There’s a disconcerting new trend among young Muslims: they are increasingly becoming compulsive users of bad language. A section of our youth feels that using wrong grammar or imitating aggressive ‘ghetto’ or ‘gangsta’ speech and talking in a tough manner with others makes them sound “cool”.
Almost everyone has heard young people jokingly trade insults with each other and come up with witty, sarcastic ‘putdowns’ to get the last word in a conversation. It seems as if a conversation is a verbal duel, whose aim is to leave the opponent feeling wounded and humiliated. This is only one aspect of the widespread use of bad language.
The other aspect, which is much more worrying, is the common use of abusive and obscene words in everyday conversations be it in Chichewa, Yao, Arabic or English langages. Ugly words and expressions, that just a couple of years ago, were considered rude in polite company are cropping up regularly in youngsters’ conversations, regardless of who they are talking to: it could be their friends and family, or strangers and co-workers.
Young people, who spend a good part of their day online, have coined a whole lexicon of impolite words which they consider humorous. These words are used in text messages and online conversations, on social networking sites and online forums, and out of force of habit even in real life conversations. And a lot of young Muslims have adopted this crude vocabulary without any second thoughts or feelings of guilt.
How do our youth get into the habit of using abusive language and why do they use it?
One reason why youngsters are fond of using crude language is to fit in with the majority and appear smart and worldly-wise, especially in the West or in Westernized countries. Profanity is so common in films and TV programs, it doesn’t raise eyebrows anymore. Earlier, a lot of abusive language in movies used to get censored or ‘bleeped’ out on TV, but it seems that these days the tolerance level has gone up on the part of the authorities and the audience. Even though films are still graded for viewing and TV programs still silence bad language, yet it is easy to make out — and in the case of young people — pick up what is being said.
Most often, it is the lead characters who are portrayed using bad language. This makes young people feel it is smart and glamorous to use bad language in the course of their conversation. It is no coincidence that some of the first words learners of English as a second language pick up from watching movies or TV or listening to popular music are swear words.
These days, the use of abusive language is a problem with children as young as three and four, who pick up the words from listening to adults speaking in front of them, or from TV or radio programs that parents leave on, even when the children are within earshot. Young people are impressionable and very easily influenced by their peers and by messages in the media. They assume that it is acceptable to use bad language, because everyone around them is doing it.
Another reason why youngsters may be tempted to use abusive language is to show their “rebellion” to society and to show they don’t wish to conform to their parents’ cultural and religious values. Sometimes, young people use abusive language for its shock value, in order to attract attention or because they feel frustrated and to release the anger and stress within them.
Whatever the reason, using bad language can never be justified. Yet, if you point out a young person’s use of abusive language and swear words, they almost always brush it off as a minor issue, or they may justify it by saying nowadays nobody considers such language rude anymore, or they may say “Everyone is doing it, so what’s the big deal if I do it too?”
It is a major problem if a Muslim uses bad language because in doing so, they are deliberately choosing to go against the example and injunctions of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Abdullaah ibn ‘Amr, may Allaah be pleased with him, mentioned that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was neither a Faahish nor a Mutafahish (person who uses bad language). He also narrated that the Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam, said: “The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.”
Trying to downplay a wrong action by justifying it or belittling it is a sin in itself. Someone who has got into the habitual use of bad language will only start recovering if they first acknowledge that they are committing a sin, and then take steps to avoid repeating it.