Backbiting: Killer of Social Life

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Giybah is a denounced deed that ruins the social relationships and consumes the good deeds of the backbiter.

Giybah (backbiting) is an utterance said behind someone which will offend him when he hears it.

Prophet Muhammad Sallallāhu Alayhi Wasallam said: “”Do you know what giybah is?” They said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He then said, “It is to say something about your brother that he would dislike.” Someone asked him, “But what if what I say is true?” The Messenger of Allah said, “If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have also slandered him.”(Muslim)

In Risale-i Nur tafsir, backbiting is defined as follows:

It would be Giybah if the man who was backbitten were in presence and would be offended when he heard it. If what was said is true, it is backbiting. If not, it is both backbiting and slander. It is a doubled-ugly sin. (The Letters, p.121)

Reasons causing people to backbite are many. The most common ones are as follows:

1-Grudge and angriness: The one who bears grudge and angriness against someone would like to comfort himself through backbiting and humiliating that person. For this very reason and some other reasons, Islam orders us not to bear grudge and to control ourselves during angriness.

However, man, because of the oppressing quality in his nature and prompting of Satan, feels enmity towards his brother and forgets his hundred good deeds because of one evil. Just as that if the wing of a fly is to be put on an eye, it would cover the eye and not show a mountain, so too man, through his grudge, covers and forgets good deeds of his brother, which are as great as mountains, with an evil, which is as tiny as a fly’s wing, and feels enmity towards his brother. He turns into a poisonous tool in people’s social life. (The Flashes, p.90)

2- Jealousy: When a person is jealous of someone, he wishes to decry and disgrace him through backbiting. Islam denounced jealousy as well.

“Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could turn you (people) back to infidelity after you have believed, out of selfish envy, after the Truth had become Manifest unto them: But forgive and overlook, till Allah accomplishes His purpose; for Allah has power over all things.” (Baqarah, 2:109)

3-To chat: People that do not have enough ʿilm (knowledge) are more likely to backbite. For this reason, backbiting is common among the ignorant. However, even if a believer is an ignorant, he possesses broad range of religious knowledge to talk about. For instance, he would talk about the highness of his Lord and praise Him as well as expressing his gratitude and love for the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace and blessings, and send salaat and salaam to him. He may also talk about the beauties of paradise and torment of hellfire and would repent and ask forgiveness by confessing that he is short of good deeds.

4-To sweeten and vary a conversation: Even though people of ill-character eat honey and cake they wish to vary their meals with putrid and rotten things. As backbiters are of the same character, they would not be pleased from chatting unless they would talk about the faults of innocent people.

“Behold, you received it on your tongues, and said out of your mouths things which you had no knowledge; and you thought it to be a light matter, while it was most serious in the sight of Allah.” (Nur, 24:15)

5-Keeping up with backbiters: Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said as follows: “Whoever protects dignity of his brother, Allah the Exalted protects his dignity on the day of Judgement.” (Tabarani)

Another hadith is as follows: “If a Muslim is humiliated unjustly and his brother would not help him even though he is able to, Allah humiliates him on the day of Judgement and would not help him.” (Tabarani)

6-Taking revenge from the one who has backbitten you before: In such a situation, a mu’min should acknowledge his fault if what is said about him is true, but then he should warn the backbiter about the bad behaviour of giybah. However if what backbiter said is untrue, then he would say that it is untrue and defend himself.

“Repel [their] evil, by [means of] what is best. We are most knowing of what they describe.” (Mu’minun, 23:96)

Even if being backbitten offends your soul (nafs) and emotions, in fact it is a profitable thing which should make you happy. It is because that through being backbitten you earn good deeds with literally doing nothing. For this very reason, Hasan Al’Basri sent a gift to whoever backbitten him with an attached note saying, “Thanks for sending me your good deeds.”

A man said to him “I heard that you had backbitten me.” Al Basri responded as follows: “In my sight you are not worthy of getting my good deeds. If I were to backbite someone, that would be my mother as she is the most befitting one to take my good deeds.”

7-Weakening the opponent: There is no wearing rivalry among Muslims. Instead of this, there is a competition in doing good deeds and gaining virtues.

