Backbiting (gheebah)



 ... Nor backbite one another; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abhor it. (Qur'an 49:12)

Prophet Muhammad (s) once said to Imam ‘Ali (‘a): “O ‘Ali! When someone hears the backbiting of his Muslim brother committed in his presence, yet he does not rally to his assistance despite being capable of doing so, God shall humiliate him in the world and in the Hereafter.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16336]

.^.Abu Dharr (r) once asked the Prophet Muhammad (s):
“O Messenger of Allah, what is gheebah?”

.^.He replied:
“It is to mention about your brother that which he detests.”

.^.Abu Dharr (r) said:
“O Messenger of Allah, what if that which is mentioned of him should actually be in him?”

.^.He (s) replied:
“Know that when you mention that which is in him, you have committed his gheebah, and when you mention that which is not in him, then you have slandered him.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasai'l al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16312]

Consequences of Backbiting

.^. The Prophet (s) once gave counsel to Abu Dharr (r) , saying: “O Abu Dharr! Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is graver than adultery (zina’).” Abu Dharr (r) said: “Why is that so, O Messenger of Allah?” He (s) replied: “That is because when a man commits adultery and then repents to God, God accepts his repentance. However, backbiting is not forgiven until forgiven by its victim.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasai'l al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 18312]

.^. The Noble Messenger (s) said: “Whoever backbites a Muslim spoils his fasts and breaks his wudu', and shall come on the Day of Resurrection with his mouth's stench more putrid than a carcass', and it shall irk those who are with him in his station (mawqif). If he dies before repenting, his death is like that of one who dies while considering permissible that which is prohibited by God, the Exalted and the Glorious.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16316]

.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Prophet (s) who said: “O you who have embraced Islam with your tongues but in whose hearts faith has not yet entered, do not disparage Muslims and do not seek their defects. Verily, God will seek out the defects of he who is after their defects; and one who has God after his defects will be humiliated, even in his own abode.” [Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 2, "Kitab al-Iman wa al-Kufr", "Bab man talaba 'atharat al-Mu'minin", hadith no. 2]

.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Prophet (s) who said: “The havoc wrought on the believer's faith by backbiting is swifter than the one wrought by aklah (a disease that consumes the flesh) in the side of his body.” [Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, vol. 2, "Kitab al-Iman wa al-Kufr", "Bab al-Gheebah wa al-Buht", hadith no. 1]

When backbiting ingresses into our conduct, it leaves adverse effects on the soul. One of these is cultivation of enmity and hatred towards the victim, which gradually increases.

At the time of death, when the veils of the angelic realm (al-malakut) are lifted, the backbiter may be brought to witness the high station of his victims before God, and the honor and blessings bestowed on them by the Almighty Lord.

The backbiter's hatred and enmity towards the person may then lead him to hate God Almighty!
Thus, he will leave this world with enmity of God in his heart, and enter everlasting wretchedness.

Prohibition of Listening to Backbiting

In the same manner as backbiting is prohibited, so also is listening to it. Indeed, as some traditions indicate, the listener is like the backbiter in all the evil aspects—so much so that his act is a grave sin carrying an obligation to seek forgiveness from the victim.

.^. The Prophet (s) said: “The listener is one of the two backbiters.” [Al-Fayd al-Kashani, Al-Mahajjat al-Bayda', vol. 5, p. 260]

.^. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Noble Messenger (s) who is once said to have forbidden both backbiting and listening to it. Then he (s) said: “Lo, whoever does a favor to his brother by refuting his backbiting upon hearing it in a gathering, God shall save him from a thousand kinds of evils in this world and in the Hereafter. And if he does not do so despite his ability to refute it, on him shall be the burden of one who commits his backbiting seventy times.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16316]

.^. Among the more subtle forms of backbiting is listening to it with amazement. Such a person expresses his amazement in order to make the backbiter more lively in his descriptions. His amazement encourages the latter in his evil act. For instance, he will say, “Strange” or “Astaghfirullah!”. Or he might say, “I didn't know that!” or “I didn't know he would do such a thing!” These expressions are meant to affirm the backbiter's statements and to encourage him to add something more. These acts are in fact the Devil's artifices. Surely, to affirm backbiting is also backbiting; as is to listen to it, or even to remain silent upon hearing it. [al-Shahid al-Thani's Discourse as quoted in Forty Hadith by Ayatullah Khomeini.]

