What are the types of backbiting? Why and to what extent is backbiting bad?

The Details of the Question

What are the types of backbiting? Why and to what extent is backbiting bad?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

If people talked about and discussed the truth in open and brave settings under equal conditions, if they spoke in the same way when the others were not present, there would be no wars, fights and sorrows. You will find seeds of backbiting under all disasters and even eternal destructions. All evils are accompanied by backbiting.    

- What is backbiting (ghibah)?
- How can we classify types of backbiting?
- Why and to what extent is backbiting bad?

We are talking about such a sly, disgusting disease that it can spread faster than plague and one can get rid of it only through an insistent struggle and deep sincerity. A person who wonders whether all good deeds disappear in the trap of backbiting or not should observe conversations and meditate on the types of backbiting.

The definitions below were made based on clues in basic resources. A classification exactly like this does not exist in the texts that deal with the issue but the contents of our classification exist in the resources.

• Open, plain backbiting: The Prophet (pbuh) defined backbiting as follows:

“Mentioning your brother in a way that he would not like.”(1) He said,

“Saying something that you cannot say to your brother's face behind his back is backbiting.”(2) 

Saying something that is true about a person in his absence in a way that he would not like is open backbiting. Listen to the talks about the playing styles of footballers; listen to what celebrity fanatics who pry into private lives of artists. Pay attention to your talking style when you talk about your neighbors, relatives, friends and even your own children. Many people do not notice when they talk about other people let alone backbiting. Would you like to be mentioned like that if you were the people who were being talked about?  Would you need to change your sentences and even your stance if the person you were talking about were present? Then, what you do is plain backbiting, the simplest form of backbiting if what you say is true.

• Backbiting with slander: The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“If what you said about that person was true, you committed backbiting; if it was not true, you slandered.”(3)

Slander is the ugliest sin. If the information you used while backbiting was not what you saw, if you heard it from somebody else, it probably was altered until it came to you and was not completely true. 

When we report what we hear from others or our friends, the probability of backbiting turning into backbiting with slander is at least 80%. For, 80% of the people do not check whether what you hear is true or not; they add their feelings and preferences to what they report; their memory is not so good; when the information passes from one person to others, it changes a lot. The probability of slandering by those who do not act sensitively regarding the issue is 100%.

• Secret (Hidden) Backbiting: It is backbiting through thinking, having bad thoughts about someone as we usually do. In the Quranic verse in which it is emphasized how bad backbiting is, the following is stated:

“O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: and spy not on each other.”(4)

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’.(5)

Our compassionate Creator tells us that He will forgive us for the crimes that we commit against Him if we regret. However, if we have violated other people's rights, He does not promise to forgive us even if we are martyred. Allah regards the rights of His slaves as superior to His own rights. Having bad thoughts about a person unjustly causes the violation of his rights. Backbiting is generally a crime committed against people and it can be forgiven only by the relevant people. Therefore, if we have bad thoughts about the ethics and honor of an innocent person and if we think that our idea is right, we will be punished for it.(6)

The Prophet (pbuh) says,

“If a person criticizes his believer for committing a sin, he will not die before he himself commits that sin.”

How do we know what causes other people's properties that we do not like? We do not have the right to backbite even secretly some seemingly wrong aspects of people without knowing under what difficulties they were trained by qadar.

A trustworthy person told me the following anecdote. He managed to get into the Physics Department of the Middle East Technical University; while waiting in line for the registration, he found out that the person he was talking to could not finish the university though nine years passed. He thought to himself, “What a stupid person! He could not finish university though nine years passed.” However, he himself graduated from the university after nine years passed. Let us look at the misfortunes that hit us. Will we be able to see the repayment of the violation of the rights of the people whom we backbit openly or secretly in them?

• Hypocritical Backbiting: It is the most shameful kind of backbiting; Imam Ghazali called it ‘hypocritical backbiting’.(7) The person who backbites speaks as follows: “May Allah forgive him! He sometimes confuses like us.” “I hope he will improve.” With these words, a person tries to show seemingly that he likes the person he is talking about and he wants good things for him but secretly implies that he is not so good and that he makes mistakes. The person listening to him acts hypocritically too by saying, “Forget about it; it is backbiting.” When he speaks like that, he does not really want to prevent backbiting; though he seems to be saying the opposite, he secretly likes it when people backbite. 

