What is the decree on ghiybah (backbiting)? Is it appropriate to continue backbiting thinking that one asks for forgiving from others? How will one be forgiven by others in the hereafter?

The Details of the Question

Is it valid when people say to each other “I have violated your rights, forgive me” and when they forgive each other? If somebody has talked behind a person’s back and asked forgiveness from him without mentioning his backbiting, will he be really forgiven? How will one be forgiven by others in the hereafter? How will he be reckoned? Will you explain this issue, which is a disorder of our age, in detail?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is a nice thing when people ask forgiveness from each other and forgive mutually. It is a great virtue for a Muslim to forgive everybody and waive his rights. Allah is the forgiver and He loves those who forgive others. It is a nice thing for a person to ask forgiveness from others and to forgive them.

However, a person must not backbite thinking, "I ask for forgiveness and forgive people anyway." A person who acts like that will be held responsible by Allah and will be a sinner. In backbiting, both violation of the rights of others and the aspect of sin due to disobeying Allah’s prohibition exist. Even if a person asks for forgiveness from the person he backbites, he has to repent. Therefore, man will be held responsible if he continues backbiting thinking that he asks for forgiving from others.

The Quran and the Sunnah prohibit backbiting:

"…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?..." (al-Hujurat, 49/12);

"Backbiting is mentioning your brother in a way that he does not like." (Tirmidhi, Birr, 23; Darimi, Riqaq, 6; Malik, Muwatta, Kalam,10; Ahmad b. Hanbal, II / 384, 386).

To tell others about one’s brother’s mistakes means to say things that he does not like; therefore, it is haram to mention his mistakes through the tongue.

Besides, gestures and facial expressions, implications, signs, writing and similar deeds that indicate backbiting are also regarded as backbiting. For instance, to show by hand that somebody is tall or short, to write something about the mistakes of a person are regarded as backbiting.

To approve backbiting is also regarded as backbiting. A person who keeps quiet when somebody backbites others is regarded to share the sin of backbiting. He who cannot resist the person who backbites with his tongue has to deny it through his heart. (Imam Ghazzali, Zubdatul-Ihya, Translated by: Ali Özek, İstanbul 1969, 362, 363). The Messenger of Allah states the following:

"If a person does not help a believer who is insulted in his presence though he has the power to help, Allah will disgrace him in front of people on the Day of Judgment." (Tabarani)

"If a person prevents the mistakes of a person from being uttered in his absence, Allah guarantees to hide his mistakes on the Day of Judgment." (Ibn Abid-Dunya)

"O those who believe only with their tongues, not with their hearts! Do not backbite Muslims and do not search their sins. If a person searches the mistakes and sins of his brother, Allah will search his mistakes. If Allah searches the mistakes of a person, He will disgrace him even if he is in his house." (Abu Dawud, Ibn Abid-Dunya)

The institution of brotherhood in the religion of Islam is established by the following divine order: 

"The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy." (al-Hujurat, 49/10)

This makes the Islamic community a strong community that is elevated on this brotherhood of belief. There is no backbiting in such a community. For, as the Prophet (pbuh) says,

"A believer is the mirror of another believer. Believers are like two hands; one of them cleans the other."

Those criteria keep the community away from mischief and dissension.

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