Is Backbiting Ever Allowed?

There are very few situations where it is permissible to speak about the faults of another person. One must be very careful not to let the existence of these exceptions allow transgression into sin. Some of these situations are:

.^. to protect Muslims from the evil of another person, including situations where one is asked to vouch for the integrity of a marriage prospect

.^. when the person being talked about does not conceal his violations of Divine commands

.^. to describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment

.^. criticism about a narrator of traditions (hadith).

The Cure for this Disease

If someone, God forbid, has been guilty of this ugly act, he or she must purge this vice and nourish the roots of sincerity, unity, and solidarity in his or her heart by following these steps:

.^. Meditate for a while about the effects of this sin in this world and in the Hereafter. Reflect on the fearsome, frightful forms that will beset you in the grave, in the Barzakh, and on the Day of Resurrection. Heed the words of the Holy Prophet (s) and his household (‘a) for their pearls of wisdom in this regard will overwhelm you. Then weigh a quarter of an hour's pleasantries, gossip, and satisfaction of the imaginative lust against thousands upon thousands of years of adversity or eternal damnation in hell and everlasting painful chastisement!

.^. Consider this: even if you have enmity toward a person whom you backbite, that animosity requires that you should not resort to backbiting. It is stated in the traditions that the good deeds of the backbiter are transferred to the book of deeds of the victim of his backbiting, and the victim's sins are transferred to the record of the backbiter.

.^. Repent and seek the forgiveness of the victim, if this is possible without any chance of vicious consequences; otherwise, you must implore God's mercy for the victim.

.^. Gather all your strength to rid your soul of this sin at all cost, by making a covenant with yourself to abstain from this abominable for a certain time. Bring your tongue under control and be fully watchful of yourself, steadfastly vigilant, calling yourself to account. God willing, it is hoped that after some time you will find yourself reformed and free of its ill traces. Gradually the burden of the task will ease, and you will feel a natural disposition to dislike and detest it. At that point, you will come to possess spiritual peace and delight in achieving freedom from this vice.

.^. Backbiting often results from a weakness in the backbiter’s own soul, such as an inferiority complex. You should pry into your soul to discover what weakness prompted you to backbite your brother or sister; then set out to remedy the weakness.

The Prophet (s) said: "No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than gheebah in consuming a devotee's virtues." [Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', vol. 5, p. 264]

The Forty-first Greater Sin: Backbiting

The foremost great sin for which Qur’an and hadith have promised chastisement is back-biting. As mentioned by Allah (SWT) in Qur’an, “Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter.” (Surah an-Nūr 24: 19)

Ibn Abi Umayr narrates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (AS),“One who reports about a believer, everything he has himself seen and heard is from those about whom Allah (SWT) says, “There is grievous chastisement for those who like undesirable things regarding the believers becoming public.” (al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 357)

According to this tradition, Ghiba  (backbiting) is included in the ayat where clear punishment is mentioned. Therefore, the Qur’an states,
“…nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it…” (Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 12)

The above ayat describes the condition of the backbiter in the hereafter. He will be raised in a condition similar to the person who eats dead meat. A tradition of the Messenger of Allah (S) says, “On the night of Miraj (ascension) I saw some people in Hell who were eating dead meat. I asked Jibrīl (AS) who those people were. He replied. ‘They used to eat human flesh in their worldly life (that is, they used to backbite about other people).” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)

It appears therefore that one who backbites about a person deserves the punishment he would have had if he had eaten the same person’s flesh. Imam Hasan al-Askari (AS) says, “Know that! Ghiba  of your believing brother, who is the Shia of Āli Muhammad is worst than eating dead meat, regarding which Allah (SWT) says, ‘do not back-bite for each other.” Allah (SWT) says in Surah al-Humaza,

“Wael (Hell) is for every Slanderer, defamer,” (Surah al-Humaza 104: 1)

According to Tafsīr Majmaul Bayan this Divine statement is a decree of punishment for every back-biter and slanderer who causes separation between friends. Some others have stated that, it is slander when uttered in the presence of the person and defaming when speaking in his absence.