• Backbiting with Talebearing: It is the backbiting that involves telling a person's words about another person to each other in a way that will sow discord between them. The Prophet (pbuh) state the following regarding the issue:

“A talebearer cannot enter Paradise.”(8)

The Quran warns us as follows:

“O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.”(9)

Hasan al-Basri says,

“A person who reports others' words to you will definitely report your words to others…. For, what he does is both backbiting and oppression, treachery and deception, jealousy and discord, mischief and trick.”(10)

We definitely have the right to report the words of others. However, it should start with an expression of friendship like, “My beloved friend or my dear teacher said...” and continue with nice words of that person that will please him. Otherwise, if a person starts speaking like, “That guy said ……. about you - or somebody else” and expresses a sentence that will distress the owner of that sentence, he should be ready for misfortunes.  

• Mass Backbiting: The types of backbiting classified above can be about individuals or masses and group of people. In order to be able to be freed from the sin of backbiting, it is necessary to ask for forgiveness from the whole group. Mass backbiting is the most difficult, pitiable and terrible backbiting that can be committed by man. The phrase “...lest ye harm people unwittingly...”(11) in the verse above, emphasizes the danger of massive backbiting by mentioning ‘harming people’.

The atonement to be paid by the backbiters who disdain and make fun of the members of a political party, supporters of a sports team, members of a religious community, religion or sect, members of a race or nation will be really high in the hereafter. For instance, a person who tells a joke about a prototype of a region or nation should know that he will have to atone for it to all members of that region or nation if the joke offends them. If we want to tell a Hodja Nasreddin joke, we should feel worried by thinking, “Will we offend the late Hodja Nasreddin in his absence?” We cannot endanger our honor in order to amuse a few people for ten seconds. The most horrible ends have been prepared for those who mock others. The Quran states the following in the chapter of al-Humaza for them: “Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and backbiter!”

The words that abase our belief system, that commit massive backbiting and slander are published almost every day in media. We regard each of these attacks as rusty spears that cause blood to come out of our spirits. These attacks against our honor keep us up at night. When we see our young children crying at schools we scream out of frustration. Everybody who shows respect to the honor of humanity are affected badly by these massive backbiting and slander.

A politician in Turkey disdained corporals by calling another politician a ‘... corporal’. One or two corporals sued a lawsuit for mental anguish against this politician and gained a lot of money. All of the other corporals could have sued lawsuits and gained a lot of money, too. If people in Turkey were used to suing lawsuits to protect their rights, the people who uttered words like that would lose their wealth due to one sentence. Since human justice necessitates this, nobody should doubt that divine justice will call people to account for their words.

• Shared / Common Backbiting: The person who commits backbiting is not the one that utters or implies it only; the one who listens to it willingly or the one who likes listening to backbiting though he himself does not utter it is also regarded to have backbitten. A person who sees a murder being committed and does not prevent it though he can is also regarded a murderer; likewise, a person who does not intervene when backbiting is committed will share the sin of backbiting. In this sense, backbiting - except the secret type - is like prostitution committed by more than one person.

The following statement of the Prophet (pbuh) indicates the responsibility of a person who listens to backbiting:

“If a person does not help his Muslim brother when he is backbitten in his presence though he can, Allah will disdain him both in the world and the hereafter.”(12)

Besides, this hadith threatens a person who hears backbiting and does not protect the honor of his brother by interfering more than the person who backbites. We understand that those who do not interfere when someone is backbitten unjustly in their presence due to their little fears will not lead an honorable life.

The Evil of Backbiting

• It is the most disgusting sin. The following is stated in the Quran:

“...Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...”(13)

“Woe to every (kind of) scandal-monger and backbiter!”(14)

No other crime including fornication and murder was likened to a disgusting deed as much as backbiting.  

Badiuzzaman Said Nursi states the following about backbiting:

“Backbiting...is hateful in the eye of the Quran and backbiters are evil and vile.”(15)

“Mercilessness, lying, greed, extravagance, prostitution, treachery and backbiting are all condemned by the Quran and described as disgrace.”(16)

Backbiting is censured and despised by the reason, heart, humanity, conscience, human nature, and social and national solidarity.”(17)

Backbiting is the vile weapon most commonly used by the people of enmity, envy, and obstinacy.”(18)

• The potential harm of backbiting is terrible: One of the most terrifying aspects of backbiting is its big potential for causing disasters. Backbiting attacks the heart and spirit, which the Creator made abiding, not the ephemeral body. To commit a murder is relatively difficult; to find the murderer and to punish him is possible and relatively easy. However, to commit backbiting is as easy as ABC. Once it is uttered, it mushrooms; millions of version of it has the potential for spreading among people and causing incredible mischief and massacres.

It is almost impossible for people to determine and punish the source of backbiting, to stop its spread and to prevent it from being transformed into slander. Even a murderer has honor but a backbiter cannot have the slightest honor. The state of a soldier who is martyred by the bullets of the enemy at the battlefront is indescribable loftiness. On the other hand, backbiting can turn to a distressing murder like a father killing his own child or a child killing his own mother.    

