25. Dhul Qadah 1438  Jumu'ah
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GHIBAH 
 
(BACKBITING)

Excerpt from the book “Tanbihul Ghafilin -by Abullaits Assamarqandi and H.Salim Bahreisy and 
“The translation of Al-Azkar” by Al Imam An Nawawi

All praise belongs to God, Who created man in the best of forms, perfected his stature and imbued his heart the light of faith. Through His Compassion and Mercy bequeathed him with knowledge and further endowed his tongue with the ability to articulate and express what is in the depth of his heart and mind.
 
May blessings and peace be upon His most eminent messenger, Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم ,
His most Beloved, who brought the message of truth and may His mercy also be accorded to his family
and noble companions.


One of the miraculous, exquisite and blessed aspects of our creation is in the gift of the tongue. Yet, it is one of the most difficult organs to manage since it can be moved easily and is highly compliant. It is extremely perilous for all but the one who restrains it in accordance with the sharia[2]. The tongue”[3] may be the cause of the tribulation known as ghibah”.
 
Abu Hurairah may Allah be pleased with him,narrated that the Messenger of Allah, صلى الله عليه وآله وسلمsaid:-

Do you know what ghibah is? 

The companions replied: Allah and His Messenger know best

Ghibah is that you mention in the absence of your companion something that if he were to hear it, he dislikes it.
 
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلمwas asked:

What if we said is the truth about the companion?

The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم replied:

If what you said was true, it means that you have reviled him. However if what you said is false, purely based on conjecture and misconstrual, then you have maliciously slandered him.
 
al-Tarmidzi mentioned this hadith is a hasan sahih (sound and correct) tradition

Ghibah is in talking about someone behind his back, mentioning that which may displease him, about matters related to his physical features, personal traits,disposition,his religious or worldly affairs or something negative about his close companions., It may refer to his personal conduct or behaviour or the manner of his dress. It could be through gesture with his eyes, head and hands. .
 
The following are further examples of ghibah -;

i.              Vilifying physical features such as blindness,being lame, having poor eyesight, baldness, being humpbacked or even the insulting the colour of his skin.

ii.            Vilifying his religious disposition implying he is  immoral, cruel, treacherous, misguided, casual in his prayers, negligent about his zakat (thith), treacherous, conceited or a show off..

iii.      Vilifying his personal disposition such as him being poor, a hermit, uncultured, shameless, ill-mannered or even mentioning that his means of transportation is outdated or that he keeps irregular meal hours.

iv.      Being condescending about his lineage 

v.      Criticizing personal traits, suggesting he is arrogant, stupid, wicked, stubborn, spineless, a numbskull, dumb, obstinate or frugal.

vi.      Criticizing his attire suggesting his clothes are dirty, inappropriate and loose or made from cheap material.

vii.     Mimicking someone’s walk or other bodily movements.

viii.    Insinuating a wrong doing was carried out by a particular person without directly naming him saying, for example ‘it was carried out by an expert in law, or someone who claims to be righteous or some I travelled with, yet in all cases the person implied can be identified.

ix.      Depreciating a scholar through insinuation by replying when asked about their affairs in one of the following ways -:

May Allah make us among the righteousness 
May Allah forgive us
 or.    May Allah make them among the righteousness.
 or     We seek safety form Allah
 or     We praise Allah from the tribulation of his tyranny
 or     We seek refuge from Allah from his cruelty
 or     Similar utterances which imply the person’s deficiency or shortcomings.
 
x.             Expressing:- ” Is he always like that? After all, he received the same calamity just like us.
         Doesn’t he know how to overcome it? Are we the only one who can surmount it? ”
 
The above are all indirect backbiting but it is still ghibah, as the hearer will know who he refers to and the intention is to highlight someone's shortcomings.
 
Abu-Laith Al-Samarqandi said that he heard from his father :

While the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  was in the house, his companions from the ahli-shuffah were at the Mosque. Zaid bin Thabit related what he had heard from the Messenger of Alllah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. that someone had given to Rasulullah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  meat. The ahli-suffah requested Zaid bin Thsabit to enter his house and inform the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  that they had not eaten any meat for a quite a while, with in the hope that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  would offer them meat. While Zaid was standing further away from them, they made a slanderous remark about him by saying that Zaid had not received as many hadith from the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  as they had, yet he was teaching them. When Zaid came up to the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  and conveyed the request from the ahli-suffah, all of a sudden, the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم   said to Zaid: " Convey to them that they had already eaten the meat ". Zaid bin Thabit immediately went back and explained what had been said by the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  .When they reiterated that they had not eaten meat for a long time, Zaid returned and again came back with the same message from the Messenger of Allah. صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم . Subsequently, when the ahli-suffah were in the presence of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم, the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  promptly said " You had just eaten the flesh of your brother, the residue is still in your mouth, spit it out and you will see the redness of the blood. They did spit and indeed the sputum that came out was in the form of red blood. They remorsefully repented and apologised to Zaid bin Thabit for the ghibah of him.

