Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Enough with the bad language

I have noticed a recent trend amongst young Muslims that is quite disconcerting - the use of foul language. I am not referring to practices of uninformed, or non-practicing Muslims; but rather, of active members of the community. Establishing morality and virtue is part of the responsibility of Muslims; and this should be carried out in all circumstances, irrespective of public perception.

As juvenile as it seems, I think one of the reasons for this trend is the classic "fitting in" phenomenon that we all experienced in high school. Once some people, who are seen as active, practicing Muslims are seen using foul language, it slowly becomes okay for others. Now, to clarify, I'm not talking about the "f word," but rather, the "lighter" foul language that Western society often ignores because it is seen as popular vernacular. Although some of these words have now found themselves in PG-13 movies in recent years, as people who supposedly live according some semblance of moral consciousness, Muslims should really know better.

In today's day and age of course, language is more prevalent in our facebook accounts, blackberry's, and status messages. Our boundaries should not change simply because the words are not uttered in person.

So, you say that words are just words, and don't really mean anything? There isn't an "intent" behind it? Here are some simple tests to figure out if you should really be using foul language:

  • Would you use the word in the presence of your mom?
  • Would you use the word in the presence of your most-respected shaykh/imam?
  • How would you feel if Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) heard you speak? What words would you use then? What words would you not use?

If we truly believe that all of our speech is being recorded, and will be played back to us on the Day of Judgement, then we'd be more careful. Lets try and rise above the fray, and help bring some morality to this society, rather than flocking with the rest of the sheep.

Hadith (Prophetic saying) to contemplate:

Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned God's Apostle saying that he was neither a Fahish nor a Mutafahish (person who uses bad language). Abdullah bin 'Amr added, God's Apostle said, 'The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.'

May Allah bless him and grant him peace.

And Allah knows best.


Anonymous said...

A pleasantly surprising post & very much needed. jazak allah khair brother arif.

Amer said...

I agree with the bulk of this article, JazakAllahu khair br Arif for this needed reminder.

But "fitting in" is entirely different, in my opinion, from `foul' language "slowly becom[ing] okay for others" (perhaps we need to ask: is there a process by which word's become not-okay?) There is a tendency to always look at the usage of 'bad words' and how, for example, high schoolers cannot seem to abandon their use. While it is important to look at why we use these words, it is also just as important to ask who asks us not to. I'm not talking about you, br Arif, nor our parents. But who/what historical forces have constituted these words as 'bad words'?

The moralizing of our language has some strong elitist components. Part of a history of this is found in the crumbling holy roman empire - the strong denouncement from the upper levels of "vulgar" language. What is/was vulgar language? Vulgar, as an adjective, is etymologically traced back to, a rough translation, "of the people", that is, the colloquial and the vernacular. Perhaps the vulgarity in words like the F word, or any others, is found in the fact that the upper echelons of society (not the common people) don't use them (at least not on TV, right? =D).

My guess is that the bulk of the words forbidden to us are entrenched and constructed in the networks of power surrounding us and our everyday practices. Take for instance the meaning of today's 'sinister', which is roughly synonymous with 'evil', emerging from the witch hunts of middle to late christendom - 'sinister' meant then 'left-handed' (being left-handed was enough to condemn one to death on the stake).

I'm not justifying the use of all 'bad' words. My point is simply that we ought to be far more critical towards the censorship of these words and how their 'badness' is produced.


Yesi King said...

Amer you posted what I was too lazy and busy to do. Thanks...I will also add however that bad words, are the last of my worries in terms of very necessary social and personal change.

Anonymous said...

Random thoughts, in no particular order:

-As somebody who does still curse every so often, I love the tests. They're a great reminder. I'm not sure I'd want my mother, and most definitely not the Prophet (saw), anywhere within ear shot during a trucker mouth moment. Jazaks Br. Arif!

