Published in canadabdnews on August 12, 2012
Sunday 22 July 2012
Dr. Abdur Rabb
We think and we feel. We
express our thoughts and
feelings through speech. The
importance of correct
expression of our thoughts and
feelings in language cannot be
overemphasised. We all know
that a good politician is
expected to be a good speaker.
One cannot be a good teacher
without the ability to speak and
communicate effectively. If we
do not speak effectively at an
interview for admission to a
good school or for a job, we
know that the consequences
will be disappointing. In this
article I shall discuss what we
need to do to speak effectively in our day-to-day life.
We should not speak much. We should be good listeners.
The wise is the one who speaks a little and listens a lot. If we
speak much, either we shall make more mistakes, or our
stupidity will come out in the open. We have two eyes to see,
two nostrils to breathe and smell, skin all over the body to
touch, and two ears to hear; but we have only one tongue
which also has two functions : to speak and taste. It seems
that Allah subhanahu ta’ala, in making these organs,
required that we do not speak too much. Hence he gave us
just one tongue to perform two functions.
Our speech should be clear and easy to understand. The
great Greek philosopher Aristotle, who was a student of
Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great, told us that a good
teacher should be able to make a difficult subject easy and
simple for students to understand. I was a teacher for more
than 40 years. I think that I was a reasonably good teacher.
One reason for that is that I have always tried to express my
ideas clearly in a simple language.
The ideas that we try to express to others should be clear in
our own minds first. If we do not have a clear concept of the
subject matter under discussion, our efforts to communicate
that matter to others are bound to fail.
We need to make our sentences and stories comprehensible
and complete. Our listeners are not mind-readers, nor do
they have divine powers.
We should enunciate every word, speak slowly, pause where
we need to, and stop where we are supposed to.
We should be careful about what we speak. Our speech is
like an arrow shot from a bow or a wild bird in a cage. If we
shoot the bird or release the bird from the cage, we shall
never be able to bring it back. Similarly, once we speak, we
can never get back our words and expressions; yet the
effects of what we say may last forever. If, for example, we
use abusive words that hurt somebody, our relationship with
that person may never be the same again. We say, “Look
before you leap.” We should add to it, “Think before you
We should speak directly to the point, and not beat about the
bush. The listener has no time, energy or patience to sift
through a garbage can looking for a needle. I have heard
people talking volumes without realizing that the listeners
had no idea about what they were talking about. A
Bangladeshi gentleman needed the services of a lawyer.
After one sitting the lawyer refused to accept his case
because he was unable to get answers to his questions from
this Bangladeshi gentleman. At my insistence the lawyer
finally agreed to take the case on condition that at every visit
I would go to him with the Bangladeshi gentleman to help the
lawyer understand what his client wanted to say.
We should not indulge in any unnecessary talk. Our speech
must have a purpose. We should not speak just for the sake
of speaking. We should remain silent unless we have
something new to say, or a new perspective to bring to a
We should not repeat something that has already been said. I
have heard some people who could say nothing other than
what someone has already said. If we repeat ideas in an
academic paper or a dissertation, the consequence may be
disastrous. If someone repeated something in the presence
of my five-year-old granddaughter, she would invariably say,
“You said that already.” Listeners do not like chewed cud.
What we say should be interesting to the listeners. So often
we hear boring speeches. The subject of speech may be
boring, the way the speaker speaks may be boring, or the
details of the speech may be boring. I have seen one person
telling stories with minute details in which the listeners are
not at all interested. Since the people do not pay attention to
what he says, he goes close to some people in the gathering,
hold their hands and say, “Mr …, please listen to me.” Why
should we say something that the people are not interested
in hearing? We must be aware of what our audience would
like to hear.
We should not speak loudly. We know that in our old
countries there may be too much noise around us; hence we
may have to raise our voice to be heard. In North America
that condition does not exist. Yet, we see our people sitting
two feet of each other, but actually shouting on top of their
voice while speaking. Sometimes we hold meetings in the
basement of Harvey’s or McDonald’s restaurant. There we
speak in a voice so loud that the clients of these restaurants
think that we are actually fighting. Sometimes I feared that
they were going to call the police because of our ‘fighting’.
