Living in non-Muslim societies, it is easy for us to fall into the habits and customs of these lands. We start to set our moral compasses in relation to theirs. Sometimes, we go so far as to think that if what we are doing is better than what they are doing, its acceptable. While this may be true in a society of honorable people, in this society where the woman who wears a one-piece bathing suit instead of a bikini is considered modest, we can not use them to set our compasses.
We have to set our standards much higher. They have to correspond with the teachings and understandings of Islam. Also, we have to recognize that when it comes to morality and values, Islam is the standard. Want to know a prime example? Ever heard of the Golden Rule? It says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sound familiar? It should, the Prophet stated the same basic thing. He said,
Narrated Anas: The Prophet said, "None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself." Sahih Bukhari: Volume 1, Book 2, Number 12.
What about the statement, " If you can't say something good, say nothing at all." Here it is in our beloved Prophet's words.
Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet, and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (or insult) his neighbor..." Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 482.
All this goes to preface the idea that we have to care about each other in a way that is in line with Islam, not the lessor standards of the non-believers. Let them follow us. When we think of gheebah (gossip, backbiting), most of us think that this is the speech as defined by the non-believers - saying something negative about someone - whether truthful or not. But Islam has given it a stronger definition:
Narrated AbuHurayrah: Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said: Do you know what is backbiting? They (the Companions) said: Allah and His Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) know best. Thereupon, he (the Prophet) said. "Backbiting implies your talking about your brother in a manner that he does not like." It was said to him, "What is your opinion about this that if I actually find (that failing) in my brother which I made a mention of? He said, "If (that failing) is actually found (in him) what you assert, you in fact backbiten him, and if that is not in him it is a slander. Sahih Muslim: Book 31, Number 6265, Abu Dawud, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, others...
Al-Muttalib ibin Abdullah said, "The Messenger of Allah said, 'Gheebah (gossip, backbiting) means that a man mentions about a person something which is true, behind his back."(Al_Suyuti, Zawa'id Al Jami from the report of al Khara'iti in Masawi Al Akhlaq. Malik reported something similar with a Mursal Isnad as mentioned in Al-Sahihah, No. 1992)
Just imagine the high standards that Islam has set, that this horrible
sin is not even confined just to the oral or written statement.
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: I said to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him): It is enough for you in Safiyyah that she is such and such (the other version than Musaddad's has:) meaning that she was short-statured. He replied; You have said a word which would change the sea if it were mixed in it... Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41, Number 4857:
Here we can see that Gheebah (gossiping, backbiting) is also what we do that a person may dislike if done in reference to them.
This is a serious sin. I know it is easy to underestimate its worth, but Allah has warned us about it in His Glorious Book,
O you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in
some cases is a sin, and do not spy nor let some of you backbite others.
Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor
it; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, surely Allah is Oft-returning
(to mercy), Merciful. 49:12
Allah described backbiting as an act of eating our brothers or sisters flesh. But don't think of this as only metaphorical. Our beloved prophet proved this to us in one of his great miracles.
Ubaid, the freed slave of the Prophet, reported that someone came to the Prophet and showed the Prophet two women who were fasting and said that they were dying of thirst. The Prophet turned away silently refusing to give permission for them to break their fast. So, the man begged him again, mentioning that the women were on the verge of death. The Prophet then said, bring them to me and bring along a bowl. When they turned to him, he turned to one and told her to vomit in the bowl. She complied, spitting up a mixture of vomit, blood, pus and pieces of flesh which half filled the bowl. He then turned to the other and had her do the same. After the bowl was filled, he said, "Verily these two have fasted from what Allah has made halal for them and broken their fast from what Allah has made haram. They spent their fast eatting the flesh of others." Ahmad
These women gave up food and drink - halal substances, and instead partook
of the flesh of their brothers and sisters. So distasteful was this
fare that it made them sick to the point of near death. Subhanallah!
The Prophet has warned us of great punishments which may befall us as a result of committing this sin:
Narrated AbuBarzah al-Aslami: The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts, do not back-bite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in the open for everyone to see, even if he hid it in the innermost part of his house. Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41, Number 4862, Sahih Sunan Al Tirmidhi (1655), Ibin Hiban, Hasan by Al Albani, Ghaybah al-Muram, 420
See, we talk about others, exposing them and Allah gives us a taste of our own medicine - exposing us. Which of us has no secret which would harm us if exposed? Who among us can afford to risk this punishment? Allah Protect us form his Wrath.
We have to be very careful. Remember, on the day of Judgement, Allah may forgive us the sins we committed against Him, but He will not take away our rights as individuals. A person will have the right to take our good deeds or even give us their bad deeds because of crimes we have committed against them. One of these crimes is gheebah, where we sacrifice the honor of our brothers and sisters.
