From the many creations of Allāh Taʿālā, one is perfect and does not err and another is imperfect and prone to error and sin. Angels are the perfect creation of Allāh. They obey Allāh without fail and never disobey Him. They carry out only those things which they have been ordered to do. Human beings are the imperfect creation of Allāh: they err, falter and sin.
Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) has said in a Ḥadīth:
“Every son of Ādam is a sinner, and the best of sinners are those who sincerely repent”
We thus understand that it is human nature to sin. This does not mean, however, that one should choose to lead a sinful life with the intention of repenting later. One should not become complacent or comfortable with sins. One of the prerequisites of tawbah (repentance) being accepted in the court of Allāh is to have a firm resolve to not repeat the sin. Moreover, one will only repent for his sins when he acknowledges the sin he is committing and recognises the abhorrence of it.
Out of the many sins people commit, the sin of engaging in ghībah (backbiting) is very common. It is extremely unfortunate that Muslims engage in this sin for hours on end without even a passing thought that so much time has been spent in earning the wrath and displeasure of Allāh Taʿālā.
The scholars define ghībah as: “To relate or reveal another person’s faults or evil habits to a third person verbally or in writing.” Attributing a fault to someone that he does not have is something worse than ghībah, i.e. buhtān (slander).
Consider the following Ḥadīth:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: أَتَدْرُونَ مَا الْغِيبَةُ ؟ قَالُوا: اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ . قَالَ: ذِكْرُكَ أَخَاكَ بِمَا يَكْرَهُ . قِيلَ أَفَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ كَانَ فِي أَخِي مَا أَقُولُ، قَالَ: إِنْ كَانَ فِيهِ مَا تَقُولُ فَقَدِ اغْتَبْتَهُ وَإِنْ لَمْ يَكُنْ فِيهِ فَقَدْ بَهَتَّهُ.
Abū Hurayrah reported Allāh’s Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) as saying: “Do you know what backbiting is?” They (the Ṣaḥābah) said: “Allāh and His Messenger know best.” Thereupon he (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) said: “Backbiting means your talking about your brother in a manner which he does not like.” It was said to him: “What if I actually find (that fault) in my brother which I made mention of?” He said: “If (that fault) is actually found (in him) what you assert, you in fact backbited him, and if that is not in him it is a slander.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim)
Allāh Taʿālā states in the Qurʾān:
وَلا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ
“And do not backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat his dead brother’s flesh? You would, most surely, abhor it. So fear Allāh. Indeed, Allāh is all-relenting, mercy-giving.” (al-Ḥujurāt: 12)
We understand from the above verse that backbiting a fellow Muslim is akin to eating one’s brother’s flesh. Which sound minded person would like to do that?
Furthermore, the punishment of habitually backbiting is extremely severe. Rasūlullāh (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wasallam) said:
ما عُرج بي مررت بقوم لهم أظفار من نُحاس يخمشون وجوههم وصدورهم، فقلت: من هؤلاء يا جبريل؟ قال: هؤلاء الذين يأكلون لحوم الناس، ويقعون في أعراضهم
During miʿrāj (the Night of Ascension), I saw a group of people who were scratching their chests and faces with their nails of copper. I asked: “Who are these people, O Jibrīl?” Jibril replied: “These are the people who ate the flesh of others (by backbiting) and trampled people’s honour.” (Abū Dāwūd)
How to save oneself from engaging in backbiting
1. Don’t talk about other people without a reason. At times, one starts discussing others in a positive manner and then slowly drifts off into talking negatively about them, resulting in backbiting.
2. Learn to control the tongue. Letting the tongue loose is one of the main reasons one engages in backbiting. Train the tongue to remain silent at all times. Remaining silent was a quality of our pious predecessors.
3. If one is sitting in a gathering wherein backbiting is taking place, they should try to change the topic. If this is not possible, they should stand up and simply walk away.
4. Willpower is extremely important in refraining from any sin, not just backbiting. Hence, one should exercise their willpower towards restraining them-self from sin.
5. One should ponder over one’s own faults, defects and sins. This will make one realise that they have no right to talk negatively of others, since they are far worse than those they are backbiting.
6. Make tawbah and ask Allāh for His assistance and guidance. If one has backbited an individual, and it has reached them, it is necessary to ask them for forgiveness, along with tawbah. If it has not reached them, it will be sufficient to express remorse and make tawbah; it will not be necessary to ask forgiveness from the individual.
May Allāh Taʿālā protect us from engaging in this sin of ghībah and may Allāh protect us from all sins, whether minor or major, and enable us to make immediate tawbah if we happen to fall into sin. Āmīn.
24 Muḥarram 1443 / 02 September 2021