I am looking up information regarding “informers in Islam” and to see the attitude of Muslims towards this. So this blog will continue to be added to until I have sufficient material to write about it.
In Urdu, “ghibat Karna” means “backbite” and “gheebat karna” means “slanderer.”
But the English equivalent I was seeking was:
WordReference English Thesaurus © 2013
- inform on
- turn informer
- tell secrets
I wanted to know if there were diktats in Islamic ideology on this aspect of Islamic behaviour to explain the unwillingness of most Muslims to come out to condemn atrocities committed by fundamentalist Jihadists. I believe the following will provide an insight into the psyche of Muslims on this topic. However, the closest word equivalent seems to be “gheebat” and that is what I have dopne my researches on.
The Rules of Backbiting (gheebat)
Answered by Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali
I want to know what exactly constitutes ‘gheebat’ or gossiping in Islam… I mean if someone’s actions directly affect you and you discuss the problem with others is that gheebat? secondly, can you tell me for instance, if I advise somebody and explain by referring to some one’s past conduct, is that gheebat? I would be obliged, because I fear I do discuss people most of the time, one way or the other.
from “Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasideen” (being Ibn Qudamah’s abridgement of Ibn al-Jawzi’s summary of al-Ghazzali’s “Ihya’ `Ulum al-Deen“)
NOTE: This text is copyrighted.
Permission is granted to include it on web sites, and to make hard copies for the SOLE PURPOSE of da`wah (propagation) or educational efforts. Due acknowledgement should be given. (c) Suheil Laher
“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, for some suspicions are a sin. Do not spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would abhor it, [so similarly, avoid backbiting]. And fear Allah. Indeed, Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.” Qur’an, [49:12]
“And do not follow that of which you do not have knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – [you] will be asked about all of those.” Qur’an, [17:36]
“He does not utter a [single] word, except that there is, with him, [an angel] ready and waiting [to record it].” Qur’an, [50:18]
Imam Nawawi says “It is obligatory for every sane adult to guard his tongue against talking, except when it contains a clear benefit. If talking and remaining silent are of equal benefit, it is sunnah to abstain, for permissible talking might lead to something undesirable or forbidden, as in fact is very often the case, and nothing matches safety.”
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah :
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say [something] good, or he should keep silent.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]
Nawawi says, “This hadith is quite explicit that it is imperative to not talk unless the speech is good, which is that wherein there is some benefit. If a person is in doubt as to whether there will be any benefit, then he should remain silent.”
On the authority of Sahl ibn Sa`d :
“Whoever guarantees for me what is between his two jaws and what is between his two legs, I guarantee Heaven for him.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
On the authority of `Uqbah ibn `Amir : I said, ‘O Messenger of Allah! What is salvation?”
He said, “Hold your tongue, let your house contain you, and weep over your sins.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
Mu`adh ibn Jabal said, “Are we even going to be held accountable for what we say?!”
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “May your mother be bereaved of you! Is there anything which drags people into the Fire on their faces other than the harvest of their tongues?!” [Tirmidhi (hasan sahih)]
On the authority of Abu Bakrah, from the Farewell Pilgrimage:
“Indeed, your blood, property and honor are sacred to [one another], like the sanctity of this day of yours in this city of yours.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah :
“All of a Muslim is prohibited to another Muslim : his blood, his honor and his property.” [Muslim]
“O assembly of those who have believed with their tongues, but into whose hearts faith has not yet reached! Do not backbite the Muslims, nor seek out their secrets! For, whoever seeks out the faults of his brother, Allah will seek out his secrets. And, whoever has his secrets sought out by Allah, Allah will disgrace him, even [if he hides] in the depths of his house. [Abu Dawud in al-Adab, 4/271, #4880]
“Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is more serious than adultery. A man may commit adultery, and drink [wine], and then repent, and Allah will forgive him. But, the backbiter will not be forgiven by Allah until his [backbited] companion forgives him.” [Suyuti, Al-Jami` as-Saghir, 1/174, #2919, from Ibn Abid-Dunya, and Abush-Shaykh, Al-Tawbikh.]
Meaning of ghibah
It has been defined precisely by the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) as, “Your mentioning your brother with something about him that he dislikes [being spoken about].”
Someone asked, “How about if my brother contains that [characteristic which I am mentioning]?”
He replied, “If he possesses that which you mention, then you have [indeed] backbited him. And, if he does not contain that which you say, then you have slandered him.” [Muslim in al-Birr, 4/2001, #70; Ahmad in Al-Musnad, 2/230,384]
Ghibah in the guise of religiousity
“Praise be to Allah who has saved us from such evil.”
“We ask Allah for protection.”
“That poor fellow! Allah has afflicted him with a great calamity. May Allah forgive him and us.”
Listening to Ghibah
Someone who listens to backbiting is a partner to it. He is not absolved of the sin of listening unless he remonstrates verbally, or in his heart if he is afraid. If he is able to start talking about something else, or to change the subject of the conversation, then it is imperative for him to do so.
“And, when they hear vain talk, they turn away from it.” [Qur’an, 28:55]
“[Successful are] those who shun vain talk.” [Qur’an, al-Mu’minun: 3]
“Whoever is present while a Muslim is humiliated before him, and is able to assist him [and yet does not], Allah will humiliate him before [all of] creation.” [Ahmad in al-Musnad, 3/487; Suyuti in Al-Jami` As-Saghir, 2/510, #8375]
“Whoever protects a believer from a hypocrite, Allah will send to him an angel to protect him from the Fire of Hell on the Day of Arising. [Abu Dawud in al-Adab, 4/272, #4883]
“Whoever averts [an attack] from the honor of his brother, Allah will avert the fire from his face on the Day of Arising.” [Tirmidhi (hasan)]
Causes of ghibah
- Thirst for revenge. Backbiting one’s brother and obtaining gratification from his anger.