Wael is one of the compartments of Hell. There is a well in it which is a symbol of terrible punishment. Ghiba  is a sin that is promised penalty at a number of places in the Qur’an.

Traditions on Ghiba 

There are a large number of traditions that speak of Ghiba  as a sin, which is promised divine punishment. We quote a tradition of Makasib where Shaykh Ansari has recorded a tradition of the Holy Prophet of Islam (S): “Ghiba  is worse than fornication because if a fornicator repents, Allah (SWT) forgives him but He does not forgive the back-biter till the person about whom he has back-bited forgives.” (Makasibe Muhrima Vol. 3 page 310)

One day the Messenger of Allah (SWT) describing the evil aspects of usury said that taking a Dirham as usury was worst than committing adultery thirty six times. Then he said that the worst kind usury is revealing the defects of a Muslim and insulting him. (Makasibul Muharima)

In the light of the above traditions Ghiba  is proved to be a greater sin also because it is worse than Adultery and Usury and we have already proved in the earlier chapters that Adultery and Usury are greater sins. The Holy Prophet (S) also said, “Allah will not keep a person who reveals the fault of a Mu’min, along with him in Paradise, and if he accuses him of faults the Mu’min does not have, the pure relationship of their faith will be destroyed and the back biter will forever dwell in Hell, which is a dreadful place.” (Makasibul Muharima)

The below tradition is sufficient for a person with insight. “One who thinks that he is legitimately born is wrong, because by doing Ghiba  of people he is consuming their flesh. Beware of Ghiba  because it is the diet of the dogs of Hell.” (Makasibul Muharima)

“One who moves from his place with the intention of back-biting about his brother in faith, you should know that he has taken the first step towards Hell.” (Makasibul Muharima)

“Even if the back-biter repents he will be the last to enter Paradise, and one who dies without repenting will be first in Hell.” (Makasibul Muharima)

The Second Martyr (Shahīd al-Thani) narrates from Imam Sadiq (AS) and the Messenger of Allah (S) that the thing nearest to infidelity is that a person listens to a word from a person and remembers it for using it later to insult him by telling it to others. Such people can never make a gain in the hereafter. (Kashful Rabi of Shahīd al-Thani)

The Messenger of Allah (S) says, “Ghiba  affects the religion of a person faster than leprosy spreads in human body.” (al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 357)

Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (AS) says, “Ghiba  is Harām for all Muslims and there is no doubt that Ghiba  destroys good deeds like fire destroys wood.” (al-Kāfi)

The Shaykh says, “Ghiba  eats good deeds”, means that Ghiba  invalidates all the good actions that one has performed or that the sin of Ghiba  exceeds the rewards he has accumulated from the past good deeds, or that the deeds of back-biter are transferred to the scroll of deeds of the one about whom he has back-bited. These points are mentioned in a number of traditions. The Messenger of Allah (S) is reported saying that a person will be brought for accounting in Qiyāma and handed his scroll of deeds. When he sees the good deeds performed by him missing from his record he would say, ‘O Allah! This is not my record because I cannot find the good deeds performed by me in it.’ He will be told, ‘Your Lord does not err or forget, your good deeds have disappeared due to backbiting about the people.’ Then another person will be brought and given his record of deeds. When he finds therein good deeds that he had never performed he shall say, ‘O Allah! This is not my scroll of deeds. Because I find recorded therein such good deeds as I had never performed’. So he shall be informed, “These are the good deeds of that certain person who back-bited about you and as a recompense his good deeds have been given to you.”

The Shaykh concludes that Ghiba  is indeed a greater sin, and in fact it is more serious than some greater sins like Adultery and Usury.

Moreover, Khayanat discussed in the earlier chapters is confirmed to be a greater sin, and Ghiba  can be considered a form of Khayanat; which Khayanat can surpass the action of betraying the confidential things of a believing brother? One proceeds to gobble the flesh of ones brother in faith while the latter is completely unaware.

