Allah (SWT) says in Surah Al-Hujurat # 12
O you who believe! avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful.
Here Allah (SWT) teaches us mutual rights and social etiquettes. We are instructed not to indulge in suspicion, spying, nor backbiting in our daily life. Let us consider each of them one by one, starting with suspicion.
There are good suspicions and bad suspicions. Imam Abu-Bakr Jassas divided suspicion into four categories as described in his book Ahkam-ul-Quran.
These four categories are: Haram (Unlawful), Wajib (Mandatory), Mustahab (Permissible), and Mubah (Acceptable).
The example of unlawful suspicion is to keep saying to himself that God will definitely punish or torture me and lose total hope in the forgiveness and mercy of Allah (SWT). The Messenger of Allah (SAS) said,
“You should have good hope with Allah (SWT) till your death bed.”
A Hadith Qudsi states,
“I treat my servant the way he feels about me.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
The example of Wajib Suspicion is that if, for example, you do not know the direction of Qibla and there is nobody to guide you, it is permissible to use your best Judgement.
The example of Mustahab Suspicion is to keep good feelings about every Muslim. It is, however, permissible to use precautions in daily dealing without considering another a thief, or a traitor without a just cause.
The example of Acceptable Suspicion is that if one is not sure of completing three Rakat or four in Salat, it is acceptable to use the most prevalent in your mind. Other forms of suspicions are unlawful in Islam.
Let us now consider spying. It is not allowed to search and disclose secrets of others. Hence, to overhear somebody while hiding or pretending to sleep is like spying on others. However, if there is a possibility of another party harming you or harming another Muslim, then such spying is allowed.
Let us now consider backbiting. The Messenger of Allah (SAS) said that, backbiting is talking about somebody which if he heard it would grieve him.
Hence it is not allowed to talk about somebody in his absence even if what was narrated was true. If it were not true, then it would be a bigger sin and is called Buhtan (False Accusation).
It is important to note that to find others’ faults or to talk sarcastically or to defame a person is called Lumz in the Quran. Allah (SWT) says, Al-Hujurat # 11
Do not defame oneanother.
It means that when you find faults with others, they will retaliate and find faults with you.
The beauty of this wording of The Quran is that it says that finding faults with others is like finding faults with yourself. Likewise Allah (SWT) said,
Do not kill yourself.
Hence, if you kill others, they will try to kill you.
Allah (SWT) also says in the Quran, Surah Al-Humazah # 1
Woe to every slanderer and backbiter.
Bahadar Shah Zafar said in Urdu,
When I did not know about myself, I was always finding faults with others. When I focussed on my own faults I could not find any person worse than me.
In verse twelve of Surah Al-Hujurat Allah (SWT) made it clear that defaming another Muslim in his absence is like eating the flesh of your dead brother, which obviously everybody hates. Hence it is the most horrible sin. Note that if the person is present, he may have a chance to defend himself although everybody does not have the courage to defend himself in these circumstances. If, however, he is defamed in his absence, the damage is deep and somewhat permanent. Allah (SWT) describes this backbiting in such a manner that every Muslim should develop hatred for this hideous crime.
Backbiting is not done by tongue alone. It can also be done by eyes, hands, and other movements. For example, copying somebody who is limping in order to insult him.
The Messenger of Allah (SAS) said,
“Backbiting is a worse sin than adultery” (Tirmidhi)
It is further explained in a saying of Prophet Mohammad (SAS), narrated by Abu Said and Jabar in Tirmidhi, “Allah may forgive a person if he repents after committing adultery. However, Allah will not forgive the one who backbites till his victim forgives him.”
Once the Messenger of Allah (SAS) pointed towards two graves and said to his companions that both of these people were being tortured in their graves. One of them used to backbite people, and the other was not careful about spilling drops of urine on his clothes and body whilst urinating. (Bukhari and Muslim)
That is why the Messenger of Allah (SAS) once said to his wife Aisha (RU), “Be careful about what you call small sins. They can cause terrible torture in the grave.”
During Miraaj, Prophet Mohammad (SAS) saw some people who had nails made of red copper. They were tearing apart their faces and chests with their nails. The Messenger of Allah (SAS) asked the angel Gabriel about them. The Angel Gabriel said, “They are being punished because they used to eat people’s flesh in their lives i.e. used to backbite and defame others.”
Abu Huraira (RU) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAS) said that the killing of a Muslim by another unjustly, usurping others wealth or defaming other Muslim brother is totally forbidden or Haram. (Muslim)
Abu Huraira (RU) also narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAS) said, “Somebody who does not quit telling lies, Allah does not care for his quitting meals etc. during fasting. He will get no reward for fasting.”
Imam Ghazali writes in Ihya al-Uloom a person used to backbite Hassan Basree, so Hassan Basree sent some dates as a present to this person on learning about his backbiting. Hassan Basree also sent this message, “By backbiting you are transfering your good deeds to me. I realize that these dates are not the fitting gift for the good you are doing to me. I request that you accept this humble present.”
Note that backbiting a child, a mad person, or a disbeliever living in a Muslim state is also not allowed.
The following are not considered backbiting:
1. To complain to a person about a cruel official so that the concerned official can discipline the cruel one.
2. To complain to a father or husband about his child or wife respectively who can possibly reform them.
3. To describe detailed circumstances to get Fatwah.
4. To describe something to save Muslims from religious victimization.
5. To describe full circumstances for professional consultations.
6. To mention the major sins of a person who commits that sin openly, boldly, and takes pride in it.
Note that the common point in all above cases is that, the mention is being made for a specific need and not for degrading or defaming others intentionally or unjustly.
Further note that listening to backbiting is the same as backbiting somebody. It is better to walk away from such individuals.
Backbiting violates the rights of Allah (SWT) and the rights of people simultaneously. Hence, it is necessary to ask for forgiveness from the victim first, since Allah will not forgive unless the victim forgives. If the victim has died or is untraceable, then ransom has to be paid. Annas narrates that the Messenger of Allah (SAS) said,
“The ransom for backbiting is to pray to Allah (SWT) for forgiveness by saying, “Oh Allah” Forgive my sins and his too.”
I pray to Allah to save us from bad suspicion, spying, and backbiting. Ameen.