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The Sin of Useless Talk and Idle Time

Do you have a lot to do, but not enough time to do it? Do you wonder how some people accomplish so much in their day?

Well, our Prophet(pbuh), our pious predecessors, scholars, and entrepreneurs had exactly the same amount of time we do: 24 hours a day. But they were able to achieve so much because they made the most out of every minute that Allah has blessed them with.

One of the prime reasons for our plummeting productivity is wasting time in vain talk; any speech or conversations which are not beneficial, and could actually be sinful. Consider this: How much time do we spend talking about “people” – celebrity or not, or discussing private lives, or what people choose to publicise? Vain talk used to only be an issue when groups of people came together, but with the commonness of social media and smartphones, vain talk, or laghw in Arabic, is now a serious problem in phone calls, text or WhatsApp messages, or commenting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. SubhanAllah! We may not even realize it, but by a simple comment or message, we may have fallen into the major sin of gossip or slander.

Why is it harmful?

Since vain talk drastically eats up one’s time and distracts him/her from fulfilling their purpose in life or being focused on what really matters, we see that the Qur’an and sunnah repeatedly talk about disciplining one’s speech.

Allah says,

“Certainly will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive, and they who turn away from ill speech…” [Quran: Chapter 23, Verse 1-3]

“And [they are] those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity... Those will be awarded the Chamber for what they patiently endured, and they will be received therein with greetings and [words of] peace.” [Quran: Chapter 25, Verse 72, 75]

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The tongue is a unique organ, which articulates what is one’s heart and mind. And, although it is small in size, its effect can be huge.

The Messenger(pbuh) said,

“He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” [Sahih Muslim]

“Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari reported: I asked the Messenger of Allah (pbuh)
: “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.” [Sahih Muslim]

Why is silence such a virtue? It is because the tongue can so easily lead to many sins.

So, what counts as vain talk?

There are two types of idle talk: the first which is not harmful but has no benefit, and the second which causes harm and is sinful. Both types of futile speech make a person extremely unproductive. Nowadays, there is so much more opportunity for the vain talk that we have to be wary of, especially online, as one may fall into it unintentionally. Some of these are:

Gossiping and backbiting (mentioning the faults of others) or slander (making up things about people) whether face to face, within a group, or writing in messages on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc.

Commenting something negative on someone’s post or picture on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. without necessity

Commenting something useless on a post or picture, especially celebrity posts

Indulging in debates that lead to arguing

Sharing private information about someone via social media

So, consider the following:

When in a group or on social media, are you tempted to discuss the lives and actions of others?As soon as someone mentions another person, do you immediately dive into the conversation with your own set of facts and figures about them?

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Stop, think and reflect.

If you think this may be the case, let’s explore some ways we can beat this killer of productivity, vain talk.

1. Consider Allah first

It is a commonplace thing today to see people heartily discussing other’s faults, actions, future consequences of their actions and so on, without complete knowledge about them or their intentions. This can totally be eliminated if we just change the topic we talk about. The world is full of mysteries, miracles, beauty, and knowledge. Why don’t we spend time appreciating creation and praising the Creator? Why don’t we remember Him with everything we do and spiritually enlighten ourselves to The Divine? Why don’t we spend our time doing something beneficial and useful?

Time is precious and we have been allotted a specific time on this earth, imbibed in our books from the day we are born. Let us guard our tongues against the temptation of vain talk.

The key to productivity is to refrain from such actions altogether. How do we battle this out with our nafs? How do we resist the temptation to speak ill about others?

The answer to this is above all to have Taqwa. To remember Allah’s
 words in the Qur’an and reflect upon them. Allah says of gossiping:

“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, in deeds some suspicions are sins. And spy not neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear God, verily, God is the one who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.” [Quran: Chapter 49, Verse 12]

“When you received it with your tongues and said with your mouths that of which you had no knowledge and thought it was insignificant while it was, in the sight of Allah, tremendous.” [Quran: Chapter 24, Verse 15]

We think gossiping is a minor matter when we speak of others without any knowledge of them – we shouldn’t speak about others even if we have the correct knowledge about them! Many a time, discussions are not heated, but light-hearted and we are we are committing gheebah unknowingly. But in the court of Allah, this is a serious matter.

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2. Disregard

“And why did you not, when you heard it, say? It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to God, this is a most serious slander.” [Quran: Chapter 24, Verse 16]

When we hear any rumor or slander about any person, we do not stop to think if it is true. In fact, most people spread it, when in reality, we should be stemming the growth of such slander. For example, when someone comes to us with any kind of information about another person, we should ask three questions:

Is it good?

Is it useful/beneficial?

Is it true?

If we answer two or three in the negative, let’s leave the conversation at that and try to talk about other things. Disregard any negative things said about a third person in a conversation, and focus on the positive.

3. Practice silence

Allah says,

“And tell My servants to say that which is best. Indeed, Satan induces [dissension] among them. Indeed Satan is ever, to mankind, a clear enemy.” [Quran: Chapter 17, Verse 53]

And The Messenger(pbuh) said,

“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say [something] good, or he should keep silent.” [Sahih al-Bukhari]

We should speak that of others which is good. Speaking ill of others comes from shaitan. So if we hear any kind of ill-talk or negativity being discussed about someone, we should counter it with whatever good we know about the person. If we cannot think of anything to say that may be good or positive, we should remain silent and not express our opinion or further the conversation. If there is any way we can bring the topic to a close, we should try our best to do so. That way, conversations are shortened and we save time discussing useless topics.

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4. Evaluate your social scene

The Messenger(pbuh) said,

“A man is upon the religion of his friend, so let one of you look at whom he befriends.” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]

Try not to socialize with groups that often engage in vain talk. In cases where socializing entails family gatherings or dinners, or social gatherings at work, it is important to remember the first three tips and apply them where necessary. One can politely excuse himself/herself from the gathering early, if possible if people begin to indulge in vain talk or conversations that don’t reap any benefit.

When such talk arises in one’s own family, it is our duty to advise our family members (spouses and children mostly) about the rights of fellow Muslims, and how we should strive to protect and preserve their honor and dignity verbally, by not talking ill about them. We should set an example ourselves by displaying such behavior in our homes and gatherings, and promote positive speech in all situations. We should also highlight the importance of time, and how we should use our precious time on better, more productive activities.

The best way to avoid idle talk, especially with family, is to be proactive and prevent it from happening in the first place. Family gatherings can be made more interesting and productive, is by assigning a topic of conversation at each gathering. For instance, you can talk about the latest developments in various fields of your interest (science, engineering, finance etc), or listen to a lecture by your favorite scholar and then discuss what you learned. You could even organize games and activities, for both adults and children.

It is important to note that children must be kept away from vain talk from when they are little. The negative conversation has a profound impact on children and affects the way they perceive others and compel them to make early and wrong judgments about other people. We should instead teach by example, not to judge others, and to always have good thoughts about people, whether they know them or not.

5. Schedule your day smartly

Schedule your day from the moment you wake up all the way till bedtime. Divide your day for prayer, work, cooking, reading, spending time with your children in play and learning, and Islamic learning. By doing this we don’t just avoid bad speech within our homes, but also cultivate a productive lifestyle in our homes for our spouses and children.

We are obliged to follow our beloved Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) – the best guide to productivity. His sunnah refers not just to acts of worship but also acts of humanity and day-to-day living. It is not just centered around building our iman, but also around building good character. So, we mustn’t forget that.

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