-Br. Amer, you raise an interesting point. However, I almost think you are addressing a different type of word than that which Br. Arif intended to be discussed.

-Sis. Yesi, what about the concept of Allah not changing our condition until we change ourselves? You are correct - our language may not have a direct and major impact on society, but doesn't every little bit count? For example, how do we expect humanity to be paid a living wage when we are constantly slinging VERY derogatory in their direction. Call you a dog but pay you a human wage? Again, I agree with you in that this is not the be all end all, but I also believe that every positive change matters.

Yesi King said...

hi anonymous. thanks for your comment. was br. arif speaking about a specific word? if so i'm not sure i know which one. was he talking about certain racial, sexist, or derogatory words like ni*** or bit**? or words like f***?

i do have to say that i find nothing wrong with expressing my anger in cuss words every so often as i find that it helps and think its no one's business but my own as to how and if i use them. in the end i answer only to Allah and that is what i care about.

but now back to the words (i think) that arif might have been referring to when he said that people use to 'fit in'. i think he might have been referring to words like ni*** and bi***. these words are definitely NOT the type of words i use to express my frustration.

i would like to however, note something about them. these are words that have been used historically as instruments to degrade and ridicule minorities and groups of people. however, many youth within these groups have taken these words and assigned new definitions to them hence devaluing and disempowering them of their oppressive meanings into something new that has a specific nonracial/sexist meaning. in many ways this is very powerful in that they take these words and ascribe a meaning that no longer carries with it its oppressive nature (sort of like the word muslamics used in this blog). its interesting because if you ask a person from the sixties or seventies about the usage of these words their opinions about them are very different since they lived through times when they were framed within that oppressive context.

i don't use these words because i honestly feel uncomfortable using them, but i do see the positive way in which people have taken them and reassigned meaning to them while devaluing them of their oppressive/degrading nature. i also don't think many youth truly understand their historically oppressive roots or the transformation these words are experiencing. in this way i agree with br. arif that they should just not be used at all and can see how they might be used as social mobility tool such as tryin to fit in.

Anonymous said...

JazakAllah khair Br Arif for the reminder. May Allah accept our efforts.

Although many of us do use foul language at times, it is incumbent upon us to make an effort to have the best of character as our beloved Prophet salallahu `alaihe wasallam had. May Allah help us improve our character…ameen

I wanted to share a few thoughts I had in regards to the post by Br. Amer.

”But who/what historical forces have constituted these words as 'bad words'?”
Honestly, we need to use our noggins towards better things. Bad words in our society (F***, S***, ni***, etc.) are known to be inappropriate. The fact that they are known to be foul is more than enough weight for us to try to refrain from them. Allah has commanded us to obey the laws of the land we are in as long as they do not contradict the teachings of Islam. In this case they agree with the teachings of Islam.

When the Prophet came, he did not cuss away to change the culture of the Arabs, rather he had the best of character, even the disbelievers attested to that.

When the Sahabah radiyallhu `anhum went to foreign lands they did not spread Islam by the sword or by using foul language to redefine the meaning of words known to be foul in the societies they went to. Rather, Islam spread by others observing their way of life.

Say we are to be more "critical towards the censorship of these words and how their 'badness' is produced" and if we were to research "who/what historical forces have constituted these words as 'bad words'"
And after our critical analysis, we come to the conclusion that these words were first used several hundred years ago by a great Shaykh who used them as words of praise, but over time, they came to be known as what they are today--> BAD WORDS.

Or another example: a bloody zionist who after killing millions of Muslims constituted these words (F***, S***, etc) to be bad words.

In any case, They ARE bad words in today's society

If one of the above two scenarios were to be true (the Shaykh or the zionist), and all the Muslims in America were to normally use the F, S, and N word, I don't think we would be helping Islam.

Wallahu ta`aala `alam, And Allah knows best.

