Friday, 13 March 2009

The Islamic Ruling Pertaining To Ghibat (Backbiting)


When a Muslim dies, it is important that the body of the deceased is washed, as per requirement. In fact, it is Sunnah and recommended to find a washer who is trustworthy; so that he can be relied upon to wash the deceased completely and so forth. Should the washer notice something good on the deceased, then it is Sunnah to mention it. However, if he notices something bad, then it is Haraam (Unlawful) to mention it - as this is Backbiting i.e. Ghibat.

The above ruling in Islamic Jurisprudence exemplifies the great detail of caution and precaution to be onserved in Muslims' lives. Such that, even a dead person's honour is still preserved; and his / her dignity - protected.

The grand Shafi'ite scholar, Imam Nawawi RA described backbiting and talebearing to be the two ugliest sins but most frequently done by men and women. Few people are safe from the sin of backbiting. Due to the increasing ignorance of the multitude of sin involved and what actions are considered as backbiting, it is essential to explain about Ghibat and what it entails.

What Is Ghibat?

Ghibat basically means to mention anything concerning a person that - that person would dislike, whether about his body, religion, everyday life, self, disposition, property, son, father, wife, servant, turban, garment, gait, movements, smiling, dissoluteness, frowning, cheerfulness, or anything else connected with him.

Mention here means by word, writing, sign, or indicating him with one's eye, hand, head, and so forth.Body refers to saying such things as that someone is blind, lame, bleary-eyed, bald, short, tall, dark, or pale.

Religion includes saying that he is corrupt, a thief, cannot be trusted, is a tyrant, does not care about performing his Solah (prayer), does not watch to avoid filth, does not honour his father, does not spend zakat on what it should be spent on, or even - does not avoid slandering others!

Everyday life includes saying that his manners are poor; he does not care about others; does not think he owes anyone anything; that he talks, eats, or sleeps too much; or sleeps or sits when he should not.

Father refers to saying such things as that his father is corrupt, his father is an Indian, Nabatean, African; and even when the occupation is mentioned e.g. cobbler, draper, carpenter, blacksmith, or weaver - when mentioned derogatorily.

Disposition includes saying that he has bad character, is arrogant, a show-off, overhasty, domineering, incapable, fainthearted, irresponsible, gloomy, dissolute, and so forth.

Clothing means saying such things as that his sleeves are too loose, his garment hangs too low, is dirty, or the like. Other remarks can be judged by the above examples. The determining factor is; mentioning about a person what he would not like.

As for Namina (talebearing) - it consists of quoting someone's words to another in a way that worsens relations between them.

Evidence From Sacred Text To Prove That Slander & TaleBearing Are Unlawful

The above define slander and talebearing. As for the ruling on them - it is simple enough to say that involvement in the above sins is Haraam (Unlawful) by the unanimous consensus of Muslims. There is much explicit and intersubstantiative evidence that they are Unlawful from the Qur'an, Sunnah, and Ijma' (Consensus of the Muslim Community).

In the Holy Qur'an, Allah Most High says:

"Do not slander one another" (Surah 49: Ayat 12)

"Woe to whomever disparages others behind their back or to their face" (Surah 104: Ayat 1)

"... slanderer, going about with tales" (Surah 68: Ayat 11)

As for the evidences from the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad SAW, below are some evidences:

The Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

"The talebearer will not enter Paradise."

In a conversation between the Holy Prophet SAW and his Noble Companions, the below episode has been rendered:

"Do you know what slander is?"

They answered:

"Allah and His Messenger know best."

He SAW said:

"It is to mention of your brother that which he would dislike."

Someone asked:

"What if he is as I say?"

And he replied:

"If he is as you say, you have backbited him, and if not, you have calumniated him."

As a core rule - the Muslim is the brother of the Muslim. He does not betray him, lie to him, or hang back from coming to his aid. All of the Muslim is inviolable to his fellow Muslim: his reputation, his property, his blood. Godfearingness is here pointing to his heart. It is sufficiently wicked for someone to belittle his fellow Muslim.


Mimicking Another's Idiosyncracies

As mentioned above - backbiting - is saying anything about a person that he would dislike, whether aloud, in writing, by a sign, or a gesture. Anything by which one conveys a Muslim's or non-Muslim's shortcomings to another is considered backbiting, and is Unlawful. It includes doing imitations of someone, such as by walking with a limp, with a stoop, or similar posture, intending to mimic the person with such a deficiency. Anything of this sort is unquestionably Unlawful.

Backbiting in Published Works

Backbiting also includes the author of a book mentioning a specific person in his work by saying, "so-and-so says such and such," which is unlawful if he thereby intends to demean him. But if he wants to clarify the person's mistake so that others will not follow him, or expose the weakness of his scholarship so others will not be deceived and accept what he says, it is not backbiting, but rather advice that is obligatory, and is rewarded by Allah for the person who intends it as such.
Nor is it backbiting for a writer or other person to say - "there are those" or "a certain group" who say such and such, which is a mistake, error, ignorance, and folly," and so forth, which is not backbiting because backbiting entails mentioning a particular person or a group of specific individuals.

