Silence: the Mark of a Believer
He who speaks more commits more errors. He who commits more errors becomes shameless. He who is shameless will have less fear of Allah. He whose fear of Allah is less, his heart dies. He whose heart dies enters the fire. He who knows that his speech is also a part of his action speaks less except where he has some purpose.” – Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be upon him)
There are numerous authentic traditions attributed to the Holy Household of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them) on the importance of silence. In fact, silence was one of the very characteristic qualities of the companions of the Prophets and Imams as well as the Prophets and Imams themselves. It is one of the many important qualities one must acquire in his quest for the Divine. It is a sign of many virtues such as a strong intellect (Aql) and wisdom. Therefore, we should strive to make silence one of the defining qualities of our personality.
What is so good about silence that the Ahlul Bayt stressed its importance to the faithful? It must be more than a mere absence of noise. One might notice among friends that silence is avoided, even feared. So much so, in fact, that when there is a gap of silence during a conversation, someone will say something nonsensical just to escape the unbearable void of awkwardness. Still, what’s the big deal about silence?
Silence cultivates one’s spirituality and feeling of nearness to Allah. The more we adopt the practice of silence in our lives, the more beautiful we will find it to be. Let us elaborate on some of its benefits.
First and foremost, tranquility. Every morning, if one allocates even a quarter of an hour to the practice of silence before going to work or school, he will face the challenges of the day ahead in a positive manner. If one lets the silence permeate into every single part of his body, the feelings of anxiety and stress will disappear. Similarly, after a hard day’s work, or just ten minutes before prayer time, if one devotes a few minutes to silence, he will find it easier to concentrate during his worship. He will feel closer to Allah.
Simply put, shut your mouth and open your mind. Wherever you go, whatever you do, don’t say a word. Just observe what you’re doing and what others are doing. Observe everything. Don’t judge, just watch quietly and absorb everything around you. Eventually, if you do this for long enough, you will find yourself organizing and sifting through all those thoughts in your head. You will discard the rubbish, and you will save the jewels. You will think about your experiences and the experiences of others, and you will extract valuable lessons that will help you in life. You will begin to see Allah’s beauty in every single thing, be it your fingers on the keyboard or the waves in the sea. You begin – there is no other way to put this – to understand.
Imam Ali says that the wiser man is, the less he will speak. Think about this for a second. Wisdom will come about as you reflect on the nature of everything. You’ll adopt silence because it’s the smart thing to do: silence guards secrets, silence controls the tongue, silence gets rid of nonsense (in your head as well as in your speech), silence sharpens the wit, and silence increases the value of your words. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) said that one who knows the value of his speech will also know the value of silence. In fact, if one adopts silence, he will value his speech and therefore guard it like he guards his wealth.
Finally, silence strengthens one’s Aql. The carnal self (the Nafs) thrives on foolishness. It feeds on impulsive and thoughtless actions, and therefore, speech. Realize, as our holy Imam says, that your speech is a part of your action. If you think before you act, you will think before you speak. If you think before you speak, you will stop saying foolish things accidentally. You will stop unintentionally revealing your secrets (and the secrets of others). Furthermore, silence gives one control over his emotions, especially anger. It is said that anger is a type of madness. Subdue that anger with silence, and you will put an end to a great many detrimental things in your life.
Some ways to adopt silence in your life
I offer these tips as I have found them to help me out a lot:
- Ten minutes before beginning your prayer, sit on the prayer mat and just be silent whilst fixing your eyes on one spot.
- Before you say anything, plan exactly what you’re going to say.
- Be quiet during “discussions” devoid of knowledge and facts. Also, if you see a discussion heading towards an argument, be silent.
- If you don’t know, say you don’t know.
- If you’re getting angry, be silent. If someone else is getting angry at you, be silent. Imam Khomeini mentioned this piece of advice to his daughter and son in-law.
Insha’Allah, if we decide to adopt the way of silence, we will find ourselves tearing one more veil that separates us from our Creator. And surely He knows best.