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Gheebat - When it is allowed and when not?

Prophet Muhammad (s) once said to Imam 'Ali ('a): "O 'Ali! When someone hears the backbiting of his Muslim brother...

Prophet Muhammad (s) once said to Imam 'Ali ('a): "O 'Ali! When someone hears the backbiting of his Muslim brother committed in his presence, yet he does not rally to his assistance despite being capable of doing so, God shall humiliate him in the world and in the Hereafter." [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16336]

Consequences of Backbiting

.^. The Prophet (s) once gave counsel to Abu Dharr (r) , saying: "O Abu Dharr! Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is graver than adultery (zina')." Abu Dharr (r) said: "Why is that so, O Messenger of Allah?" He (s) replied: "That is because when a man commits adultery and then repents to God, God accepts his repentance. However, backbiting is not forgiven until forgiven by its victim." [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasai'l al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 18312] 

Prohibition of Listening to Backbiting

In the same manner as backbiting is prohibited, so also is listening to it. Indeed, as some traditions indicate, the listener is like the backbiter in all the evil aspects—so much so that his act is a grave sin carrying an obligation to seek forgiveness from the victim. 

.^. The Prophet (s) said: "The listener is one of the two backbiters." [Al-Fayd al-Kashani, Al-Mahajjat al-Bayda', vol. 5, p. 260] 

Is Backbiting Ever Allowed?

There are very few situations where it is permissible to speak about the faults of another person. One must be very careful not to let the existence of these exceptions allow transgression into sin. Some of these situations are:

.^. to protect Muslims from the evil of another person, including situations where one is asked to vouch for the integrity of a marriage prospect 

.^. when the person being talked about does not conceal his violations of Divine commands 

.^. to describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment 

.^. criticism about a narrator of traditions (hadith).

The Cure for this Disease

If someone, God forbid, has been guilty of this ugly act, he or she must purge this vice and nourish the roots of sincerity, unity, and solidarity in his or her heart by following these steps: 

.^. Meditate for a while about the effects of this sin in this world and in the Hereafter. Reflect on the fearsome, frightful forms that will beset you in the grave, in the Barzakh, and on the Day of Resurrection. Heed the words of the Holy Prophet (s) and his household ('a) for their pearls of wisdom in this regard will overwhelm you. Then weigh a quarter of an hour's pleasantries, gossip, and satisfaction of the imaginative lust against thousands upon thousands of years of adversity or eternal damnation in hell and everlasting painful chastisement! 

.^. Consider this: even if you have enmity toward a person whom you backbite, that animosity requires that you should not resort to backbiting. It is stated in the traditions that the good deeds of the backbiter are transferred to the book of deeds of the victim of his backbiting, and the victim's sins are transferred to the record of the backbiter. 

.^. Repent and seek the forgiveness of the victim, if this is possible without any chance of vicious consequences; otherwise, you must implore God's mercy for the victim. 

.^. Gather all your strength to rid your soul of this sin at all cost, by making a covenant with yourself to abstain from this abominable for a certain time. Bring your tongue under control and be fully watchful of yourself, steadfastly vigilant, calling yourself to account. God willing, it is hoped that after some time you will find yourself reformed and free of its ill traces. Gradually the burden of the task will ease, and you will feel a natural disposition to dislike and detest it. At that point, you will come to possess spiritual peace and delight in achieving freedom from this vice. 

.^. Backbiting often results from a weakness in the backbiter's own soul, such as an inferiority complex. You should pry into your soul to discover what weakness prompted you to backbite your brother or sister; then set out to remedy the weakness. 

The Prophet (s) said: "No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than gheebah in consuming a devotee's virtues." [Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', vol. 5, p. 264]

The Forty-first Greater Sin: BACKBITING

The foremost great sin for which Qur'an and hadith have promised chastisement is back-biting. As mentioned by Allah (SWT) in Qur'an, "Surely (as for) those who love that scandal should circulate respecting those who believe, they shall have a grievous chastisement in this world and the hereafter." (Surah an-Nūr 24: 19)

One day the Messenger of Allah (SWT) describing the evil aspects of usury said that taking a Dirham as usury was worst than committing adultery thirty six times. Then he said that the worst kind usury is revealing the defects of a Muslim and insulting him. (Makasibul Muharima) 

In the light of the above traditions Ghiba  is proved to be a greater sin also because it is worse than Adultery and Usury and we have already proved in the earlier chapters that Adultery and Usury are greater sins. The Holy Prophet (S) also said, "Allah will not keep a person who reveals the fault of a Mu'min, along with him in Paradise, and if he accuses him of faults the Mu'min does not have, the pure relationship of their faith will be destroyed and the back biter will forever dwell in Hell, which is a dreadful place." (Makasibul Muharima) 

"One who moves from his place with the intention of back-biting about his brother in faith, you should know that he has taken the first step towards Hell." (Makasibul Muharima)

Expiation and Repentance for Ghiba 

As Ghiba  is a greater sin anyone falling into it, is obliged to feel remorse for having disobeyed Allah (SWT). After sincere repentance he must seek forgiveness, with the intention of never repeating it in the future. As mentioned in some of the traditions, if possible one must apologize to the person whose Ghiba  he had done. He must beg him for forgiveness and somehow obtain his satisfaction. Also he must make up for it by speaking well of the person in proportion to the Ghiba  he has committed with regard to this person. 

