Backbiting is probably the biggest sin that we have become most heedless about these days. We take this great sin so lightly that it has become second nature to us. It seems as if we have this hunger or thirst that can only be satisfied by backbiting someone.
What exactly is backbiting?
You probably know what backbiting is, but let’s take a moment to look at the definition of backbiting. Oxford dictionary defines it as malicious talk about someone who is not present. This general definition, however, is slightly restricted (to certain situations and conditions) when it is used in an Islamic context. How? Let me explain it a bit.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) defined backbiting (called gheebah in Arabic) as saying something about your brother that he dislikes (see Sahih Muslim, Book 46, Hadith 6758).
This excludes a few things from the general meaning, namely:
– Talking about a non-Muslim in his absence: if the speech is about his physical defects, then it is not permissible, because it is making fun of the creation of Allah. But if it is about his bad manners and actions (such as his immorality, drinking alcohol, etc.) and about warning against him, then there is nothing wrong with that.
– Talking about what he would not mind (for instance, something praiseworthy about him): If for some reason he doesn’t mind if it’s spread like that, then it is not backbiting.
– Malicious talk about others for a legit reason: there are about six legal reasons for backbiting (although it wouldn’t be considered as backbiting because it is legal), which will come later in another part—in sha Allah.
Often, when people are reminded that they are backbiting and asked to stop, they give this common excuse: so-and-so actually did this or that. What these people don’t know is that this exact thing is called backbiting. If they didn’t do it, then in would be called something else, not backbiting.
Ruling on backbiting
Now that the definition is clear, let’s see the ruling on this. Again, I know that you are aware of the ruling on backbiting, but let me to mention it here for emphasis.
The One who forbid us backbiting says in His Book:
“…neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?” [49:12].
Allah likens those who backbite to those who eat human flesh—flesh of his dead brother. Next time you happen to backbite (Allah forbid!), stop and decide whether you would eat the flesh of this guy (about whom you are talking about) when he dies.
This is the clearest bit of evidence against those who backbite. There are other narrations from the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) but this must be sufficient to whoever calls himself a Muslim.
Why do people backbite?
Mostly because they don’t know the ruling on that—that’s what I would like to say, but it isn’t the truth. Most people do know the ruling on backbiting, but they still backbite. Some even persist in that.
So why do we backbite? No doubt, forgetfulness is one main reason. While others include lack of faith, anger (often for the sake of Allah—surprising, eh?), arrogance, envy, too much free time, seeking attention, supporting friends and those at one’s social circle and a thirst to make fun of others.
One of the Sheikhs noted that most people backbite to make others happy or to cool off their anger. But, in reality, the Shaitaan (Satan) is the one who is laughing at him and if he knew that he is giving part of his good deeds to someone else, his anger would increase (instead of cooling off).