- Peer pressure. Desire to fit in with and be accepted by one’s companions.
- Desire to exalt one’s self by degrading another. In the same way, one may become jealous when another is praised, and therefore seek to disparage him.
- Jest and play. A desire to make others laugh. Some people even make a living out of this.
Cure for ghibah
Realize that it exposes you to the displeasure of Allah, the Exalted. Remind yourself that your good deeds will go to the person whom you are backbiting, and his sins will be borne by you. Ponder over your own faults, and occupy yourself with correcting them. Feel ashamed to discuss the faults of others when you yourself have so many faults. If you are rally free from fault, then occupy yourself with thanking Allah for His favor. Just as you would dislike someone else backbiting you, out yourself in the place of the one whom you are inclined to backbite.
“Indeed, truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Heaven. And, a man [continues to] tell the truth, until he is recorded before Allah as a truthful one. And, indeed, lying leads to evil, and evil leads to Hell. And, a man [continues to] lie until he is recorded before Allah as a liar. [Bukhari, Muslim]
“Insulting a Muslim is impiety, and killing him is [a form of] unbelief.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi, Tabarani, Daraqutni.]
Ghibah of the heart
To think the worst of Muslims. You may not think badly of a Muslim unless you have definite knowledge of his having done something evil, and there is no possible excuse or justification for him. You should try to make 70 excuses for your brother, and if you cannot find an excuse for him, look for some flaw in your perception. If someone informs you of something bad about someone else, it is obligatory upon you to investigate the matter. Is there some enmity between the informer and the one he is telling you about? You are obliged to think the best of your Muslim brother/sister. Thwart Satan by making du`a for the person. Do not spy on your brother, under the pretext of trying to find out the truth. If it does turn out that he has done something wrong, then advise him in secret.
Cases in which ghibah is permissible
- Injustice. One who has suffered injustice is entitled to mention the one who has committed injustice to someone who is capable of restoring his rights to him, such as a legitimate Muslim ruler or judge.
- Seeking help to change an evil, or to reform the wrongdoer. If the intention in telling the ghibah is not to change the wrong, then it is forbidden to relate it.
- Asking for a fatwa. A person may say, ‘My father/brother/wife has done such-and-such to me. What can I do about it?On the authority of `A’ishah : Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, said to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), “Abu Sufyan is a miserly man, and he is not giving me what would suffice me and my child, unless I take from him without his knowing.” He said, “Take what suffices you and your child according to common usage.” [Bukhari, Muslim]However, it is more precautionary to avoid mention of names, for example by asking instead, “What is the verdict regarding a person who has done such-and-such?”
- Warning, such as warning a prospective buyer that the merchant is a swindler, or warning a student that his prospective teacher is an innovator or a deviant. Also, revealing the faults of weak narrators and forgers of hadith, and giving someone a candid appraisal of a person whom the former is thinking of marrying.On the authority of Fatimah bint Qays : she said, “I came to the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and told him, “Abu Jahm and Mu`awiyah have [both] proposed to me.” He said, “As for Mu`awiyah, he is a poor man with no money, and as for Abu Jahm, his stick never leaves his shoulder.” [Bukhari, Muslim, Malik]
- If someone is commonly known by a nickname, although if there is some alternative way to refer to him, it is preferable.
- Someone who sins openly, and has no qualms about his sins being mentioned.
However, it is not permissible to mention any of his secret sins.”There can be no backbiting of one who casts off the mantle of modesty.” [Suyuti, Al-Jami` As-Saghir, 2/519, from Bayhaqi.]
Expiation for ghibah
The backbiter has committed two infringements; one upon the limits of Allah, and this must be expiated by repentance and regret. The second is on the rights of his brothers/sisters. If news of the backbiting has reached the person, the backbiter must apologize to him/her, and express regret at having said it.
“Whoever has wronged his brother, in the way of property or honor, let him go to him and repair it, before it is taken [from him on a day] when he has no dirhams or dinars, such thatif he has any good deeds, some of the good deeds will be taken and given to [the wronged one], otherwise [if he has no good deeds], some of the other’s evil deeds will be taken and cast upon him.” [Bukhari, Al-Mazalim, 5/121, #2449. Ahmad, Al-Musnad, 2/435]
If the person has not learned that he has been backbited, then the backbiter
need not tell him, but he should ask Allah to forgive him.
“The expiation with regard to one who has been backbited is that forgiveness be asked for him.” [Suyuti, Al-Jami` As-Saghir, 2/390, #6259]
Mujahid said : the expiation for eating the flesh of your brother is that you praise him and pray for good for him, and similar is the case if he has died.
On Backbiting non-Muslims
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, Who sent His messenger with the Guidance and the religion of truth, in order that He might make it prevail over all religions, though the pagans may be averse. Blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, who was sent to perfect the noble traits of character.
To proceed : May Allah guide you to felicity! You have asked about the permissibility of a Muslim’s backbiting a non-Muslim. A possible source of confusion here is that the Qur’anic verse prohibiting backbiting is addressed to the believers, and says, in translation,
‘O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; indeed, some suspicions are a sin. And do not spy, nor backbite one another.’ [Qur’an, 49:12]
Hence, one may mistakenly conclude that backbiting non-Muslims is permissible. However, one should beware of relying on first impressions, and especially in matters related to the Sacred Law, one should refrain from pronouncing one’s own, unlearned opinion on a matter based on one’s own impressions. The Qur’anic and hadith texts prohibiting speaking without knowledge, and censuring those who pronounce verdicts (fatwa) rashly, are numerous, and we will not mention them here. The verdict here requires consideration of the evidence and texts in their totality, for only such can yield a full picture of the situation.