In the book called Sözler (Words), it is emphasized that some similes that seem to be exaggeration in some hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh) indicate the size of the potential danger:  

“The generality in those kinds of hadiths is in terms of possibility. For instance, ‘Backbiting is like murder.’(19) It means that in backbiting exists an individual who is more harmful than deadly poison, like a killer.”(20)

• It eliminates the eternal life: The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

“The fire does not burn wood faster than backbiting eliminates man's good deeds and rewards.”

A fire is devastating. Yesterday, a shanty house was in blames;(21) the poor mother and her two innocent children who were stuck between the barred window and the door in flames were burnt to ashes in their house, which was their only property. When I think about the state of the father in front of the house when he returns home from work, I shiver; such a disaster is unbearable.  

The spiritual misfortune that will hit backbiters will be worse than what happened to those people.  You can guess what a big shock the people who thought they led a life with good deeds will get when they see that all of their spiritual rewards will be eliminated due to backbiting and listening to backbiting willingly. Who can accept to undergo such a big misfortune due to the evil pleasure given by backbiting?    

The Prophet (pbuh) states the following:

When my Almighty Lord ascended on the night of Mi'raj I saw a group of people scratching their own faces and chests with iron nails. I asked Jibril, ‘Who are they?’ He said, ‘These are the ones who ate the flesh of people by backbiting and tarnished their honor.’(22)

Backbiting prepares such a future for people.

Putting aside the harms of backbiting related to the hereafter, it is impossible to write all of the outcomes of backbiting related to social, political, economic life, personal peace, health and talents, in short, the fate of humanity, in a few pages. When you think about it, you can also find out those outcomes.

- How should a person in whose presence backbiting is committed act?
- How can we get rid of backbiting?
- What weaknesses of us make us fall into the trap of this contagious disease?
- What is not regarded as backbiting?
- What kind of danger is it to legitimize backbiting in the name of religion and religious service?

We must start fighting now. When I started fighting against backbiting, I noticed that almost all of the words that I uttered related to other people or groups corresponded to one type of backbiting. Those who do not start a conscious fight against this sly enemy and do not continue it until it penetrates their cells will not be able to get rid of the fire that will destroy their good deeds.

When I started this fight, I started to wake up in the middle of my talk as if I was in a heroin crisis and could not continue talking. For, I saw that almost everything I said or listened to was in the scope of backbiting in terms of my criteria. When you start a fight against backbiting, the compassion of divine mercy covers your heart due to the greatness of what you do so much that you say, “Where have I been up to this time?” Once you are freed from the slavery of backbiting, you will not be able to value the enthusiasm your freedom will give to your spirit.  

- What should a person who hears backbiting do?

If we do not prevent backbiting, we will be accomplices of those committing backbiting. For, backbiting can continue only if we seem to be listening. A person who eavesdrops willingly on other people while they are backbiting is also an accomplice.

The first thing to do is to remember the following hadith: “If a person does not help his Muslim brother when he is backbitten in his presence though he can, Allah will disdain him both in the world and the hereafter.”(23) This hadith is related to not only the backbiting of a person who is talking to you but also the backbiting you listen to around you, on the radio or television. At that moment, you need to think that you are the person who is backbitten and ask yourself whether you will be disturbed when you are mentioned like that. If the person whose honor is harmed needs to feel sorry, you need to feel sorry, too; if he needs to defend his right, you need to defend his right, too.  

We can even waive our own rights but it is a debt of honor to defend the rights of others. First, a deep disturbance needs to occur in our heart; we need to be unable to put up with listening to backbiting. If the person who is backbitten is our friend, we need to interfere verbally, defend his honor (24) and blame backbiting. If silencing the backbiter is likely to harm us, we need to leave that place immediately by indicating that we are disturbed. If it is committed on the radio or television, we need to turn it off immediately. If we cannot do it, we need to try not to listen. In addition, we need to ask for forgiveness from Allah for listening to backbiting, (25) pray for the person who is backbitten and we need to be careful so as not to have bad thoughts about the person who is backbitten by being influenced by the backbiter. Furthermore, we need to move away from the backbiter whom we cannot improve or prevent.  

- What should the backbiter do?

We may have told some truths that distressed a living or dead person or a group of people in their absence. If they are alive, we need to find ways of asking for forgiveness. We know that we have to pay the rights of people even if we are martyred. If we backbite a person who is dead, it is impossible to ask for forgiveness from him. Then, we need to pray for him throughout our life and do good deeds on behalf of him. It is necessary to try not to talk unjustly while criticizing the people in history except disdaining oppressors. We should not forget that the rights and honors of all people will be protected by Allah forever.