Please take note, that Ghiba  is Harām only in the case of believers. That is, the believers in all the tenets of faith the foremost of which is the belief in the Imamat of the twelve Imams (AS). Therefore, Ghiba  of those who opposes this belief is not Harām.

However by way of precaution, we must not backbite any person belonging to any of the sects of Islam. Especially those who are not the enemies of truth and are just deficient in knowledge. We should also know that Ghiba  is Harām not only when told to adults, it is not permitted to speak words of back biting even to a child who is old enough to understand them and be affected by them. Some scholars have stated that Ghiba  is not allowed even to children who have not yet reached the age of understanding.

Meaning and Occasions of Ghiba 

The Messenger of Allah (S) explains Ghiba  in the following words, “Ghiba  is remembering your brother in a way he dislikes.” (Makasib Muhrima)

Imam Sadiq (AS) says, “Ghiba  is exposing that aspect of your brother which Allah had concealed.” (Makasib, al-Kāfi Vol. 2 page 358)

Imam Mūsa Ibn Ja’far (AS) says, “If one speaks of a person in his absence about those of his traits which are actually present in him and people are also aware of it, it is not Ghiība. But if he mentions something which is present in the person but people are unaware of it, it would be Ghiība. Moreover if what he is says is not present in the man, it is allegation (Bukhtān).”

On the basis of these two traditions mentioning the defects of a person which are well-known to those who are being told and also other people is not Ghiība, even if it could be construed as criticism, scolding, causing hurt and insult, which is also Harām as will be discussed later.

After taking into account the meaning of word Ghiba  by dictionary experts and the different implications of Ghiba  according to traditional reports the Shaykh concludes that Ghiba  is of Three types: Absolute Ghiība, Apparent Ghiba  and Implied Ghiība.

In the first instance it is backbiting for sure. The defect be according to Shari’a or according to what is generally accepted as defect in a person and also that if it is mentioned in the absence of the person and were he to know about it he would not like it. Besides, one who indulges in this Ghiba  should be doing it with the intention of exposing him or in trying to find defects in him. In short if one exposes the defect of a believer with a clear intention of defaming, it would be Ghiība.

In the second category is Ghiba  which is not done for exposing a person but for some other purpose. For example in jest or to prove ones point, or for expressing ones concern, or to cite it as an example. In all such cases also if one is revealing the hidden defect of a believer it is Ghiba  and Harām according to Shari’a.

The third kind is to mention the defects to a person who is already aware of it. Regarding this some traditions say it is not Ghiba  but other traditions have included it among backbiting, particularly when the person is scolding with vehemence and insult. Such a Ghiba  is absolutely Harām even though it is doubtful whether it is Ghiba  in the real sense, since this will cause grief to a believer and humiliation. Also if a person uses nicknames that will invite criticism, saying: he is a son of a Jew, or ‘His mother was of loose character’. All such things are Harām as mentioned in the verse of Surah al-Hujurāt.

“…nor call one another by nicknames; evil is a bad name after faith…” (Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 11)

Types of Ghiba 

According to clear traditions and opinion of religious scholars it makes no difference whether the defect mentioned is of a physical nature, pertains to ones descent, a trait of ones character or with regard to ones speech or actions, or whether it is with regard to religion or worldly aspects. Special mention is made of defects pertaining to ones dress, house, vehicle etc. Examples are cited for each of these. A physical defect is mentioned that, such and such is cockeyed, one-eyed, bald, short, tall, dark complexioned, yellow skinned etc.

If these characteristics are mentioned in a manner that he will be unhappy if he heard about it, it is Ghiība. Ghiba  of ones family origin is saying, ‘His father was a sinner, evil, miser, libertine, weaver, low caste etc. Ghiba  of character is saying such and such is bad-character, miser, arrogant, coward, weak, hypocrite, thief or an oppressor. Ghiba  with regard to religious matters is saying that a person is a liar, a drunkard, he neglects prayers, he is bad mannered, ungrateful, he doesn’t realize his low position, he’s talkative, a glutton, an excessive sleeper. Ghiba  in relation to dress is saying his dress is dirty, torn, old, long or short. If these are mentioned in a manner that a person wouldn’t like to hear about himself, it is Ghiība.