Backbiting by Allusion and Innuendo

When the person being spoken to understands whom one is referring to, it is backbiting and Unlawful to say, for example - "a certain person did such and such" - or - "a certain scholar" - or - "someone with pretensions to knowledge" - or - "a certain Mufti / certain person regarded as good" - or - "someone who claims to be an ascetic" - or - "one of those who passed by us today" - or - "one of the people we saw."

This includes the backbiting of some would-be scholars and devotees, who make backbiting innuendoes that are as clearly understood as if they were plainly stated. When one of them is asked, for example, how so-and-so is, he replies, "May Allah improve us," - or - "May Allah forgive us," - or - "May Allah improve him," - or - "We ask Allah's forbearance," - or - "Praise be to Allah who has not afflicted us with visiting oppressors," - or - "We take refuge in Allah from evil," - or - "May Allah forgive us for lack of modesty," - or - "May Allah relent towards us," and the like, from which the listener understands the person's shortcomings. All of this is backbiting and is unlawful, just as when one says - "So-and-so is afflicted with what we all are," - or - "There's no way he can manage this," - or - "We all do it."

The above are but examples. Otherwise, as previously mentioned, the criterion for backbiting is that one gives the person being addressed to understand another's faults.


Listening to Backbiting

Just as backbiting is unlawful for the one who says it, it is also unlawful for the person hearing it to listen and acquiesce to. It is obligatory whenever one hears some one begin to backbite another to tell him to stop if this does not entail manifest harm to one. If it does, then one is obliged to condemn it in one's heart and to leave the company if able. When the person who hears it is able to condemn it in words or change the subject, then he must. It is a sin for him not to. But if the hearer tells the backbiter to be silent while desiring him in his heart to continue, this, as Imam Ghazali RA notes - is hypocrisy that does not lift the sin from him, for one must dislike it in one's heart.

Whenever one is forced to remain at a gathering where there is backbiting and one is unable to condemn it, or one's condemnation goes unheeded and one cannot leave, it is nevertheless unlawful to listen or pay attention to. What one should do is invoke Allah (Dhikr) with the tongue and heart or heart alone, or think about something else to distract one from listening to it. When this is done, whatever one hears under such circumstances does not harm one as long as one does not listen to or heed the conversation. And if afterwards one is able to leave the assembly and the people are persisting in backbiting and the like, then one must leave.

In the Holy Qur'an, Allah Most High says:

"When you see those engaged in idle discussion about Our signs, keep apart from them until they speak of other things. And if the Devil makes you forget, then do not sit with wrong-doing people after being reminded." (Surah 6: Ayat 68)

The Sahabi - Ibrahim ibn Adham RA answered an invitation to come to a wedding feast, where some of those present mentioned that a certain person who did not attend was "unpleasant".

Ibrahim said:

"I myself have done this by coming to a place where others are backbiting" - and he left and would not eat for three days.


Backbiting Another In One's Heart

Entertaining bad thoughts about others (su' al-zann) is as unlawful as expressing them. Just as it is unlawful to tell another of the failings of a person, so too it is unlawful to speak to oneself of them and think badly of him.

Allah Most High says in the Holy Qur'an:

"Shun much of surmise" (Surah 49: Ayat 12)

The Prophet Muhammad SAW advised his Ummah:

"Beware of suspicions, for they are the most lying of words."

There are many Ahadith which say the same, and they refer to an established conviction or judgement in the heart that another is bad. As for passing thoughts and fancies that do not last, when the person having them does not persist in them, scholars concur that they are excusable, since their occurrence is involuntary and there is no way to avoid them.

The Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

"For those of my Community, Allah overlooks the thoughts that come to mind as long as they are not uttered or acted upon."

Scholars say this refers to passing thoughts that do not abide, whether of backbiting, unbelief (kufr), or something else. Whoever entertains a passing notion of unbelief that is a mere fancy whose occurrence is unintentional and immediately dismissed is not an unbeliever and is not to blame. The reason such things are excusable is that there is no way to take precaution against them. One can only avoid continuing therein, which is why persistence in them and the established conviction of them in one's heart is unlawful.

Whenever one has a passing thought of slander, one is obliged to reject it and summon to mind extenuating circumstances which explain away the appearances that seem to imply the bad opinion.

Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali RA says in the Ihya':

"A bad thought about someone that occurs in one's heart is a notion suggested by the Shaytaan, and one should dismiss it, for the Shaytaan is the most corrupt of the corrupt, and Allah Most high says:

'If a corrupt person brings you news, verify it, lest you hurt others out of ignorance and then regret what you have done.' " (Surah 49: Ayat 6)

It is not permissible to believe Shaytaan, and if the appearance of wrongdoing can possibly be interpreted otherwise, it is not lawful to think badly of another. The Shaytaan may enter the heart at the slightest impression of others' mistakes, suggesting that one only noticed it because of one's superior intelligence and discernment, and that "the believer sees with the light of Allah," which upon examination often amounts to nothing more than repeating the Shaytaan's deceit and obscurities. If a reliable witness informs one of something bad about another, one should neither believe it nor disbelieve it, in order to avoid thinking badly of either of them. And whenever one has a bad thought about a Muslim one should increase one's concern and respect for him, as this will madden the Shaytaan and put him off, and he will not suggest the like of it to one again for fear that one will occupy oneself with prayer for the person.