Jabir bin Abdillah, may Allah be pleased with him said: "There was a breeze that brought a foul smell during the time of the Messenger of Allah. He, صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم .explained that among them are the hypocrites who slander the Muslims. Allah discloses their disobedience and transgression through the putrid smell.
 
A judge was asked about the foul smell mentioned here and he replied that the reality of ghibah was made clear in the time of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم , but now it is so widespread that we are no longer sensitive enough to detect it.
 
Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali having drawing on the consensus of the consensus that ghibah is mentioning something about someone that he or she dislikes whereas namimah (gossiping] is spreading of what people have said in order to discredit another human being.
 
The legal ruling on ghibah and namimah is that they are both haram (prohibited) to the consensus of all the Muslim scholars.The source of this ruling is found in the Quran, the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم and by the Muslims’ common accord.
 
Allah decreed:

O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; for some suspicion is a sin. And do not spy, neither backbite one another.     Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would be revolted by it. And fear Allah, for truly Allah is Relenting, Merciful.   Al-Hujurat (49):12
 
Woe to every scandal-monger and backbiter   Al-Humazah (104):1

 Heed not the type of despicable men, ready with oaths. A slanderer, going about  with calumnies    Qalam (68):10-11

Hudzaifah, may Allah be pleased with him narrated that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said:-

A slanderer, going about with calumnies will not enter the heaven. (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)

Abu Bakrah, may Allah be pleased with him related:

During his farewell pilgrimage sermon at Mina in the month of Dhu’l-Hijjah, the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم declared:  Verily, your blood (lives), your property, your honour are sacred and invioble to the others just as the sacredness of this (your) Day, of this (your) Month, in this (your) City (Mekkah) : Lo, have I conveyed ? O Allah ! bear witness.   
(Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)

Anas, may Allah be pleased with him narrated ;

During the journey of the Ascension (Mi’raj), I came a group of people who kept scratching their faces with brass nails. I enquired from Gabriel who these people were ? He replied that they are those who had eaten human flesh (that is those who like to slander) and who reviled the disposition of others.      (Narrated by Abu Dawud)
 
Sa’id bin Zaid, may Allah be pleased with him narrated that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said:-

Indeed, the greatest usury is discussion on the misrepresentation of someone’s character and being heard by others..     (Narrated by Abu Dawud)

Jabir bin Abdulah and Abu Thalhah may Allah be pleased with them, narrated that the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said:-

There is no recourse for someone who humiliated a Muslim at a certain locality, ruined his self esteem and abased his self respect except that Allah would humiliate him in a country of his choice when he seeks help and support. Vice versa, someone who helped a fellow Muslim at a certain locality, whose self respect had been belittled and self esteem abused except that Allah would help him in a country of his choice, when he seeks help and support. (Narrated by Abu Dawud)
 
Just as it is haram, forbidden to speak ghibah, it is likewise haram to listen to it or be in agreement with it.
 
It is compulsory for someone who begins to hear ghibah to stop it as long as he is not being threatened. If he is unable, the right course of action would be to repudiate it in his heart and if possible to leave the gathering. If he is able, he should admonish the ghibah with his tongue and if this is not feasible, he should try to divert the discussion to other topics. It is mandatory for him to do so, failing which, he would have committed a sin
 
According to Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali -:

Should someone reprimand a slanderer by saying to him to remain silent, while in his heart, he wishes it to continue, it implies that he is a hypocrite. It would not exonerate him from sin and there is no recourse except that he must also detest it with his heart.
 
When someone is in a gathering and finds himself in the presence of an on-going slandering discourse and unable to repudiate it or even after repudiating, he was completely ignored and at the same time he was unable to leave the gathering, it is forbidden (haram) for him to listen or watch the discussion. There is no circumvention except to substitute it with remembrance and invocation of Allah, with his tongue and heart or even with his heart only. He must abstain from listening to the dialogue. It is excusable if this is the first occasion that he hears it but subsequently he must abstain from following it. If at all possible, he must leave, as it is mandatory (wajib) for him to do so.
 
