Definition and ruling on Backbiting
What is the definition of gheebah and what is the ruling on it?
Praise be to Allah.
Gheebah (backbiting, gossip) means that a person mentions the faults of his Muslim brother in his absence, which he would not like if he heard about it, when there is no need to mention them.
When I say “mentions the faults of his brother”, this excludes cases when the other person says something to praise or commend him.
When I say “Muslim brother”, this excludes the kafir (non-Muslim), for there is no gheebah in the case of a kafir.
When I say, “in his absence”, this excludes things said in his presence, which is not called gheebah according to the more correct of the two scholarly opinions.
When I say, “which he would dislike if he heard about it”, this excludes things which he would not mind.
When I say, “when there is no need to mention them”, this excludes cases when there is a shar’i (legal religious) reason for doing that, such as warning against an innovator to make people aware of his bid’ah (innovation).
It is essential to pay attention to the following in such cases:
- Sincerity towards Allah and seeking His pleasure.
- Paying attention to the interests being served by such things.
- What is said should be limited to the shortcomings in question and should not go further, to matters in which there is no benefit.
The scholars agreed that it is haram (impermissible) to talk behind a person’s back for no legitimate purpose. Most of them stated that this is a major sin and that it varies in degree, some kinds being worse than others. The one who backbites about a scholar is not like one who backbites about an ignorant person. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“… neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful” [49:12]
In Saheeh Muslim it is narrated from al-‘Ala ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman from his father from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Do you know what gheebah is?” They said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “That you say something about your brother that he dislikes.” He was asked, “What if what I say about my brother is true?” He said, “If what you say is true then you have gossiped about him, and if it is not true then you have slandered him.”
Abu Dawood narrated in his Sunan via Nawfal ibn Masahiq from Sa’eed ibn Zayd that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The most prevalent kind of usury (riba) is going to lengths in talking unjustly against a Muslim’s honour.”
And he (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Your blood, your wealth and your honour are sacred among you, as sacred as this day of yours in this month of yours in this land of yours. Let those who are present convey it to those who are absent; perhaps he will convey it to one who has more understanding than he does.” (Agreed upon, from the hadeeth of Abu Bakrah).
One of the worst types of gheebah and one which is most emphatically forbidden is to look down upon a Muslim and do one’s utmost to insult him, show disrespect towards him and cast aspersions upon his honour. This is a blameworthy characteristic and a serious malady; it is one of the major sins and the one who does this is subject to the warning and a severe punishment.
And Allah knows best.
SITUATIONS WHEN IT IS NOT REGARDED AS BACKBITING?
Imam an-Nawawi said in his excellent book Riyaadh-us-Saaliheen, chapter 256: “You should know that backbiting is permissible for specific legislated reasons unreachable except by (way of backbiting) they are the following six reasons:
1.The first is complaining of oppression, so it is permissible for the oppressed person to present his case to the muslim ruler or muslim judge or someone of similar stature and authority to assist in removing the oppression. He can say: “I have been wronged by such and such a person.”
2.The second is seeking assistance in changing evil (munkar) and refuting the disobedient until they return to what is correct. So one can say to the one who has the ability to change the evil: “Such and such a person has done this, so advise him.” Or something similar and that he intends to reach this disobedient one by way of removing the evil, so if he intends other than that then it is not permissible.
3.Thirdly when one seeks fatwa. So he says to the mufti: “My father has oppressed me, or my brother, or my husband, or such and such has done this, does he have right to? And what is the way to sincerity (ikhlaas) and obtaining my rights and repelling oppression?” or something along the lines, so this is permissible by necessity. However it is better to say:” What do you say regarding a man, or person, or husband, if his condition is such and such?” So he obtains his purpose without specification, but being specific is permissible, as we will mention in the hadeeth of Hind, Allah willing.
4.The fourth reason is warning the muslims from evil and advising them and that is from several aspects:
A.) From it is the disparagement of the criticized people by way of the reliable and trustworthy witnesses. That is permissible by consensus of the muslims rather it is obligatory by necessity.
B.) From it is when a man inquires about someone before marriage, or entering into a business partnership with someone, or safekeeping something with someone or doing business with someone. It is obligatory upon the one advising not to conceal his condition rather he should mention the shortcomings he has with the sole intention of advising him.
C.) From it is if one sees a person of fiqh frequenting an innovator or a faasiq (a person engaged in disobedience) and taking knowledge from him, and he fears that he may affect him (with his innovation or fisq) then it is upon him to advise of his condition on the basis that he intends to advise. And this is where error may occur, the person who speaks of the individual could be envious and Shaytaan (may Allah’s curse be upon him) may deceive him into thinking he is advising with compassion, it is necessary to be aware of this (type of fitnah).
D.) From it is one who has position but he does not establish it, whether it is because he is not fit for it, or he is one who is corrupt, or neglectful, or something similar to these examples. It is obligatory to mention that to the one in authority so as to remove him and replace him with one more befitting. He should make him aware of his condition so he can be dealt with and urge him to improve or be replaced with someone else.
5.The fifth reason is concerning the one who openly commits disobedience or innovation like openly drinking alcohol, taking the property of others, taking taxes not legislated or other issues of falsehood, then it is permissible to mention what he does publicly. It is not permissible to mention other faults he may have except those we have mentioned before.
- The sixth reason is to describe someone. So if a man is known by a nickname such as “The Weak-eyed” “The Lame” “The Deaf one”“The Blind one”“The Cross-eyed” and other similar names. It is permissible to describe him for identification but unlawful to indicate his deficiencies. If one can describe him another way then it is best.