Is it a sin to have suspicions and negative thoughts about others? Is it still a sin if it remains only in the heart and if it is not uttered? Is having negative thoughts different from backbiting? What should we do to avoid having negative thoughts?

Details of the Question

Is it a sin to have suspicions and negative thoughts about others? Is it still a sin if it remains only in the heart and if it is not uttered? Is having negative thoughts different from backbiting? What should we do to avoid having negative thoughts?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

A verse regarding the issue is as follows:

“O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful.”(al-Hujurat, 49/12)

A Muslims should always have positive thoughts about his Muslim brothers. For, it is a necessity of our religion. Besides, the elimination of mischief necessitates such an attitude. We should have positive thoughts about and believe in one another as believers.

To have positive thoughts about someone and to trust in him should not prevent us from taking necessary measures about him. This is a rule that is valid and even necessary for everybody. We will trust our Muslim brother and we will not have negative thoughts about him since he has belief but it is possible for anybody to do a bad deed since everybody has a soul. Having good thoughts about a person along with taking measures against him should not be regarded as opposite things. For, it is more appropriate to take necessary measures so as not to cause apprehensions and suspicions. For, the measures will prevent man from having negative thoughts and committing sins.

Not all thoughts and guesses but some thoughts are regarded as backbiting. Imam Ghazali described it as ‘backbiting through the heart’; he rejected even ‘telling oneself another person's mistake’; he defined backbiting through the heart as ‘having bad thoughts about a person without seeing, hearing anything bad about him’. (see Ghazali, Kimyayı Saadet, Merve Yayınları, p. 388)

Accordingly, having negative thoughts and suppositions about a person is haram and it is regarded as backbiting through the heart. If this backbiting through the heart is told to another person, a two-fold sin is in question. 

“If what you say of him is true, you have backbit him, and if what you say of him is not true, you have slandered him.” (Abu Davud, Adab 40)

According to the hadith above, it causes a bigger sin. Form this viewpoint, it may mean that such a person commits a sin through his heart and tongue, and slanders

Therefore, it is necessary to avoid negative thoughts first in order to avoid those sins. It is necessary not to allow the poison to enter the body; similarly, it is necessary not to allow negative thoughts to enter our spirit. For, the harm the poison will cause after entering the body will be very big. Similarly, to allow negative thoughts and suppositions to enter our spirit can cause much more dangerous things. One of them threatens our worldly life while the other threatens our otherworldly life. From this viewpoint, it is necessary to be careful about the things that threaten our eternal life.

On the other hand, violation of others’ rights will occur from unjust thoughts and suppositions. This is a crime basically committed against people and the authority to forgive this crime is the people against whom the crime of having unjust thoughts and suppositions is committed. Therefore, if we have negative thoughts about the ethics and honor of an innocent person without having any evidence and accept those negative thoughts as true, we will be punished for it severely. To share this thought and supposition with others will increase both the sin and responsibility of us.

One of the most important harms of having negative thoughts is that the negative spiritual energy that forms the content of the negative thoughts, ideas and suppositions seeks addressees and finally the unjust spirit is destroyed by that spiritual energy. For this result, what matters is not whether backbiting is open or secret but the emotional burden it carries. (see Muhammed Bozdağ, Ruhsal Zeka)

In fact, in the verse above, three mean deeds that harm brotherhood are prohibited: having negative thoughts, prying and backbiting. It is a general prohibition to try to find out the private states of others without their permission. The prohibition of prying is among the deeds that ensure “the secrecy of private life”, which is a human right.

The following hadith is remarkable in that it shows the thought and especially having positive thoughts, of a Muslim about his Muslim brother:

“I heard the Prophet say the following while circumambulating the Kaaba:

"(O Kaaba!) You are beautiful and your scent is beautiful. I admire your majesty and sacredness. I swear by Allah, in whose hand is Muhammad’s life, that the honor of the believer is superior to your honor in the eye of Allah. A believer’s wealth, blood and sacredness of having positive thoughts about him is superior to yours.” (Bukhari, Adab, 57, 58; Muslim, Birr, 28-34; Abu Dawud, Adab, 40-56)

In the hadith above, the Prophet (pbuh) mentions the importance of having positive thoughts about a Muslim together with the importance of his life and wealth. For, a person’s being known as a good or bad person interests his honor, which is as important as his wealth and life. Having negative thoughts brings about mischief, which is the source all disorders and enmities; therefore, it is forbidden by the religion since it is so harmful.

On the other hand, the spread of mischief among Muslims as a result of the spread of having negative thoughts, gossiping and backbiting is to be accepted as a social disaster. For, one of the most important supports that keep the society on its feet is unity. The strongest bond that provides unity is love and respect to law.  