Firstly, the fact that the address is made to the Muslims, rather than to mankind in general, is understandable when one takes into consideration that the unbelievers, although also subject to all of Allah’s commands, and technically obligated to follow them, (as evidenced by the clear texts of the Qur’an, and backed by the consensus of Muslim scholars) are first and foremost called upon to believe. This is because rectitude of doctrine is a prerequisite for the acceptability of a good deed, and without belief in Allah and all His Messengers, deeds are rendered worthless, like floating dust or scattered ashes, not earning their doer any reward in the Hereafter. It is only by accepting the message of Allah, and all his Prophets, that one can ‘validate’ one’s good deeds so as to earn reward for them in the Hereafter. This includes those who followed the message of a previous Prophet, and they shall receive a double reward upon embracing the Final Message.
`Those to whom We gave the book before it, they believe in it. And, when it is recited to them, they say, ‘We believe in it. Indeed, it is the truth from our Lord. Indeed, we were, [even] before it, Muslims’. They will be given their reward twofold, because they persevered.’ [Qur’an, 28:52-54]
Furthermore, there are some orders and prohibitions (or all, according to the epistemology of the Ash`aris) whose goodness or baseness can be known only through scriptural communication, such that an unbeliever would not be likely to obey them without first embracing faith.
That the address is made to the believers does not rule out its applicability to unbelievers; i.e. the command, `Do not backbite one another,’ does not, logically, imply a permission to backbite others. For example, Allah says, (translated),
‘O you who believe! Devour not your wealth amongst yourselves by falsehood, except if it be by trade, by mutual consent amongst yourselves.’ [Qur’an, 4:29]
This verse does not give permission to consume the wealth of the Dhimmis (non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state). It is reported that the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said,
‘Does any of you, while reclining on his couch, imagine that Allah has prohibited only that which is to be found in this Qur’an? By Allah, I have preached, commanded and prohibited various matters as numerous as that which is found in the Qur’an, or more numerous. Allah has not permitted you to enter the houses of the people of the Book without permission, nor to beat their women, nor to eat their fruits when they give you that [tax] which is imposed on them.’ [Narrated by Abu Dawud]
And it is reported in another narration that he (peace and blessings be upon him and his Household) said: ‘Indeed, whoever wrongs a person of the contract (i.e. a Jew or a Christian), or deprecates him, or imposes upon him [something] beyond his capability, or takes anything from him without his consent, I shall be his adversary on the Day of Arising.’ [Narrated by Abu Dawud; al-Mundhiri said : it contains unknown narrators.]
This latter hadith is explicit regarding the prohibition of deprecating a Dhimmi, but its isnad contains weakness, and so it cannot be used as a proof. However, the evidences to follow establish the prohibition of backbiting, and in their light, the above hadith can serve as supporting evidence.
The human being should realize that all his/her words are witnessed by Allah, and recorded by the angelic scribes.
‘He does not utter a [single] word, except that there is, with him, [an angel] watching and waiting [to record it].’ [Qur’an, 50:18]
Imam al-Nawawi says, ‘It is obligatory for every sane adult to guard his tongue against talking, except when it contains a clear benefit. If talking and remaining silent are of equal benefit, it is sunnah to abstain, for permissible talking might lead to something undesirable or forbidden, as in fact is very often the case, and nothing matches safety.’
Allah does not love the loud utterance of harsh/hurtful words, except by one who has been wronged. And Allah is Seeing, Hearing.’ [Qur’an, 4:148]
The Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace), has said,
‘Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say something good, or should remain silent.’ [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]
Al-Nawawi says, ‘This hadith is quite explicit that it is imperative to not talk unless the speech is good, which is that wherein there is some benefit. If a person is in doubt as to whether there will be any benefit, then he should remain silent.’
And, the Prophet (may Allah bless him and his Household and grant them peace) said,
‘Treat people with good character.’ [Narrated by Tirmidhi, who said it is a good hadith; Nawawi quoted it in his ‘Forty Hadith.’]
The Muslim is not insulting, nor cursing, nor obscene, nor shameless. [Riyad al-Salihin]
From the above Qur’anic and hadith texts, it becomes clear that a Muslim should only speak if there is some benefit in his words, and in particular, it does not become him to engage in harsh or hurtful speech. This forms a basis for not engaging in backbiting, even if it be against a non-Muslim. If we consider the underlying reasons and implications of this, our idea is reinforced. The motive for backbiting is often anger and a thirst for revenge, whereas the believer is supposed to control his anger. Or, it may be intended to degrade the one being backbited and to thereby exalt oneself, which tends to indicate a feeling of arrogance, and arrogance is prohibited by clear scriptural texts. Furthermore, the enmity and other such bad consequences of backbiting are detrimental to society and its smooth functioning. In general, a Muslim is supposed to deal well with people, except if there is some justifying misconduct from the opposite party.
‘Allah does not prohibit you from being kind and equitable to those who have not fought you on account of your religion, nor driven you from your homes. And Allah loves those who are equitable.’ [Qur’an, 60:8]
Al-Haskafi, the Hanafi jurist, says in “al-Durr al-Mukhtar,” about the dhimmi, “Backbiting him is prohibited, just like [backbiting a Muslim].” Ibn `Abidin remarks in his marginal annotations “Hashiyat Radd al-Muhtar,” And, it has been said : Backbiting a dhimmi is more severe [than backbiting a Muslim].”
All this having been said, it should be pointed out that although backbiting in general is prohibited, there are certain circumstances which make it permissible. At this point, it is useful to distinguish between two types of misdemeanors and sins of unbelievers :
- deeds which they do openly and shamelessly, because they maintain that they are permissible according to their religion, or because they have little modesty or concern for public opinion. Mentioning such misdeeds of an unbeliever is not considered backbiting, just as in the case of a sinful Muslim who sins in public with impunity.
- evil deeds which they do covertly and in hiding, due to their admitting their evil nature. It is not permissible to backbite them regarding these.
