IT IS TERRIBLY important when addressing a group of people with varied intellectual capacities to make the speech plain and suitable for the least capable to follow what is being said. It is also recommended to avoid utilizing words that make it difficult to get across the general point. There is nothing better than making one’s speech simple yet charismatic so that it will target both the heart and the mind of the listener.
Many of our forebears have noted this very point.
I asked Imam Ahmad about a certain issue having to do with ᶜadl (justice, fairness) and his reply to me was: ‘Don’t ask about something you will not understand.’
Ibn ᶜAqîl said,
It is not fair for a well spoken scholar of high caliber to address someone with very little knowledge using cryptic terms. That will do nothing but corrupt the lame, poor man.
Ibn Al-Jawzi on his part added,
A well versed person should not talk to others about things their brains cannot bear.
All of these quotes go in accordance with what was narrated in the Ṣaḥîḥ Al-Bukhâri on the authority of ʿAli ibn Abi Ṭâlib who remarked,
Talk to people with that which is familiar to them. Do you want that Allah and His Messenger get belied?
ᶜAbdullâh ibn Masᶜûd also warned against superseding some people’s intellect when he said,
Any time you address people about something their minds would not be able to grasp, it will stand as a trial for some of them. (Muslim)
Despite the warnings there are still those who are in complete heedlessness of such virtue. Many of them unfortunately are considered among the people of knowledge, and they sometimes, while delivering a speech or general lecture, choose the most complicated methods to make their points. Instead of making their meaning obvious, they set out a hunt for the most unusual and most uncommon words, which of course leaves the listener with no idea of what they heard or worse, leave him with a wrong idea which he should never have gotten in the first place.
Abû ᶜAbdullâh Al-Ḥakîm reported in his book, The History of Naisapûr,” that Al-Nadr ibn Shumayyil said,
I asked Al-Khalîl a question upon which he took his time to answer. I then told him: ‘My question does not require all this time for the answer. ’He then replied: ‘I know. I already came up with the answer to your question. I was only trying to find the simplest way of presentation so that you would be able to comprehend with no effort.”
Also, the Shâfiʿî jurist, ᶜAbdullâh ibn Aḥmad Al-Sarakhasi said,
If Muḥammad ibn Al-Ḥasan (the student of Abû Hanîfah) used to address his audience according to their level of his intellect, we would never have understood him, but he used to address us according to the level of our intellect.
Imam Muslim reported in his Ṣaḥîḥ that Qaza’a said,
I came to Abû Saᶜîd Al-Khudri while he was surrounded by many people. I waited until they all dispersed and said: I came to ask you about the salah of the Messenger ﷺ. He said to me: “You don’t gain any benefit in asking me that.’ Qaza’a said: “I asked him again and he gave me the same answer.”
Commentators have stated that Qaza’a was asking too many questions about some details that are hard to experience and even harder to convey and the way Abû Saʿîd insisted not to entertain Qaza’a’s questions tells us that he thought that despite the fact that one was asking about the Prophet’s salah, one must know that he/she could never establish salah the same way as did the Prophet ﷺ, no matter how hard one would try. Therefore, it is better for one to stick to that which benefits him—in this case, learning how to perform the salah and then to use that knowledge to struggle on his own to improve and strengthen it. This will insure that one’s salah is beneficial to him/her, even if not so good as the Prophet’s salah.
Sharing knowledge is undoubtedly a virtue of high merit and Allah has promised the conveyer of knowledge abundant rewards. However, the conveyer has to be quite careful when addressing an audience — to make sure that those words coming out of his mouth can be easily understood. This is true in all fields of knowledge but even more so when it is related to matters of Sharîᶜah. There can be a real risk in confusing people in Sharîᶜah matters–for that can lead to fitna.