We all know as Muslims we shouldn't backbite yet sometimes we forget and other times we don't know we are actually backbiting.
In the Qur’an Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) says “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.” [Al-Hujaraat: 12]
Also this authentic hadith (below) teaches us some more about backbiting and how easy it is to do it.
The Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) was looking into marrying Safiyyah (Radhi Allahu 'Anhum). Aisha (Radhi Allahu 'Anhum) saw her yet out of natural jealousy really didn't want the Prophet to marry her. So the Prophet asked Aisha about her and Aisha said she was nice and everything was good about her, but then Aisha made a gesture with her hand to show that Safiyyah was short. In response to this the Prophet said just this gesture; if she were to put it into an ocean it would stain the whole ocean. [Sunan Abu Dawud, 41:4857]
Just this simple gesture which seems to many of us not to be backbiting was backbiting indeed and was a very serious thing. Many of us may be thinking what was the harm in this as it was only the truth. The reason the Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) reprimanded Aisha was because it was meant as something bad, something to show that Safiyyah was not good enough and something that she would not want said about her. So the Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) responded the way he did to show us that even this was wrong for her to do.
We also learn from another hadith that people who backbite often have hypocrisy in their hearts. In a rough translation of the hadith the Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) said, “Oh you who don't believe totally in your hearts (have hypocrisy in their hearts), do not backbite or follow those people who backbite”. [Sunan Abu Dawud, 41:4862]
We learn from this hadith that we should not follow the people who backbite and we should not be one of those people. The Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) is actually addressing those people who have hypocrisy in their hearts, to show how major of a sin this backbiting is. It is so major that a person who does it often can easily fall into hypocrisy, and if this continues can become a munafiq and fall out of Islam. So we must watch everything we do to ensure we are not transgressing on our fellow Muslims.
We cannot transgress on a Muslim no matter what. This counts for his wealth and his honor. Backbiting falls into this, because it is transgression and can ruin a person’s honor and make them look bad. Also the above hadith shows we should not oppress a fellow Muslim, even with our tongue. We also cannot forsake him when he is oppressed by others. Meaning we cannot join in on the oppression or look down upon him because other people are backbiting on him or because others are oppressing him.
There are also major punishments for the people who backbite. When the Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) went on the journey called Israw wal Mahraj he saw some in hellfire with claws poking and clawing at their eyes. When he asked Jibril about these people he was told these were the gossipers and backbiters. So this is one of the punishments we learn from this journey our beloved Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) went on. Also the Prophet (Salla Allahu 'Alayhee wa Sallam) told us in an authentic hadith that the losers would be those who were about to enter Jannah but then right before they entered the gates someone would come to them and take their good deeds for backbiting them, then another person, and another and another, until all his good deeds were gone, then the next person would come and dumb his bad deeds on the man until all the people he had backbitten receive compensation from this person, then he would be cast into hellfire.
Subhanallah, truly the person mention in the above hadith is a loser. Imagine being on your way to Jannah, excited and pleased with yourself then seeing a crowd of people gathering behind you. Then as you are entering into Jannah the people of this crowd stop you and begin to take from your good deeds and continue on like this until you have nothing. Imagine then being thrown into hell fire, thrown into the worse punishment imaginable all because of your tongue, all because of the words you would not keep from coming out. Such a severe punishment shows us how dangerous this action is and should prevent us from doing such a thing.
Another aspect of backbiting is that it is as if you were eating the flesh of the person you were backbiting, who of us would want to do this? So fear Allah and ask for forgiveness for your sins, because backbiting is not a minor sin, it is a major one!
To conclude Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) has promised us rewards for protecting the honor of our brothers and sisters. Meaning you do not backbite or lie on them and when others are doing this you stop them. Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) promises us that if we protect the honor of our brothers and sisters then Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) will protect our honor. Likewise if we don't then Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) will not protect our honor as well. Who does not want the reward of Allah (Subhaanahu wa Ta'aala) and who does not want their honor protected by the best of protectors? So we should truly watch what we say and keep silent unless we have something productive to contribute. With this mindset and with implementing this in our lives we are guaranteed to be on the right track. As Muslims we mold our lives around the manners and etiquettes Islam teaches us so let us continue on with this aspect and further our development as righteous people.
Exceptions for Backbiting It is also useful to understand the exceptions for backbiting so when it may seem someone is backbiting we will know that it is permissible.
Forbidding a bigger evil
If speaking about a person will stop a bigger evil then it is permissible to do so, even if the person may not want such a thing said. For example if someone is known to abuse people and a sister would like to marry this man, it is permissible to tell the sister about this aspect of him and anything else that she should know about.
Wanting to ask about a Fiqh issue
This exception comes directly from a situation in which a Sahabah had to speak about someone else in order to find the proper Islamic ruling for the situation. This exception is to be used when speaking to someone of knowledge and when the person asking is sincere in finding the ruling for the situation.
Deter from evil, innovation, and leading one astray
It is permissible to speak about a person who may be evil or leading people astray. For example if a person is giving da’wah at a mass scale and his understanding of Islam is incorrect or what he is teaching is incorrect it is permissible to warn and speak against him. Likewise if someone has problems in their Aqeedah it is permissible to tell others about this person to deter them from believing his mistakes.
A nickname that is the norm for the person and is in widespread use
This example also comes from the Sahabah as they used to have nicknames which they called one another. Some of which would seem to be slanderous but amongst themselves the names were not. If everyone agrees that the name is okay and it becomes popular then it is permissible to call the person that name, even if it may seem insulting. However, if the person does not wish to be called such a name, then one cannot call him it.
A person who does his or her sins in public
If a person publicly does haram then it is okay to speak about them. For example if a person openly drinks alcohol and does not try to conceal himself at all, then there is no sin on speaking about him. Likewise if a person fornicates or does other haram in public, there is no sin on speaking about him.
When authenticating a story or hadith
When authenticating a story of hadith we must know every detail of each person who narrated it in the chain. The reason for this is if someone is known to be a liar, then we do not take from their narrations. In this situation it is not haram to speak about someone for it is required in order to authenticate what he may have said or related to us.
So now we know a bit more and inshallah we will stop from talking nonsense. Now we know 'Silence is Wisdom' so keep silent unless you have something positive to contribute. Also refrain from idle talk because it can lead to evil things and because it is also talk that does no good, and can cause much harm. We must also watch what we say because we may be backbiting a person and not even know it. If we just look around us we will see situations where brothers or sisters may be backbiting each other and not even realize it. Now that we know the evils of backbiting and speaking without knowledge we should spend our time teaching it to others and stopping others from doing such acts. With this inshallah we will grow and continue to stay strong in this deen.
Oh Allah keep us strong and keep us away from backbiting and gossiping. Oh Allah keep us away from those who backbite. Protect us from the evil eye and protect us from the Dajjal. Oh Allah protect us from the evil you have created. Make us of those who speak of that which you love and forbid that which you hate. Make it so our tongues only speak what is truthful and never do injustice. Increase us in our deen and keep us of those who ask for forgiveness. Keep us strong in this deen and allow us to die for your cause, and your cause alone.