There is a difference between malediction and cussing. In Islam, cussing is forbidden (haram); and in the books of lexicon, “sabb” is defined as cussing and the usage of profanities.2
Al-Zubaydi has stated: “As-sabb is [defined] as cussing.”3
Ibne Manḍhur has stated that: “Al-Shatam means offensive speech and there is no requirement that in such speech, defamation occurs.”4
Al-Turayhi has stated: “al-Shatam means to describe something such as to show a deficiency within it.”5
Islam has prohibited the acts of cussing and the use of vulgar language just as God, the Most High, has stated:
وَلاَ تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللهَ عَدْواً بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ... “Do not cuss those whom they invoke besides God, lest they should abuse God out of hostility, without any knowledge…”6
The Noble Prophet of Islam (S) was very strong in his words in condemning this practice and has stated: “Cussing and usage of vulgar language towards a Muslim is a sin.”7
During the battle of Siffin, when the Commander of the Faithful ʿAli Ibn Abi Talib (as) was informed that some of his companions where using bad language in regards to the people of the Levant (Sham), he addressed them by saying: “I dislike that you start to verbally abuse them (using vulgar language), but if you describe their deeds and recount their situations (their actions) that would be a better mode of speaking and a more convincing way of arguing [with others about how these people are].”8
In addition, Imam Jaʿfar as-Sadiq (as) has stated: “The cussing of a believer [by another believer] is like the one who has thrown himself into perdition.”9
Therefore, cussing is definitely recognized as something which is expressly forbidden (haram) in Islam and any sane and rational person will be sure to refrain from such actions; however as for evoking malediction, this is something other than cussing and its meaning is to “distance oneself towards something good.”
Al-Jawhari has stated: “Al-Laʿn is to drive way and to distance one’s self away [from evil and going towards] good.”10
In addition, malediction has also been defined as displaying an aversion towards an individual’s despicable actions.
Raghib al-Isfhani has stated that: “Malediction means the rejection and distancing of oneself [from something] - angrily. If malediction is practiced by God, then its meaning is that in the next life, one will face the Divine retribution; while in the transient world, it means that the individual will be cut off from being able to accept the mercy [of God] and the Divine providence.
If malediction is employed by an individual, then it means that one makes supplication and imprecation and entreats [God] to bring about damage to the person whom one is praying against.”11
Therefore, malediction means to distance one’s self from the despicable actions of an individual and to pray that he is detached from the mercy of God.
Perhaps the best way to phrase this word is to state that it ultimately means: “May God never forgive you.” For example, in some instances it may be said of an individual: “May God never forgive that person whose actions led to the killing of countless innocent people” – this is malediction.
Such phrases can never be considered to be positive or in a person’s benefit [although one is praying “for” someone else]; rather, the supplication against a person (imprecation) is due to the fact that one has committed a contemptible action, and therefore when a person says: “O God! Remove your mercy from such and such person,” what we mean is that we are asking God to leave that person alone on his own and not forgive him for his evil actions.
1. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 66, pg. 241 2. Sihah fil lugha, vol. 1, pg. 299 3. Taj al-ʿUrus, vol. 2, pg. 63: السب: الشتم 4. Lisan al-ʿArab, vol. 12, pg. 318, الشتم: قبيح الكلام وليس فيه قذف 5. Majmaʿ al-bahrayn, vol. 12, pg. 70 6. Al-Qurʾan, Suratul An’am (6), verse 108 7. Sahih al-bukhari, vol. 1, pg. 52; Al-Kafi, vol. 2, pg. 360 [سِبابُ المُسْلمِ فُسُوقٌ] 8. Nahj al-balagha, pg. 323 [إِنّي أَکرَهُ لَکُمْ أَنْ تَکُونُوا سَبّابِينَ وَلکِنَّکُم لو وَصَفْتُم أَعْمالَهُمْ وَذَکَرْتُمْ حالَهُمْ، کانَ أَصْوَبَ في الْقَولِ وَأَبْلَغَ فِي الْعُذْرِ] 9. Wasa’il ash-shiʿa, vol. 12, pg. 298 [سباب المؤمن کالمُشرِفِ علي الهلکة] 10. Sihah al-Jawhari, vol. 6, pg. 2196; Lisan al-ʿArab, vol. 13, pg. 387 [اللعن، الطرد والابعاد من الخير] 11. Al-Mufradat of Raghib, vol. 2, pg. 339