Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)
The Rules of Sufis in Speech and Silence
Chapter XXIII (j)
The Rules of Sufis in Speech and Silence
وَمَنْ أَحْسَنُ قَوْلًا مِّمَّن دَعَا إِلَى اللَّهِ
“Who is better in speech than one who calls (men) to Allah,” (Q 41:33),
kind words” (Q 2:263),
say ye: we believe” (Q 2:136).
Allah has commanded His servants to speak well as He has commanded them to acknowledge His Lordship and to praise Him and to call mankind to His court. Speech is a great blessing conferred on mankind by Allah, and thereby mankind is distinguished from all other living creatures. Allah has said,
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ
We have honored the sons of Adam;” (Q 17:70).
According to the commentators of Quran the text means “We have honored the sons of Adam by the gift of speech”. Nevertheless, the speech along with its goodness carries many great evils also, for the Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
اخوف ما اخاف علي امتي اللسان
"the worst that I fear for my people is their tongue.”
In short, speech is like wine, which intoxicates the intellect, and who begins to have a taste for it cannot abstain from it, neither can he make himself safe from it. The Sufis, knowing that speech is harmful, never speak except when it is necessary. They consider the beginning and end of their discourse, for if the whole talk is based on truth, they speak otherwise they prefer silence. They have firm belief that Allah knows all secrets and those who do not consider Him to be such are liable for condemnation. Allah says:
أَمْ يَحْسَبُونَ أَنَّا لَا نَسْمَعُ سِرَّهُمْ وَنَجْوَاهُم بَلَى وَرُسُلُنَا لَدَيْهِمْ يَكْتُبُونَ
“Or do they think that We hear not their secrets and their private counsels? Indeed, (We do), and Our Messengers are by them, to record.” (Q 43:80).
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
من ممت نجًا
he who keeps silence is delivered.”
There are many advantages and spiritual favors in silence and in speech there are many evils. Some Sheikhs have preferred silence to speech, while others have set speech above silence. Among the former is Junaid, who said:
“Words and expressions are wholly pretensions, and where realities are established pretensions are idle.”
Sometimes one has to maintain silence although one has the power to speak, i.e. when one intends not to disclose something or fear becomes an excuse for not speaking in spite of one's having the will and power to speak. The refusal to make speech under such circumstances does not impair the essence of gnosis. But at no time a man is excused for mere pretension devoid of reality, which is the principle of hypocrites.
Beware, pretension without reality is hypocrisy, and reality without pretension is sincerity, for who bases his claim on contemplation needs no tongue to communicate with his Lord. When way of the Truth opens to someone he becomes independent of speech. Spoken expressions only serve to inform others and Allah is independent of explanation of our circumstances, and others than Allah are not worth so much that we should occupy ourselves with them. This is further cleared by the saying of Junaid,
من عرف الله كل لسانه
"he who has the Marifat (knowledge) of Allah is dumb”, for in actual vision speech is a veil.
Once Shibli while in the meeting place of Junaid rose up and cried aloud, “O my object of desire!” referred Allah. Junaid said, “O Abu Bakr, if Allah is the object of your desire, why do you point to Him, Who is independent of this? And if the object of your desire is not He, why have you acted falsely? For Allah knows what you say.” Shibli asked Allah to pardon him for having uttered those words.
Those who prefer speech over silence argue that Allah has commanded us to set forth our circumstances, so that pretension is proved through its reality. If a man continues for a thousand years to be a gnosis in his heart and soul and there is no religious bindings on him to manifest it, he until confess that he has the marifat (knowledge) of Allah, he is virtually an infidel. Allah has bidden all believers to give Him thanks and praise Him and rehearse His bounties. Allah says,
وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ
but the Bounty of thy Lord – rehearse and proclaim!” (Q 93:11).
The praise of Allah and gratitude by all means belongs to Him; therefore, our speech is reverence to providence of Allah Who says,
ادْعُونِي أَسْتَجِبْ لَكُمْ
call on Me; I will answer your (prayer):” (Q 40:60),
أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ
I listen to the prayer of suppliant when he calleth on Me” (Q 2:186).
There are many more such verses in Quran.
One of the Sheikhs has said that one who cannot declare his spiritual state he is not actually blessed with a real state, for the state proclaims itself.
لسان الحال افصح من لسان وصمتي عن سوالي ترجماني
“The tongue of the state is more eloquent than my tongue,
And my silence is the best interpreter of my question.”
One day while Shibli was passing through populated area of Karkh, in Baghdad, he heard an imposter who was saying that Silence was better than speech. Shibli said to him, “your silence is better than your speech, for your speech is vanity and your silence is an idle jest but my speech is better than my silence, because my silence is gentleness and my speech is knowledge.”
I opine that speech is of two kinds and silence is also of two kinds. The speech is either real or unreal, and the silence is either on attainment of an object or because of forgetfulness. At the time of speech or silence one must look within oneself for if he speaks the truth, his speech is better than his silence, but if one speaks falsehood, his silence is better than his speech. Similarly, if silence is because of the attainment of objective or contemplation is better than speech and if silence is because of heedlessness or veil in that case speech is better.
The people are still amazed and trying to find its true meanings. Some pretenders among Sufism because of their greed and lust are only found of meaningless words and expressions and prefer speech over silence. Similarly, some ignorant who even cannot judge from the signs that there is pit on their way and they might fell into it, prefer silence over speech. Both groups have identical nature and they may make some to speak or may keep some silent, does not matter. The reality is that which we have described. One who speaks is either right or wrong, but one who is made to speak (through Divine aid) is safe from fault and disorder. Thus when Iblis (Satan) spoke at his own said,
أَنَا خَيْرٌ مِّنْهُ
I am better than he (Adam):” (Q 38:76).
In consequence of this uttering what happened to Iblis is known to all. But Adam was made to say,
رَبَّنَا ظَلَمْنَا أَنفُسَنَا
our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: (Q 7:23), and he was blessed among the elects.
The preachers of Sufism when speak are commanded or compelled to speak, and when they are silent there too they are helpless and abashed, as it is said,
من كان سكوته حيا كان كلامه حيواة
"he whose silence is because of modesty, his speech is life of the hearts.”
Their speech is the result of vision, and speech which is without vision appears to them despicable. They prefer silence to speech so long as they are within themselves, but when they are beside themselves at the station of annihilation their words are written on the hearts of men. Some noble elder said,
من كان سكوته له ذهبًا كان كلامه لغيره مذهبًا
“he whose silence is gold, his speech is alchemy.”
The seeker of the Truth, while absorbed in servantship, must remain silent, until speech of his tongue which proclaims Lordship, may speak and by his utterances may captivate the hearts of his disciples.
The rule in speaking is not to speak unless bidden, and the rule in silence is not to be ignorant or satisfied with ignorance or forgetfulness. The disciple must not interrupt the speech of Sheikhs, or let his personal judgment intrude therein, or use far-fetched expressions while talking to them. He must never tell a lie, or speak ill of the absent, or offend any Muslim with that tongue which has made the profession of faith and acknowledged the unity of Allah. He must not address dervishes by their bare names or speak to them until they ask a question. It behooves the dervish that he must not remain quite on falsehood and should speak only the truth. This principle has many derivatives and innumerable refinements, but I will not pursue the subject, lest this book should become too lengthy.