Beginning from today, we need to ask for forgiveness from all of the people that we know when we first meet them acting upon the possibility of having backbitten them without being aware of it; we even need to make it a periodical habit to ask for forgiveness from the people we know when we meet them. Otherwise, if we ignore asking for forgiveness that we can finish in a few days, it may cause us to wait for thousands of years in the Gathering Place.

We need to pray by mentioning the names of the person we backbit; we need to pray for them insistently and secretly for their forgiveness so that their lives will be surrounded by mercy and grants. While doing so, we need to ask divine help so as not to backbite them - especially those who died and groups of people - again. For, it is almost impossible to ask for forgiveness for this kind of backbiting. 

- What should a person who is backbitten do?

What people say about us reaches us somehow. Either other people tell us or we eavesdrop while we are being talked about; or we move away from the person who backbites us by receiving an inspiration of inhospitality and lack of love in our heart toward a person who backbites us. We should remember how effective mass backbiting is after a society is divided and the loyalty between masses decreases.

If you defend yourself by swearing at, cursing and insulting the person who backbites you, you will receive most of the returns in this world. However, if you do not defend yourself and if you struggle against backbiting by trying to help the backbiter to give up backbiting, you will deserve great rewards. Hasan al-Basri sent a plate of fresh dates to a person who backbit him with the following note:

“I have heard that you sent your worshipping to me as a present. I wanted to pay for it. I am sorry that I cannot pay it fully.”(26)

When you do not fight those who backbite you, divine justice will confront them; the divine punishment that surrounds those who do not repent does not resemble the revenge of anyone. If they do not correct their mistakes, they will not get rid of it until they commit the same thing that they blame will happen to them and they pay for it in the hereafter. However, if a person waives his personal right and asks for guidance from Allah for the backbiter, the reward he will get will be much more valuable than the one he will get otherwise.

A person needs to be forgiving of the backbiting against himself but he needs to be much more unforgiving of the backbiting against others and needs to condemn it. Besides, if the name and works of a person are widely esteemed by a society, backbiting him means backbiting those people too. For instance, a person who backbites a prophet is regarded to have backbitten his followers too. A person who disdains a father unjustly is regarded to have disdained his child too. In that case, we cannot forgive the share of our close friends from the backbiting against us. Qadar will get the shares of the others from him.

- How can we protected from backbiting?
- How can we eliminate the causes of others backbiting us?
- Why do people backbite?

• Not to backbite: A person who backbites others will be backbitten. If we prevent our tongue from backbiting, we can prevent others from backbiting, too. A secret pain and even a fear will be sent to the heart of a person who makes fun of a person who prevents himself from backbiting. The most secure thing to do is to keep silent, not to speak in the absence of a person whom we will not praise.

• Not to boast and not to disdain others: People do not accept it when a person boasts or when they are disdained. When we break the equality among us, they will need to disdain us in order to protect their honor. We cannot and should not hide our achievements and services; our experiences will serve as models to our friends and will encourage them. However, if we regard ourselves superior to them while talking, if our speaking style includes some contempt, it will be perceived by the listeners and this will be evident in our body language and speaking style.(27) Respect needs to be shown to the knowledge of a scholar but it is also necessary to play childishly with children. 

• Not to be jealous/ not to make others jealous: We reject the nice qualities of a person whom we are jealous of; and we feel happy when he is harmed. It is difficult to list the subtleties of making a person jealous here but the simplest formula is as follows: A person who does not compete with anybody, who regards success as intentions and efforts, not as results is not jealous of anybody and nobody is jealous of him. To hide one's service and to try to seem as if he does not do anything so as not to make others jealous is ingratitude to Allah's grants; it deprives people of successful models and sets people a bad example. Appreciation, love, respect and probably envy exist where there is no jealousy. A person with a clean spirit knows that he will share the rewards of the good deeds of his brother when he prays for his brother and supports him.   

• Not to be a hypocrite: People may act hypocritically under the influence of their material interests or fears. You will be afraid of backbiting a person who is not a hypocrite; it is very easy to backbite a hypocrite. Besides, a person who is not a hypocrite cannot backbite easily. Those who act hypocritically will be punished by being deprived of their material interests. Those who act hypocritically due to simple fears will face unbearable fears.    

Hypocrisy has never been the way to any achievement, acquisition and happiness. Hypocrisy will deprive man of honor, will and courage. A person who appreciates another person in his presence and does not do the same thing in his absence is a hypocrite. The spirit of a person who acts hypocritically toward people will probably act hypocritically toward his Creator, too. 