Allah Subhanahu wa Taʿala says as follows: “Compete with each other in performing good deeds.” (Baqarah, 2:148) And “Do not forget graciousness between you.” (Baqarah, 2:237)

8- Showing that he is not alone in doing evil and committing sin: People who are doing evil find solace in people like themselves. Being alone in doing evil disturbs even the most corrupted consciences. However, this consolation is deceptive. The reason is that excess numbers of evil-doers neither turn evil into good nor decrease their sin or torment. On the day of Judgement, Allah (swt) addresses evil-doers as follows:

“And never will it benefit you that Day, when you have wronged, that you are [all] sharing in the punishment.” (Zukhruf, 43:39)

9-Exalting yourself through showing others’ defects: The truth is that no one would be exalted by having others defective. Furthermore, a Muslim avoids praising and showing himself as better than others even by his real values and virtues.

Saadi Shrazi narrates: One day I was sitting with my father until late to worship at night. When I looked outside from the window, I saw that houses were in dark. I told my father “I wish people in these houses had woken up and would pray two rakat of salah. They are sleeping like dead people.” My dad responded “My dear son. I wish you were also sleeping like them instead of gossiping them.”

10- Not being able to hide his surprise: Some wrongdoings might be so shocking and bewildering. However, it is also possible to mention it without referring to anyone and express your bewilderment.

Harms of Backbiting

Muslims are obliged to be brothers and supporters of each other. Everything facilitating this purpose is accepted whereas anything against is disliked by the Owner of the religion.

Backbiting causes grudge, jealousy and corruption when it becomes common in society. It, furthermore, breeds faction and hypocrisy, and destroys unity and solidarity in society and shakes pillars of the religion. For this reason, corruption and evil increase at all times.

Anas (r.a) reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “When I ascended through the heavens, I passed by some people holding copper nails which they were gouging their faces and chests with them. I said, ‘Who are these, Jibril?’ He said, ‘Those are the people who consumed people’s flesh and attacked their honour.’” (Abu Dawud)

Slander and backbiting are abhorrent to the intelligence and the heart, to humanity and conscience, to nation and society. We see then that the verse condemns backbiting in six miraculous degrees and restrains men from it in six miraculous ways. (The Letters, p. 21)

“And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would detest it! Then fear Allah, verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.” (Hujurat, 49:12)

Al-Mustawrid Radhiallahu ʿanhu narrates: The Prophet (asm) said “If anyone eats once at the cost of a Muslim’s honour, Allah will give him a like amount of Jahannam to eat; if anyone clothes himself with a garment at the cost of a Muslim’s honour, Allah will clothe him with like amount of Jahannam; and if anyone puts himself in a position of reputation and show, Allah will disgrace him with a place of reputation and show on the Day of Resurrection.” (Abu Dawud)

Flee from backbiting! Verily, backbiting is worse than fornication. It is because one fornicates and then repents and Allah accepts it. However, if he is one of the backbiters, Allah would not forgive him unless the victim forgives him. (Ibn Abi’d Dunya)

Another hadith tells us, “The worst usury is to attack a Muslim’s honour unjustly.” (Abu Dawud)

Conditions Backbiting is Permissible

First: Presenting it as a complaint to some official, so that with his help evil be removed from him and justice restored. (The Letters, p.121)

Second: If a person wants to do business with another and comes to seek your advice, and you say to him, purely for the sake of his benefit and to advise him correctly, without any self-interest: “Do not do business with him; it will be to your disadvantage.” (The Letters, p.121)

For example, a dad will marry his daughter with a man and asks you about the guy: “How is this guy?” And you don’t tell the negative things about that guy thinking that it would be giybah. In this case, you will be held accountable on this. You should tell the negative things also with the intention of warning the father. In this case, giybah is permissible.

Third: If the purpose is not to expose someone to disgrace and notoriety, but simply to make people aware, and one says: “That cripple and vagrant man went to such-and-such a place.” (The Letters, p.121)

For example: a man’s nickname is Cripple John, that’s to say he is either cripple or not but that name stuck on him and nobody recognises him without that nickname, so using that nickname in order to find him is permissible.

