One month ago I was blessed to attend a course called 'Heart Therapy' by Al-Kauthar. The focus of this course was mainly around recognizing the diseases of the heart and learning how to deal with them and eventually cure them. One of those diseases is backbiting, slander and tale-carrying. Although these actions are committed with the tongue, their root can be found in the heart. Although I benefited a lot from this course and left it with more understanding and knowledge about the gravity of sins like backbiting, slandering and tale-carrying, it seems that it's easier said than done to stay away from those actions. Quite recently I was confronted with this up close when I was mingled up in a tense situation between people and I, unwillingly, got stuck in the middle. The consequences for all parties, including myself, were saddening and long cherished friendships got cracked and even broken. Upset about this whole situation and reflecting on how things spun out of control I realized that if I had known my boundaries better, things might have turned out differently. If àll parties had known their boundaries better, things might have turned out differently. So I decided to take out my course material and start reading and learning again, because it seems like the words I heard and read during that course didn't really reach their target yet: they didn't reach my heart yet. My heart was still sick. I still did not get rid of this disease. But since this disease spreads like wildfire and most of us commit this crime (Yes, that is actually what it is!) on a daily basis, I decided to share the course material with my notes and some reflections. Hoping that I will finally get cured in the process and others as well...
I will divide this subject into two posts: in the first one I'll cover the material about backbiting and slander. In the second one I will focus on tale-carrying. May it be of benefit first and foremost for myself, but also for everyone who reads this post. All credit goes to Al-Kauthar for providing this material and giving us the tools to purify ourselves and become better muslims in every aspect of the word.
Backbiting is translated in Arabic as 'ghiebah', from the Arabic root word 'ghayb' which means 'to be absent, hidden, remote and unseen.' Because, as we all know: when someone backites another, he or she does so when the latter is not present. From an islamic point of view we are provided with the following definition:
Abu Hurayrah (radiAllahu anhu) said that Allah's messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Do you know what is backbiting?' The Companions said, 'Allah and His Messenger know best.' Thereupon the Prophet said, 'Backbiting is to talk about your brother in a manner which he does not like.'
Some important notes:
* 'Ghiebah' is a truthful statement. This means that you're actually telling the truth about a person when you are backbiting. If it is a false statement it is called 'buthaan'.
* It is called backbiting when it is committed in private as well as in public.
* Even when you're standing in front of the person you're uttering a statement about, it is still backbiting.
Slander is different from backbiting as it is actually stating falsehood as we can understand from the following hadith:
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked, 'Suppose that there are actual faults in the one I am talking about?' The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) replied, 'If what you say about your brother is true, you are guilty of backbiting, but if what you say concerning him is not true, you are guilty of slandering him.' (Muslim)
This definition of ghiebah (and slander) should be something that from now on is saved on our mental hard drive and every time we feel the urge to speak about someone, whether in a negative or a positive way, this question should pop up in our minds: 'Would this sister or brother like that I'm telling this about her or him?' If the answer is no or you're not sure: restrain your tongue and don't say a word. Because if you know for a fact that the other wouldn't appreciate what you're saying and you decide to not withhold your tongue, you are actually committing a sin. And not just a tiny one, but a MAJOR sin.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated, 'One of the greatest major sins is to stretch out one's tongue without right against the honour of a muslim.' (Abu Dawud)
The scholars agree that it is haraam to backbite without legitimate justification. The majority agrees that it is a major sin. (Read those last two words again. And again. And again until you understand the seriousness of this act.) It does, however, vary in degree: some kinds of backbiting are worse than others. F.ex.: backbiting a scholar is worse than backbiting an ignorant person. (FYI: where it's haraam to backbite another muslim, it is not haraam to backbite a non-muslim, but it is still something we should refrain from doing.)
Some important notes:
* The great scholar, Imam al-Nawawi, said in his book, al-Adhkaar: 'Mentioning about your brother something that he would dislike includes what concerns his body, his religious practice, his worldly station, his physical appearance, his moral character, his wealth, his parents, his children, his spouse, his servant, his clothing, his activities, his smiles and frowns and anything else that pertains to him. It does not matter if you mention it explicitly by word or implicitly by indication or a gesture... This includes the likes of saying 'O Allah, pardon us all!', 'O Allah, forgive us!', 'Allah keep us safe!' etc., (in fact) all of this is backbiting.'
Especially that last sentence struck me and still hits me today. Because many of us will say things like 'You know X *Sigh*... But I don't want to say anything bad about him/her!' or looking at a certain person and saying very loudly so others can hear 'AstagfirAllah!'... How often do these things happen? Let it be clear that this is ALSO backbiting and that even by rolling our eyes or sighing we are committing a major sin. Soubhan'Allah!
The Qur'an and ahadith mention several punishments for this grave sin...