Narrated AbuHurayrah: Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said: Do you know who is poor? They (the Companions of the Prophet) said: A poor man amongst us is one who has neither dirham with him nor wealth. He (the Prophet) said: The poor of my Ummah would be he who would come on the Day of Resurrection with prayers and fasts and Zakat but (he would find himself bankrupt on that day as he would have exhausted his funds of virtues) since he hurled abuses upon others, brought calumny against others and unlawfully consumed the wealth of others and shed the blood of others and beat others, and his virtues would be credited to the account of one (who suffered at his hand). And if his good deeds fall short to clear the account, then his sins would be entered in (his account) and he would be thrown in the Hell-Fire. Sahih Muslim: Book 31, Number 6251
Let's reflect on this. Here we are. We thought we were doing good. We prayed. We fasted. We worked hard on doing good deeds. Yet, there we will be on the day of Judgement. We will have survived all of the horrible trials, the judgement, the bridge and the huge thorns which snatch us according to our deeds and throws us into Hell. (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 577). We will have been through all this, only to lose all our good deeds because we could not or would not control our tongue.
On this day, we will stand there and be asked by those whom we harmed for their rights. A person whom we have backbitten may take that one crucial deed that means Heaven or Hell. How many deeds can you afford to GIVE away? Personally, I don't feel that I can spare one. Subhanallah! On this day, the mother will drop her load. Your mom will not know you or care about you! Your mother! The Prophets will be saying, "I am not fit for that" The Prophets, what chance do you or I have??? We must not give ourselves so much credit that we actually have the gall to believe that we can afford to give away even one deed. Allah protect us all.
This is a major sin that we have to guard against. We can not allow ourselves to fall into it. Allah warns us that nothing will be hidden on that day. We will have even our limbs speaking against us or for us:
On the day when their tongues and their hands and their feet shall bear witness against them as to what they did. 24:24
And Our Prophet warns us to be careful of our tongues, what we say. He also encouraged us with the rewards we get for doing so.
Narrated Sahl bin Sa'd: Allah's Apostle said, "Whoever can guarantee (the chastity of) what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs (i.e. his tongue and his private parts), I guarantee Paradise for him." Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 481:
Narrated AbuHurayrah: Allah's Apostle (peace_be_upon_him) said: The servant (whose fault) Allah conceals in this world, Allah would also conceal (his faults on the Day of Resurrection. Muslim: Book 31, Number 6266
Narrated Uqbah ibn Amir:: Whoever covers the faults of believer is like one who has brought to life a female child buried alive. Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 41, Number 4873
Mashallah. The rewards are so great. We should be so careful
in this matter to avoid the punishment and to receive the great blessings.
Marital advice or protection from possible harm: Fatimah bint Qays went to the Prophet seeking marital advice when both Muawiyah Ibin Abu Sufyan and Abu Jahm had proposed to her. The Prophet told her, "Muawiyah is stingy and tight fisted) and Abu Jahm beats his women." So marry Usamah instead. (Muslim, Abu Dawud, At Tirmidhi, An Nisai, and Ibin Majah
Complaint: Narrated 'Aisha: Hind, the mother of Mu'awiya
said to Allah's Apostle, "Abu Sufyan (her husband) is a miser. Am I allowed
to take from his money secretly?" The Prophet said to her, "You and your
sons may take what is sufficient reasonably and fairly."Sahih Bukhari:
Volume 3, Book 34, Number 413:
Now, once we have seen this, we have to reflect upon it. What if we have committed gheebah, what should we do? Well, Al Nawawi said, "The Ulama have said that if you have committed Gheebah, then ask forgiveness for it. Commenting on this, Shiekh Al Albaani said, "This is if you do not fear any worse evil to result from askinf him for forgiveness; otherwise, it is enough to pray for him.' (Gossip and its adverse effects on the Muslim Community, Husayn Al Awayishah, 76).
So, how do we repent from this awful deed? We have to first ask Allah to forgive us and make a decision to not repeat it. Then, we go to the person, if possible, and ask them to forgive us. Remember, Allah will forgive us his right, if we ask sincerely, but He will not remove a right from a believer. So we must ask the believer for his forgiveness as well.
One last note: What shall we do if we are in a situation where others are backbiting? We have to first remember Allah, and have them do so as well by advising them nicely. If this does not work, we must leave, because sitting there and listening is as bad as doing the deed. For the scholars agree that a person who is in attendance when a sin is being committed is as guilty as the ones who are committing the sin. Your presence is a kind of approval of the deed. If your friends are angry with you for not participating in their sins, they are not really friends. Why would they want to harm you? Your deen? or hurt your chances to get to Paradise? Also, remember in doing so, you are protecting the honor of your brother or sister, and look to the reward of doing so:
The Prophet said, "On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will deflect fire from the face of one who defends his Muslim brother's honor in the latter's absence." At Tirmidhi
O Allah! Guard our tongues. O Allah! Guard our actions.
O Allah! Forgive us our sins against You and ease the hearts of those we
have harmed so that they too will forgive us. Ameen