• Not to acquit oneself: A person who rejects his personal flaws will probably blame others when he commits a bad deed; at least, he will say, “I did it because of him.” Such people will fury and distress others, causing backbiting. If we make mistakes, we need to accept it at once; even if others are guilty, we should not lose time by blaming others. For, it is not practically useful to know who is guilty in a place where justice is not distributed.

• Not to disdain people for fun: Some people have the pride of the Pharaoh. They are egocentric and concentrate on their personal interests only. Their only pleasure is to disdain people just for fun; it is their illness. Those who regard them as human beings and talk to them will share the same future.

• Not to surrender to distress and fury: We sometimes backbite people thinking that we are doing something good because we feel sorry for their mistakes. We sometimes get angry due to this mistake and our heart wants to disdain them under the influence of those feelings in order to punish them spiritually; we have difficulty in controlling our tongue. Distress, fury or indignation must not end our friendship. We may realize in the future that we made a mistake and regret.    

• To resist to the habit: The abasements that we experienced throughout our lives may have made backbiting a strong habit for us. If a person is disdained at home, in the street, at school, at military service, at work, in short, everywhere, it is difficult for that person to realize the importance of protecting the honor of humanity. We need to diagnose those habits and resist them.

• To be protected against the epidemic of backbiting: Another important point is that backbiting infects almost all individuals of the society we are living in like plague. If televisions and newspapers start their broadcast by backbiting every day, if people start work by backbiting every morning and if our most sincere friends got stuck in backbiting, it is very difficult to reach the evening without being infected. It should be known that only the people who cannot talk can keep away from backbiting and we should be very rigid and careful about backbiting.  

• To hide the doers: It is the shortest way of being protected from backbiting after keeping silent. If we blame the evil deed by isolating it from its doer, it is not regarded as backbiting. Thank God, sentences like the following are not regarded as backbiting if the listeners cannot guess whom you are talking about:“A man told lies all the time. Somebody I know picked his nose continually.” However, if they recognize the person you are talking about from his characteristics even if you do not utter the name, it is regarded as backbiting. If a person makes a guess, it is no problem; if a person picks a nose, anyone can pick their nose. However, slander and abasement are forbidden even if the names are not known.

We understand that it is not so easy to protect the tongue entrusted to us. We should turn our life into a university; we should adapt what we learn to all of our communication forms in order to attain the sharpness of the mind and conscience to understand the incredible subtleties of backbiting. When we want to mention somebody in his absence, we need to empathize with him before we utter the sentence in our mind; we need to feel it and prefer to keep silent if we feel that he would be offended. The best way is to speak very little.

In which situations is backbiting permissible?

Backbiting is permissible under certain circumstances. However, it is necessary to be uttered in the simplest form; it should consist of the truth only; "it should be uttered without any animosity and it should be uttered only for justice and the relevant issue“. (28) It should be uttered only related to the following situations:(29)

a) To complain: The person you apply to for complaint by talking about the bad deed of another person should be a person who could correct - at least, in your opinion- or prevent the bad deed. For instance, the child of your neighbor dirties your garden and you go to his parents and ask them to prevent their children. Your workmate wrongs you and you apply to your employer to protect your right. However, we need to take the following into consideration while complaining:

• There should be a bad deed committed by someone. This bad deed should not be about the secret and private life of that person; it should be committed openly and harm you or others clearly. If it is a bad deed that does not violate your or anybody else's right, you do not have the right to complain about him. For instance, your neighbor drinks alcohol secretly. He knows that it is wrong since he drinks secretly; he probably regrets it and wants to give it up; we do not know. When we discover such a secret characteristic of him, we cannot complain it to anybody even if they can correct it. For, when we do so, we will have committed the crime of revealing a secret sin, which is a grave sin.

• You can complain only. You should not slander by adding your anger; if you exaggerate your complaint and add some baseless things, it will turn to slander or insult. However, if you tell the truth only, it will not be regarded as insult. If you are sure that he stole something from you, it is your right to start your sentence with, ‘this thief’. If somebody swore at you, it is your right to start your sentence with, ‘this immoral man’. For, he did it and deserves to be described like that.

• The person you complain to should not be any person or your friend but a person that could settle the issue. If a neighbor disturbs you and if another neighbor cannot correct him, you cannot complain to that neighbor. Suppose that you have found someone that could protect your right; you should not complain to him in the presence of other people who are not related to the issue; you need to complain to him alone.

• The people who complain about a person to his/her brother/sister, relative, friend, etc should be very careful. The person you complain to is not usually in a position to prevent the injustice. What that person will do is usually to have bad thoughts about you, to report what you said to others or to keep away from you in order to get rid of your complaints. You will show an unpleasant aspect of yours while trying to get your right since you tell about the issue to irrelevant people; thus, your spiritual power will weaken and you will be deprived of your right in the divine presence since you took your revenge by doing so.   