It should be clear that it makes no difference whether the defect is mentioned verbally or expressed in action or gestures. Even if one makes an allusion and it is understood in the sense he intends, it is Ghiība. Sometimes allusion is worse than Ghiība. For example, saying, ‘Alhamdolillah (Praise to be Allah), Allah has not made us covet ruler-ship, or made us supporters of oppressors or did not make us greedy of wealth. Or if one says, we seek refuge of Allah from jealousy, niggardliness or shamelessness, May Allah protect us from the mischief of Shaitan; and by saying all this he desires to indicate the person who has these traits.

Often times when someone intends to do Ghiba  of a person, he initially heaps praises upon him. For example saying: He is so nice! It’s a pity he’s caught in Satan’s trap and became such and such. Another example is to be aggrieved in a hypocritical way: I am really aggrieved and my heart has burnt in the sorrow for such and such person. This is not true because if he were really sincere and a true friend he would not have criticized him and exposed his defects.

Ghiba  of Specified Persons and Ghiba  of General People

It is Ghiba  only if it is with respect to a particular person. If there is no mention of name or special traits of a person it is not termed Ghiība. For example, one says, ‘I saw a person in such and such way.’ This would not be Ghiība. But if at the same time he indicates a distinguishing feature of this person, it is Ghiība. Like for example saying that the person has such and such type of son or daughter. It is Harām because in this way he has caused grief to all the concerned people. If one mentions the genre like he says. ‘A person from Isfahan or Shiraz has done that. This is allowed. It is also allowed to say some people of Isfahan are such and such.’ But saying that all the people of Isfahan or Shiraz are like that, is Harām without any doubt. This is because it would amount to be the Ghiba  of all the people of these cites. If one says that majority of the people of that city are like that, it is against precaution. In fact there is a strong indication of its illegality.

Expiation and Repentance for Ghiba 

As Ghiba  is a greater sin anyone falling into it, is obliged to feel remorse for having disobeyed Allah (SWT). After sincere repentance he must seek forgiveness, with the intention of never repeating it in the future. As mentioned in some of the traditions, if possible one must apologize to the person whose Ghiba  he had done. He must beg him for forgiveness and somehow obtain his satisfaction. Also he must make up for it by speaking well of the person in proportion to the Ghiba  he has committed with regard to this person.

This is more appropriate when the person is already dead and it is not possible to contact him. Or there is a good chance, the person will be more angry and would distance himself further. For example when he is ignorant of what was said about him and by hearing about the Ghiba  he would be infuriated. The aim of seeking his forgiveness would not be achieved. In such cases we should ask Allah (SWT)’s forgiveness for him and beseech Allah (SWT) to make this person happy, as mentioned in the 39th Du’a of Sahifa Sajjadiya. It is also mentioned in the supplication of Monday.

Occasions when Ghiba  is Permitted

Scholars permit Ghība  in some cases. We shall mention the opinion of Shaykh in this matter as given in his book Makasib Muhrima.

1- Ghība  of a person whose defect is not hidden. It is known to all. Like the one who roams the streets with a bottle of wine on his lips. “One who sins openly is not worthy of respect and his Ghība is not Harām. (Makasib Muhrima page 27, Vol. 4)

A tradition also says, “(The Ghība of) one who has thrown away the robe of shame (and commits sins openly) is not Ghiība. (Makasib Muhrima page 27 Vol. 4)

It should be noted that, Ghiba  is allowed only for those sins that are committed openly. There is no proof of the legality of Ghiba  for the sins committed secretly, though according to the Shaykh, if his visible sins are more severe than his concealed defects, there is no harm in relating them. However, one should abstain from it as a matter of precaution.

Ghiba  is allowed only in the case of a person who has himself announced his sins openly. But if he presents an excuse for this action, his Ghiba  is not allowed. For example, he says, ‘I drink wine for medicinal purpose and I am in Taqlid of a person who allows it.’ Or one who eats during daytime in the month of Ramadhan says that he is sick or on a journey, or he may be having other acceptable reason. Similarly in the case of one who oppresses or cooperates with the oppressors, and then justifies his act. However, it should not be a blatant act. As a matter of precaution, Ghiba  should not be done about a person who commits sins openly but in an alien town or locality.

