Backbiting in Islam

What is backbiting?

Backbiting can be considered as any kind of malicious talk about someone who is not present.

The different types of backbiting in Islam

There are different types of malicious talk that are:

  • Geebah: This is the direct translation of backbiting, which includes speaking about a person and mentioning things that they would not like to be said about them.
  • Buhtan: This is when someone says things about a person that are not true
  • Nameemah: The modern day definition would be considered as “stirring” or when someone gossips to another in order to cause friction and problems between them.

How bad is backbiting in Islam?

There is evidence in Islamic texts that backbiting is haram (forbidden):

“neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who forgives and accepts repentance, Most Merciful” [49:12]

The parable given in the extract from the Quran is that backbiting is the equivalent to eating the skin of your dead sibling. The example in itself is quite crude which should be a reminder and help us appreciate the gravity of how bad backbiting actually is.

Is there punishment for backbiting?

Backbiting is a sin for which there is punishment which will be delivered before the Day of Judgement as we are told based on the authentic hadith:

It was narrated that Ibn ‘Abbas said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) passed by two graves and said, “They are being punished, but they are not being punished for anything that was difficult to avoid. One of them used to walk about spreading malicious gossip (nameemah), and the other used not to take precautions to avoid getting urine on himself when he urinated.” Then he called for a green branch, which he split in two and planted a piece on each grave, and said, “May their torment be reduced so long as these do not dry out.” [al-Bukhaari, Muslim]

This is not to say that there is not punishment beyond the grave. The grave is just the beginning so this should just be a wake up call to us all to stop this bad behaviour.

What should a muslim do instead of backbiting?

The general methodology that a muslim should follow is a way of peace, unity and positivity. A muslim should occupy themselves with what is good and busy in performing good deeds as opposed to being mischievous and causing problems for others (as well as accumulating sins for yourself).

We can learn a great lesson from one of the great companions of the Prophet Muhammad, Umar Ibn Al-Khattab:

“I have never regretted my silence. As for my speech, I have regretted it over and over again”
Umar Ibn Al-Khattab

After reflecting upon such wise words we are able to understand how the pious used to evaluate themselves regularly and how much attention was focused on just the quality of their speech.

What should I do if I backbite regularly?

The first step of any problem is acceptance that it is in fact a problem, otherwise you can never in theory fix something which isn’t broken.

Beyond recognition you should sincerely repent to God and do your best to abstain from such idle talk in future.

A really handy way to stop backbiting is by following this checklist:

Ask yourself when you are about to talk, is what I am about to say:

  • True?
  • Necessary?
  • Beneficial?

If whatever you are about to say doesn’t satisfy at least 2 of 3 of the above criteria (at any one time) then it’s probably better if you don’t say it. Obviously there are always exceptions to the rule but as a generalisation this checklist should help you consciously improve what you say.