Gentle Speech in the Qur’an: ibn al-Qayyim

The great scholar ibn al-Qayyim wrote the following beautiful words regarding some qualities of the da’wah of the Prophets and the language found in the Qur’an:

كثير من الناس يطلب من صاحبه بعد نيله درجة الرياسة الأخلاق التي كان يعامله بها قبل الرياسة فلا يصادفها فينتقض ما بينهما من المودة وهذا من جهل الصاحب الطالب للعادة وهو بمنزلة من يطلب من صاحبه إذا سكر أخلاق الصاحي وذلك غلط فإن الرياسه سكرة كسكرة الخمر أو أشد ولو لم يكن للرياسة سكرة لما اختارها صاحبها على الآخرة الدائمة الباقية فسكرتها فوق سكرة القهوة بكثير ومحال أن يرى من السكران أخلاق الصاحي وطبعه

Many people would like it if a friend of theirs who has reached some level of leadership would treat them the same way that he used to before becoming a leader; however the friend will not agree and this leads to a break in the affection between them. But this is a result of the first person’s ignorance of reality. What he did is like if he were to ask a friend to behave the same way drunk as when he was sober. This is a mistake. Leadership is an intoxication, just like the intoxication of alcohol, or perhaps even stronger. For if leadership were not intoxicating, then no one would choose and prioritize it over the everlasting and eternal hereafter. Its intoxicating effect is much stronger than that of coffee. And it is impossible for a drunken person to exhibit the same behavior or character as a you would see from a sober person.

ولهذا أمر الله تعالى أكرم خلقه عليه بمخاطبة رئيس القبط بالخطاب اللين فمخاطبة الرؤساء بالقول اللين أمر مطلوب شرعا وعقلا وعرفا ولذلك تجد الناس كالمفطورين عليه وهكذا كان النبي رؤساء العشائر والقبائل وتأمل امتثال موسى لما أمر به كيف قال لفرعون هل لك إلى أن تزكى وأهديك إلى ربك فتخشى فأخرج الكلام معه مجرج السؤال والعرض لا مخرج الأمر وقال إلى أن تزكى ولم يقل إلى أن أزكيك فنسب الفعل إليه هو وذكر لفظ التزكي دون غيره لما فيه من البركة والخير والنماء ثم قال وأهديك إلى ربك أكون كالدليل بين يديك الذي يسير أمامك وقال الى ربك استدعاء لأيمانه بربه الذي خلقه ورزقه ورباه بنعمه صغيرا ويافعا وكبيرا ـ

It is for these reasons that Allah commanded one of his most honorable created beings to address the leader of the Egyptians with gentle speech. Addressing those in leadership positions with gentle speech is a positive thing according to the sharee’ah, according to reason, and according to custom. Because of that, you find that people are naturally inclined to do so. And that was how the Prophet behaved towards the leaders of the different tribes and clans. Consider the example of Moosaa when he received this command, look at how he addressed Fir’awn:

هَل لَّكَ إِلَىٰ أَن تَزَكَّىٰ * وَأَهْدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَتَخْشَىٰ

Would you be willing to purify yourself * and that I would guide you to your Lord so that you would fear him? [79:18-19]

So he brought this speech to him in the form of a question and presenting it as an option rather than in the form of a command. And he said:

إِلَىٰ أَن تَزَكَّىٰ

… to purify yourself

rather than saying, “that I would purify you.” So he assigned the action to Fir’awn himself, and he also mentioned the term “purification” rather than anything else because of the blessings, good and positive growth that it connotes. Then he said:

وَأَهْدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ

and that I would guide you to your Lord …

I would be like a guide there with you who would make your path easy. And he said:

إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ

… to your Lord …

attempting to call Him to eemaan in his Lord – the One who created him, provides for him, and cared for him with His blessings throughout his entire life: in his youth, in his prime, and in his old age.