• You can say, “Shall I hide the injustice and keep it a secret by not complaining about it?” You should not hide it but the correct way of fighting injustice is not to act like a sheep in the presence of people and like a lion in their absence. You cannot fight injustice hypocritically. Human honor necessitates mentioning the mistake bravely and openly in the presence of the person who makes the mistake. It is impossible to fight injustice secretly, by not standing by one's word and by adding slanders; this causes mischief. In a state of law where justice works properly and fast, a person whose right is violated or grabbed could apply to the court and get his due. 

b) Consultation/Counseling: What we do in some cases in which it is necessary to consult each other and ask for opinions is not regarded as backbiting. We can clarify the issue as follows: 

• For instance, you want to establish a partnership or do business with somebody; or, somebody you know plans to establish a partnership with a person. If you ask someone about the characteristics of that person, it is not regarded as backbiting; similarly, when you are asked about somebody like that, what you say about the issue is not regarded as backbiting. You can consider all kinds of partnerships: opening a shop together, getting married, buying a house or property together, lending or borrowing, sharing the same room, sharing a project, shopping together, entrusting something to each other, etc.

• The subtlety lies here: You have a kind of private relationship with your partner; you share your aspects beyond social life. Your privacy is affected by the privacy of your partner. For instance, if one of the partners is a fraud, it will affect your decision about making business with him. If the secret and private life of a person does not affect me, I cannot say that we have a relationship of partnership with him. For instance, if I work in a place where there are a lot of employees, I cannot consult anybody about the private aspects of a person who works in the same department but who is not directly related with me; I cannot answer questions about such a person. That we work in the same department does not mean that we are partners.

• You need to analyze: If somebody, even if he is your most sincere brother, asks your idea about somebody else, you first need to find out why he asks. You will notice that people usually ask because they are curious about a person due to a rumor; that is, they are affected by mischief. If you open your mouth and speak at that time, you will also be affected by it and be dragged to the spiritual hell with him. If the reason why he asks is a serious issue like partnership, you can answer.   

• It is necessary to express your idea if the conditions of consultation are formed. If you know about the mistake of a person you are asked about and if you hide it because that person is your son, brother, etc, all of the negative outcomes that will occur in the future regarding the issue will be recorded in your book; you will pay for keeping silent. To talk when necessary is as important as to keep silent.(30)

• The information you are to give when you are consulted or the question you ask when you consult somebody should be related to the issue. For instance, you will be regarded to have backbitten even if you tell the truth when you say, “Do not establish a partnership with him; he is an immoral person; his parents are also immoral people.”The person who consulted you asked about him, not his parents. If he wants to establish a partnership with his parents, you should not speak about their child. The crime of a person cannot be attributed to his relatives; it is oppression, baseness, disgrace and wiliness to mention a person with a bad characteristic of one of his relatives.(31) The Prophet Lot (pbuh) cannot be mentioned together with his wife, who cooperated with the rebels. Can you accept it when aspersions are cast upon you due to one of your relatives? However, it is necessary to consider an exception carefully: If you think that the negative characteristics of this person's close relatives will affect this partnership, we need to emphasize them. However, we should not mention each of them by their names if it is not necessary.  

• If the information we are to give crosses the line due to our anger or prejudice and includes unreal aspects, it will be regarded as backbiting with slander. In my opinion, if what we say is based on guesses or what we have heard from others, it will be a big sin even if it turns out to be true. For, not only does a Muslim have to tell the truth but he also has to check what he hears if he wants to use it. Suppose that the information we have given is true; if it is something that we have not checked, we will not be able to get rid of the responsibility, in my opinion, since we ignored the duty of checking it.

c) For description: In some cases, we might not be able to find a word to describe some people except for mentioning their negative aspects like ‘midget, lame, blind, deaf, dumb, cut-off ear, hunchback, etc.’ We need to clarify the issue:

• The first condition is necessity: If we or the people listening to us do not know the name of the person, we may have to describe that person through a known property or characteristic of his. If the person who is listening to us does not know the person we are talking about with that property, to say ‘that blind man’ is also regarded as backbiting. Almost everybody knows the name of Stephen Hawking, the writer who writes best-seller books like "A Brief History of Time". I give his name as an example showing respect to him; we do not have the right to describe him as 'the wheelchair-bound writer, the writer whose body is …..'.

• Besides, the probability of backbiting is high when we use words that include a sense of disdaining like, ‘blind, deaf, midget’. Instead of those words, we should prefer euphemistic words or phrases like ‘visually impaired, hearing-impaired, very short, etc’. Suppose that you are a visually handicapped person; would you like to be described as ‘that blind guy’ or ‘that visually handicapped gentleman’ in your absence?