Here is what sometimes happens in the express bus coming
from the suburbs to Montreal very early in the morning. Many
passengers are tired at that hour, and some are actually
sleeping. Then suddenly comes a loud voice from one end of
the bus addressing someone at the other end, “Bhai sab,
keya hal hai? Other passengers open their eyes and stare at
the shouting man. Canadians are a patient and polite people.
Their tolerance level is very high. Often they will rather suffer
than protest. The other day I was travelling to Toronto by a
Via Rail train. We were asked to keep our cell phones on
vibrating mode so that the telephone rings would not disturb
others. Most people of North America feel disturbed by loud
sounds. I wonder why we have to hear the ring tones of cell
phones while we are actually praying in jama’at.
Only one person should speak at a time. If two people speak
at the same time, the listeners do not understand anything of
what the speakers are saying. If a number of people speak at
the same time, it becomes a fish market of Kawran Bazaar in
Dhaka. It is almost impossible for anyone to understand what
the people say in that market.
It is absolutely unacceptable that we get upset with someone
or over some issues in a gathering, and vent our anger by
shouting and screaming. If we do this, we exhibit a lack of
control over ourselves and absence of proper education.
Secondly, this kind of outbursts only hurt the screamers
emotionally and physically, and not anyone else. Third, this
behaviour also lowers the esteem of the screamers in the
eyes of the listeners.
We must not engage in any kind of physical fights in a
gathering. In Bangladesh slapping, or at least threatening to
slap, is not uncommon. So often we hear the passenger of a
rickshaw, while negotiating the price on arrival at the
destination, saying to the rickshaw-peddler, “I shall slap you
and break your teeth off your jaws.” This kind behaviour is
unacceptable in Canada. A mother in western Canada gave
one slap on the back of her own young daughter at a
shopping center. She was charged with the offence of child
abuse and the daughter was taken away from her by the child
protection agency. Please be very careful. Hitting someone’s
body is an offence for which the offender can be prosecuted
in this country.
We should remain completely silent while attending certain
events. I am very sad to see people talking to each other
during khutbahs in the masjid on Fridays. Sometimes I could
not even start my wedding speeches because the wedding
reception hall sounded more like a bazaar in Bangladesh. I
repeatedly requested the people to give me only ten minutes
for the speech, but to no avail. People also keep on talking to
each other while a guest artist visiting from Bangladesh is
singing, and a speaker is delivering a lecture on an important
issue. On the other hand, I see five hundred people, one third
of whom are young children, attending a cultural event in an
elementary school of Montreal with pin-drop silence. We
have a great deal to learn from our mainstream Canadian
friends in this regard.
Should we ask about people’s age? In Bangladesh, at least in
my days, we had no problem asking someone’s age. Actually
the older people sometimes exaggerated their age perhaps
because older a person was, more respect he received. In
the villages many people did not know their real age anyway.
The practice of keeping records of birth was not common.
Nor did the people take the question of age seriously. Once
in the 1950’s I was waiting at the outpatients’ clinic of the
Dhaka Medical College Hospital. While registering a patient
the clerk asked his age. The patient said, “25.” The clerk
said, “You look much older than 25.” The patient replied,
“Then you can write 40.” In North America, women, usually
after the age of 39, do not like someone to ask their age. As
far as I know, North American men do not mind revealing
their age. I myself have no difficulty mentioning my age in
private and public talks. There are however some men
among us who get upset if people ask them about their age. I
shall give an extreme example. Recently I heard the following
story from a friend of mine. A group of three people including
my friend went to the house of a Bangladeshi gentleman for
donation to a masjid. My friend said to the gentleman of the
house, “You should be of the same age as that of so and so
who is your contemporary.” This statement infuriated the
gentleman. He said, “You uncivilized man. If you were in the
old country, I would have beaten you up from head to toe
with my shoes. Get out of my house.”
