Backbiting and Slander.
Thu, July 31, 2008
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful;
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
Backbiting [gheebah] is to say something about people in their absence, even though if the things that were mentioned and said might be true or which they would not like to hear about it themselves. While gossiping [nameemah] means passing on the news of people with the intention of causing them harm or gaining a desired reward from those to whom the news is conveyed. Slander [buhtan] is the vilest because it spread false information or lies about someone.
Allah indicates how serious backbiting is. Allah also shows us how we may fall into the sinful acts. First, we become suspicious of others and begin to keep track of what they are doing and saying.
Allah SWT says: “O you, who believe, avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin. Neither spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would detest it, [so similarly, avoid backbiting]. And fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Hujurat, 49:12]
We tend to interpret someone actions and words in our own way, which often inaccurate because we do not know all of their motives and intentions. Then we start to talk about them in their absence, often saying things about them that are not true, and if they knew what we were saying about them, they would be upset a great deal, we run the risk of needlessly damaging their reputations. Sometimes our suspicions and interpretations are correct, but this does not mean that it is a good thing to talk these things to others so that they do not fall into sinful behavior and their reputation are not tarnished.
The Prophet Muhammad SAW once asked his Companions: “Do you know what is backbiting?” His Companions said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” The Prophet SAW said: “Backbiting implies you’re talking about your brother in a manner that he does not like.” It was said to him, “What is your opinion about this if I actually find that shortcoming in my brother?” He said, “If what you assert (of a shortcoming) is actually in him, you have backbitten him; if it is not, you have slandered him” [Muslim].
Rulings on Backbiting
Islam attaches a great importance to preserving people’s honor and guarding them against any malicious defamation and slander. It is in this light Islam prohibits backbiting and gives serious warning against it. Allah Says:
“O you, who believe, avoid much suspicion, for some suspicion is a sin. Neither spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would detest it, [so similarly, avoid backbiting]. And fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Hujurat, 49:12]
However, there are some exceptions for this ruling. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to show the faults of certain people to ward off a serious evil that may occur if they are covered. Elaborating on these exceptions Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Canada, states:
Although, indulging in backbiting is considered an atrocity and forbidden, in light of their detailed study of the sources, scholars have considered it permissible to state the negative aspects or traits of a person or persons in their absence in certain exceptional cases in order to protect the interests of the people. Here are the conditions where it has been considered permissible:
1. It is not considered forbidden to mention the negative aspects of a marriage candidate in order to help the person who is planning to get married to formulate a sound opinion. In such a case, it becomes the religious duty of everyone who is asked about an individual to divulge any relevant information about him or her.
2. A public figure that may be running as a candidate for a position is just like a marriage candidate. Since it is vital to protect the interests of the public, it is considered permissible to disclose such information about him, which may reflect negatively on his performance or eligibility to serve. Public office is a position of trust and, as such, only people of integrity should be appointed to such positions.
3. It is allowed to mention the tyrants, despots, and rebellious persons who are role models of impiety, immorality, and rebellion against Allah in order to warn people against such behavior. It is in this spirit that we find the Qur’an narrates to us the stories of Pharaoh, Nimrod, Haman, and Qarun, and so on. Therefore, it is not considered sinful to speak negatively about personalities like Abu Lahab and Abu Jahal.
4. It is also not considered sinful to mention a person who is openly violating the laws of Allah. It is said, “An immoral person has no honor to protect” since he has already tarnished his honor by openly flaunting the laws of Allah.
5. If a person has been harmed or has been treated unjustly and unfairly by someone, he can speak about it to the proper authorities in order to seek justice or restore his legitimate rights. Included in this category are those who complain to the authorities about an abusive husband, or guardian, or leader, and so on.
6. If a so-called leader, preacher, or scholar is known to be spreading corrupt ideas or heretical ideas it is considered permissible to forewarn people about him. However, in order for this to be permissible, one must have ascertained a fact that the ideas or opinions he is advocating are indeed heretical beyond a shadow of doubt. Otherwise, it would be a terrible sin, for it has been rightly stated by scholars, “The flesh of scholars is poisoned meat!
Ways of Avoiding Backbiting.
• More Listening and Less Talking
We can avoid sinful of tongues by limiting the type of talking about things as much as possible. We should spend more time listening to others than we do talking about others and to not to abuse our two ears and the tongue.
If we find ourselves in the company of those who we know to be the gossipy type, we should get them to change the topic of discussion. If we are not able to do so, we should leave before we get involved in gossip or talk about useless things.
• Repentance and Forgiveness
One who commits a sin, whatever it is, should have hope in Allah’s mercy. They must be sure that Allah will accept their repentance. We are told in the Qur’an:
“Say: O My [Allah’s] slaves, who have been prodigal to their own hurt, despair not of the mercy of Allah, Who forgives all sins. Lo! He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” [Az-Zumur, 39:53]
In order for repentance to be accepted, they must desist from the sin they have been doing, regret having done that sin, and make firm and sincere intention not to return to that bad deed.
Scholars add that if the sin involves a human’s right, repentance requires a fourth condition: to be absolved from such a right. If it is a property, the sinner should return it to its rightful owner. If it is slandering or backbiting, the sinner should ask pardon of the offended.
Therefore, we must try to seek the forgiveness of the person you have backbitten. However, some scholars say it is not necessary to go to the offended (especially if they do not know you have slandered or gossiped about them) and seek Allah’s forgiveness for causing harm and create hatred between them.
• Controlling Words Once Spoken: Mission Impossible
Once our words are spoken, they get bigger and beyond control. Even if we regret them and wish to take them back, we would not be able to do it. Once the word is out, it is not easily forgotten or forgiven by others. The damage is done. Therefore, it is crucial that we choose our words very carefully before we let them out into the public. We should ask forgiveness from Allah of those we hurt so that we can avoid a more difficult repayment of our sins in the hereafter. If they are not able to forgive us in this life, Allah will give them their rights on the Day of Judgment by taking from our good deeds and giving their value to those whom we wronged in this life.
The Prophet SAW told us that whoever guarantees their tongue, the Prophet guarantees Paradise for them (Al-Bukhari).