Fasting during Ramadan does not only consist of refraining from food and drink, rather we must also protect ourselves from using bad language, backbiting, lying, and anger.
Unfortunately, for many of us, refraining from food also means an increase in anger and irritability, causing us to say some things we probably do not mean to. Here are some tips on how we can control our tongues (applicable outside of ramadan) and increase in patience both in our communication with others and within ourselves:
The phrases “think before you speak” and “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all” seem clichéd, but hold a lot of weight in the life of Muslims. It has sadly become common to be irritable when we are fasting, so we tend to snap quicker and say things we don’t really mean. In order to combat this, think about what you are about to say before you open your mouth. It sounds simple, but we have become so accustomed to speaking without thinking that words just seem to fly out of our mouths before we know it.
Tip: Try to take a couple moments before you speak to evaluate whether what you are about to say is beneficial or necessary. Use your hunger, weakness, tiredness (whatever it is that you’re feeling) to prevent you from opening your mouth unnecessarily!). Spend more time doing dhikr, or thinking, or contemplating than wasting time on unnecessary speech, which is not beneficial and potentially harmful.
Hard as it may be, if we do happen to say something that is hurtful to someone, just simply apologize. Whether it was what you said or how you said it, remind yourself to apologize for your misbehavior if you feel like you stepped out of line (regardless of whether or not the other person shows that they feel hurt or upset). This can have nothing but positive effects. Many of us have trouble apologizing to people and accepting our mistakes so it will both humble us and also ensure that we are more careful next time, because it can be pretty uncomfortable to accept your mistake and verbalize it. Secondly, it can help better your relationship with the other person, because you are showing that you are aware of their feelings and that you care about them.
If you are going to be with people, surround yourself with good company. It takes two to gossip. Most people who engage in backbiting and slandering will not do it all the time and with all people, in fact they may have a select group of friends who share this habit. If you find that certain people make it easier for you to engage in this, steer clear of this crowd! If you tend to be the person who begins it, find new friends or keep to yourself. Ramadan is the time to resolve these issues and improve control of your tongue, not just from eating!
Backbiting and lying are big sins, and forbidden in the Quran and as mentioned in various ahadith. Research and learn the punishment for backbiting – one of the punishments is in the grave, so you can keep away from this sin by trying to visualise and sense how that would feel. If it’s swearing or cursing you want to leave behind, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the angels who write down all that we utter. Do we really want to make the angels record profanity? Do we want such vile words to be our last if the angel of death were to take our soul in that moment?
Lastly, a means of keeping ourselves on track is the old jar trick used by parents in past generations. The idea is essentially to keep a jar in the house in which you are required to drop a certain amount of money per failure to control your tongue, for example every time you swear or gossip. The amount of money should be significant enough to make you feel bad and regret your speech – it costs more in the Hereafter! At the end of ramadan you can donate the money to charity, but the real purpose is to give you a physical representation of how serious it is and how much you need to improve. It helps to ask someone to hold you to your promise and remind you if you slip up.
Often we do not realize how many negative things we say in a day, but this blessed month is an opportunity to improve our character which can extend into the rest of our lives.
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