Quranic Reflection No 590. Āyāt 47:30 – Tone of Speech

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وَلَتَعْرِفَنَّهُمْ فِي لَحْنِ الْقَوْلِ

Walata‘rifannahum fī lahnil-qawl

But you will surely know them by the tone of [their] speech.

(Sūrat Muhammad, No 47, Āyat 30)

The speech of a human being reveals a lot about his or her inner workings. What is said, how it is said, when it is said . . . can all tell a lot about what the person is really like. Even when a person tries to hide their thoughts and feelings, their speech can give it away. Amīrul mu’minīn Imam Ali alayhis-salām says: Whenever a person conceals a thing in his heart it manifests itself through unintentional words from his tongue and the expressions of his face (Nahjul Balāgha, Saying 26).

The above verse talks about recognizing the hypocrites. They would try to conceal their hypocrisy and animosity, but it would reveal itself through the tone they used to speak to the Prophet sallal-lāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam and the believers. Their sharpness and choice of words show their real side. Although they wanted to keep it hidden, the intensity of their negativity would swell up and flow out through their tongues, almost unknowingly.

‘Lahnul qawl’ can refer to the following:

  1. deviation from usual linguistic norms
  2. using metaphorical expressions instead of literal words
  3. using language that creates doubt and weakens people’s spirit
  4. making people move away from the path of truth and justice
  5. assassinating the character of pious people

One of the marks of the hypocrites during the time of the Prophet (s) was their animosity towards Imam Ali (a). Tafsīr Majma‘ al-Bayān narrates from Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī who said: We knew hypocrites at the time of the Messenger of God (S) through their hostile tone of speech concerning ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a). This has also been narrated from Jābir bin ‘Abdullāh Ansārī. 

Other verses of Quran also talk about the speech of hypocrites.

أَلَا إِنَّهُمْ يَثْنُونَ صُدُورَهُمْ لِيَسْتَخْفُوا مِنْهُ ۚ أَلَا حِينَ يَسْتَغْشُونَ ثِيَابَهُمْ يَعْلَمُ مَا يُسِرُّونَ وَمَا يُعْلِنُونَ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ

Look! They fold up their chests to hide [their secret feelings] from Him. Look! When they draw their cloaks over their heads, He knows whatever they keep secret and whatever they disclose. Indeed, He knows best whatever is in the chests. (Q 11:5).

وَإِذَا رَأَيْتَهُمْ تُعْجِبُكَ أَجْسَامُهُمْ ۖ وَإِن يَقُولُوا تَسْمَعْ لِقَوْلِهِمْ ۖ

When you see them, their bodies impress you, and if they speak, you listen to their speech. (Q 63:4).

Many people today use ‘lahnul qawl’ when talking to believers. It could be from those outside the believing community who wish to weaken the Muslims. Or it could be from speakers within, creating doubt and skepticism and moving people from the right path. We need to be alert in recognizing such people and use the criteria given in the Quran to sift out the hypocrites from the sincere ones. 

Sources: Shaykh Tabarsī, Tafsīr Majma’ul Bayān, Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh