**This article was written by an SFC Guest Contributor
Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahmeen
Part 1 of "Avoiding Gossip" discussed what gossip actually is and why it is so important to stop it. In this post, I wanted to outline a few small steps that we can take to begin making a change in our own behaviors and, in shaa Allah, start on the journey to losing the habit of backbiting for good.
Make a sincere intention, and start with du'a.
As with anything in our deen, it all starts with our intention. If you have decided to make a change in your life and you are trying to break the habit of gossiping, your intention should be first and foremost to seek the pleasure of Allah عز وجل, and to quit doing something that you know displeases Him. Keep checking your intentions throughout your journey, not only to check in with yourself but also to remind yourself of the reason you are trying to make this change in the first place.
No matter how long it takes you, if your intention is sincere then in shaa Allah He will grant you His aid, and you will be successful!
It is also important to begin with making du'a to Allah عز وجل for His help in the matter. Ask for His aid to help you strengthen your iman and ask Him to keep you away from this sin. Ask Him to lead you towards all that is good and steer you away from all that is bad. Always keep making du'a, even when you think you have accomplished the goal. It is so easy for us as humans to slip back into habits we thought we had kicked, which is why it is so important to always keep Allah عز وجل on your mind and in your heart.
Work on your own nafs.
While it is tempting to blame our faults on others or on our upbringing and culture or on our life circumstances, in order to truly fix the issue we need to realize and admit that we ourselves are weak. We are only human, and though we know the truth, we often forget. We need reminding over and over again, and it takes numerous tries and fails to keep ourselves steady on the straight path.
The first and best thing we can do in order to break the habit of gossip is to begin with subduing our own nafs. Regular fasting is a good place to start, and reading up on all of the adadith and ayat surrounding the sin we are trying to leave. Once the knowledge and understanding really penetrates our hearts, it will become that much easier to begin practicing on it, even in difficult situations, in shaa Allah.
Avoid gatherings where you know there is gossip.
While you are working on your own nafs and trying to gain knowledge and understanding, try as best as you can to even avoid being in a situation that could possibly lead to gossip. Don't go to gatherings where you know regular gossip occurs, don't stop to chat with people that you know you fall into gossip with.
This can be especially difficult if it is family functions that you are declining to attend, or if you need to stop calling up that one friend for your weekly catch-up, but try to make the most polite excuses that you can without outright lying. Often people will be understanding, and if people are not, Allah عز وجل is the One who sees your pure intentions.
If you can't avoid certain gatherings or people out of necessity and you find yourself in a situation where gossip does come up, the first thing you can do is not contribute. Don't answer questions or add your own stories, sit silently but kindly so that the others in the gathering understand that you do not want to participate in this kind of talk. Even listening to gossip is a sin, but staying silent with the intention of at least not contributing is a step in the right direction in shaa Allah.
Defend your sisters in Islam.
If you do find yourself in a situation where the people around you are engaging in gossip, and you know that you have a good relationship with the people present, then the best course of action would be to stick up for your brother or sister that they are talking about.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
You do not have to make any elaborate excuses for the person being talked about, in fact, the simpler the better. It is often enough just to say, “I have never seen anything but good from such-and-such,” in order to defend the person and close the conversation down.
Change the subject.
Oftentimes, we may find ourselves in situations where we are in a gathering of sisters that we don't know very well, and as such, we may not be able to directly address the gossip without sounding rude, harsh, or critical. In this case, the best course of action is to try to change the conversation to something else. Ideally, this should be something beneficial, but if that is not possible then any mundane thing will do.
You could change the subject by something like telling the group about a new du'a you are memorizing, and asking them what they are working on, you could tell a funny anecdote about the things your pet does, you could even just comment on the beauty of your surroundings or the weather and how amazing Allah's creation is. There are plenty of creative ways that you could steer a conversation back into gossip-free waters without awkwardness.
Politely excuse yourself.
If none of the above strategies seem to be working, and the people you are with seem completely intent to carry on in their conversations about others, then your last resort is to get up and politely excuse yourself.
I know that this is difficult for many of us to do without feeling very awkward or downright rude, but again, with sincere intentions in shaa Allah the people you are with will understand.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “Whoever among you sees an evil and changes it with his hand, then he has done his duty. Whoever is unable to do that, but changes it with his tongue, then he has done his duty. Whoever is unable to do that, but changes it with his heart, then he has done his duty, and that is the weakest of Faith.”
Narrated in Sunan an-Nasa'i
Again, in this situation it is best not to try to make up some elaborate excuse, but keep it simple. Something like, “excuse me, I have some things to take care of,” is a perfect way to get out without hurting feelings and without lying, as the things you need to take care of could be just about anything. Make sure to say your salaams warmly and courteously to all present!
Repent and mend broken relationships.
Almost the last, but by far not the least of these steps to break the habit of gossip is to repent for your past mistakes. Keep making those du'a for Allah عز وجل to aid you and grant you the strength to stay away from the sin, but also ask His forgiveness for all of the times you have fallen into it. Even when you slip, turn back to Allah عز وجل and make the sincere intention never to do it again. He sees the struggle in your heart, and in shaa Allah there will be reward for even that.
I saved this next step for last, because it is indeed the most difficult. When we gossip and backbite, we are not only disobeying Allah عز وجل, but we are also infringing on the rights of His creation, and because Allah does not forgive on behalf of the creation, it is up to us to ask that forgiveness ourselves before it is too late.
This is a very complicated process to go through, but one that is necessary if we are truly to overcome the habit of backbiting. I'm sure we can all think of a few people that have been the regular subjects of our gossip, whether friends, family, or “enemies,” and these are the people we should go to first.
Of course, it will be more damaging to the relationship if we go and tell them every single thing we have ever said or heard said about them, so the best way to do it is to make it a general statement. You can even make it a mutual statement, such as, “I know that in the past you and I have had our issues, but can we both forgive each other for any past wrongs and start fresh for the sake of Allah?”
It is such a difficult conversation to have, and one that I myself am still trying to gather my courage for, but in shaa Allah the rewards are far greater than the moments of discomfort we will go through. If we have sincere intentions, and if we acknowledge our wrongs, in shaa Allah the other person will be willing to forgive and move forward for the sake of Allah.
As for those people who you know you need to ask forgiveness from but have lost contact with, or perhaps are non-mahrams that you don't feel comfortable speaking to, the best thing we can do in that situation is to pray sincerely for their well-being and forgiveness from Allah عز وجل.
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said, "People's deeds are presented before Allah on Mondays and Thursdays, and then every slave (of Allah) is granted forgiveness (of minor sins) if he does not associate anything with Allah in worship. But the person in whose heart there is rancor against his brother, will not be pardoned. With regard to them, it is said twice: 'Hold these two until they are reconciled'."
Narrated in Muslim
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.