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BACKBITING

In His Name. There is nothing that does not glorify Him with praise.

The Qur’anic verse, Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? (49:12) which induces in the heart an aversion to backbiting in six miraculous ways, shows how disgusting a thing backbiting is in the view of the Qur’an, and therefore leaves no room for further explanation on the subject. Indeed, there is no need, nor any possibility, for further explanation where the Qur’an has made so decisive a proclamation.

The Qur’anic verse quoted above reprimands the backbiter with six degrees of reprimand and restrains him from this sin with six degrees of severity. When the verse is read as addressed to those actually engaged in backbiting, its meaning is as follows:

The hamza at the beginning of the sentence in its original Arabic is interrogative. This sense of interrogation penetrates all the words of the verse like water, so that each word carries an interrogative accent.

  • Thus, the first word asks, following the hamza, ‘Do you have no intelligence, with which you ask and answer, and can discriminate between good and bad, so that you fail to perceive how abominable this thing is?’

  • The second word, like, asks, ‘Is it that your heart, with which you love or hate, is so spoiled that you love a most repugnant thing like backbiting?’

  • Third, the phrase, any of you, asks, ‘What has happened to your sense of the nature and responsibility of society and civilization that you dare to accept something so poisonous to social life?’

  • Fourth, the phrase, to eat the flesh, asks, ‘What has happened to your sense of humanity that you are tearing your friend to pieces with your teeth like a wild animal?’

  • Fifth, the phrase, of his brother, asks, ‘Do you have no human tenderness, no sense of kinship, that you sink your teeth into some innocent person to whom you are tied by numerous links of brotherhood? Do you have no intelligence that you bite into your own limbs with your teeth, in such a senseless fashion?’

  • Sixth, the word, dead, asks, ‘Where is your conscience? Is your nature so corrupt that you commit so disgusting an act as eating the flesh of your dead brother who is deserving of much respect?’

According, then, to the total meaning of the verse and the indications of each of its words, slander and backbiting are repugnant to the intelligence, and the heart, to humanity and conscience, to human nature and religious and societal brother-hood. You see, then, that the verse condemns backbiting in six degrees in a very concise and most precise manner and restrains men from it in six miraculous ways.

Backbiting is a shameful weapon and most commonly used by people of enmity, envy and obstinacy; no self-respecting, honorable man will ever demean himself by resorting to such a vile weapon. Some celebrated person once said:

I hold myself in so great esteem as not to punish (my enemy) with backbiting,

For backbiting is the weapon of the weak and the low.

Backbiting consists in speaking about an absent person in a way that would repel and annoy him if he were to be present and hear. If the words uttered are true, that is backbiting; if they are not, this is both backbiting and slander and, therefore, a doubly loathsome sin.

Backbiting can be permissible in a very few, particular circumstances:

  • A wronged man can present a formal complaint to some officer, so that with his help, a wrong may be righted and justice restored.

  • If a man contemplating co-operation with another comes to hold counsel with you, and you say to him, disinterestedly and purely for the sake of his benefit, and in order to counsel him properly, without any further motive, ‘Do not co-operate with him; it will be to your disadvantage.’

  • If a man says only by way of factual description, not to expose to disgrace or notoriety, ‘That crippled, foolish man went to such and such a place.’

  • If the man being criticized is an open and unashamed sinner; that is, far from being ashamed of it, he takes pride in the sins he commits; if he takes pleasure in his wrongdoing and commits sins openly.

In these particular cases, backbiting may be permissible, provided it is done disinterestedly and purely for the sake of truth and in the collective interest. Otherwise, backbiting is like a fire that consumes good deeds in the manner of a flame eating up wood.

If one has engaged in backbiting or listened to it willingly, one should seek God’s forgiveness, saying, ‘O God, forgive me and the one whom I backbit’, and when he meets the person about whom he spoke ill, he should say to him: ‘Forgive me!’


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Last Updated on October 29, 2000

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