This is more appropriate when the person is already dead and it is not possible to contact him. Or there is a good chance, the person will be more angry and would distance himself further. For example when he is ignorant of what was said about him and by hearing about the Ghiba  he would be infuriated. The aim of seeking his forgiveness would not be achieved. In such cases we should ask Allah (SWT)'s forgiveness for him and beseech Allah (SWT) to make this person happy, as mentioned in the 39th Du'a of Sahifa Sajjadiya. It is also mentioned in the supplication of Monday.

Occasions when Ghiba  is Permitted

1- Ghība  of a person whose defect is not hidden. It is known to all. Like the one who roams the streets with a bottle of wine on his lips. "One who sins openly is not worthy of respect and his Ghība is not Harām. (Makasib Muhrima page 27, Vol. 4)

A tradition also says, "(The Ghība of) one who has thrown away the robe of shame (and commits sins openly) is not Ghiība. (Makasib Muhrima page 27 Vol. 4)

It should be noted that, Ghiba  is allowed only for those sins that are committed openly. There is no proof of the legality of Ghiba  for the sins committed secretly, though according to the Shaykh, if his visible sins are more severe than his concealed defects, there is no harm in relating them. However, one should abstain from it as a matter of precaution. 

Ghiba  is allowed only in the case of a person who has himself announced his sins openly. But if he presents an excuse for this action, his Ghiba  is not allowed. For example, he says, 'I drink wine for medicinal purpose and I am in Taqlid of a person who allows it.' Or one who eats during daytime in the month of Ramadhan says that he is sick or on a journey, or he may be having other acceptable reason. Similarly in the case of one who oppresses or cooperates with the oppressors, and then justifies his act. However, it should not be a blatant act. As a matter of precaution, Ghiba  should not be done about a person who commits sins openly but in an alien town or locality.

2- If an oppressed person complains about the oppressor and mentions his acts of injustice, it is not Ghiība. As the Almighty Allah (SWT) says, "And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed these it is against whom there is no way (to blame). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress into and revolt in the earth unjustly, these shall have a painful punishment." (Surah Ash-Shūrā 42: 41-42) 

In Surah an-Nisā', the Almighty Allah (SWT) Says, "Allah does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done." (Surah an-Nisā' 4: 148) 

Precaution demands that we must complain of injustice to someone who is capable of redressing it. It is not permitted to complain to someone who is not capable of getting justice for you. 

3- Advice to those who ask for it. When a Muslim approaches for advice in a particular deal that he intends to enter with a person and the person approached knows about a defect of that person which, if he does not reveal the person who enters into contract will suffer loss and have problems; in this case there is no harm in passing such information. 

One must pay attention to two things in this case: The defect should be mentioned only if there is harm in not informing about it. If the defamation or insult caused by revealing the defect is more serious than the loss caused to the other person, one should abstain from Ghiība. Secondly, Ghiba  is allowed only if by doing so the person is warned. If he can be cautioned without doing Ghiība, Ghiba  is not allowed. For example he says, "I don't see benefit in this matter" and the person who sought advice obeys him. Then one should stop at this. 

4- Ghiba  is allowed with the intention of Nahy Anil Munkar. For example you see a Muslim prone to an evil way and think that by doing Ghiba  he'll give it up. Ghiba  is allowed in this case provided one is sure that it will have the desired effect. If there is doubt that the person has already given it up his Ghiba  is not permitted. As in the previous case, we should take into consideration the harm of doing his Ghiba  in comparison to the harm caused by his bad deed. That is, if the exposure of this Muslim is more serious than the sin he his committing, his Ghiba  is not allowed, even if we are sure that by doing his Ghiba  he would give up the act.

5- Ghiba  of a person is allowed if in addition to committing the sin himself he is instrumental in instigating others to follow him. For example he introduces an innovation in Allah (SWT)'s religion. In order to warn the people of his deceit his Ghiba  is permitted. 

6- Ghiba  is allowed in connection with a person who narrates a false hadith or gives a false testimony. It should be to ensure that people are not misled by his falsehood. 

7- It is allowed to mention the defect of a person by which he is well-known. For example blind, cock-eyed, lame etc. Our intention must not be to point out his defect but by way of indication. Also one must bear in mind that the person himself not feel irked by these titles. Only in such circumstances is it allowed, otherwise we must use some other means to indicate towards him. 

8- One is allowed to expose the false claims of a person's lineage, because the harm caused by this exposure is less than the harm to families and clans if he relates himself to them.

9- If two people are eyewitness to a sin. Later one of them mentions it to others. There is no harm in it because the one who is spoken to is not hearing something unknown to him, Shahīd Thani says it is better to refrain from mentioning something which the other person has forgotten or when there is a risk of scandal. 

10- According to Shaykh Ansari the discussion between two people who are eyewitnesses is allowed, if they do not do it with the intention of criticizing or denouncing the person. In all cases, Ghiba  is allowed when the harm it causes is less serious than the insult or defamation incurred by the person.

Listening to Ghiba  is also Harām

Lending ear to Ghiba  is Harām just as uttering Ghiba  is Harām. The Messenger of Allah (S) says,"The one who listens to Ghiba  is one of those who do Ghiība." (Mustadrak ul-Wasa'il)