It is likely that the one who backbit another person will be punished by being ordered, on the Day of Judgement, to eat from the flesh of the dead bodies of those whom he backbit, as they will be made to appear to him as such.
'Neither spy, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Surely you would loathe it. Fear Allah. Indeed, Allah relents and is Merciful.' (Surah Al-Hujuraat 49:12)
Backbiting someone can lead us straight into Hellfire...
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Sometimes a person says something that pleases Allah through which he is raised in rank; and sometimes a person says something which displeases Allah so it takes him to Hell.' (al-Bukhari)
It was narrated in the hadith relating the incident of the Mi'raaj (Ascent) that: 'The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by a group of people with copper fingernails, with which they scratched their own faces and chests. Upon witnessing this he asked: 'Who are those, Jibriel?' and he was told in response, 'Those are the people who eat the flesh of other people and vilify their honour.'
Now we truly understand what backbiting is and we have been confronted with the consequences it is time to be fair with ourselves and diagnose the possible causes of why we keep falling into this sin over and over again.
* Weakness of faith and lack of piety.
* To vent your anger against the one whom you are backbiting.
* To fit in: when the company you're in is backbiting, you'll easily join in. (This marks the importance of good company once again!)
* Personal dislike of the person you're backbiting.
* To make people believe that you don't own certain bad qualities by pointing them out in others.
* To honour and elevate oneself.
* Jealousy and envy.
* Mocking, joking and belittling others.
It sometimes seems like and impossible task to restrain ourselves from backbiting and slandering and most of us will feel desperate at how easy we slip back into our old habits when it comes to an issue like this. AlhamdouliLlah, Allah did not send any disease, except with it's cure, so here are some tips to prevent yourself from backbiting and to cure your heart.
* Reflect on the statements of Allah and His messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) regarding the speech of the Muslim.
Of the many examples I will give only one, that actually envelops them all;
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, 'Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him say good or be quiet.' (al-Bukhari and Muslim)
* Knowing that forgiveness from the one who you've backbitten is essential for your repentace to be accepted.
:-O *No words are needed here!*
* Reflect on your own faults instead of focusing on the faults of others.
Abu Hurayrah (radiAllahu anhu) said: 'One of you sees the dust in his brothers' eye but fails to see the crud in his own.'
* Righteous companionship: we copy the actions and behaviour of our friends, so let us choose those friends who speak good and remind us to speak good as well.
* Strong resolve: make a firm and determined resolution to stop.
Rasul ibn Wahb said, 'I swore an oath that for every time I backbite someone, I would fast a day. This just wore me out, since I would backbite and fast. Then I resolved that for every time I backbite someone, I would spend one silver coin in charity. Then, for the love of money, I gave up backbiting.'
I absolutely love this piece of advice: find ways to 'punish' yourself every time you do commit this sin. Whether you fast or give in charity: come up with a creative solution to help yourself stop.
Although backbiting is haraam, as already mentioned above, sometimes there's a legitimate justification for it in which case it's not a sin. I will list those exceptional circumstances briefly:
* To complain of oppression.
* To return to order or put to right things: when you want to seek assistance in correcting an evil and returning the disobedient to guidance. F. ex.: you know someone who is committing sin, but you don't find yourself suitable to advice properly, so you can explain the situation briefly to someone who may have the ability to change the evil by saying: 'So and so does such and such an act so advise him.' It's important to note that the one who says this must intend to remove the evil only, otherwise it wouldn't be permissible to speak.
* When seeking a fatwa regarding the issue, when you are presenting the case to a scholar to ask for advice.
* To offer counsel, advice or a warning:
- Warning against weakness in a person's hadith transmission or his standing as a witness etc.
- Offering counsel regarding the character of a person for the purpose of marriage, getting into a business partnership, safekeeping something with someone, doing business with someone or becoming a neighbour of someone.
- To advise a student of knowledge against the innovation/fisq of the instructor if he is likely to be affected by it.
- To advise the one in authority regarding the neglect of a person 'in office' etc. in order that a replacement be found.
* To expose an open fahishah: if someone is openly committing disobedience or innovation (Drinking alcohol in public, taking the property of others unlawfully, ...) it is permissible to mention what he does publicly.
* In order to describe or identify an individual: if a man who has weak eyes is known as 'The cross-eyed', 'The blind one', etc., it is permissible to describe him for identification, but it is unlawful to mention these as deficiencies and if he can be identified in another way this is better.
I sincerely hope that this post serves as a reminder for all those who read it. I hope that me, you and all others who have read it, will have found the tools to stop backbiting and slandering once and for all and that we inspire others to stop doing so as well. May Allah give us the strength to remain steadfast in staying away from this sin and forgive us for the numerous times we've committed it. Ameen.
Source: Al-Kauthar, Heart Therapy course, The Purification of the Soul, taught by Sheick Abu Abdissalam, p. 32-39