Imam Ghazali RA said:

"If one learns of a Muslim's mistake by undeniable proof, one should advise him about it in private and not let the Shaytaan delude one into backbiting him. And when admonishing him, one should not gloat over his shortcoming and the fact that he is regarding one with respect while one is regarding him with disdain, but one's intention should rather be to help him disengage from the act of disobedience, over which one is as sad as if one had committed it oneself. One should be happier if he desists from it without being admonished than if he desists because of one's admonishment."


We have mentioned that it is obligatory for a person with a passing ill thought of another to dispell it, this being when no interest recongnised by Sacred Law conduces one to reflect upon it, for if there is such an interest, it is permissible to weigh and consider the individual's deficiency and warn others of it, as when evaluating the reliability of court witnesses or Hadith transmitters, and in other cases we will mention below in the section on permissible slander.

Situations When Backbiting Becomes Permissible

backbiting, though unlawful, is sometimes permissible for a lawful purpose, the legitimating factor being that there is some aim countenanced by Sacred Law that is unattainable by other means.

This may be for one of six reasons, as marked below:

1. Redressing Grievances

The first is the redress of grievances. Someone wronged may seek redress from the Islamic ruler, judge, or others with the authority or power to help one against the person who has wronged one. One may say, "so-and-so has wronged me," "done such and such to me," "took such and such of mine," and similar remarks.

2. Eliminating Wrongdoing

The second is seeking aid in righting a wrong or correcting a wrongdoer, such as by saying to someone expected to be able to set things right, "So-and-so doing such and such, so warn him not to continue," and the like. The intention in such a case must be to take the measures necessary to eliminate the wrong, for if this is not one's purpose, it is unlawful.

3. Asking for a Legal Opinion

The third is asking for a legal opinion, such as by saying to the mufti, "My father [or "brother," or "So-and-so,"] has wronged me by doing such and such. May he do so or not?" "How can I be rid of him," "get what is coming to me," "stop the injustice," and so forth. Or such as saying, "My wife does such and such to me," "My husband does such and such," and the like. This is permissible when necessary, but to be on the safe side it is best to say, "What do you think of a man whose case is such and such," or "A husband or "wife who does such and such," and so on, since this accomplishes one's aim without referring to particular people. But it is nevertheless permissible to identify a particular person, as is attested to by the Hadith in which Hind said:

"O Messenger of Allah, Abu Sufyan is a stingy man..."

and the Prophet SAW did not forbid her.


4. Warning Muslims of Evil

The fourth reason is to warn Muslims of evil and advise them, which may take several forms, including:

(a) Impugning unreliable hadith transmitters or court witnesses, which is permissible by consensus of all Muslims, even obligatory, because of the need for it.

(b) When a person seeks one's advice about marrying into a certain family, entering into a partnership with someone, depositing something for safekeeping with him, accepting such a deposit, or some other transaction with him, it is obligatory for one to tell the person asking what one knows about the other by way advising him. If one can accomplish this by merely saying, "Dealing with him is of no advantage to you," "Marrying into the family is not in your interests," "Do not do it," and similar expressions, then one may not elaborate on the individual's shortcomings. But if it cannot be accomplished without explicitly mentioning the individual, one may do so.

(c) When one notices a student of Sacred Law going to learn from a teacher who is guilty of reprehensible innovations in religious matters i.e. Bid'ah or who is corrupt, and one apprehends harm to the student thereby, one apprehends harm to the student thereby, one must advise him and explain how the teacher really is. It is necessary in such a case that one intend to give sincere counsel. Mistakes are sometimes made in this, as the person warning another may be motivated by envy, which the Shaytaan has duped him into believing is heartfelt advice and compassion, so one must beware of this.

(d) And when there is someone in a position of responsibility who is not doing the job as it should be done, because of being unfit for it, corrupt, inattentive, or the like, one must mention this to the person with authority over him so he can remove him and find another to do the job properly, or be aware of how he is so as to deal with him as he should be dealt with and not be deluded by him, to urge him to either improve or else be replaced.


5. Someone Unconcerned with Concealing their Disobedience

A fifth reason that permits backbiting is when the person is making no effort to conceal his corruption or involvement in reprehensible innovation (Bid'ah), such as someone who openly drinks wine, confiscates others, property, gathers taxes uncountenanced by Sacred Law, collects money wrongfully, or perpetrates other falsehoods, in which cases it is permissible to speak about what he is unconcerned to conceal, but unlawful to mention his other faults unless there is some other valid reason that permits it, of those we have discussed.


6. Identification

The sixth reason is to identify someone. When a person is known by a nickname such as "the Bleary-eyed," "the Lame," "the Deaf," "the Blind," "the Cross-eyed," or similar, it is permissible to refer to him by that name if one's intention is to identify him. It is unlawful to do so by way of pointing out his deficiencies. And if one can identify him by some other means, it is better.

These then, are six reasons Islamic scholars mention that permit backbiting in the above cases.

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