If I say I guess somebody has done something bad, that is, if I do not say it is certain, is it still regarded as backbiting or slander?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Husn az-zann: "Interpreting something about which there is no definite decree as being good."

Su’ az-zann: "Interpreting something about which there is no definite decree as being bad."

"O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion (zann) as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin..." (al-Hujurat, 49/12)

Zann means "to think, to guess". Husn az-zann means to regard something that can be interpreted as both good and bad as good. The opposite of it is su’ az-zann, which means "to see everything from a negative viewpoint and to interpret people’s deeds and attitudes as bad."

If something is certain, it is clear that guessing is not in question related to it. For instance, if a person defends unbelief clearly, guessing is not in question; it is decreed that he is an unbeliever. However, when a believer says something that necessitates unbelief, it is more appropriate in terms of caution to have husn az-zann and to think that he said it due to his ignorance not due to being an unbeliever, instead of accusing him of unbelief.

The most important reason that leads man to su’ az-zann is the badness of his own character or his lifestyle. A person who always deceives others suspects others’ words and seeks a trick or fraud behind every act.

Another point is that everybody may have some faults and bad traits. We should not think that others are bad by viewing them from the window of our own bad traits.

Some people think that others have bad traits though they do not regard them appropriate for themselves as a means of defense. Some people see in other people some traits that they have but that they do not accept and criticize them.

For instance, a person who is a gossiper accuses others of gossiping. This can be something normal but also an illness. It should be treated. Su’ az-zann also exists in this illness. (see Nursi, Mesnevî-i Nuriye, 66)

An important place to use husn az-zann is to avoid complaining and rebellion thinking that misfortunes and disasters that are beyond man’s will have an aspect of wisdom and mercy of qadar. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) teaches it with the following hadith: "He who believes in qadar becomes free of grief." (Bukhari, Fadlu Laylatil-Qadri: 2, 3; Muslim, Siyam: 207-219)

"Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding." (az-Zumar, 39/18) Besides, it is necessary to pay attention to the verse above and look at the good and nice aspects of everything. Thus, meaningless, unnecessary, harmful, troublesome, ugly and temporary things will not attract our attention and will not keep our hearts busy.

It should not be forgotten that husn az-zann is an important part of high ethics. The soul and Satan are enemies of this nice trait. Thus, we have to prefer husn az-zann and try very hard to avoid husn az-zann.

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