Gossiping and Tale Bearing

Musa Kâzım GÜLÇÜR

Concealing the faults of others and guarding them from slander are great virtues, whereas backbiting or speaking badly about a believer is a grave sin. The Qur’an says;

Surely your Lord is He Who knows best who is astray from His way, and He knows best those who are rightly guided. So, pay no heed to (the desires of) those who persistently deny (God’s Message). They wish you to compromise (with them in matters of faith), so they would compromise (with you). Pay no heed to any contemptible oath-maker (who swears much with no consideration of truth, and no will to act on his word); a defamer, circulating slander (in all directions); who hinders the doing of good, transgressor of all bounds (of sense or decency), one addicted to sinning; cruel and ignoble, and in addition to all that, morally corrupt.” (Qalam 68:7–13)

According to most commentators, this was revealed in connection with the behaviour of Walid ibn Mughira. He served as an example of a whole list of things to avoid deviating from the straight path, lying, cursing, backbiting or broadcasting the faults of others, standing in the way of good, aggression, being drawn into sin, losing one’s honour, and harshness in manner. Ibn Abbas said of him, “We have never seen another person whose faults were named by God Himself like that.” One of these bad attributes that Walid ibn Mughira possessed was spreading rumours. He loved to look for people’s faults and then would gossip about them. By publicly denouncing him, God calls on all people to avoid this immoral behaviour and the trait of seeking to uncover the faults of another. [Majmuat al-Tafasir, VI/327–329]

Now, to return to our topic after that general introduction, it is well known that to spread rumours or gossip about people, and therefore to create resentment or dissension among believers, is prohibited. According to a hadith narrated by Hamman ibn Haris, such an act is enough to prevent a person entering heaven. The hadith says, “I was together with Hudhayfa in the mosque. A man came and sat with us. He said to Hudhayfa (warning him of another man sneaking in a furtive manner), ‘This man officiously carries reports and rumours to the chief and retells them.’ Upon hearing this Hudhayfa said, loud enough for the man to hear (and urge strongly), ‘I heard God’s Messenger say, ‘One who spreads rumours cannot enter heaven.” [Muslim, Iman, 45, 170; Bukhari, Adab, 50; Muslim, Iman, 169, 105; Abu Dawud, Adab, 38, 4771; Tirmidhi, Birr, 79, 2027]

Tale bearing and repeating talk about someone else is forbidden. For clearly, mentioning anything about a person that he or she would dislike hearing, even if it is true, is a form of gossip. The Companions received instruction from the Prophet on this matter. Abu Hurayra explains, “The Messenger of God said, ‘Do you know what backbiting is?’ They responded, ‘God and His Messenger know best!’ So, he said, ‘It is talking about someone else in a way they would not like!’ Then a man who was present asked, ‘What if what I say is true (about the person)? Is it still backbiting?’ He answered, ‘If what you say is true, it is backbiting. And if it is not true, you have slandered the person as well.” [Abu Dawud, Adab, 40, 4874; Tirmidhi, Birr, 23, 1935; Muslim, Birr, 70, 2589] This rule applies to talking about anyone, not only people we know well. Here I will recount a narration from Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, which serves as a warning about the danger of talking about others: “I once spoke to the Messenger of God about the qualities of Safiyya (another one of his wives). He was unhappy and said, ‘Your words were such that if you dropped them into the ocean, they would pollute all its water.’” She added this regarding another incident: “I impersonated someone (to mock them) to God’s Messenger. He immediately said, ‘I would never impersonate (the faults of) another —not even if I were given a huge treasure to do so!” [Abu Dawud, Adab, 40, 4875; Tirmidhi, Sifat al-Qiyama, 52, 2503–4]

In addition to avoiding gossip and talking about others, a Muslim is also responsible for defending others from being slandered in their presence. Although one who repeats gossip or slanders others may not be punished in this world, we know that they will be after death. The following teaching by Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, reflects this eternal truth. According to Muadh ibn Asad al-Juhani, his father heard this from the Prophet’s lips: “Whoever defends a believer against gossip, God will send him an angel on the Last Day to save his body from the fire of Hell. And whoever throws a slanderous accusation on a Muslim’s name, God will imprison him on the bridge over Hell on the Last Day until this sin is purified.” [Abu Dawud, Adab, 41, 4883] On the other hand, saying the truth about someone who openly defies religious decrees, who enjoys sinning and broadcasts it publicly is not considered to be gossip. Jabir and Abu Hurayra explain, “God’s Messenger said, ‘What is said about someone who sins openly is not gossip. My entire community, except those who openly sin, are eligible for forgiveness.” [Abu Dawud, Adab, 60; Muslim, Zuhd, 52, 2990]

Translated by Jessica ÖZALP

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