We should not glorify ourselves in our speech. At the very
first meeting with someone many of us quickly give a
rundown of our wealth, education, big job, children’s
achievements, the great family in Bangladesh to which we
belong, and so on. This practice is quite unacceptable in
western societies. We notice that Canadians talk least about
their own ‘greatness’. We often notice that even those who
perform acts of heroism say, “I am not a hero. You would do
exactly what I did in similar circumstances.” We also relate
with pride some of the ‘extraordinary feats’ of our small
children and grandchildren. We should remember that these
feats are very important and interesting to parents and
grandparents, but these may be very boring to others. An
Iranian proverb says, “Trees that bear fruits bend their heads
down.” We can see in the Fall the apple trees of Quebec with
an enormous number of apples on their branches bending
their heads low. We can also see the pine trees, which do
not give us any worthwhile fruits, standing straight like
electric poles. The really great people keep their heads down
in humility like an apple tree in the Fall while the vain keep
their heads straight up like a pine tree.
We should not talk about our diseases. Telling others about
our diseases is a disease with us. We also tend to exaggerate
our sufferings caused by our diseases probably to get
sympathy of the listeners. Sometimes I heard people giving a
detailed description of their diseases: which doctor said
what, who prescribed what medicine, and so on. I am sure
that unless one is a close relative or friend, one does not
want to hear all these details. Let us describe the aches and
pains of our body to our doctors and not to the people who
came to attend a dinner at a party in someone’s house.
Sometimes the listeners are also to be blamed. Recently the
host of a party said that he had some problem with his left
foot. A number of people not only asked for the details of his
illness, but some of them also instantly turned into
physicians and volunteered various prescriptions for his
ailment. We should rather leave the treatment of our ailments
to the experts who have trained at medical schools for many
We should be careful when we talk to the children. I have
heard many of our parents saying in front of all their
children, “The older one has no brain. He will not be able to
achieve anything in life. The younger one is very smart. He
will shine in life.” This kind of talk is detrimental to and even
dangerous for the children who are told that they are good
for nothing. Even if a lie is told twenty times, it tends to
become a truth. The children who are told again and again
that they are brainless actually end up being brainless. They
lose confidence in themselves and give up trying to achieve
their goals because they are convinced that they will not be
able to achieve those goals.
We should open our mouth to thank and appreciate people.
Many of us love to speak. I have been told that sometimes
our people pay good money for a chance to speak in a
gathering. Yet when it is necessary to thank and appreciate
people, suddenly we turn dumb. I can give the example of
thanking people for their gifts to a newly-wed couple. I am
sad to see that often the people receiving gifts do not
consider it necessary to pick up the telephone to say “thank
you” to those who gave those gifts. In Canada our local
telephone calls are free, and today it costs very little to make
a long distance call. In fact most mainstream Canadians
routinely send a thank-you card in appreciation of gifts.
We should not speak ill of others behind them. What we call
backbiting has almost become a Bangladeshi national
pastime. Some of us make it our profession to speak bad
things about people in their absence. Presumably, these
people want to raise themselves in the estimation of others
by putting other people down. This is the psychology of
backbiting: “So and so is bad; but I am not like him. I am
better.” Actually, in trying to put other people down, the
backbiters only lower themselves in the eyes of the listeners.
Good people do not speak ill of others. The backbiters also
lose the trust of the listeners. If the backbiters could speak ill
of others now, chances are that they will also speak ill of the
listeners in their absence in the future. It should be
mentioned that Islam strongly disapproves of backbiting. Our
rasul sallallau alaihi wa sallam equated backbiting to eating
the flesh of one’s dead brother. I am sure that our rasul
would not be proud of many Bangladeshis of Montreal in this
respect. It should also be said that the mainstream
Canadians do not like backbiting. If someone speaks bad
things about a person to a Canadian, the Canadian will say,
“Why are you saying this to me?” I think we should try the
Canadian approach next time we hear someone backbiting to
I hope that our Bangladeshi friends will not be angry with me
for what I have written above. I think that self-criticism is
necessary for improvement. In referring to our people from
Bangladesh, I include myself as one of them. My writings and
deeds are a result of very sincere love of and concern for the
well-being of the people of Bangladesh. I would like to see
them prosper, and live in peace in this great country,