By Rafeeah Laher
“Look at her hijab style, it’s so old-fashioned!” “Did you notice how much weight she’s put on!” “She’s so snobby” “Have you heard what happened to her husband? I’ll tell you.”
Let’s admit it, we’ve all gossiped about someone at some point. Whether we said something about their physical appearance or character, or talked about their personal affairs in public, regrettably, its something we can often fall into. In Islam, this is known as Gheebah; to talk about your fellow Muslim brother/sister in such a manner that they would dislike it if told about it.
Muhammad (saws) is reported to have asked his companions,
“Do you know what backbiting is?” They replied, “Allah and His Messenger (SAW) know best.” He (saws) then said, “To say something about your brother that he would dislike.” Someone replied, “But what if what I say is true?” The Prophet (saws) replied, “If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true, you have slandered him.” [Muslim]
Unfortunately, in today’s society, such behaviour has become the norm and has actually been identified as a form of social bonding. With the latest gossip splashed across
magazine covers, it would only be natural for people to look for incidents of intrigue and scandal in other’s lives also. Despite actually being a major sin for us as Muslims, we see this habit is widespread within our communities, destroying personal families and friendships and fuelling mistrust amongst community members.
Allah (swt) warns us of the severity of backbiting and gossiping in Surah Hujarat verse 12:
“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed 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 Allah, verily Allah is the One who accepts repentance, Most merciful.”
Of all the analogies to use, this similie is the most dreadful, comparing an act so often taken to granted to something as repulsive as cannibalism.
But the rise of the internet has also brought a new dimension to this discussion. Fruitless gossip is now instantly spread with the click of a button, whether it’s a tweet, Facebook update, or a WhatsApp conversation. The 21st century has taken gossiping to a whole new level; social media has provided a much faster way to share gossip and in a matter of minutes, juicy details and nasty rumours are thrown around. So now, not only do we have to think before we talk, but also before we type as well.
The reasons behind why people gossip are numerous; from making friends or fitting into a group of people, dislike for the person being spoken about, to trying to validate one’s self – this is a character trait that stems from the worst part of the human nafs (). By contrast, Islam demands that our relationship with each other be one of sincerity and that our conscience overrules our emotions.
Islam also discourages backbiting by the high punishment. On the Last Day, the Day of Judgement, when every individual will be desperate for Allah to acquit them of wrong, desperate to have done enough to make it to Paradise, for those who gossiped about others, their good deeds will be given to those whom you’ve gossiped about and will take their sins. SubhanAllah, at that time, on that day, what could be worse than seeing your hopes of gaining Allah’s favour decrease. And yet gossiping is like throwing your good deeds down the drain. It is strange that while we would never dream of giving away our wealth or hard earned money and do everything to prevent it, we are content to do the equivalent withour even more valuable good deeds?
As far as warnings against backbiting in the Quran go, it is stated, “Not a word does he (or she) utter, but there is watcher by him ready (to record it).” (50:18). It is also stated in Surah Humazah, “Woe to every slanderer and backbiter.” These aayaat should invoke fear in us of committing those sins, as well as a sense of restraint. Keeping these aayaat in mind will insha’Allah help in trying to abstain from backbiting.
So, what do we do if we’re in an environment where other people are backbiting? Firstly if we hear a person gossiping about someone else, we should not confirm it, we should express disapproval towards gossiping and defend the person who is being gossiped about, and the best and easiest thing to do is simply change the subject. We should remind our family and friends of the severity of these actions, and try to remove such traits from our character.
While most of us may have a natural curiosity about what’s going on among people in the community we must also keep this in mind: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
Let us repent from the sin of backbiting and make a firm intention to avoid it. The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last day, let him either speak good or remain silent”