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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Islam and prohibition of backbiting

By Dr Shariffa Carlo

Living in non-Muslim societies, it is easy for us to fall into the habits and customs of these lands. We start to set our moral compasses in relation to theirs. Sometimes, we go so far as to think that if what we are doing is better than what they are doing, its acceptable. While this may be true in a society of honorable people, in this society where the woman who wears a one-piece bathing suit instead of a bikini is considered modest, we can not use them to set our compasses. We have to set our standards much higher. They have to correspond with the teachings and understandings of Islam.

Also, we have to recognise that when it comes to morality and values, Islam is the standard. Want to know a prime example? Ever heard of the Golden Rule? It says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sound familiar? It should, Prophet Muhammad (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) stated the same basic thing.

He said, Narrated Hadhrat Anas (Radhi Allaho anho): The Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said, "None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 2, Number 12)

What about the statement, " If you can't say something good, say nothing at all." Here it is in our beloved Prophet's words. Narrated Hadhrat Abu Huraira (Radhi Allaho anho): Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said, "Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet, and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (or insult) his neighbour..." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 482)

All this goes to preface the idea that we have to care about each other in a way that is in line with Islam, not the lessor standards of the non-believers. Let them follow us. When we think of 'Gheebat' (gossip, backbiting), most of us think that this is the speech as defined by the non-believers -- saying something negative about someone -- whether truthful or not.

But Islam has given it a stronger definition: Narrated Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho): Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said: Do you know what is backbiting? They (the Companions) said: Allah and His Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) know best. Thereupon, he (the Holy Prophet) said. "Backbiting implies your talking about your brother in a manner that he does not like." It was said to him, "What is your opinion about this that if I actually find (that failing) in my brother which I made a mention of? He said, "If (that failing) is actually found (in him) what you assert, you in fact backbitten him, and if that is not in him, it is a slander. (Sahih Muslim: Book 31, Number 6265, Abu Dawood, Ahmad and Tirmizi)

And Muttalib bin Abdullah said, "The Messenger of Allah (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said, 'Gheebat (gossip, backbiting) means that a man mentions about a person something which is true, behind his back." (Majma'-uz-Zawaid)

Just imagine the high standards that Islam has set, that this horrible sin is not even confined just to the oral or written statement. Hasan bin Al-Makhaariq reported that "Once a woman visited Hadhrat Aisha (Radhi Allaho anha), and when the woman got up to leave, Hadhrat Aisha made a sign with her hand indicating to the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) that the woman was short. The Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) immediately chastised her, saying, "You have backbitten!" (Tafseer Ibn Jareer, vol 4, p 328)

In another Hadith, Ummul Momineen Hadhrat Aisha narrated: I said to the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam): It is enough for you in Safiyyah that she is such and such (the other version than Musaddad's has:) meaning that she was short-statured. He (the Holy Prophet) replied: You have said a word, which would change the sea if it were mixed in it..." (Sunan Abu Dawood: Book 41, Number 4857)

Here we can see that Gheebat (gossiping, backbiting) is also what we do that a person may dislike if done in reference to them. This is a serious sin. I know it is easy to underestimate its worth, but Allah has warned us about it in His Glorious Book: "O you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin, and do not spy nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful." (49:12)

Allah described backbiting as an act similar to eating the flesh of our brothers or sisters. But don't think of this as only metaphorical. Our beloved Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) proved this to us in one of his great miracles.

Ubaid, the freed slave of the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) reported that someone came to the Holy Prophet and showed him two women who were fasting and said that they were dying of thirst. The Holy Prophet turned away silently refusing to give permission for them to break their fast.

So, the man begged him again, mentioning that the women were on the verge of death. The Holy Prophet then said, bring them to me and bring along a bowl. When they turned to him, he turned to one and told her to vomit in the bowl. She complied, spitting up a mixture of vomit, blood, pus and pieces of flesh, which half filled the bowl.

He then turned to the other and had her do the same. After the bowl was filled, he said, "Verily these two have fasted from what Allah has made halaal for them and broken their fast from what Allah has made haraam. They spent their fast eating the flesh of others." (Ahmad)

These women gave up food and drink -- halaal substances, and, instead, partook of the flesh of their brothers and sisters. So distasteful was this fare that it made them sick to the point of near death.

Further, our scholars have warned us to repent from it. Al-Qurtubi said, "The scholars agree that it is a major sin, and that the committing of this sin necessitates repentance (Taubah) to Allah." (Tafseer Qurtabi)

The Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) has warned us of great punishments, which may befall us as a result of committing this sin. Narrated Abu Barzah al-Aslami: The Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said: "O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts! Do not backbite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault. And if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in the open for everyone to see, even if he hid it in the innermost part of his house." (Abu Dawood: Book 41, Number 4862, Tirmizi and Ibn Hubban)

See, we talk about others, exposing them and Allah gives us a taste of our own medicine -- exposing us. Which of us has no secret, which would harm us if exposed? Who among us can afford to risk this punishment? May Allah protect us form His wrath!

