**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.
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:
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.