Scenarios of Backbiting

Fatwa ID: 02407

Answered by: Ustadha Umm Abdullah

Question:

Asalamualaikum.

Hazrat, as we know as per the authentic Hadith of the Prophet (SAW), the one who listens is also guilty, and gheebah is say anything behind one's back where he/she will be feel upset/disappointed.

Please confirm if the following scenarios of gheebah.

Scenario 1.
Unfortunately, there was two brothers who were fighting (*physically), and as one brother was walking away the other kept attacking. Now, surely he is feeling humiliated, and prefers the crowd to help instead of watching in entertainment. If I am watching from my house window for whatever reason, be entertainment/interest, is this gheebah of the eyes?

Scenario 2.
I was reading a news article about the world accusing Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah of crashing the MH370 plane since they cannot find no wreckage. Would this be gheebah of the heart/eyes behind the Captain's back (even though he's likely to be dead) as he's being accused of being a murderer?

Scenario 3.
I was once driving with my family to my Grandma's place, and we almost got hit by a car that was going too fast, and my wife made a remark how he/she was "a moron for driving so recklessly".

Scenario 4.
Me, and a work colleague of mine during our lunch break were criticizing our boss's managerial skills. For example at times he forgets when we have a one-to-one session together, he doesn't always tells when he's going to be absent the next day, and he doesn't always follow up on favours, and requests we asked him to carry out. This can affect our work motivation at work.

Scenario 5
At work as you may know my role involves speaking to customers either on the phone, or online via WebChat. Some of the enquiries of the customers can be weird, and funny. Me, and my neighbours (sat next to me, and behind me) will share info when a customer has a funny/weird enquiry that's bound to cause us to laugh.
Is this gheebah as the customer does not know what's going on?

In addition to the above. Does Islam really forbid, and restrict anyone from critiquing or speaking someone in a negative or mild manner even if it's futile conversation, and at best they would probably raise an eyebrow in disappointment not cry a river or anything? Contextually, I always though it's when someone has malice intention, and insult someone with obscenities and expletives one can think, so it'll hurt their heart to make them weep but not a passing comment where at best they will shrug their shoulders.

I understand futile talk in Islam is discouraged, but it's a part of everyday life for those whose Iman are not rock solid. Personally, I am guilty of that myself, but I'm mindful about ever saying something
negative or insulting about someone personally, but I've never shied away from mentioning or passing comments on/about someone's comments, or actions.

Please clarify in detail.

Answer

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Backbiting means to speak ill of a person behind his back, which if he was to hear would hurt his feelings, even if what was said about him was the truth. If what was said about him was not the truth, then it is slander or false accusation.

Allah Ta’ala states in the Qur’aan:

وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ

“And never backbite each other. Does any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother, which you so detest” [Surah Al-Hujraat: 12]

This verse sternly warns against disgracing a Muslim and compares it to eating the flesh of a human being. If the victim of disgrace is present, it is like eating the flesh of a living person. If he is not present, it is like eating the flesh of a dead person.                      Just as it does not cause any physical torture to a dead body, backbiting does not hurt the victim when he is unaware of it. However, just as eating the flesh of a dead body is totally inhumane, so is backbiting. It is unkind, mean and malicious.

Saying hurtful things to a person’s face is unkind and hurtful. At the least, he can defend himself. However, uttering harmful things behind a person’s back does not even allow him to say anything in his defence. [Ma’ariful Qur’aan: v8/p139]

Backbiting is not limited to merely making a hurtful comment behind another person’s back. If a person was to say the following knowing the other would dislike it, it is regarded as backbiting.

  1. Physique; calling someone a dwarf, tall, cross eyed or black.
  2. Linage/family; saying he is from such a tribe, his father is a shoe maker or a garbage collector.
  3. Conduct; saying he has bad character, he is stingy, arrogant, has a bad temper, he is irresponsible or careless.
  4. Finding faults regarding his deen; to say he is a thief, a liar, he drinks alcohol, he is a neglecter of salaah.
  5. Finding faults regarding his worldly affairs, such as to say he lacks adab (manners), talks or sleeps excessively.
  6. Making comments about his clothes; mentioning a person’s garments are loose/ too long or dirty.

Backbiting is permitted in the following cases:

  1. Injustice; narrating the faults of another before a judge regarding breach of trust or oppression.
  2. To help one change an evil deed or rectify a sinner. It will be lawful to narrate a person’s sins to help him change and prevent him committing evil deeds.
  3. Seeking an answer to a fatwa (legal decision); It is permissible to narrate the deeds of another to seek help.
  4. To warn a Muslim of something harmful; it is lawful to narrate the faults of another to prevent a fellow Muslim being engaged in innovation and sin.
  5. To call someone by a well known title; it is not backbiting if a person is called by a well known title such as lame or blind as it is done as a form of identification.
  6. To reveal the sins of an evil doer; to disclose the sins of those who openly transgress is permissible. [1]

Regarding each scenario:

Scenario 1:

Watching two brothers’ fight as entertainment. Consider the following hadeeth, Abu Hurairah Radiallahu Anhu narrates that Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi wa Sallam said, “part of the perfection of one’s Islam is his leaving that which does not concern him”. [2]                                                                                                                                         This hadeeth warns Muslims against leaving those affairs that are not related to him, as engaging in such could lead to further sins such as backbiting and thinking ill of a fellow Muslim. We should disassociate ourselves from all that which does not concern us.

Scenario 2:

Accusing Captain Zaharie Ahmad as a murderer. It is incorrect to accuse him as a murderer despite him passing away. The rules of backbiting apply to dead people also. Though they have passed away, it is not permissible to talk ill of them.

Scenario 3:

Calling a person names though they are unaware of it will not be regarded as backbiting, however, it is not befitting of a Muslim to insult others by offensive names.

Scenario 4:

Speaking ill of a boss with a fellow work colleague is backbiting. If a person has such issues in the work place, they should be raised directly with the person themselves.

Scenario 5:

Laughing and joking behind a customer’s back with a work colleague will not come under the ruling of backbiting. However, laughing at a person behind his back does not befit the character of a Muslim.

Only Allah Ta’ala knows best

Ustadha Umm Abdullah

Darul Ifta Birmingham

Checked and approved by Mufti Mohammed Tosir Miah

[1]

حدثنا أحمد بن نصر النيسابوري، وغير واحد، قالوا: حدثنا أبو مسهر، عن إسماعيل بن عبد الله بن سماعة، عن الأوزاعي، عن قرة، عن الزهري، عن أبي سلمة، عن أبي هريرة، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: من حسن إسلام المرء تركه ما لا يعنيه

جامع الترمذي، ج٢/ص٥٧ (كتب قديمي خانة(

[2]

أحياء علوم الدين، ج٣/ص١٨٤-١٩٤ (دار الحديث القاهرة 

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