Permissible Ghibah

Although Ghibah is by decree forbidden, exception is made in certain specific cases. However, they must comply with Islamic jurisprudence (sharia). There are six prevailing conditions which permit these allowances -:

1. Lodging a complaint on cruelty and injustice

It is permissible for someone who has been victimised to report to the ruler, judge or to court so as to resolve the point of contention. Inadvertently, he may reveal the name of the person who has carried out the injustice and he may also describe the wrongdoing or misappropriation.

2 Seeking help in an effort to change someone’s religious disobedience and to revert him from a life of transgression back towards the path of repentance and righteousness. In seeking the help of others, he may narrate the misdeed committed. His prime objective is to prevent waywardness through the help of another person but if he has no such intention, then such an act is forbidden (haram).  

3. Seeking a legal ruling from a Muslim jurist -:

Someone may approach a jurist (mufti) and say, “My father or a relative or even a third person had done an injustice. Would it possible to receive his rights?. Is there a way to resolve the issue thus enabling him to make a claim or on other claims?.

Or someone may have said, “My wife had done such and such act towards him” or conversely “My husband had done such and such act towards her”. Although such an assertion is permissible, it is better to be extremely cautious and tactful and instead, say to the jurist, “Sir, what is your considered opinion on a husband or a wife who had done such and such act? Consequently, he would know the ruling without having to expose the concerned party. Mentioning of name however is permissible based on the incidence in which Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan uttered “O the Messenger of Allah, Abu Sufyan is niggardly” but she did not receive any negative response from him.

4. Reminding and giving advice to Muslims -:
 
i  On citing on the inadequacy of a narrator of hadith or a witness in a judicial case, it is permissible to mention their faults. This is not only permissible according to the main consensus of scholars, but obligatory (wajib).

ii  On advising when solicited you may mention someone’s faults. For example, someone may seek your counsel on various topics, including prospective parents in-laws or partners in a business venture or the appointment of a representative in legal or business affairs. It is mandatory to clarify what you know and to elaborate within the parameters of sincere advice. If the inquirer is satisfied with your statement such as “it is not appropriate for you to become their in-laws or to have dealings with them or to refrain from any implementation“, then do not elaborate further on the shortcoming of the affected issues. Should the explanation still need further clarification; it would then be permissible to do so.

iii  In providing a reference
If someone is appointing a servant whom you have identified as being somebody steals, is a fornicator, a drinker or indulges in other such vices, then it is mandatory for you to inform the person of the immoral traits if he does not already know them. He should also inform the servant of any on the shady and disgraceful qualities of the employer if this is unknown.

iv .On informing of someone’s religious deviance
When you observe a student under the tutorage of a teacher who is a deviationist and feel concerned that he may face tribulation, then it is mandatory to advise and expound on the wrong teachings and belief of the teacher. He must be totally sincere in giving the advice as avoid straying in his intention. Sometimes, someone who is giving an advice may be prompted by envy or deluded by shaitan. Hence, he needs always be in a state of heedful vigilance.

v. On warning of a subordinate.
It is obligatory to inform the higher authority on the wrongdoing of its subordinate, for example if he is not performing his duty or being immoral, indolent and inattentive. The forewarning is to enable rightful replacement with someone who is more qualified or in having the relevant skill. It also prevents the employer from being deceived, thus enabling the authority to either to give appropriate support to enhance performance or take appropriate action for dismissal

5.  On blatantly practicing religious transgression or other form of deviation.
It is permissible to draw the attention of someone who is involved in  religious transgression or deviation such as having openly consuming alcohol, ill-treating others, cheating, bribery, misappropriating or more importantly misguiding others towards the erroneous path of transgression. However, he should not be belittled except to show his misdeeds and only within the parameters of clarifying his misdeeds
 
6. On informing for identification purpose
When someone is generally known by his nickname such as being lame, deaf, squint-eyed, night-blind, flat nose or by other deformities and identification is required of that person, it is permissible to mention those qualities. However, it would be preferable to identify him by other means if this is possible, 
 
These are the six forms of allowable ghibah.
 

