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What is Backbiting in Islam?

Question and answer details
Sister
2014/12/03
What does Allah mean by "Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother, you would hate it"? What does "gossip, sedition, and backbiting" mean in Islam?
AAI Editorial Staff
Answer

This answer was extracted from the translation of Ibn Kathir’s interpretation of the Quran and edited by Brother Maan Khalife, a member of Ask About Islam Editorial Staff.

Salam Dear Sister,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam

According to the Free Dictionary, the definition of gossip is as follows:

Gossip - Rumor or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature.

Sedition - Conduct or language inciting rebellion against the state.

Backbiting - To speak spitefully or slanderously about a person

The verse you have mentioned is translated as:

{O you who believe! Shun much suspicion; Verily! Some suspicion is a crime. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting)!  And be mindful of Allah. Verily! Allah is Relenting, Merciful.} (Al-Hujurat, Chapter 49, verse 12)

Allah the Exalted forbids His faithful servants from being suspicious, which includes having doubts and suspicions about the conduct of one's family, relatives and other people in general. Therefore, Muslims are to avoid suspicion without foundation.

The Leader of the faithful Umar ibn Al-Khattab said: "Never think ill of the word that comes out of your believing brother's mouth, as long as you can find a good excuse for it.'' Malik recorded that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said that Allah's Messenger said:

"Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; do not spy on one another; do not look for other's faults; do not be jealous of one another; do not envy one another; do not hate one another; and do not desert (shun) one another. And O Allah's servants! Be brothers!" (Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Abu Dawood).

Anas said that the Messenger of Allah said:

"Do not shun each other; do not ignore one another; do not hate one another, and do not envy one another, and be brothers, O servants of Allah. No Muslim is allowed to shun his brother for more than three days." (Muslim and At-Tirmidhi)

In the verse above, Allah says what means:

{...And spy not (on each other)...}

Tajassus, (i.e. spying), usually harbors ill intentions, and the spy is called a Jasus. As for Tahassus (inquiring) it is usually done for a good reason. Allah the Exalted and Most Honored said that Prophet Yaqub said:

{"O my sons! Go you and inquire (Tahassasu) about Yusuf and his brother, and never give up hope of Allah's mercy.''} (Yusuf, chapter 12, verse 87)

Both of these terms, `Tajassus' and `Tahassus' could have evil connotations. It is recorded that the Messenger of Allah said:

"Neither commit Tajassus nor Tahassus nor hate each other nor commit Tadabur. And be brothers, O servants of Allah." (Al-Bukhari)

 

Al-Awzai said, "Tajassus means, to search for something, while Tahassus means, listening to people when they are talking without their permission, or eavesdropping at their doors. Tadabur refers to shunning each other. ''

 

Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. Allah the Exalted said about backbiting: {neither backbite one another}, thus prohibiting it, which was explained in a Hadith collected by Abu Dawood that Abu Hurayrah said, "It was asked, `O Allah's Messenger! What is backbiting'

 

He said:


"Mentioning about your brother in a manner that he dislikes". He was asked, `What if my brother was as I mentioned' He said:


"If he was as you mentioned, you will have committed backbiting. But if he was not as you say about him, you will have falsely accused him." (At-Tirmidhi).

Backbiting was sternly warned against, and this is why Allah the Exalted and Most Blessed compared it to eating the flesh of a dead human being, again from the verse above we read:

{...Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother, you would hate it...}

Just as you hate eating the flesh of a dead person, on account of your nature; so hate backbiting, on account of your religion. The latter carries a punishment that is worse than the former.

This verse seeks to discourage people from backbiting and warns against it. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used these words to discourage taking back a gift that one gives to someone:

"He is just like the dog that eats its vomit." After saying:


"Ours is not an evil parable."

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said during the Farewell Hajj:

"Verily, your blood, wealth and honor are as sacred among you as the sanctity of this day of yours, in this month of yours, in this town of yours." (Al-Bukhari, Muslim and Imam Ahmad)

Abu Dawud recorded that Abu Hurayrah said that the Messenger of Allah said:

"All of the Muslim is sacred to the Muslim, his wealth, honor and his blood. It is evil enough for someone to belittle his Muslim brother." (At-Tirmidhi)

Al-Hafiz Abu Yaala recorded that a cousin of Abu Hurayrah said, "Maiz came to the Messenger of Allah and said, `O Allah's Messenger! I have committed adultery,' and the Messenger turned away from him until Maiz repeated his statement four times. The fifth time, the Prophet asked him:

"Have you committed adultery?" Maiz said: Yes. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked:


"Do you know what adultery means?" Maiz said: ‘Yes. I have illegally done with her what a husband legally

does with his wife.' The Prophet said:

 

"What do you seek to accomplish by this statement?" Maiz said, `I intend that you purify me.' The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked:


"Have you gone into her just as the stick goes into the kohl container and the rope goes into the well?" Maiz said, `Yes, O Allah's Messenger!' The Prophet commanded that Maiz be stoned to death and his order was carried out.

 

The Prophet heard two men saying to one another, `Have you not seen the man who had Allah cover his secret, but his heart could not let him rest until he was stoned to death, just as the dog is stoned' The Prophet continued on and when he passed by the corpse of a donkey, he asked:


"Where are so-and-so dismount and eat from this donkey." They said, `May Allah forgive you, O Allah's Messenger! Would anyone eat this meat' The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:


"The backbiting you committed against your brother is worse as a meal than this meal. By He in Whose Hand is my soul! He is now swimming in the rivers of Paradise." (At-Thirmidhi - Hasan)

Imam Ahmad recorded that Jabir ibn Abdullah said, "We were with the Messenger of Allah when a rotten odor was carried by the wind. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

"Do you know what this odor is? It is the odor of those who backbite people."

Then Allah the Exalted and Most Honored says what means:

{...And be mindful of Allah...}

That is, regarding what He has commanded you and forbidden for you. Fear Him and beware of Him:

{...Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful.}

He forgives those who repent to Him, is merciful with those who go back to Him and trust in Him. The majority of scholars have stated that repentance for committing the sin of backbiting is that one refrains from backbiting intending not to repeat it again.

Some scholars stated that it is not necessary for one to ask those whom he has backbitten to forgive him, because if they knew what was said about them, they could be hurt more than if they were not told about it.

It is better, they said, that one should praise those whom he has backbitten in audiences in which he has committed the act. It is also better if one defends the injured party against any further backbiting, as much as one can, as recompense for his earlier backbiting.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful links:

When Words Turn Evil: Gossip, Backbiting, Slander

Islam Prohibits Backbiting

Backbiting: Causes and Remedy

Backbiting Friends

Backbiting: Meaning & Rulings


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