We have to be very careful. Remember, on the Day of Judgement, Allah may forgive us the sins we committed against Him, but He will not take away our rights as individuals. On that day, people will have the right to take our good deeds or even the bad deeds of theirs would be given to us in case of crimes we have committed against them. One of these crimes is Gheebat, where we sacrifice the honour of our brothers and sisters.

Narrated Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho): Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said: Do you know who is poor? They (the Companions of the Holy Prophet) said: A poor man from amongst, who neither has dirham nor wealth with him. He (the Holy Prophet) said: "The poor of my Ummah would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers and fasts and Zakat but (he would find himself bankrupt on that day as he would have exhausted his funds of virtues) since he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others, and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of the one (who suffered at his hand). And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hell-Fire." (Sahih Muslim: Book 31, Number 6251)

Let's reflect on this. Here we are. We thought we were doing good. We prayed. We fasted. We worked hard on doing good deeds. Yet, there we will be on the Day of Judgement. We will have survived all of the horrible trials, the Judgement, the Bridge and the huge thorns which snatch us according to our deeds and throw us into Hell. (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 577)

We will have been through all this, only to lose all our good deeds because we could not or would not control our tongue. On this day, we will stand there and be asked by those whom we harmed for their rights. A person whom we have backbitten may take that one crucial deed that means Heaven or Hell. How many deeds can you afford to give away?

Personally, I don't feel that I can spare one. On that day, the mother will drop her load. Your mom will not know you or care about you! Your mother! The Prophets will be saying, "I am not fit for that (intercession)." The Prophets, what chance do you or I have? We must not give ourselves so much credit that we actually have the gall to believe that we can afford to give away even one deed. May Allah protect us all!

This is a major sin that we have to guard against. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into it. Allah warns us that nothing will be hidden on that day. We will have even our limbs speaking against us or for us: Allah says, On the day when their tongues and their hands and their feet shall bear witness against them as to what they did. (24:24)

And Our Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) warns us to be careful of our tongues, what we say. He also encouraged us with the rewards we get for doing so. Narrated Hadhrat Sahl bin Saad (Radhi Allaho anho): Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) said, "Whoever can guarantee (the chastity of) what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs (i.e. his tongue and his private parts), I guarantee Paradise for him." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 481)

And Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho) narrated: Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) told that the servant whose fault Allah conceals in this world, Allah would also conceal his faults on the Day of Resurrection. (Muslim: Book 31, Number 6266)

Hadhrat Uqbah bin Amir (Radhi Allaho anho) narrated: Whoever covers the faults of believer is like one who has brought to life a female child buried alive. (Abu Dawood: Book 41, Number 4873)

The rewards are so great. We should be so careful in this matter to avoid the punishment and to receive the great blessings. There are a few situations where it is allowed for us to talk about something, but these are limited. Here are a few allowed situations:

Marital advice or protection from possible harm:

Fatimah binte Qays went to the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) seeking marital advice when both Mu'awiyah bin Abu Sufyan and Abu Jahm had proposed to her. The Holy Prophet told her, "Muawiyah is stingy and tight fisted and Abu Jahm beats his women." So marry Usamah instead. (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, Nisai and Ibin Majah)

Complaint:


Narrated Hadhrat Aisha (Radhi Allaho anha): Hind, the mother of Mu'awiya said to Allah's Apostle (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam), "Abu Sufyan (her husband) is a miser. Am I allowed to take from his money secretly?" The Holy Prophet said to her, "You and your sons may take what is sufficient reasonably and fairly." (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 34, Number 413)

Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhi Allaho anho) narrated that a man said, ""O Messenger of Allah! I have a neighbour who is harassing me." He (the Holy Prophet) said, "Go and put your belongings on the street." So, the man went and put his belongings on the street. People gathered and asked, "What's wrong with you?" He said, "I have a neighbour who is harassing me; I told the Holy Prophet about that and he told me to go and put my belongings in the street." The people began to say, "O Allah curse him! (about the neighbour). The neighbour heard about that, so he came to the man and told him, "Go back to your house. By Allah, I will not disturb you again." (Bukhari)

Now, once we have seen this, we have to reflect upon it. What if we have committed Gheebat, what should we do? Well, Imaam Nawawi said, "The Ulama have said that if you have committed Gheebat, then ask forgiveness for it. So, how do we repent from this awful deed?

We have to first ask Allah to forgive us and make a decision not to repeat it. Then, we have to go to the people whose Gheebat we did, if possible, and ask them to forgive us, and if they are dead, ask forgiveness from Allah for their sins and ask of Him to give rewards of His to them and make them happy from us. Remember, Allah will forgive us his right, if we ask sincerely, but He will not remove a right from a believer. So we must ask the believer for his forgiveness as well.

One thing more I would like us to note that what shall we do if we are in a situation where others are backbiting? We have to first remember Allah and advise them not to do so as well by in a nice and gentle manner. If this does not work, we must leave that place or that gathering at once, because sitting there and listening is as bad as doing the deed. For the scholars agree that a person who is in attendance when a sin is being committed is as guilty as the ones who are committing the sin.

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