• In some cases, some aspects of some people may be more outstanding than their personalities; you may have to use them to describe them. The following descriptions might be true: ‘The man with a twitch on his face, the stutterer, introvert, the mascot of the district, etc’. However, those descriptions include negative meanings; and people generally perceive them negatively and feel disturbed.

d) Those who commit sins openly: Last situation: It is not regarded backbiting to criticize some people constructively and to mention their bad and evil aspects in special circumstances; it is also necessary to backbite some people by disdaining them under certain circumstances. The Prophet (pbuh) stats the following regarding the issue:

“It is not haram to backbite three groups of people: a person who is not ashamed of committing a sin openly; an oppressive administrator; a person who includes a bid'ah in the religion.”(32)

“It is not regarded backbiting to talk behind the back of a person who does not feel ashamed.”(33)

“What is uttered for a fasiq (sinner) or a person who commits sins openly is not regarded backbiting.”(34)

• Badiuzzaman Said Nursi describes a person whom it is permissible to backbite as follows:  

“If the subject of backbiting is an open and unashamed sinner; is not troubled by evil, but on the contrary takes pride in the sins he commits; finds pleasure in his wrongdoing...”(35)

Does he commit fisq, that is, immorality, ugly deeds, sins and the things forbidden by the religion openly? Does he defend gambling and drinking alcohol, which he commits openly and fearlessly? Does he spread his sexual deviation to the community? The first criterion is committing a sin openly and the second one is not feeling ashamed while committing it. The third criterion is taking pleasure from talking about the sins and making them known. That is, it is not a sin to disdain in his absence a person who is proud to tell people the sins he commits due to his disgusting deeds. If a person commits these bad deeds secretly, it means he feels ashamed of them and he does not want them to be known. If he commits them secretly, they should not be revealed. To reveal a secretly committed sin is worse than committing it.(36)

• The second important point is the person being oppressive. Grabbing other people's rights, torturing others and similar factors are included in oppression; it is indeed a duty to oppose them, to try to prevent them and to work and propagate against them. The oppressive administrator mentioned above can be the ruler of a country, the headman of a village or district, the boss of a company or the father of a family.(37)

• Disdaining and affronting these kinds of people may help people to keep away from them. However, the functions of these kinds of backbiting can change especially at the end of time, which is a big danger. Badiuzzaman Said Nursi said, “To describe wrong things is to mislead simple minds.” For instance,the phrase ‘immoral homosexual man’ disdains the person but it sets a trap for those who have weaknesses. You see in astonishment that newspapers presented sexual deviations as disgusting and immoral in their pages. Thus, the community did not oppose them and these deviations, which were not known and which most people did not even think of, became known and widespread. We should not spread them while trying to disdain them.(38)

e) To criticize: As a rule, criticism is regarded as backbiting if it disturbs the person. Therefore, we do not have the right to criticize ordinary people in their absence. However, when public life is in question, we need to add one more criterion to the four situations mentioned above:

• We have the right to criticize public figures without disdaining, insulting and slandering even if they are disturbed. Authors, artists, scientists, politicians and everybody that is presented as models to the community are exceptions. These people are in a position of partnership with the community; their ideas and attitudes influence, form and direct the whole community.   

• We can criticize the works and attitudes of those people, not their personalities or private lives that they keep as secret. We can say that we do not agree with their ideas and that we think differently. We do not receive revelation from Allah; therefore, even if we say our sincere thoughts, we do not have the right to criticize the people who think and believe differently by disdaining them.(39)

• We have no right to research the private lives of the public figures who influence the belief and value system of the community. We may find the ideas they spread adverse. We have no right to disdain anybody just because their ideas do not comply with our group, religion, sect or party except for the situations in which the social majority and high scholars agree with us. Nobody can be justified for uttering the following shameful decrees: “He deviated, went astray, became an unbeliever, sold his religion, makes us deviate; he is a fraud, etc.” We usually confuse criticizing with insulting. Disdaining somebody is not criticizing; it is mental laziness and thoughtlessness.

Conclusion: We see that we need to educate ourselves about backbiting. Only we can teach ourselves to protect us from backbiting. This is a talent, a personality and a habit. We cannot learn by reading; we can succeed by practicing and making it a habit. We can manage by empathizing with the people we talk about in their absence. Would we behave differently if we had experienced the same things as they did in the past? We will see that people can make mistakes and that not all mistakes deserve criticizing. We will not forget that our heads will not be protected from being under the feet of others as long as we put others under our feet by backbiting them.


