Originally published in November 2011
It had been an exceptionally hard day for me, about 3 years ago. Everything seemed to be out of place and one thing after another was going wrong. I headed over to the University Center to get a bite to eat—maybe food would calm my nerves. At the time, I had been wearing niqab (the face veil), but that was the least of my worries, or so I thought. As I stood in line to get my food, I glanced behind me and noticed a few Muslim brothers. I was about to extend my salaam (greetings of peace) to them when I caught wind of what they were saying. They were talking about ME! ‘Why does she think she can dress that way? Who does she think she is?!’ On normal days, their comments would have had no effect on me, but on that day, they went straight to my heart. Perhaps their comments were like the straw that broke the camel’s back, because instantly tears began to flow down my face, which of course no one could see. I left the food line, disheartened, and walked away hoping to find a place to be alone and be at peace at last.
I walked for a good 5 minutes, trying to compose myself before I got to my destination. I reached the building I was aiming for and began to walk up the stairs as I felt a tap on my shoulder and a whispered, “Wait!” I turned around and found a woman I didn’t know, panting, trying to catch her breath. I waited until she was able to speak and what she said next took me by complete surprise. She looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve been following you, trying to catch up to you for 5 minutes! I just wanted you to know that I admire your strength in wearing what you believe in. More power to you and may the God you believe in bless you.” And that was it. That’s all she said. She turned around and walked away, without telling me her name or wanting anything from me. Instantly my pain began to melt and I began to smile. It was her kind words that made my day so much brighter. It was her kind words that reminded me why I was doing what I was doing: God. The woman didn’t know how much I needed to hear some sort of uplifting words. She didn’t know that I was having a horrible day, but she saw an opportunity to say something good, and she seized it.
It was on that day that I realized the power of words. The power that our beloved Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was talking about when he said: “Indeed a servant will speak a word pleasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it Allah raises him by many degrees. And indeed a servant will speak a word displeasing to Allah that he thinks to be insignificant, but because of it, He will consign him to the Hellfire.” So many times we say things that we don’t think through. We don’t think about the effects of our words. Those brothers, whom I hold no grudge against alhamdulilah (praise be to God), probably forgot the conversation they had minutes after I left, not realizing the weight of their words. And that woman probably forgot the conversation we had, minutes after she left, not realizing the weight of her words. But as we can see, years later, I still have not forgotten.
It is through such an example that we can come to think that a word is never too small to be hurtful nor too small to be beneficial. We should consider any word that we speak, out of fear that this word may be the word that causes our ultimate destruction. We should rush to say any kind and helpful word that we can, out of hope that this word will be the cause of our rising in rank. May Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) cause us to be of those who are raised in rank by our words and never be condemned to hell-fire.
“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” —Pearl Strachan
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