وكذلك قول إبراهيم الخليل لأبيه يا أبت لم تعبد ما لايسمع ولا يبصر ولا يغنى عنك شيئا فابتدأ خطابه بذكر أبوته الدالة على توقيره ولم يسمه باسمه ثم اخرج الكلام معه مخرج السؤال فقال لم تعبد ما لا يسمع ولا يبصر ولا يغنى عنك شيئا ولم يقل لا تعبد ثم قال يا ابت إني قد جاءني من العلم ما لم يأتك فلم يقل له جاهل لا علم عندك بل عدل عن هذه العبارة إلى ألطف عبارة تدل على هذا المعنى فقال جاءني من العلم ما لم يأتك ثم قال فاتبعني أهدك صراطا سوايا ـ

A similar example comes in the words of Ibrahim al-Khalil to his father:

يَا أَبَتِ لِمَ تَعْبُدُ مَا لَا يَسْمَعُ وَلَا يُبْصِرُ وَلَا يُغْنِي عَنكَ شَيْئًا

O my father, why do you worship what can neither hear you nor see you, nor can it benefit you at all? [19:42]

So he began addressing him by mentioning his station of being his father as a way of showing him respect and reverence rather than calling him by his name. Then he brought this speech to him in the form of a question, saying:

لِمَ تَعْبُدُ مَا لَا يَسْمَعُ وَلَا يُبْصِرُ وَلَا يُغْنِي عَنكَ شَيْئًا

… why do you worship what can neither hear you nor see you, nor can it benefit you at all?

rather than saying, “Do not worship…”. Then he said:

يَا أَبَتِ إِنِّي قَدْ جَاءَنِي مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَمْ يَأْتِكَ

O my father, some knowledge has come to me with has not reached you … [19:43]

So he did not tell him, “You ignoramus, you have no knowledge.” On the contrary, he turned away from such phrases to instead use a gentler wording which communicated the message. So he said:

جَاءَنِي مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَمْ يَأْتِكَ

some knowledge has come to me with has not reached you

and then he said:

فَاتَّبِعْنِي أَهْدِكَ صِرَاطًا سَوِيًّا

so follow me; I will guide you to the straight path. [19:43]

هذا ومثل قول موسى لفرعون وأهديك إلى ربك ثم قال يا أبت إني أخاف أن يمسك عذاب من الرحمن فتكون للشيطان وليا فنسب الخوف إلى نفسه دون أبيه كما يفعل الشفيق الخائف على من يشفق عليه ـ

This is gentle speech, as was Moosaa’s statement to Fir’awn:

وَأَهْدِيَكَ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ

and that I would guide you to your Lord …

He continued by saying:

يَا أَبَتِ إِنِّي أَخَافُ أَن يَمَسَّكَ عَذَابٌ مِّنَ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ فَتَكُونَ لِلشَّيْطَانِ وَلِيًّا

O my father, indeed I fear that a punishment from al-Rahman might touch you so that you would become a companion to the shaytaan. [19:45]

So he attributed the fear to himself rather than to his father as would a concerned friend to one whom he cares for.

وقال يمسك فذكر لفظ المس الذي هو ألطف من غيره ثم نكر العذاب ثم ذكر الرحمن ولم يقل الجبار ولا القهار فأي خطاب ألطف وألين من هذا ـ

And he said:

يَمَسَّكَ

touch you

so he used the word “touch” which is gentler than other phrases, and he mentioned punishment in an indefinite form, and then he mentioned al-Rahman (the Merciful) rather than al-Jabbaar (the Compeller) or al-Qahhaar (the Overpowerer). So what speech could be kinder or gentler than this?

ونظير هذا خطاب صاحب يس لقومه حيث قال يا قوم اتبعوا المرسلين اتبعوا من لا يسألكم أجرا وهم مهتدون وما لي لا أعبد الذي فطرني وإليه ترجعون ـ

Another similar passage is the address of the person in surah Yasin when he said to his people

يَا قَوْمِ اتَّبِعُوا الْمُرْسَلِينَ * اتَّبِعُوا مَن لَّا يَسْأَلُكُمْ أَجْرًا وَهُم مُّهْتَدُونَ * وَمَا لِيَ لَا أَعْبُدُ الَّذِي فَطَرَنِي وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ

O people, follow the messengers * follow those who do not ask for any reward and who are rightly guided * And why wouldn’t I worship the One who created me from nothing, and to Whom I shall return? [36-20-22]

ونظير ذلك قول نوح لقومه يا قوم إني لكم نذير مبين أن أعبدوا الله واتقوه وأطيعون يغفر لكم ذنوبكم ويؤخركم إلى أجل مسمى وكذلك سائر خطاب الأنبياء لأمتهم في القرآن إذا تأملته وجدته ألين خطاب وألطفه بل خطاب الله لعباده وألطف خطاب وألينه كقوله تعالى يا ايها الناس اعبدوا ربكم الذي خلقكم والذين من قبلكم الآيات وقوله تعالى يا أيها الناس ضرب مثل فاستمعوا له إن الذين تدعون من دون الله لن يخلقوا ذبابا ولو اجتمعوا له وقوله يا أيها الناس إن وعد الله حق فلا تغرنكم الحياة الدنيا ولا يغرنكم بالله الغرور وتأمل ما في قوله تعالى وإذ قلنا للملائكة اسجدوا لآدم فسجدوا إلا إبليس كان الجن ففسق عن أمر ربه أفتتخذونه وذريته أولياء من دوني وهم لكم عدو بئس للظالمين بدلا من اللطف الذي سلب العقول ـ

