Guarding the Tongue

Author: Imaam Yahyaa Ibn Sharaf an-Nawawee

Source: Al-Manhaj
Translator: Abu Maryam Isma’eel Alarcon

Published: Monday 3rd August, 2015

Important Points Related To The Limits Of Backbiting

In the previous chapter, we stated that backbiting was when an individual mentions something about a person (in his absence), that the latter dislikes to have mentioned – whether by using verbal statements, through writings, or by making a gesture indicating him or pointing him out by eye, hand or head.

It’s Guidelines: Everything by which one causes others to understand the deficiencies found in a Muslim, then that is the backbiting that is forbidden. An example of this is when someone tells others that “such and such” individual walks with a limp or that he walks while humped over or anything similar to that from the aspects by which one desires to narrate in order to belittle the individual. All of this is Haraam (forbidden) – there being no difference of opinion in this regard. Another example of this, is when an author mentions a specific individual in his book, saying “Such and such person says this...” desiring to degrade him and dishonor him. This is Haraam. However, if his intention is to clarify that person's mistake so that it will not be followed, or to clarify his deficiency in knowledge so that he will not mislead others or have his opinions accepted, then this is not backbiting. Rather it is advice (naseehah), which is an obligation and which will be rewarded if that is what he (truly) intended.

Likewise, if the author or anyone else speaks generally, saying: "these people” or “this group says such and such, and this is an error” or “a mistake” or “ignorance” or “negligence” or similar to that, then this is not backbiting. Backbiting is only when one mentions a specified individual or a specific group of people (i.e. by name).

Also from the forbidden types of backbiting is:

When one says: "Some of the people did such and such” or “some of the scholars” or “some who claim to have knowledge” or “some of the muftees” or “some who attribute themselves to rectifying (the ummah)” or “who claim abstinence” or “some people who passed by us today” or “some people that we saw” or similar to this “...did such and such”, without specifying anyone, but yet the one being spoken to realizes who the individuals are specifically, due to the speaker's causing him to understand who they are (through his words).

Also from its types is: The backbiting of the devoutly pious and knowledgeable individuals, for indeed they turn towards committing backbiting by doing it in a manner by which they cause others to understand (the person they are talking about without specifying him), just as something that is quite clear is understood. So (for example) when it is said to one of them: "How is such and such person?" He responds: "May Allaah rectify us” or “May Allaah forgive us” or “May Allaah rectify him” or “We ask Allaah for his pardon!” or “We give praise to Allaah for not having tested us with entering into darkness” or “We seek refuge in Allaah from evil” or “May Allaah save us from having little modesty” or “O Allaah, Accept our repentance", and what is similar to that, by which one will come to realize that person's defects. All of this is from the forbidden types of backbiting. Likewise, it is the same if one says: "Such and such person is being tested with that which all of us were tested with" or "his wealth is a means for that (test)" or "we all have done such an act."

These are the types of examples regarding this matter. And if this is not so, then we must refer back to the source-principle of Backbiting, which is: One's causing his audience to understand the defects found in certain people (even without mentioning their names), as has been stated previously. All of this is understood from the prerequisites of the hadeeth in Saheeh Muslim, which we have mentioned in the previous chapter, as well as the others, concerning the limits of backbiting. And Allaah knows best.

Know that in the same way that backbiting is forbidden for the one who speaks it, it is likewise forbidden for the one who listens to it and approves of it. Thus, it is obligatory on the one who hears an individual embarking on committing the prohibited form of backbiting, to forbid him from doing it as long as he does not fear any open harm resulting from that. But if he does fear (harm) from that, then he is obligated to reject the backbiting with his heart and to detach himself from that gathering if he is able to do so. If he has the ability to reject it with his tongue or to cut the backbiting off by changing the topic, then that becomes required of him. And if he does not do that, then he has committed an act of disobedience (i.e. sinned).

If he says with his tongue: "Be quiet!" while desiring with his heart for it to continue, then Abu Haamid Al-Ghazaalee said:

“This is hypocrisy. It does not remove him from the sin he is upon. Rather, he must hate it with his heart.”

If he is forced to stay in that gathering in which backbiting is taking place, and he fears from forbidding it, or he forbids it but it is not accepted from him and he cannot find a way to separate himself from them, then he is prohibited from listening and paying attention to the backbiting. Instead, his way out should be by making remembrance of Allaah (dhikr) with both his tongue and heart or just his heart. Or he should think about something else in order to preoccupy himself from having to listen to it. After having done this, his hearing it without listening or paying attention to it will not harm him, while he is in this mentioned state. If he is able, after this, to withdraw from them and they are still backbiting, then separating oneself is an obligation. Allaah says:


"And when you see those who engage in false conversations about Our verses by mocking at them, then turn away from them until they engage in a different topic of speech. But if the Devil causes you to forget, then after remembering, do not sit in the company of those people who are the wrong-doers." [Surah Al-Ana’aam: 68]

It has been reported that Ibraaheem Ibn Adham was once invited to a waleemah (wedding feast), so he attended it and found people there who were mentioning a man that didn’t come. They were saying: "He is truly lazy." So Ibraaheem said:

"I brought this upon myself, such that I attended a place in which people are backbiting one another."

So he left from there and did not eat for three days. What has been recited of poetry with regard to this is:

“And restrain your ears from hearing vile speech
Just as you restrain your tongue from speaking it
Because when you listen to this vile speech
You are a partner to the one saying it, so reflect.”


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