Backbiting a non-Muslim is also permissible in the other cases where backbiting a Muslim is justified, viz. To redress an injustice, to seek help to change an evil, asking for a fatwa, accepted nicknames, and warning people against evil.
We conclude with the following hadith, which mentions the punishment for backbiting people (without distinguishing between believers and unbelievers; it therefore serves as support for the verdict we have mentioned).
Abu Dawud has reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, ‘When I was taken up to heaven (i.e. during the Mi`raj) I passed by people who had nails of copper with which they were scratching their faces and their breasts. I said, ‘Who are these [people], O Gabriel?’ He replied: ‘They are those who consumed the flesh of people [i.e. backbite them] and aspersed their honor.’
And Allah, the Exalted knows best.
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… Nor backbite one another; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it. (Qur’an 49:12)
Prophet Muhammad (s) once said to Imam ‘Ali (‘a): “O ‘Ali! When someone hears the backbiting of his Muslim brother committed in his presence, yet he does not rally to his assistance despite being capable of doing so, God shall humiliate him in the world and in the Hereafter.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16336]
.^.Abu Dharr (r) once asked the Prophet Muhammad (s):
“O Messenger of Allah, what is gheebah?”
“It is to mention about your brother that which he detests.”
.^.Abu Dharr (r) said:
“O Messenger of Allah, what if that which is mentioned of him should actually be in him?”
.^.He (s) replied:
“Know that when you mention that which is in him, you have committed his gheebah, and when you mention that which is not in him, then you have slandered him.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasai’l al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16312]
Consequences of Backbiting
.^. The Prophet (s) once gave counsel to Abu Dharr (r) , saying: “O Abu Dharr! Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is graver than adultery (zina’).” Abu Dharr (r) said: “Why is that so, O Messenger of Allah?” He (s) replied: “That is because when a man commits adultery and then repents to God, God accepts his repentance. However, backbiting is not forgiven until forgiven by its victim.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasai’l al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 18312]
.^. The Noble Messenger (s) said: “Whoever backbites a Muslim spoils his fasts and breaks his wudu’, and shall come on the Day of Resurrection with his mouth’s stench more putrid than a carcass’, and it shall irk those who are with him in his station (mawqif). If he dies before repenting, his death is like that of one who dies while considering permissible that which is prohibited by God, the Exalted and the Glorious.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16316]
.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Prophet (s) who said: “O you who have embraced Islam with your tongues but in whose hearts faith has not yet entered, do not disparage Muslims and do not seek their defects. Verily, God will seek out the defects of he who is after their defects; and one who has God after his defects will be humiliated, even in his own abode.” [Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 2, “Kitab al-Iman wa al-Kufr”, “Bab man talaba ‘atharat al-Mu’minin”, hadith no. 2]
.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Prophet (s) who said: “The havoc wrought on the believer’s faith by backbiting is swifter than the one wrought by aklah (a disease that consumes the flesh) in the side of his body.” [Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 2, “Kitab al-Iman wa al-Kufr”, “Bab al-Gheebah wa al-Buht”, hadith no. 1]
When backbiting ingresses into our conduct, it leaves adverse effects on the soul. One of these is cultivation of enmity and hatred towards the victim, which gradually increases.
At the time of death, when the veils of the angelic realm (al-malakut) are lifted, the backbiter may be brought to witness the high station of his victims before God, and the honor and blessings bestowed on them by the Almighty Lord.
The backbiter’s hatred and enmity towards the person may then lead him to hate God Almighty!
Thus, he will leave this world with enmity of God in his heart, and enter everlasting wretchedness.
Prohibition of Listening to Backbiting
In the same manner as backbiting is prohibited, so also is listening to it. Indeed, as some traditions indicate, the listener is like the backbiter in all the evil aspects—so much so that his act is a grave sin carrying an obligation to seek forgiveness from the victim.
.^. The Prophet (s) said: “The listener is one of the two backbiters.” [Al-Fayd al-Kashani, Al-Mahajjat al-Bayda’, vol. 5, p. 260]
.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Noble Messenger (s) who is once said to have forbidden both backbiting and listening to it. Then he (s) said: “Lo, whoever does a favor to his brother by refuting his backbiting upon hearing it in a gathering, God shall save him from a thousand kinds of evils in this world and in the Hereafter. And if he does not do so despite his ability to refute it, on him shall be the burden of one who commits his backbiting seventy times.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16316]
.^. Among the more subtle forms of backbiting is listening to it with amazement. Such a person expresses his amazement in order to make the backbiter more lively in his descriptions. His amazement encourages the latter in his evil act. For instance, he will say, “Strange” or “Astaghfirullah!”. Or he might say, “I didn’t know that!” or “I didn’t know he would do such a thing!” These expressions are meant to affirm the backbiter’s statements and to encourage him to add something more. These acts are in fact the Devil’s artifices. Surely, to affirm backbiting is also backbiting; as is to listen to it, or even to remain silent upon hearing it. [al-Shahid al-Thani’s Discourse as quoted in Forty Hadith by Ayatullah Khomeini.]
Is Backbiting Ever Allowed?
There are very few situations where it is permissible to speak about the faults of another person. One must be very careful not to let the existence of these exceptions allow transgression into sin. Some of these situations are:
.^. to protect Muslims from the evil of another person, including situations where one is asked to vouch for the integrity of a marriage prospect
.^. when the person being talked about does not conceal his violations of Divine commands
.^. to describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment
.^. criticism about a narrator of traditions (hadith).