Ghibah within the Heart (Su’  al-Dhan )

Su’ al-Dhan (having low opinion of someone or something) is akin to speaking in adversely about someone. It is forbidden, just as it is forbidden to converse and demean someone, it is forbidden to harbour bad thoughts towards others.

Allah decreed:

O You who believe! Avoid from much suspicion)   Al-Hujurat (49):12

Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him,narrated that Messenger of Allah, صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم  said:-

Avoid suspicion, as suspicion is a trial full of fraudulence. (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)

There are many similar sayings on the above matter by Rasulullah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم . The literal inference on harbouring ill thought/suspicion (su’uzh zhan) on someone is that it is nurtured within the heart and culminated on the notion that a person is evil. However, the passing of transient negative thought from the heart on a companion is forgivable, since it is not done deliberately and often beyond one’s control. This is the main consensus of scholars.

Whenever a bad thought comes to mind, you must repudiate and reject it and divert your mind away from the insidious thought immediately.

Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali says in his “Ihya”:

Whenever a malicious and evil thought enters your heart, it is thrust there and incited by shaitan. For that reason, you must purge it as it is implanted by the most heinous living entity.

Whereas, Allah had decreed:
 
O you who believe! If a transgressor brings you any news, examine it carefully, lest you should harm some people unwittingly through ignorance, and afterwards become full of repentance for what you have done.     Al-Hujurat (49):6

We are prohibited from endorsing iblis. Should an occasion arises depicting a foreseeable detrimental consequence but still it could be justifiable, we should not harbour bad suspicion (su’izh zhan)
 
One of the signs that you harbour Su’ al-Dhan, low opinion of others, is that your heart begins to swerve on meeting someone. You try to leave him hastily with a heavy heart and with little concern for his disposition, self-esteem or for concealment of his weakness. Shaitan would incessantly implant in your heart all sorts of fabrications and you will imagine abysmal traits of the person. Shaitan then whispers to you about your own imagined cleverness, expertise and swiftness in dealing with this matter. 
 

A faithful believer is able to perceive the whispering of shaitan through the light (nur)of Allah and awareness that the whispering is nothing more than mere trickery and tyranny. As soon as an evil suspicion about a fellow Muslim enters the mind, one should intensify in safeguarding that person’s character and self respect. Consequently, shaitan will be infuriated and resentful and will eventually give up on implanting further suspicion out of fear that the response will be supplication to Allah, seeking the well-being for that person.

Whenever you come across a Muslim colleague about whom there is clear evidence that he has fallen into error, you should advice him in private and be on guard that you are not deceived by shaitan’s plea to slander. While giving advice, do not feel elated or patronise him but rather look to him with respect. Your intention to save him from committing sin should make you feel sad because the same state could easily befall upon you. Rightfully, he should be emancipated from doing the sin by the advice of persons who are more eminent than you

The penance for slander and its mean to repent

Anyone who has perpetrated a vice should immediately repent as he had transgressed the sanction of Allah. This could be done by following three basic expediencies-:
 
I           Immediate discontinuation of the wrongdoing
ii           Deep repentance on the sin committed
iii          Avow to oneself to never repeat the transgression

Should the occurrence/repentance involve another person, then there is a fourth criterion that needs to be complied -:
 
iv         Returning the item or right to its rightful owner and apologising for mistakes done and also appealing sincerely for exoneration from all the past improprieties.
 
Therefore, it is mandatory for someone who has slandered to repent with the four conditions as it involves other the rights of individuals. He must strive for forgiveness.
 

A question then arises as to whether it is sufficient just to say “I have slandered you and please forgive me” or to explain in detail the essence of his defamation. There are two solutions to this question. According to the guiding principles of Imam Shafie it is obligatory for him to explain his wrongdoing in detail failing which, his plea for repentance would be rejected. This is equivalent to seeking forgiveness for taking an undisclosed item from an owner. The second standpoint is that it is not obligatory to disclose the details of the slander as there is an element of mutual compromise, unless of course it involved a matter of assets. The first ruling is more akin towards truthfulness, as the affected person may forgive the misdeed in accordance to the nature of its perpetuation. If the slandered person has passed away or he cannot be traced, one should intensify his supplication and his asking for his forgiveness and also to expand his own righteous deeds.

Thus ends this segment on Ghibah with the cherished hope that we would benefit by it.

It’s only on Allah that we seek His sanctuary and well-being, before the coming of the hour of remorse and regret.

[2]      Islamic jurisprudence
[3]      Slander