2- If an oppressed person complains about the oppressor and mentions his acts of injustice, it is not Ghiība. As the Almighty Allah (SWT) says, “And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed these it is against whom there is no way (to blame). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress into and revolt in the earth unjustly, these shall have a painful punishment.” (Surah Ash-Shūrā 42: 41-42)

In Surah an-Nisā’, the Almighty Allah (SWT) Says, “Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done.” (Surah an-Nisā’ 4: 148)

Precaution demands that we must complain of injustice to someone who is capable of redressing it. It is not permitted to complain to someone who is not capable of getting justice for you.

3- Advice to those who ask for it. When a Muslim approaches for advice in a particular deal that he intends to enter with a person and the person approached knows about a defect of that person which, if he does not reveal the person who enters into contract will suffer loss and have problems; in this case there is no harm in passing such information.

One must pay attention to two things in this case: The defect should be mentioned only if there is harm in not informing about it. If the defamation or insult caused by revealing the defect is more serious than the loss caused to the other person, one should abstain from Ghiība. Secondly, Ghiba  is allowed only if by doing so the person is warned. If he can be cautioned without doing Ghiība, Ghiba  is not allowed. For example he says, “I don’t see benefit in this matter” and the person who sought advice obeys him. Then one should stop at this.

4- Ghiba  is allowed with the intention of Nahy Anil Munkar. For example you see a Muslim prone to an evil way and think that by doing Ghiba  he’ll give it up. Ghiba  is allowed in this case provided one is sure that it will have the desired effect. If there is doubt that the person has already given it up his Ghiba  is not permitted. As in the previous case, we should take into consideration the harm of doing his Ghiba  in comparison to the harm caused by his bad deed. That is, if the exposure of this Muslim is more serious than the sin he his committing, his Ghiba  is not allowed, even if we are sure that by doing his Ghiba  he would give up the act.

Conclusive remarks from the foregone discussions

When one sees a Muslim doing something wrong one must study all its aspects. If the person has already given up the sin his Ghiba  is Harām. By the same token he must not be scolded or criticized because Nahy Anil Munkar is to wean him away from sin; if he himself has given it up there is no sense in reprimanding him. If he has not discontinued it and he does it secretly then his sin comes in the ambit of secret sins and it is Harām to mention them to others. What is required in this case is to do Nahy Anil Munkar with all necessary conditions and if in spite of this he does not reform himself and we know that he will forgo it only if it is made public, we can do his Ghība. But we must be sure that his sin is more serious than his Ghiība.

Therefore Ghiba  for the purpose of Nahy Anil Munkar is allowed only when the person is persistent in his sin, and refuses to heed admonitions, when the evil of his sin is greater than exposing him; and we must be sure that he will forgo it if he is exposed. However, if any one of the four conditions are missing his Ghiba  is Harām.

5- Ghiba  of a person is allowed if in addition to committing the sin himself he is instrumental in instigating others to follow him. For example he introduces an innovation in Allah (SWT)’s religion. In order to warn the people of his deceit his Ghiba  is permitted.

6- Ghiba  is allowed in connection with a person who narrates a false hadith or gives a false testimony. It should be to ensure that people are not misled by his falsehood.

7- It is allowed to mention the defect of a person by which he is well-known. For example blind, cock-eyed, lame etc. Our intention must not be to point out his defect but by way of indication. Also one must bear in mind that the person himself not feel irked by these titles. Only in such circumstances is it allowed, otherwise we must use some other means to indicate towards him.

8- One is allowed to expose the false claims of a person’s lineage, because the harm caused by this exposure is less than the harm to families and clans if he relates himself to them.

9- If two people are eyewitness to a sin. Later one of them mentions it to others. There is no harm in it because the one who is spoken to is not hearing something unknown to him, Shahīd Thani says it is better to refrain from mentioning something which the other person has forgotten or when there is a risk of scandal.