The Cure for this Disease
If someone, God forbid, has been guilty of this ugly act, he or she must purge this vice and nourish the roots of sincerity, unity, and solidarity in his or her heart by following these steps:
.^. Meditate for a while about the effects of this sin in this world and in the Hereafter. Reflect on the fearsome, frightful forms that will beset you in the grave, in the Barzakh, and on the Day of Resurrection. Heed the words of the Holy Prophet (s) and his household (‘a) for their pearls of wisdom in this regard will overwhelm you. Then weigh a quarter of an hour’s pleasantries, gossip, and satisfaction of the imaginative lust against thousands upon thousands of years of adversity or eternal damnation in hell and everlasting painful chastisement!
.^. Consider this: even if you have enmity toward a person whom you backbite, that animosity requires that you should not resort to backbiting. It is stated in the traditions that the good deeds of the backbiter are transferred to the book of deeds of the victim of his backbiting, and the victim’s sins are transferred to the record of the backbiter.
.^. Repent and seek the forgiveness of the victim, if this is possible without any chance of vicious consequences; otherwise, you must implore God’s mercy for the victim.
.^. Gather all your strength to rid your soul of this sin at all cost, by making a covenant with yourself to abstain from this abominable for a certain time. Bring your tongue under control and be fully watchful of yourself, steadfastly vigilant, calling yourself to account. God willing, it is hoped that after some time you will find yourself reformed and free of its ill traces. Gradually the burden of the task will ease, and you will feel a natural disposition to dislike and detest it. At that point, you will come to possess spiritual peace and delight in achieving freedom from this vice.
.^. Backbiting often results from a weakness in the backbiter’s own soul, such as an inferiority complex. You should pry into your soul to discover what weakness prompted you to backbite your brother or sister; then set out to remedy the weakness.
The Prophet (s) said: “No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than gheebah in consuming a devotee’s virtues.” [Al-Mahajjat al-bayda’, vol. 5, p. 264]
The Forty-first Greater Sin: Backbiting
The foremost great sin for which Qur’an and hadith have promised chastisement is back-biting. As mentioned by Allah (S.w.T.) in Qur’an,
“Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter.”
(Surah an-Nūr 24: 19)
Ibn Abi Umayr narrates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.),
“One who reports about a believer, everything he has himself seen and heard is from those about whom Allah (S.w.T.) says, “There is grievous chastisement for those who like undesirable things regarding the believers becoming public.”
(al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 357)
According to this tradition, Ghiība (backbiting) is included in the ayat where clear punishment is mentioned. Therefore, the Qur’an states,
“…nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it…” (Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 12)
The above ayat describes the condition of the backbiter in the hereafter. He will be raised in a condition similar to the person who eats dead meat. A tradition of the Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“On the night of Miraj (ascension) I saw some people in Hell who were eating dead meat. I asked Jibrīl (a.s.) who those people were. He replied. ‘They used to eat human flesh in their worldly life (that is, they used to backbite about other people).”
It appears therefore that one who backbites about a person deserves the punishment he would have had if he had eaten the same person’s flesh.
Imam Hasan al-Askari (a.s.) says,
“Know that! Ghiība of your believing brother, who is the Shia of Āli Muhammad is worst than eating dead meat, regarding which Allah (S.w.T.) says, ‘do not back-bite for each other.”
Allah (S.w.T.) says in Surah al-Humaza,
“Wael (Hell) is for every Slanderer, defamer,”
(Surah al-Humaza 104: 1)
According to Tafsīr Majmaul Bayan this Divine statement is a decree of punishment for every back-biter and slanderer who causes separation between friends. Some others have stated that, it is slander when uttered in the presence of the person and defaming when speaking in his absence.
Wael is one of the compartments of Hell. There is a well in it which is a symbol of terrible punishment. Ghiība is a sin that is promised penalty at a number of places in the Qur’an.
Traditions on Ghiība
There are a large number of traditions that speak of Ghiība as a sin, which is promised divine punishment. We quote a tradition of Makasib where Shaykh Ansari has recorded a tradition of the Holy Prophet of Islam (S):
“Ghiība is worse than fornication because if a fornicator repents, Allah (S.w.T.) forgives him but He does not forgive the back-biter till the person about whom he has back-bited forgives.”
(Makasibe Muhrima Vol. 3 page 310)
One day the Messenger of Allah (S) describing the evil aspects of usury said that taking a Dirham as usury was worst than committing adultery thirty six times. Then he said that the worst kind usury is revealing the defects of a Muslim and insulting him.
In the light of the above traditions Ghiība is proved to be a greater sin also because it is worse than Adultery and Usury and we have already proved in the earlier chapters that Adultery and Usury are greater sins. The Holy Prophet (S) also said,
“Allah will not keep a person who reveals the fault of a Mu’min, along with him in Paradise, and if he accuses him of faults the Mu’min does not have, the pure relationship of their faith will be destroyed and the back biter will forever dwell in Hell, which is a dreadful place.”
The below tradition is sufficient for a person with insight.
“One who thinks that he is legitimately born is wrong, because by doing Ghiība of people he is consuming their flesh. Beware of Ghiība because it is the diet of the dogs of Hell.”
“One who moves from his place with the intention of back-biting about his brother in faith, you should know that he has taken the first step towards Hell.”
“Even if the back-biter repents he will be the last to enter Paradise, and one who dies without repenting will be first in Hell.”
The Second Martyr (Shahīd al-Thani) narrates from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) and the Messenger of Allah (S) that the thing nearest to infidelity is that a person listens to a word from a person and remembers it for using it later to insult him by telling it to others. Such people can never make a gain in the hereafter.
(Kashful Rabi of Shahīd al-Thani)
The Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“Ghiība affects the religion of a person faster than leprosy spreads in human body.”
(al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 357)
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“Ghiība is Harām for all Muslims and there is no doubt that Ghiība destroys good deeds like fire destroys wood.”