Besides, the warning of the verse above shows that man is to have positive thoughts. That is, when he sees things and incidents, he is to interpret them in a good way, have positive thoughts about them and regard others superior to him with this thought and intention. 

Having negative thoughts always leads man to bad thoughts and kills the optimism in him. He cannot view things with positive thoughts after that. He does not interpret in a good way the result of misunderstandings that seem negative and that occur as a result of incomplete communication and perception. Thus, as the disorder of having negative thoughts increase, it will lead man to the disorder of criticizing. He will go beyond limits in criticizing and will start to backbite people. After a while, the backbiting through the heart will be transformed into backbiting through the tongue, supported with slandering and will destroy the person.

The best way of being protected from the disorder of having negative thoughts is thinking of and looking at things in a nice way and closing one’s eyes to the things that will lead him to ugly things and having negative thoughts. When a person does so, the eyes, heart and mind will be busy with nice things; they will see their own mistakes and not see the mistakes of others; he will be aware of his own mistakes and he will not use the binoculars of negative thoughts to find the mistakes of others. He will look at nice things with the binoculars of positive thoughts. He will not dirty his heart and mind with negative thoughts. 

If there are some brothers who have negative thoughts about each other, they should ask forgiveness from each other, repent for their sins and pray for their brothers about whom they had negative thoughts.

We should also state that we will not be held responsible for the images and thoughts that come to our mind involuntarily. Responsibility is in question only for voluntary deeds. That is, when man does something based on his own will, he will be held responsible for that deed. However, man’s will is not active in the bad things that come to his mind. That is, you have not decided to think about bad things and you have not fulfilled it. Therefore, you will not be held responsible for it. It is necessary to regard them as delusions of Satan and to ignore them. 

SU’ AZ-ZANN (NEGATIVE THOUGHTS)

It means bad thought, bad supposition. Zann means thought and su’ means bad deed.

The same meaning is valid in phrases like su’ al-harakah (bad act)", "su’ al-khulq (bad ethics)", "su’ an-niyyah (bad intention)"; thus, "su’ az-zann" means "bad thought" In the examples given above and in similar ones, su’ has the meaning of an adjective.

The word "zann" means "to think, suppose and decree based on probability"; it also means "doubt, suspicion, hesitation, apprehension and imagination".

The opposite of "su’ az-zann" is "husn az-zann". "Husn" means "beauty, good deed, niceness, maturity and perfection" like in "husn al-khulq (good-high ethics)", "husn al-khatt (nice writing)", "husn an-niyyah (good intention)". "Husn az-zann" means good-positive thought, having a positive thought in one’s conscience about a person or thing".

As it is seen, there are two kinds of "zanns". Since zann is based on "supposition" and probability'', how should man act regarding the issue? The Quran and hadiths explain how man should act. The following is stated in the Quran: "O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin..." (al-Hujurat, 49/12). The phrase "avoid suspicion as much" is used because it is stated that "suspicion is a sin in some cases". It means not all suspicions (thoughts) are sins; it is necessary to have positive thoughts about Allah and believers. The following is stated in the chapter of an-Nur: "Why did not the believers - men and women - when ye heard of the affair,- put the best construction on it in their own minds..." (an-Nur, 24/12). The following is stated in a sacred hadith:

"I am as my slave thinks about me." The Prophet (pbuh) said, "Die having positive thoughts about Allah." In another hadith, he said, "Having positive thoughts is of belief."

Kashshaf and other similar tafsir scholars of the Quran advise us "not to have thoughts without distinguishing between the right and the wrong clearly and without observing and thinking well" and they state that "a thought that is not based on a clear reason and true sign is haram". Thoughts based on probabilities are not in compliance with the truth and will include slander; therefore, a person who have thoughts like that will be held responsible. 

It is clearly understood from those explanations that it is necessary to be very careful about thoughts and that "having negative thoughts" is definitely forbidden. The type of negative thought that is not haram is the one about the people who commit sins openly and who are known as sinners. Having positive thoughts about a person whose state is not known well is not necessary but having negative thoughts about him is not permissible.

The following is stated about "tajassus (spying/prying)" that originates from having negative thoughts in the above-mentioned verse in the chapter of al-Hujurat: "Spy not on each other behind their backs." Tajassus means "to search the private states of others and to desire to find their sins and mistakes". The Prophet states the following about this act, which is prohibited by Allah:

"Do not search the sins and mistakes of Muslims. For, if a person searches the sins of Muslims, Allah will follow his sin and disgrace him even in his own house." (Elmalılı Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur'ân Dili, İstanbul 1960, VI, 4471-4473; Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen, Büyük İslâm İlmihâli, İstanbul 1957, 633-634).

M. Süreyya ŞAHİN

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