Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
Gossip and backbiting are a couple of those issues that no matter how much they seem to be brought up in khutbahs, lectures, and halaqas, they continue to be prevalent in our societies. If we take a look into our social gatherings and interactions, especially as women,we’d notice that talking about people who are not present is at the core of many of the discussions we have.
We all know that gossip is bad and that it is forbidden in Islam, so today I would like to focus on how we can begin to break the habit for ourselves instead of focusing on the many ahadith and ayat from the Qur’an that talk about the punishments awaiting the backbiters in this world and the next.
The first step to breaking this bad habit is to understand what backbiting actually is in the deen of Islam. We tend to think of it only as malicious talk about someone behind their back, especially if this talk is untrue, but the scope is actually far wider than that.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم defines backbiting in the following hadith:
In discussing this hadith, a teacher of mine recently mentioned that it does not say that backbiting is saying something bad about someone, rather it is talking about someone in a way that she would dislike when she is not present. This can include any range of things from insults, sharing her personal secrets, or even sharing good things about her that you know she would prefer not to have shared with others.
There are many examples of this. Casually making mention about another sister's bad habit that you saw and telling a sister's secrets with the universal preface of, “don't tell anyone, but...” are common instances of gossip. Given the the above definition though, it could also mean something like sharing the news of a sister's pregnancy at a gathering where she is not present. While it is technically good news, and a happy thing you are sharing, if you know that she did not want the news out yet then it will still count under the Prophet's صلى الله عليه وسلم definition of backbiting.
Seeing exactly how broad the definition of backbiting is, it is all the more imperative for us to learn to steer our conversations clear of any talk of other people, whether good or bad.
There are many descriptions of what will happen to those who backbite in the akhirah, of the gruesome punishments and one narration that even mentions that a backbiter will not enter paradise. The following hadith, however, really puts it into a perspective that we can understand as 21st century Muslimahs:
Most of us who consider ourselves “practising” Muslimahs cannot even imagine committing unlawful intercourse. Whether we are married or still single, the mere thought of doing this act, which we know constitutes a major sin, makes us recoil. We take steps to make sure that we are never even in a situation that might lead to committing the act: we wear hijab, we do not mix with non-mahrams without purpose, we lower our gazes when out in public and we fast regularly to keep our nafs in check.
I remember the first time I read this hadith for myself, I was completely taken aback. Unlawful intercourse and adultery are such huge sins, sins that even in our modern communities are still taboo, so how is it that we feel so free and easy committing a sin that is greater, according to this hadith?
I myself am guilty of falling into the sin of gossiping sometimes, but after reading this hadith I have made a very firm resolution to stop it at all costs. And, while that may seem very difficult to do given the state of our communities today, there are many small steps you can take in order to avoid falling into gossiping. You will come up against resistance, and it will be difficult at first, but in shaa Allah with a sincere intention and a little bit of work, we can all be that much closer to eradicating the habit forever.
Now that we have a firm idea of what gossip actually is and why it is so important to kick the habit, in shaa Allah in my next post I will share some of those small steps that we can take in order to begin making a change in our lives and our relationships.
Stay Tuned for Part II
The "Ideal Muslimah" section of Striving For Clarity provides an array of articles, micro-series and short tidbits geared towards highlighting the important characteristics of a Muslim woman.