The Shaykh says, “Ghiība eats good deeds”, means that Ghiība invalidates all the good actions that one has performed or that the sin of Ghiība exceeds the rewards he has accumulated from the past good deeds, or that the deeds of back-biter are transferred to the scroll of deeds of the one about whom he has back-bited. These points are mentioned in a number of traditions. The Messenger of Allah (S) is reported saying that a person will be brought for accounting in Qiyāma and handed his scroll of deeds. When he sees the good deeds performed by him missing from his record he would say, ‘O Allah! This is not my record because I cannot find the good deeds performed by me in it.’ He will be told, ‘Your Lord does not err or forget, your good deeds have disappeared due to backbiting about the people.’ Then another person will be brought and given his record of deeds. When he finds therein good deeds that he had never performed he shall say, ‘O Allah! This is not my scroll of deeds. Because I find recorded therein such good deeds as I had never performed’. So he shall be informed, “These are the good deeds of that certain person who back-bited about you and as a recompense his good deeds have been given to you.”
The Shaykh concludes that Ghiība is indeed a greater sin, and in fact it is more serious than some greater sins like Adultery and Usury.
Moreover, Khayanat discussed in the earlier chapters is confirmed to be a greater sin, and Ghiība can be considered a form of Khayanat; which Khayanat can surpass the action of betraying the confidential things of a believing brother? One proceeds to gobble the flesh of ones brother in faith while the latter is completely unaware.
Please take note, that Ghiība is Harām only in the case of believers. That is, the believers in all the tenets of faith the foremost of which is the belief in the Imamat of the twelve Imams (a.s.). Therefore, Ghiība of those who opposes this belief is not Harām.
However by way of precaution, we must not backbite any person belonging to any of the sects of Islam. Especially those who are not the enemies of truth and are just deficient in knowledge. We should also know that Ghiība is Harām not only when told to adults, it is not permitted to speak words of back biting even to a child who is old enough to understand them and be affected by them. Some scholars have stated that Ghiība is not allowed even to children who have not yet reached the age of understanding.
Meaning and Occasions of Ghiība
The Messenger of Allah (S) explains Ghiība in the following words,
“Ghiība is remembering your brother in a way he dislikes.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“Ghiība is exposing that aspect of your brother which Allah had concealed.”
(Makasib, al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 358)
Imam Mūsa Ibn Ja’far (a.s.) says,
“If one speaks of a person in his absence about those of his traits which are actually present in him and people are also aware of it, it is not Ghiība. But if he mentions something which is present in the person but people are unaware of it, it would be Ghiība. Moreover if what he is says is not present in the man, it is allegation (Bukhtān).”
On the basis of these two traditions mentioning the defects of a person which are well-known to those who are being told and also other people is not Ghiība, even if it could be construed as criticism, scolding, causing hurt and insult, which is also Harām as will be discussed later.
After taking into account the meaning of word Ghiība by dictionary experts and the different implications of Ghiība according to traditional reports the Shaykh concludes that Ghiība is of Three types: Absolute Ghiība, Apparent Ghiība and Implied Ghiība.
In the first instance it is backbiting for sure. The defect be according to Shari’a or according to what is generally accepted as defect in a person and also that if it is mentioned in the absence of the person and were he to know about it he would not like it. Besides, one who indulges in this Ghiība should be doing it with the intention of exposing him or in trying to find defects in him. In short if one exposes the defect of a believer with a clear intention of defaming, it would be Ghiība.
In the second category is Ghiība which is not done for exposing a person but for some other purpose. For example in jest or to prove ones point, or for expressing ones concern, or to cite it as an example. In all such cases also if one is revealing the hidden defect of a believer it is Ghiība and Harām according to Shari’a.
The third kind is to mention the defects to a person who is already aware of it. Regarding this some traditions say it is not Ghiība but other traditions have included it among backbiting, particularly when the person is scolding with vehemence and insult. Such a Ghiība is absolutely Harām even though it is doubtful whether it is Ghiība in the real sense, since this will cause grief to a believer and humiliation. Also if a person uses nicknames that will invite criticism, saying: he is a son of a Jew, or ‘His mother was of loose character’. All such things are Harām as mentioned in the verse of Surah al-Hujurāt.
“…nor call one another by nicknames; evil is a bad name after faith…”
(Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 11)
Types of Ghiība
According to clear traditions and opinion of religious scholars it makes no difference whether the defect mentioned is of a physical nature, pertains to ones descent, a trait of ones character or with regard to ones speech or actions, or whether it is with regard to religion or worldly aspects. Special mention is made of defects pertaining to ones dress, house, vehicle etc. Examples are cited for each of these. A physical defect is mentioned that, such and such is cockeyed, one-eyed, bald, short, tall, dark complexioned, yellow skinned etc.
If these characteristics are mentioned in a manner that he will be unhappy if he heard about it, it is Ghiība. Ghiība of ones family origin is saying, ‘His father was a sinner, evil, miser, libertine, weaver, low caste etc. Ghiība of character is saying such and such is bad-character, miser, arrogant, coward, weak, hypocrite, thief or an oppressor. Ghiība with regard to religious matters is saying that a person is a liar, a drunkard, he neglects prayers, he is bad mannered, ungrateful, he doesn’t realize his low position, he’s talkative, a glutton, an excessive sleeper. Ghiība in relation to dress is saying his dress is dirty, torn, old, long or short. If these are mentioned in a manner that a person wouldn’t like to hear about himself, it is Ghiība.
It should be clear that it makes no difference whether the defect is mentioned verbally or expressed in action or gestures. Even if one makes an allusion and it is understood in the sense he intends, it is Ghiība. Sometimes allusion is worse than Ghiība. For example, saying, ‘Alhamdolillah (Praise to be Allah), Allah has not made us covet rulership, or made us supporters of oppressors or did not make us greedy of wealth. Or if one says, we seek refuge of Allah from jealousy, niggardliness or shamelessness, May Allah protect us from the mischief of Shaitan; and by saying all this he desires to indicate the person who has these traits.