Yet another similar passage is Nuh’s statement to his people:

يَا قَوْمِ إِنِّي لَكُمْ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ * أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّـهَ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَطِيعُونِ * يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُؤَخِّرْكُمْ إِلَىٰ أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى

O my people, I am certainly a clear warner to you * that you would worship Allah and have taqwa of Him and obey me * He will forgive you of your sins and grant you respite for an appointed term [71:2-4]

and likewise with all the other addresses of the prophets to their nations throughout the Qur’an. If you were to examine them, you would find them to have the gentlest and kindest of speech. Nay, Allah’s addresses to His slaves is even more gentle and kind, such as His statement:

أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ

O mankind, worship your Lord who created you and those who came before you … [2:21]

until the end of that address. Or His statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّـهِ لَن يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ

O mankind, an example has been struck, so listen to it! Those whom you call on besides Allah could never create a fly, even if they were to gather all together to do so. [22:73]

Or His statement:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّ وَعْدَ اللَّـهِ حَقٌّ ۖ فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا يَغُرَّنَّكُم بِاللَّـهِ الْغَرُورُ

O mankind, Allah’s promise is certainly true. So do be deceived by this worldly life, and do not let the deceiver deceive you about Allah. [35:5]

And consider what is in His statement:

وَإِذْ قُلْنَا لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ اسْجُدُوا لِآدَمَ فَسَجَدُوا إِلَّا إِبْلِيسَ كَانَ مِنَ الْجِنِّ فَفَسَقَ عَنْ أَمْرِ رَبِّهِ ۗ أَفَتَتَّخِذُونَهُ وَذُرِّيَّتَهُ أَوْلِيَاءَ مِن دُونِي وَهُمْ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ ۚ بِئْسَ لِلظَّالِمِينَ بَدَلًا

And mention when We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam,” and they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was one of the jinn and he departed from the command of his Lord. Then will you take him and his descendants as allies other than Me while they are enemies to you? What a wretched exchange it is for the wrongdoers. [18:50]

These statements contain that sort of kindness which is beyond comprehension.

وقوله تعالى أفنضرب عنكم الذكر صفحا أن كنتم قوما مسرفين على أحد التأويلين أي نترككم فلا ننصحكم ولا ندعوكم ونعرض عنكم إذا أعرضتم انتم وأسرفتم ـ

And Allah’s statement:

أَفَنَضْرِبُ عَنكُمُ الذِّكْرَ صَفْحًا أَن كُنتُمْ قَوْمًا مُّسْرِفِينَ

Then should We turn the reminder away from you since you are a sinful people? [43:5]

According to one interpretation of this ayah, the meaning is: Should We let you be without calling or offering you any advice, turning away from you when you turned away from Us and committed your sinful acts?

وتأمل لطف خطاب نذر الجن لقومهم وقولهم يا قومنا أجيبوا داعى الله وآمنوا به يغفر لكم من ذنوبكم ويجركم من عذاب أليم ـ

And consider the gentleness when the Jinn addressed their people, warning them by saying:

يَا قَوْمَنَا أَجِيبُوا دَاعِيَ اللَّـهِ وَآمِنُوا بِهِ يَغْفِرْ لَكُم مِّن ذُنُوبِكُمْ وَيُجِرْكُم مِّنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ

O our people, respond to the Messenger of Allah and believe in him; Allah will forgive for you your sins and protect you from a painful punishment. [46:31]

[Badaa’i al-Fawaa’id 3/652-653]

See also: Ibn al-Qayyim’s Model for Contemplating the Qur’an

See also: How to Contemplate the Qur’an: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Ibrahim’s interactions with his father: Tafsir al-Shinqitee

2 thoughts on “Gentle Speech in the Qur’an: ibn al-Qayyim

  1. Pingback: Ibrahim’s interactions with his father: Tafsir al-Shinqitee | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Assorted Qur’an Benefits #25 | Tulayhah

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