10- According to Shaykh Ansari the discussion between two people who are eyewitnesses is allowed, if they do not do it with the intention of criticizing or denouncing the person. In all cases, Ghiba  is allowed when the harm it causes is less serious than the insult or defamation incurred by the person.

Listening to Ghiba  is also Harām

Lending ear to Ghiba  is Harām just as uttering Ghiba  is Harām. The Messenger of Allah (S) says, “The one who listens to Ghiba  is one of those who do Ghiība.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)

He (S) also says, “One who lends ear to back-biting is one of the back-biters.” (Kashful Rabi)

Imam Sadiq (AS) says, “Ghiba  is equal to infidelity (One who does it is Kafir) and listening to and being pleased with it is like polytheism." (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)

Traditions that describe the respect due to believers, indicate that the honor of a Mu’min is more than the respect of Kaba. His dishonor is same as his murder. His exposure will bring upon the guilty severe chastisement. It is obvious that the main pillar of Ghība is the one who listens to backbiting. Because if the listener is not there or he refuses to listen to it, there is no Ghiība.

Therefore all Muslims are obliged not to hear the Ghiba  of a believer. They must restrain the back biter so that the honor of the Mu’min is preserved. They should help the Mu’min in saving his honor.

The Messenger of Allah (S) says, "If the Ghiba  of ones believing brother is being done in ones presence and it is possible to defend him, one must defend him and Allah will help such a person in Hereafter. If in spite of being able he does not defend him, Allah will leave him on his own in the Hereafter and He shall not help him.” (Al-Majalis)

He (S) has also said, “If one defends his believer brother’s honor while back-biting is done about him in a way that he proves him faultless, Allah shall remove from him thousands of mischief's from the world and the hereafter. But if he does not dispel them in spite of being able to do so, his sin shall be seventy times that of the back-biter.”

After quoting the above tradition, the Shaykh says that the sin of the listener is more than that of the back-biter because, but for him the back-biter would not have dared to back-bite. And listening to Ghiba  mutely implies support of the back biter.

So if it is a worldly defect that is pointed out, he must say there is nothing of the sort. Faults are those which are described as faults by Allah (SWT) and those that Allah (SWT) has prohibited. So if you say anything that is not a fault in Allah (SWT)’s view, it is not a Ghiība. The real mistake is the mention of this imaginary fault.

If the defect mentioned is according to religious law, one should try to absolve the Mu’min in whatever way possible. One can present a valid excuse for his actions or if this is not possible, one should draw the attention of the criticizer that after all a Mu’min is not infallible; if a Mu’min falls into sin we should pray for his forgiveness, instead of exposing and defaming him. We should also make him realize that his revelation can be more serious sin than the one committed by the Mu’min.

As a corollary to the discussion on what constitutes Ghiba  according to the condition described, it is not obligatory to restrain the backbiter. At times it may happen that one may not be sure whether the criticism is of the permissible kind or not. In this case one should weigh the pros and cons of the situation. It is possible that the criticism is of the permissible type and by restraining the backbiter or by refuting his statements, we may do more harm, either to an individual or to a cause.

Hell and the two Tongues

Upon the conclusion of his discussion on Ghiba  Shaykh Ansari writes in Makasib: If a person back-bites about a person but heaps excessive praises on him in his presence, the sin of his backbiting is double. In religious language he is termed ‘Zul lisānīn’, one having two tongues. It is absolutely Harām and according to traditions, “The man with two tongues will be brought on the day of Qiyāma in such a way that two tongues of fire shall be there for him.” (Makasib Muhrima)



Sermon 139 from Nahjul Balagha

About Backbiting and Speaking Ill of Others’ 

Those who do not commit sins and have been gifted with safety (from sins) should take pity on sinners and other disobedient people.

Gratitude should be mostly their indulgence and it should prevent them from (finding faults with) others. What about the backbiter who blames his brother and finds fault with him? Does he not remember that Allah has concealed the sins which he committed while they were bigger than his brother’s sins pointed out by him? How can he vilify him about his sins when he has himself committed one like it? Even if he has not committed a similar sin he must have committed bigger ones. By Allah, even if he did not commit big sins but committed only small sins, his exposing the sins of people is itself a big sin.