1. Abu Dawud, Adab 40, (4874)
2. Jamius-Saghir, Hadith No:7972
3. Abu Dawud, Adab 40, (4874)
4. al-Hujurat, 49/12
5. Imam Ghazali, Kimya-yı Saadet, Merve Publications, p.388.
6. One of the important harms of backbiting is that the negative spiritual energy that forms the content of backbiting looks for an addressee and the spirit that is wrong is destroyed by this spiritual energy as it is the case in curse. For this outcome, it does not matter whether backbiting is open or secret; what matters is the load of feeling that backbiting carries. This process is explained in my book called Ruhsal Zeka.
7. For the details of Ghazali's views, See ibid p.388
Bukhari, Adab, 50
9. al-Hujurat, 49/6
10. Ghazali, ibid, p.394
11. al-Hujurat, 49/6
12. Jamius-Saghir, Hadith No:8489
13. al-Hujurat, 49/12
14. al-Humaza, 104/1
Barla Lahikası p.264.
16. İşaratül İcaz p.222.
17. Sözler (Words) p.399.
18. Mektubat (letters) p.295.
19. This hadith, which exists in Musnad al-Firdaws 3:116,117, is present in Kanz al-Ummal, 3:589 No:8043 as “Backbiting is more severe than fornication.” Ghazali mentions the latter version. (see, Ghazali, ibid p.386) However, the interpretation of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi shows that not all kinds of backbiting are worse than fornication; however, when its outcomes are taken into consideration, backbiting can be a worse crime depending on its place, time and form.
20. Sözler (Words) p.362
21. The incident mentioned above was broadcast in the evening news on TV on March 1, 2002. This sentence was recorded in the computer at about 04.00 am.
22. Musnad, 3:224.
23. Jamiu’s-Saghir, hadith no: 8489.
24. It is not enough to say, "No, what you say is not true" to defend our friend. We need to say, “What you say is backbiting; it is haram and forbidden. You harm the honor of our friend. His honor is as high as ours.”
25. For, backbiting also means disdaining the work of art of Allah. Besides, it is clear that those who harm the honor of people easily will not be sensitive about the honor of Allah. In a joke made up for Hodja nasreddin, the following is narrated: Hodja was lying in the shade of a tree; he looked at the apples on the tree and thought why they were not as big as the pumpkins on the ground. When an apple fell and hit him on the head, he feared the possibility of apples becoming as big as pumpkins and said, “O Allah! It is wrong to interfere in Your affairs.” Then, people start to laugh. When you listen to jokes like that, you feel that divine honor is underestimated as if your sensitive spirit was stabbed. A person who does not realize the importance of human honor cannot realize the subtleties here. 
26. Imam Ghazali, Kimya-yı Saadet, Merve Publications, p. 393.
27. Meanwhile, despite your inner humbleness, some people will be jealous of your success and will backbite you. You cannot prevent this kind of personality deviation, for which they will be called to account. 
28. Mektubat (Letters), ‘22. Mektub’un Hatimesi, p. 256.
29. When we see that it is incredibly difficult to fulfill all these conditions, we will realize that the easiest solution is to keep silent.
30. We have seen many times that when a person does not telling the truth, its harm returns to him and hits him sooner or later.  
31. When I see news like that on TVs and newspapers, I get angry: “The hairdresser of such and such celebrity is a heroin addict. ……..'s brother used fake invoices. …………..'s son made a scene in a bar.” They use the names of famous people to tarnish the people whom they are related to; thus, they cast aspersions on some people in a disgusting and wicked way.
32. Jamiu’s-Saghir, Hadis No: 3516.
33. Jamiu’s-Saghir, Hadis No: 8525.
34. Muslim, Zuhd 52.
35. Mektubat (Letters), ‘22. Mektub’un Hatimesi p. 255.
36. When we witness a secret sin like this—except oppression—, we must not reveal it; we must act as if we do not know about it. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “If a person sees a sin and covers it, he gets reward as if he revived a girl who was buried alive.”
37. If there is oppression hidden by privacy, it is the duty of everybody to try to prevent this oppression. Violating others' rights cannot be hidden by privacy. A person who is the neighbor of a man who beats his family members every night does not have the right to keep silent. He needs to call the police about it and do anything if he can. Many people kept silent for years at the oppression of their next-door neighbors; then, they found a child whose throat was cut, a child who was drowned in the bath-tub or a woman whose head was smashed by being hit at the wall.
38. I think it is necessary to try to tell people about good deeds and high ethics without mentioning bad deeds and immoralities in this age. For, in this age of Doomsday, immorality is shown as something very pleasurable to the souls.
39. However, we can do some open things instead of backbiting. We can make protests at conference halls; we can complain about the programs that we do not want to see on TV to authorities. We can complain about the columnists to the newspapers they work for. However, we do not have the right to do them by insulting.

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