Often times when someone intends to do Ghiība of a person, he initially heaps praises upon him. For example saying: He is so nice! It’s a pity he’s caught in Satan’s trap and became such and such. Another example is to be aggrieved in a hypocritical way: I am really aggrieved and my heart has burnt in the sorrow for such and such person. This is not true because if he were really sincere and a true friend he would not have criticized him and exposed his defects.
Ghiība of Specified Persons and Ghiība of General People
It is Ghiība only if it is with respect to a particular person. If there is no mention of name or special traits of a person it is not termed Ghiība. For example, one says, ‘I saw a person in such and such way.’ This would not be Ghiība. But if at the same time he indicates a distinguishing feature of this person, it is Ghiība. Like for example saying that the person has such and such type of son or daughter. It is Harām because in this way he has caused grief to all the concerned people. If one mentions the genre like he says. ‘A person from Isfahan or Shiraz has done that. This is allowed. It is also allowed to say some people of Isfahan are such and such.’ But saying that all the people of Isfahan or Shiraz are like that, is Harām without any doubt. This is because it would amount to be the Ghiība of all the people of these cites. If one says that majority of the people of that city are like that, it is against precaution. In fact there is a strong indication of its illegality.
Expiation and Repentance for Ghiība
As Ghiība is a greater sin anyone falling into it, is obliged to feel remorse for having disobeyed Allah (S.w.T.). After sincere repentance he must seek forgiveness, with the intention of never repeating it in the future. As mentioned in some of the traditions, if possible one must apologize to the person whose Ghiība he had done. He must beg him for forgiveness and somehow obtain his satisfaction. Also he must make up for it by speaking well of the person in proportion to the Ghiība he has committed with regard to this person.
This is more appropriate when the person is already dead and it is not possible to contact him. Or there is a good chance, the person will be more angry and would distance himself further. For example when he is ignorant of what was said about him and by hearing about the Ghiība he would be infuriated. The aim of seeking his forgiveness would not be achieved. In such cases we should ask Allah (S.w.T.)’s forgiveness for him and beseech Allah (S.w.T.) to make this person happy, as mentioned in the 39th Du’a of Sahifa Sajjadiya. It is also mentioned in the supplication of Monday.
Occasions when Ghiība is Permitted
Scholars permit Ghiība in some cases. We shall mention the opinion of Shaykh in this matter as given in his book Makasib Muhrima.
(1) Ghiība of a person whose defect is not hidden. It is known to all. Like the one who roams the streets with a bottle of wine on his lips.
“One who sins openly is not worthy of respect and his Ghība is not Harām.
(Makasib Muhrima page 27, Vol. 4)
A tradition also says,
“(The Ghiība of) one who has thrown away the robe of shame (and commits sins openly) is not Ghiība.
(Makasib Muhrima page 27 Vol. 4)
It should be noted that, Ghiība is allowed only for those sins that are committed openly. There is no proof of the legality of Ghiība for the sins committed secretly, though according to the Shaykh, if his visible sins are more severe than his concealed defects, there is no harm in relating them. However, one should abstain from it as a matter of precaution.
Ghiība is allowed only in the case of a person who has himself announced his sins openly. But if he presents an excuse for this action, his Ghiība is not allowed. For example, he says, ‘I drink wine for medicinal purpose and I am in Taqlid of a person who allows it.’ Or one who eats during daytime in the month of Ramadhan says that he is sick or on a journey, or he may be having other acceptable reason. Similarly in the case of one who oppresses or cooperates with the oppressors, and then justifies his act. However, it should not be a blatant act. As a matter of precaution, Ghiība should not be done about a person who commits sins openly but in an alien town or locality.
(2) If an oppressed person complains about the oppressor and mentions his acts of injustice, it is not Ghiība. As the Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) says,
“And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed these it is against whom there is no way (to blame). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress into and revolt in the earth unjustly, these shall have a painful punishment.”
(Surah Ash-Shūrā 42: 41-42)
In Surah an-Nisā’, the Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) Says,
“Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done.”
(Surah an-Nisā’ 4: 148)
Precaution demands that we must complain of injustice to someone who is capable of redressing it. It is not permitted to complain to someone who is not capable of getting justice for you.
(3) Advice to those who ask for it. When a Muslim approaches for advice in a particular deal that he intends to enter with a person and the person approached knows about a defect of that person which, if he does not reveal the person who enters into contract will suffer loss and have problems; in this case there is no harm in passing such information.
One must pay attention to two things in this case: The defect should be mentioned only if there is harm in not informing about it. If the defamation or insult caused by revealing the defect is more serious than the loss caused to the other person, one should abstain from Ghiība. Secondly, Ghiība is allowed only if by doing so the person is warned. If he can be cautioned without doing Ghiība, Ghiība is not allowed. For example he says, “I don’t see benefit in this matter” and the person who sought advice obeys him. Then one should stop at this.
(4) Ghiība is allowed with the intention of Nahy Anil Munkar. For example you see a Muslim prone to an evil way and think that by doing Ghiība he’ll give it up. Ghiība is allowed in this case provided one is sure that it will have the desired effect. If there is doubt that the person has already given it up his Ghiība is not permitted. As in the previous case, we should take into consideration the harm of doing his Ghiība in comparison to the harm caused by his bad deed. That is, if the exposure of this Muslim is more serious than the sin he his committing, his Ghiība is not allowed, even if we are sure that by doing his Ghiība he would give up the act.
Conclusive remarks from the foregone discussions
When one sees a Muslim doing something wrong one must study all its aspects. If the person has already given up the sin his Ghiība is Harām. By the same token he must not be scolded or criticised because Nahy Anil Munkar is to wean him away from sin; if he himself has given it up there is no sense in reprimanding him. If he has not discontinued it and he does it secretly then his sin comes in the ambit of secret sins and it is Harām to mention them to others. What is required in this case is to do Nahy Anil Munkar with all necessary conditions and if in spite of this he does not reform himself and we know that he will forgo it only if it is made public, we can do his Ghība. But we must be sure that his sin is more serious than his Ghiība.
