Backbiting a Faithful Believer
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
To speak ill of a faithful believer behind his back thus exposing his hidden defects is another form of wrongdoing. Expressed as backbiting, this deed has been openly forbidden in the Holy Qur'an that describes it as eating the flesh of the dead: …nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it. (49:12)
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Whoever informs about a faithful brother what his eyes have seen and ears heard, is included with those about whom Almighty Allah says, “Surely, as for those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement. (24:19)”
Within the paragraphs of his famous instructions to Abu-Dharr, the Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said: O Abu-Dharr, beware of backbiting, because it is indeed graver than committing adultery.
“Why is that, Allah’s Messenger?” Abu-Dharr asked.
The Holy Prophet (S) answered, That is so because when man commits adultery and then repents before Almighty Allah, his repentance may be accepted. As for backbiting, it is not forgiven unless the one backbitten forgives. O Abu-Dharr, to revile a Muslim is wickedness, to fight against him is infidelity, to eat his flesh is one of the acts of disobedience to Almighty Allah, and the inviolability of his properties is as sacred as the inviolability of shedding his blood.
“What is backbiting, Allah’s Messenger?” Abu-Dharr asked.
The Holy Prophet (S) answered, To backbite your brother-in-faith means informing others of things about him that he dislikes to be known.
“What if I mention real things about him?” Abu-Dharr asked.
The Holy Prophet (S) answered, Be it known to you that if you mention things that he really has then you have backbitten him, but if you mention things that he does not have then you have calumniated him.¯1
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: As for him who treats people with fairness, tells them the truth only, and fulfills his promises to them, it is then forbidden to backbite him, his manliness is perfect, his decency is apparent, and it is obligatory to regard him as a true brother.¯2
It is worth mentioning that scholars of Muslim jurisprudence have made some exceptions in the forbiddance of backbiting. They have therefore excluded from this law backbiting the sinful who openly commit evil, depending upon some traditions such as the following: Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: If a sinful commits sins openly, he is then deprived of any inviolability and to backbite him is not considered forbidden.¯3
Imam al-Ridha (‘a) is reported to have said: If one speaks ill of another behind his back, this is not considered backbiting when this thing is familiarly known by people, but if he mentions about him something that is not known by people, he has then backbitten him. If he mentions something that is not true about him, he has then calumniated him.¯4
Calumny means falsely accusing people. To calumniate a believer is more serious than backbiting him.
According to a validly reported tradition, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has said: Whoever falsely accuses a believing man or woman with something that he or she does not actually do or have, Almighty Allah will send him in the stinking sap unless he declares that person as free from that charge… A stinking sap is the pus cast out from the prostitutes’ pudenda.¯5
Defined as the spreading of malicious gossip, talebearing is an example of wrongdoing, because it poisons social relations among believers and leads to separation from each other.
According to an authentic report, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: May I inform you about the most wicked of you all?... They are those who spread malicious gossip, cause dissension among lovers, and append false flaws to the flawless.¯6
Within the paragraphs of his famous instructions to Abu-Dharr, the Holy Prophet (S) is reported to have said: O Abu-Dharr, talebearers shall not be allowed to enter Paradise. O Abu-Dharr, talebearers shall never get a break from the torture of Almighty Allah in the Hereafter. O Abu-Dharr, those who are two-tongued and two-faced in this world shall have two faces of fire. O Abu-Dharr, meetings must be based on trust. To divulge the secrets of your friend is betrayal. Therefore, refrain from that and refrain from presenting yourself in meetings where flaws are pursued.¯7
Distrust and Misgiving
To distrust and have a negative idea about a faithful believer is another form of wrongdoing.
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: If a faithful believer has misgivings about another faithful believer, faith will melt in his heart in the same way as salt melts in water.¯8
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have quoted Imam ‘Ali (‘a) as saying: Give the best probability to the deed of your brother-in-faith until you receive from him something that tears down your good probability. Never deem evil any word that has been said by your brother-in-faith as long as you can find an acceptable excuse for it.¯9
1. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:598, H. 9.
2. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:597, H. 2.
3. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:604, H. 4.
4. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:604, H. 3.
5. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:603, H. 1.
6. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:616, H. 1.
7. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:617, H. 4.
8. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:613, S. 161, H. 1.
9. - Shaykh al-Kulayni, al-Kafi 2:362, H. 3; Shaykh al-Saduq, al-Amali, pp. 380, H. 483; ‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar 75: 196, H. 11 as quoted from the previous reference books.