Fourth: If the subject of backbiting is an open and unashamed sinner; is not troubled by evil, but on the contrary takes pride in the sins he commits; finds pleasure in his wrongdoing; and unhesitatingly sins in the most evident fashion. (The Letters, p.121)

It is stated in the hadith that “It is not backbiting to inform (others) about (the evils of a) person who doffed cover (jilbab) of shame.” (Muslim)

When you are a witness in the court, you naturally have to tell what you know to reveal the truth, this is not backbiting either.

Is it Permissible to Listen to Backbiting?

Just as backbiting is illicit, so is listening to it. It is such that narrations show us backbiting is one of the grave sins and whoever listens backbiting gets the same punishment of who does it in the first place.

Prophet (saw) said, “Whoever listens to backbiting is one of the backbiters.” (Tabarani)

Many narrations clearly state that it is incumbent upon us to prevent backbiting.

Allah, Glorified and Exalted, states in one of the verses of the Quran as follows:

“And why did you not, when you heard it, say? ‘It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to Allah, this is a most serious slander.’” (Nur, 24:16)

How to Avoid Backbiting

People of weak will and character keep up with chatting since they are not able to drive the topic. Thus, they listen to the backbiting of his friends carefully and even he adds up some backbiting in order to be accepted by his friends. However, the duty of a Muslim in such occasions is to stop backbiters, if they still carry on, he must just leave that place.

Another possibility, that is more meritorious than first two, is to praise the backbitten person. “If a Muslim is humiliated unjustly and his brother does not help him even though he is able to, Allah humiliates him on the day of Judgement and would not help him.” (Tabarani)

One must reflect upon the harms of backbiting! He should know that he will lose his good deeds and gets the sins of the one he backbites!

Sometimes, backbiting is committed in order to make people laugh. One must realize how wrong it is to receive Divine wrath as an exchange for the pleasure of people.

The one who seeks others’ faults and keeps backbiting them cannot realise his own faults.

Jealous people decry wealthy people. He would say “He is very rich yet he does not know how to spend as he is mean. For people of high positions in society, he may say “Being director does make him think that he is better than others.” Sayings like these do not decrease people’s wealth or get them out of their positions. Although this is the case, fire of jealousy fires the backbiter. Moreover, he is obliged to give his good deeds to a person he dislikes due to backbiting.

How to Return the Rights of the Backbitten Person

If a backbiter does not let the victim to hear his backbiting, then repenting for himself and asking forgiveness for the victim suffices. If he lets him know, then he should ask his forgiveness.

Prophet (saw) said, “The compensation for backbiting someone is asking forgiveness for him.” (Ibn Abi’d Dunya)

“Unless they repent thereafter and mend (their conduct); for Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Nur, 24:5)

While Junayd al Baghdadi was sitting in the mosque, a young man asked help from him, “Please help me for the sake of Allah. I am in need of help!” Junayd al Baghdadi looked at him and noticed that he is a strong and healthy person, and then he thinks, “Is he not ashamed of begging while he is young? Why does not he work and earn his livelihood but humiliates himself through begging?”

At that night he saw a dream. The flesh of that young man that he saw in the mosque was grilled and put on a tray and served to him. He was told to eat it. He responded, “Would a flesh of human be eaten?” “You will be eating as you ate in the mosque yesterday,” was the answer.

He carries on the story as follows: Apparently, I had backbitten him. I woke up in fear. I made wudhu and prayed two rakat prayers and repented and asked forgiveness from Allah. When the dawn fell, I went out to find that young man. He was eating some cress along river Tigris. He raised his head when he realised that I was approaching him.

-O Junayd! Did you regret and repent as you had ill-thought about me in the mosque, he said.

-Affirmative, I responded.

-Then do not feel sad, go, said the young man; and recited the following verse before disappearing: “He is the One that accepts repentance from His Servants and forgives sins, and knows all that you do.” (Shura, 42:25)

May Allah (swt) make us among the ones who avoid backbiting! Amin.