O servants of Allah! Do not be quick in exposition anyone’s sin for he may be forgiven for it and do not feel yourself safe even for a small sin because you may be punished for it. Therefore, everyone of you who comes to know the faults of others should not expose them in view of what he knows about his own faults and he should remain busy in thanks that he has been saved from what others have been indulging in. The habit of fault finding and backbiting has become so common that even the feeling of its evilness has disappeared. And at present neither the high avoid it nor the low; neither the high status of the pulpit prevents it nor the sacredness of the mosque. Whenever a few companions sit together their topic of conversation and engaging interest is just to discuss the faults of their opponents with added color and to listen to them attentively. Although the fault-finder is himself involved in the faults which he picks up in others, yet he does not like that his own faults should be exposed. In such a case, he should have consideration for similar feelings in others and should avoid searching for their faults andhurting their feelings. He should act after the proverb: “Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.



Backbiting is defined as the exposure of the fault of a brother-infaith with the intent to vilify him in such a way as to irritate him, whether

it be by speaking, acting, implication or suggestion. Some people take backbiting to cover only that which is false or contrary to fact. According to them to relate what was seen or heard, exactly as it was, is not backbiting and they say that they are not backbiting but only relating exactly what they saw or heard. But in fact backbiting is the name of this very relating of the facts because if it is not factually correct it will be false accusation and wrong blame.

It is related about the Prophet (saws) that he said the following:.Do you know what backbiting is? People said, “Allah and His Prophet (saw) know better. Then he said, “Backbiting means that you say about your brother a thing which pains him. Someone said, “But what if I say what is actually true about him? the Prophet (􀁨) replied, “It isbackbiting only when it is factually true; otherwise, you will be accusing him falsely.

There are many causes for indulging in backbiting and because of this a man commits it sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali has recounted these causes in detail in his book Ihya’ Ulumud-Din. A few of the important ones are:

1) To make fun of anyone or to make him appear abased.

2) To make people laugh and to display one’s own jolliness and high spiritedness.

3) Expressing one’s feelings under the influence of rage and anger.

4) To establish one’s feelings under the influence of rage and anger.

5) To disprove one’s connection or involvement in a matter; namely that a particular evil was not committed by oneself but by someone else.

6) To associate oneself with some group when in their company in order to avoid strangeness with them.

7) To belittle a person from whom it is feared that he will expose some fault of one’s.

8) To defeat a competitor in the same calling.

9) To seek status in the audience of someone in power.

10) To express sorrow by saying it is sad and so-and-so has fallen in such and such a sin.

11) To express astonishment, for example, to say it is wonderful that so and so has done this.

12) To name the committer of an act when expressing anger over it.


However, in some cases fault finding or criticizing does not fall under backbiting:.

1) If the oppressed complains of the oppressor in order to seek redress, it is not backbiting. Allah says about it:.

Allah does not love open utterance of evil in speech except by one who has been wronged(Holy Quran, 4: 148).

2) To relate anyone’s fault while giving advice is not backbiting because dishonesty and duplicity is not permissible in counseling.

3) If in connection with seeking the requirements of a religious commandment the naming of a particular individual cannot be avoided, then to state the fault of such person to the extent necessary will not be backbiting.

4) To relate the misappropriation or dishonesty committed by someone with a view to saving a Muslim brother from harm will not be backbiting.

5) To relate the fault of someone before one who can prevent him from committing it is not backbiting.

6) Criticism and expression of opinion about a relater of traditions is not backbiting.

7) If a person is well acquainted with someone’s shortcoming, then to relate such a fault in order to define his personality, for example, describing a deaf, dumb, lame or handless person as thus, is not backbiting.

8) To describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment is not backbiting.

9) If someone claims wrong lineage then to expose his correct lineage is not backbiting.

10) If the life, property or honor of someone can be protected only by informing him of some fault, it will not be backbiting.

11) If two persons discuss a fault of another which is already known to both it will not be backbiting, although to avoid discussing it is better, since it is possible one of the two might have forgotten it.

12) To expose the evils of one who openly commits evils is not backbiting as the tradition runs: “There is no backbiting in the case one who has torn away the veil of shamefulness.”