On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, may God be well pleased with him, who reported that the Messenger of God, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, said: ‘Whoever believes in God and the Last Day let him say something good or else keep quiet. And whoever believes in God and the Last Day let him honour his neighbour. And whoever believes in God and the Last Day let him honour his guest.’
[Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim]
His saying (whoever believes in God and the Last Day) means whoever believes fully, with a complete faith that saves from God’s chastisement and leads to God’s good pleasure, let him (say something good or else keep quiet). This is because the person who truly believes in God fears His threats, hopes for His reward and strives to do what He commands and refrains from what He prohibits. The most important thing in this process is to control his limbs which are his subjects and, therefore, he is responsible for them, as God Most High said, the hearing, the sight, the heart – all of those shall be questioned of [al-Isra 17: 36], not a word he utters, but by him is an observer ready [Qaf 50: 18].
The defects of the tongue are numerous. This is why the Prophet, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, said: ‘Are people thrown in the Fire on their nostrils except for that which their tongues have reaped?’ He also said, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him: ‘All the speech of the son of Adam will be against him except for the remembrance of God Most High, enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong.’ Whoever knows this and truly believes in it will fear God with regard to his tongue and will only utter that which is good or else keep silent. One scholar mentioned that all the proprieties of goodness are derived from four prophetic sayings and he mentioned among them the saying of the Prophet, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him: ‘Whoever believes in God and the Last Day let him say something good or else keep silent.’
Another scholar said: ‘When a person wants to speak, he should first think: if what he is going to say is definitely good and he is going to be rewarded for it, then he should speak. Otherwise he should refrain from speaking whether what he is going to say appears to be unlawful, offensive or permissible. Hence, he is commanded to refrain from permissible speech, for it is recommended to do so, out of fear that it may lead him to speech that is forbidden or offensive, and this may happen quite frequently. God Most High said: not a word he utters, but by him is an observer ready [Qaf 50: 18].
The scholars have different views about whether everything uttered by a person is recorded, even if it happens to be permissible, or whether only that in which there is re-ward or punishment is recorded. The latter view is the view of Ibn Abbas and some other eminent scholars. The noble verse [Qaf 50: 18] is therefore of particular applicability to the speech that involves a requital. His saying (let him honour his neighbour… let him honour his guest) points to the rights of the neighbour and guest and the necessity of being kind to them and of protecting one’s limbs. In His Book, God Most High has enjoined being kind towards neighbours. The Prophet, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, said: ‘Gabriel, peace be upon him, kept on enjoining me to take care of the neighbour until I feared he was going to make him among one’s inheritors.’
Giving hospitality is part of Islam as well as being the characteristic of the prophets and righteous people. Some scholars declared it to be an obligation, but most scholars are of the opinion that it is of the noble character traits.The author of al-Ifsah wrote: ‘Among the things that one understands from this prophetic saying is that honouring the guest is an act of worship, which is neither diminished by hosting a rich person nor is it changed by giving one’s guest whatever little one has. To honour a guest consists of showing him a happy manner and engaging him in good conversation. But the heart of offering hospitality lies in providing food. One has to hasten therefore to provide whatever God has made available without any display of affectation.’
The same scholar went on to mention a few things about offering hospitality until he said: ‘As for his saying (let him say something good or else keep quiet), this indicates that the utterance of that which is good is better than keeping quiet, while silence is better than saying something bad. Included in the utterance of what is good is to convey from God and from His Messenger, may God’s blessings and peace be upon him, teaching the Muslims, enjoining the good with full knowledge of what one is doing and forbidding the wrong also with full knowledge, reconciling between people and saying fair things to them. The best speech is to utter a word of truth in front of someone who is feared or sought in matters of substantiation [of claims] and settlement [of disputes].’
This excerpt is from ‘A Treasury of Hadith – A Commentary of Nawawi’s Selection of Forty Prophetic Traditions’ which is available here.