beware of excessive speech because it increases the mistakes and creates boredom. Talking too much also has spiritual disadvantages. According to the Holy Prophet (s) it hardens the heart and deadens it. One who talks less has less chance of falling into wrongdoing.
  2. Speech on matters which do not concern us
    A wise person does not talk about matters which are not his concern. Ameeul Mu'mineen (a) once passed by a man who was talking a great deal,. He stopped beside him and said: You are dictating a book to the ones (angels) protecting you which will go to your Lord. So speak of what concerns you and avoid what does not concern you.
  3. Using the tongue to disobey Allah
    This could include many sins such as lying, backbiting, spreading evil etc. The sins of the tongue are numerous. That is why Islam has consistently warned its followers to guard their tongues. A hadith of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a) says: Surely this tongue is the key to all good and all evil. So it befits a believer to guard it the way he would guard his gold and silver. The Holy Prophet (s) has also said: The people with the most sins on the day of Judgement are the ones who have indulged in evil and false talks.
  4. Using harsh and cruel words
    The tongue can inflict great pain when used wrongly. Words affect the human spirit, and hurtful words often cause a lot of sorrow. A hadith of Imam Ali (a) says: The blow inflicted by the tongue is stronger than the blow inflicted by spears. The hurt remains in the memory for a long time. As has been wisely noted, the man who offers an insult writes it in sand, but for the man who receives it, it's chiseled in bronze. The harmful effects of harsh words are difficult to erase, and it requires great magnanimity of spirit to forgive and forget.
May the Almighty save us from using the tongue to increase in sin and evil.

Hadith to Ponder Over
It is the right of your tongue that you should consider it too respectable to utter obscene language, and you should accustom it to good [speech] and discipline it with good manners. And keep it silent except in time of necessity and for spiritual or material benefit. And keep it away from superfluous, reviling, useless talk, which may cause much harm and little benefit. It is considered a proof of intelligence and guide to it, and its good discipline edifies a wise man in his wisdom. And there is no power but with the High (and) Great Allah. Imam Zaynul Abidin (a), Risalatul Huqooq

Teaching Children Social Skills
Humans are social creatures, and need to identify with, and belong to, a group. This is an instinctive need, an innate desire in humans, placed by the Almighty - the desire to have connections with others, form relationships and give and receive emotional support. Humans need to belong to a group, to identify themselves as part of a particular community and society. The stronger the sense of belonging, the more the confidence and meaning in life. Those who live in isolation, adrift from community and people, are most likely to lead unhappy and unfulfilling lives.

Islam has emphasized the value of being with the group, and highly recommends actions in congregation such as prayers etc. The Holy Qur'an says: And hold fast by the covenant of Allah, all together, and be not disunited.(3:102) The Holy Prophet (s) has said: The Hand of Allah is on the congregation. On their own, individuals cannot achieve much. Together with others, they can do much for the upliftment of themselves as well as the group.

A child has the desire to be part of society. Participating in society has many advantages for the child. Apart from fulfilling the needs for connection and identity, it also imparts valuable lessons in Akhlaq. If guided correctly, the child can develop good behaviors as he mingles with others. It will prepare him for the time when he will be an active participant in society as an adult. The foundation of good social relationships in childhood is instrumental in good relations at work and in the community during adulthood. Teaching children how to build good relationships, to have good manners and etiquette with others, is one of the fundamental rights of children. The Holy Prophet (s) says: The right of the child on the parent is that he should give him a good name, teach him good manners, and teach him the recitation of Qur'an.

Points to Teach
  1. Familiarization with the Community. The child should be taught about the community. Its rites and rituals, its various practices and values should be discussed occasionally at home so that the child becomes familiar with it. This familiarization, coupled with constant attendance and participation in the community, fosters the sense of belonging and identification with the community.. When teaching the child about the community, it is important not to impose upon him the negativity and cynicism of adults. The child in his innocence may take a dark and unfair view of society. It is important to allow the child to form unbiased views of society. This way he can make his own way through, with guidance, but unhindered by the baggage of grievances carried around by the adults.
  2. Active Participation The child should be encouraged to be an active member of the community. In whatever small way possible, he should be encouraged to contribute. Whether it is through picking up dishes, laying out prayer mats, donating for a worthy cause - all these play their part in inducing active identification with society. The Ummah today need Muslims who are keenly aware of their role in society. To impede the growth of apathetic members who lead their own lives oblivious of the problems of Muslims, parents must start young. When a child feels the need to take part in society and not just sit back, it is very possible that he will grow into an adult who will also participate in affairs of the Muslim.
  3. Having a pleasant personality. Good manners and behavior in society should be constantly discussed with the child. These include greeting others with salaam, being cheerful and pleasant, respectful and considerate. According to the Holy Prophet (s), A pleasant personality is half of religion. He has also said: A pleasant personality goes away with the good of this world and the good of the Hereafter. A pleasant personality is formed and nurtured through relations with others. A child who is taught about noble and beautiful characteristics will be able to develop a good personality. If left unguided, the child may never realize the value of good manners. Sometimes parents feel that small slips and mistakes do not warrant a reprimand. But these small mistakes, when performed continuously, aggregate into great flaws of character, just as tiny snowflakes gradually become a mound of snow. Habits, once formed, become hard to overcome. Thus a child needs to be warned about unpleasant behavior before it becomes entrenched into his character. In the same way, good behavior can be praised and encouraged so that it becomes a habit. Teaching good manners need not always be in the form of lectures. One could teach through demonstration, stories, discussions etc.

Points to Heed
  1. Avoid obsessive competition Encourage the child to participate in society, but do not encourage self-promotion and fierce competition with others. Many parents are keen that their child should excel over others in various areas. Although healthy competition is acceptable, perhaps even recommended, an obsession to outdo is harmful. Minor setbacks and failures could then lead to lack of confidence. It could also lead to hostile rivalries and contention.
  2. Inform and remind the child of expected behavior Do not blame the child for mistakes made if he has not been informed of the proper etiquette. Children need to be told about the behaviors expected from them, even reminded from time to time. Many parents assume that children should know the correct form of behavior, and should have the strength and will power to carry it out. This is expecting too much of the child. Inform, remind, and encourage the child towards good behavior.
  3. Be an example Do not expect the child to carry out roles and manners in society that the parent does not. Children learn by example, a fact that has been pointed out very often. If the parent is not interested in helping out in community affairs, does not lend a hand at various programs and functions, it is futile to expect the child to. Similarly, if the parent does not show respect and affection for members of the community, and talks derogatorily of them, the child will probably do the same. Good etiquette must be modeled to the child before it can be expected from him.
Good social skills are among the most important lessons imparted to a child. A hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) says: A parent does not leave a better legacy for his child than good manners.

References: Tafsire Namune, Mizanul Hikmah, Quotable Quotes (Readers Digest Books), Aaine Tarbiyat, by Ayatullah Ibrahim Amini, and Khanawadeh wa Niyazmandihaye Kudakan, by Dr. Ali Qaemi.