Therefore Ghiība for the purpose of Nahy Anil Munkar is allowed only when the person is persistent in his sin, and refuses to heed admonitions, when the evil of his sin is greater than exposing him; and we must be sure that he will forgo it if he is exposed. However, if any one of the four conditions are missing his Ghiība is Harām.
(5) Ghiība of a person is allowed if in addition to committing the sin himself he is instrumental in instigating others to follow him. For example he introduces an innovation in Allah (S.w.T.)’s religion. In order to warn the people of his deceit his Ghiība is permitted.
(6) Ghiība is allowed in connection with a person who narrates a false hadith or gives a false testimony. It should be to ensure that people are not misled by his falsehood.
(7) It is allowed to mention the defect of a person by which he is well-known. For example blind, cock-eyed, lame etc. Our intention must not be to point out his defect but by way of indication. Also one must bear in mind that the person himself not feel irked by these titles. Only in such circumstances is it allowed, otherwise we must use some other means to indicate towards him.
(8) One is allowed to expose the false claims of a person’s lineage, because the harm caused by this exposure is less than the harm to families and clans if he relates himself to them.
(9) If two people are eyewitness to a sin. Later one of them mentions it to others. There is no harm in it because the one who is spoken to is not hearing something unknown to him, Shahīd Thani says it is better to refrain from mentioning something which the other person has forgotten or when there is a risk of scandal.
(10) According to Shaykh Ansari the discussion between two people who are eyewitnesses is allowed, if they do not do it with the intention of criticizing or denouncing the person. In all cases, Ghiība is allowed when the harm it causes is less serious than the insult or defamation incurred by the person.
Listening to Ghiība is also Harām
Lending ear to Ghiība is Harām just as uttering Ghiība is Harām. The Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“The one who listens to Ghiība is one of those who do Ghiība.”
He (S) also says,
“One who lends ear to back-biting is one of the back-biters.”
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says,
“Ghiība is equal to infidelity (One who does it is Kafir) and listening to and being pleased with it is like polytheism.”
Traditions that describe the respect due to believers, indicate that the honour of a Mu’min (Islamic Believer) is more than the respect of Kaba. His dishonour is same as his murder. His exposure will bring upon the guilty severe chastisement. It is obvious that the main pillar of Ghība is the one who listens to backbiting. Because if the listener is not there or he refuses to listen to it, there is no Ghiība.
Therefore all Muslims are obliged not to hear the Ghiība of a believer. They must restrain the back biter so that the honour of the Mu’min (Islamic Believer) is preserved. They should help the Mu’min in saving his honour.
The Messenger of Allah (S) says,
“If the Ghiība of ones believing brother is being done in ones presence and it is possible to defend him, one must defend him and Allah will help such a person in Hereafter. If in spite of being able he does not defend him, Allah will leave him on his own in the Hereafter and He shall not help him.”
He (S) has also said,
“If one defends his believer brother’s honour while back-biting is done about him in a way that he proves him faultless, Allah shall remove from him thousands of mischiefs from the world and the hereafter. But if he does not dispel them in spite of being able to do so, his sin shall be seventy times that of the back-biter.”
After quoting the above tradition, the Shaykh says that the sin of the listener is more than that of the back-biter because, but for him the back-biter would not have dared to back-bite. And listening to Ghiība mutely implies support of the back biter.
So if it is a worldly defect that is pointed out, he must say there is nothing of the sort. Faults are those which are described as faults by Allah (S.w.T.) and those that Allah (S.w.T.) has prohibited. So if you say anything that is not a fault in Allah (S.w.T.)’s view, it is not a Ghiība. The real mistake is the mention of this imaginary fault.
If the defect mentioned is according to religious law, one should try to absolve the Mu’min in whatever way possible. One can present a valid excuse for his actions or if this is not possible, one should draw the attention of the criticizer that after all a Mu’min is not infallible; if a Mu’min falls into sin we should pray for his forgiveness, instead of exposing and defaming him. We should also make him realize that his revelation can be more serious sin than the one committed by the Mu’min.
As a corollary to the discussion on what constitutes Ghiība according to the condition described, it is not obligatory to restrain the backbiter. At times it may happen that one may not be sure whether the criticism is of the permissible kind or not. In this case one should weigh the pros and cons of the situation. It is possible that the criticism is of the permissible type and by restraining the backbiter or by refuting his statements, we may do more harm, either to an individual or to a cause.
Hell and the two Tongues
Upon the conclusion of his discussion on Ghiība Shaykh Ansari writes in Makasib: If a person back-bites about a person but heaps excessive praises on him in his presence, the sin of his backbiting is double. In religious language he is termed ‘Zul lisānīn’, one having two tongues. It is absolutely Harām and according to traditions, “The man with two tongues will be brought on the day of Qiyāma in such a way that two tongues of fire shall be there for him.”
It is quite clear that any form of backbiting or squealing is unacceptable. To stress the point I quote:
“Traditions that describe the respect due to believers, indicate that the honour of a Mu’min (Islamic Believer) is more than the respect of Kaba. His dishonour is same as his murder. His exposure will bring upon the guilty severe chastisement……..Therefore all Muslims are obliged not to hear the Ghiība of a believer. They must restrain the back biter so that the honour of the Mu’min (Islamic Believer) is preserved. They should help the Mu’min in saving his honour.”
This quote should confirm why you will not find Muslims condemning the atrocities of 9/11 in New York or 7/7 in London and all the others, nor will any Muslim come forward to betray his fellow Muslim when they are about to commit an atrocity. It is in their traditions and their cultural loyalties.