A sister requested me to write an article on Gheebah. I asked myself “How can I write or talk about Gheebah when I myself am not free from it...” And then I realized that I should write about it, in order to remind and warn myself, my dear brothers, and my dear sisters in Islam of the severity of it.
Now what does Gheebah mean?
Gheebah comes from the root: Gha-Yaa-Baa, meaning that which is unseen. In Arabic, backbiting,slandering, or any misuse of the tongue is Gheebah. Gheebah is to talk about your brother or sister in such a manner that he or she would dislike it if told to their face. Gheebah is one of the major sins in Islam because it hurts others and destroys their self-esteem.
In the following you can see that the prophet (s.a.w.s) has clearly defined Gheebah (backbiting) for us, so that we can identify and keep away from this terrible sin.
Abu Huraira (r.a.) narrated that the Prophet (s.a.w.s) said, “Do you know what is backbiting?” They (the companions) said: “Allah and His Messenger know best. Thereupon he (the Prophet) said: “Backbiting implies your talking about your brother in a manner which he does not like.” It was said to him: “What if what I say about my brother is true?” He said: “If what you said about him is true then you would have backbitten him, and if it is not true, then he is slandered (buhtaan) [Reported in Saheeh Muslim: hadeeth 1183, Sahih Muslim: Book 31, Number 6265, Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, others...]
and in Another Hadith Al-Muttalib ibin Abdullah said, "The Messenger of Allah said, 'Gheebah (gossip, backbiting) means that a man mentions about a person something which is true, behind his back."[Al_Suyuti, Zawa'id Al Jami from the report of al Khara'iti in Masawi Al Akhlaq. Malik reported something similar with a Mursal Isnad as mentioned in Al-Sahihah, No. 1992] .
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: I said to the Prophet (s.a.w.s): It is enough for you in Safiyyah that she is such and such (the other version than Musaddad's has:) meaning that she was short-statured. He replied; You have said a word which would change the sea if it were mixed in it... [Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41, Number 4857]
We all indulge in Gheebah without realizing it but, we tend to realize how painful and horrible it is only when we become victim (the one who is back bitten) to it.
Before I started researching about Gheebah, I was very careless about this sin, many times to the point of not being bothered or not caring to attempt to keep away from it. But I realized the dreadful part only when someone spoke about me. I realized the feeling of the people who I spoke of must have endured.
Therefore we should remember that when we commit Gheebah we sacrifice the honor of our brothers and sisters.
I go further with the point of Gheebah being wrong by pointing out what Allah says in the Holy Quran.
“O, you who believe! Avoid much suspicion; in deeds some suspicions are sins. And spy not 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 God, verily, God is the one who accepts repentance, Most Merciful. ( Surah Al Hujurat 49: 12)
Surah Humazah in the Holy Quran, describes clearly that, one who indulges in Gheebah is in clear error and in great loss.
1. Woe to every slanderer and backbiter.
2. Who has gathered wealth and counted it,
3. He thinks that his wealth will make him last forever!
4. Nay! Verily, he will be thrown into the crushing Fire.
5. And what will make you know what the crushing Fire is?
6. The fire of Allâh, kindled,
7. Which leaps up over the hearts,
8. Verily, it shall be closed in on them,
9. In pillars stretched forth (i.e. they will be punished in the Fire with pillars, etc.).
These verses tell us about the terrible punishment, that befall on the Muslim who commits Gheebah.
An Islamic speaker once said, “Even in our thought, one should honor his brother or sister in Islam”. It is obvious that we as Muslim should be loving and compassionate with one another.
Gheebah is a disgusting sin, definitely one of the biggest, and evilest wreckers of this compassion, love and brotherhood.
What we also fail to realize is that Gheebah will wash away our good deeds and our good deeds would be snatched from us and given to one who we spoke ill off on the Day of Judgement. The prophet (saw) said: We will have survived all of the horrible trials, the judgement, the bridge, and the huge thorns which snatch us according to our deeds and throw us into Hell. (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 577).
We will have been through all this, only to lose all our good deeds because we could not or would not control our tongue.
One of my friends, who is a revert, once told some of the sisters about her past (i.e. the past before she accepted Islam). I saw that people were judging her and questioning her about her integrity. Because of this , the sister was in the verge of leaving Islam, then I had to explain to her that we cannot judge Islam based on people’s(Muslims) behavior … she understood and Allah saved her Alhamdulilah! .
This boneless flesh called “ tongue” is playing games and showing its stunt. It is not funny… We might be so lenient to this but in the sight of Allah it is one of the most hated thing.
The Prophet says that Allah is the Judge of Judges and that no one can judge anyone as Allah does. If one is judgmental, he is making himself into a judge with no authority from the Judge of Judges. When one says: "So-and-so is a no-good person," we should remember that we are not the judge of our Lord's servants; He created them and He judges them as He wills! We should remember, whoever ignores this point is competing with Allah and taking his attribute of Al Haakem (The Judge) and setting himself as partner against Allah. What a grave mistake!
Allah teaches us to speak out against Slander and try to put a stop to it in the following verse:
And why did you not, when you heard it, say? "It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to God, this is a most serious slander" (Surah An Nur 24:16)
Gheebah is indeed a disgusting sin worse than Zina (fornication). It can be done so easily, any moment, any time, whereas Zina is a sin were one cannot engage as easily as Gheebah
However, we should also understand that under some circumstances a person is allowed to talk about his brother or sisters.
The following are the only circumstances where one is allowed to talk about his brother or sister in islam
1. If the person is being oppressed. In this case you are allowed to talk about the person who oppresses so that the oppressed may take what is rightfully his. He should only talk out of necessity and only to the one who can assist the oppressed person in taking his right from the oppressor.
2. Requesting a fatwa (Islamic ruling). For example, you may say "my brother did such and such (recalling the event), what do I do?" It is permitted to recall the incident and not mentioning the name of the person (this is better) so that a fatwa may be obtained.
3. When seeking marriage, setting up a business or being a witness. If a man asked another about a third person who has proposed it is permitted for the one being asked to say what he knows about the one who has proposed. When talking about him (the one seeking marriage) the one who knows him should be honest about what he says, without diminishing the persons value nor exaggerating his faults.
4. Cautioning people about bad/evil-doers. If a person propagates forbidden or evil, or something which contains shirk, it is permitted to warn people about that person until they are convinced about the misleading information.
These four circumstances under which backbiting (which sole intent is to provide TRUE information only by God fearing souls) is permitted and has certain conditions which should be fulfilled. Purity of intention to Allah (swt). He should not talk about the faults of a man (who has proposed to a woman) because of envy or dislike. It is a responsibility and a trust which Allah has ordered.
Lastly, after knowing what backbiting is, knowing its dangers and the severity of the sin we should repent to Allah for those actions before there is no chance left. We should constantly remind ourselves that when Judgment Day comes, the one who has backbitten shall have his good deeds taken away from him and given to the one whom he has harmed by backbiting. If his good deeds have been exhausted, the other persons (the one who was harmed) bad deeds will be taken and given to the one who backbit. The one who indulged in Gheebah will be dragged by the face and taken to the fire.
All of our organs-; tongue, heart, mind, etc- will be a witness against us, we should repent before the Day comes when we will regret what we have done. Perfect repentance is to regret the action we have committed against our Muslim brother, and to stay away from it in future. We should commit ourselves not to ever return to that action. If we remember those whom we have backbitten before knowing the reality of these and the severity of the punishment for the one who indulges in this sin then we should supplicate for that person( who we back bitten) in their absence.
And Allah knows the best!!!
© Amatullah Abdullah 2005.