Jazakumullah Khair,
Abu Tamim

nida said...

just to throw in my 2 cents; i really like the points mr. amer brought up about language and the coming-about of what is deemed to be foul language. for me it becomes a matter of, do i really need to use those words? and much less a matter of wrong/right. much like my stance on hookah: i don't think it's wrong, but I don't need to do it, so I don't.

when it comes to "bad language" though, I really question and dislike the regular use of the words "retard" and "gay" in derogatory ways. just thought i'd throw those onto the considered list of bad words.

Amer said...

I'm sorry for my really late response!

Real quick, just a couple points to the responses:

Anony #2:
While the words that I referred to (i.e. vulgar, sinister) aren't considered (now at least) bad language and we aren't discouraged from using them, they are however used to describe other words ("your speech is so vulgar!") and people ("he has sinister intentions"). These are two categories we use, one specifically, to describe bad language - and the actual word of that category (vulgar) itself has been constructed over the years! What about the words it refers to then (s***, f***, etc)?

Anony #3 (Abu Tamim):
"Honestly, we need to use our noggins towards better things. ...The fact that they are known to be foul is more than enough weight for us to try to refrain from them."

JazakAllahu Khair! Absolutely - There's no doubt in my mind that a noggin can always be used for something better when it ain't doin zikr. However, we are asked to contemplate this world and reflect on societies' sunnan and that of those before it. My point ain't that we ought not refrain from these words. I'll repeat the disclaimer: I'm not asking you to use these words nor justify your use of these words.

My point is simply that there are (perhaps better?) alternatives to blindly following every censorship order we get. Here's an example that came to my mind this morning (this is more inline with what Yesi talked about - that is, positively changing the meaning of words):

It's the late 18th century and one of america's founding fathers comes across yet another racist scientific discovery (yes, another): negritude. The statesmen benjamin rush argued that Africans were afflicted with 'negritude'/ 'negroidism', and once cured of this, would become white. By the middle of the century, a student of his (samuel cartwright i think) would develop it even further, particularly for use to justify slavery.

By the 1960s, the idea had been abandoned (for the most part, it makes its appearance in other forms, ie iq bell curves) and the bulk of minorities looked down on the use of this word - rightly so, I believe. However, it took the late poet-thinker (recently passed, last weekend) Aime Cesaire to revolutionize the usage of this word, now referring to black pride and unity rather than rush and cartwright's pseudo-scientific discovery.

Again, I'm not encouraging that we use "foul" words, but to receive orders of censorship with some criticality, and to see if there is a chance that we can give the word a more positive trajectory. If these words are considered "bad" in this society (and I totally disagree with this statement, this differs from block to block, literally), we ought to think about them rather than blindly follow what our environment throws at us. Islam wasn't a call for social conformity, but rather more a call for positive change. Again, I'm not encouraging carefree usage of these words.

jazakumAllahu khair,

maryam said...


I really like the orig. post and I think it's a good reminder to us all- thank you b. Arif.

I have to say, out of all the posts, I most agree with Abu Tamim's comments. Regardless of how a word comes to be deemed 'bad' or 'foul' in a society, it is regarded as such none the less. Muslims should be setting an example of the best manners to be found among humanity (a dreamy ideal, I realize), and running around using words that are deemed foul and disrespectful does not help to set that example.

Furthermore, the minute someone asks me "would you want to cuss in front of the Prophet (pbuh)?" they've humbled me- I think asking one's self that question (don't mean to sound like a "WWJD" bumper sticker :D ) is the ultimate test of how we really feel about what we are doing or saying - no matter how inconvenient that truth may be.

I do agree with Amer, though. We are supposed to contemplate the world we live in. Frankly, I think one of the biggest problems we as an ummah have is dismissing so many issues with such statements/mindsets as 'we need to use our noggins towards other things'. As Amer said, Islam was a call for positive change, not blind conformity. So while I may not agree with Amer's all over view on this topic, I totally support his genuine contemplation of it.

Jazakum Allahu khair,