Backbiting is mentioning something about a person that he/she dislikes. Backbiting is prohibited (Haraam) in Islam. Allah SWT himself mentions in the Quran not to back bite:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ كَثِيرًۭا مِّنَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِثْمٌۭ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا۟ وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًۭا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ تَوَّابٌۭ رَّحِيمٌۭ
Surah Al Hujrat verse 12
O you who have attained faith, avoid making too many assumptions—indeed, some assumptions are sinful. And do not spy on one another nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would detest it. So be mindful of Allah; indeed, Allah is Granting and Accepting repentance, Bestowing mercy.
When is Backbiting Permissible in Islam?
In general, mentioning anything about another person that the person dislikes is back-biting. Scholars, however, have allowed many instances where such is permissible. For example:
- When recommending someone, e.g. for marriage or business partner (informing his/her deficiencies)
- When reporting someone to the authority e.g. testifying in court, reporting to the police, etc
- When identifying a person, such as ‘That short man’, or ‘That large-sized man’, etc
- When warning against a deviant/sin when the destruction caused is on a large scale. (see next section).
It is only permissible to warn against a deviant/sinner if the destruction caused is on a large scale
Warning against a widely spread deviant/sin is NOT Backbiting
Scholars have unanimously agreed that it is permissible to warn the masses against a false ideology that has been widely spread. The keyword here is that the false Ideology must be widely spread.
Saying of Imam Abu Hanifa:
When you recognize a wrongdoer, do not mention it to others. Ask and mention his goodness. But in the matters of Deen, if you recognize a wrongdoer (i.e. corrupted beliefs), mention it to others so they are aware and do not follow him”Imam Abu Haneefa Rahmatullah Alaih
Darul Uloom Deoband Fatwa on the permissibility of warning the masses against a corrupt individual
Darul Uloom Deoband has issued a fatwa against the permissibility of warning the masses against a corrupt individual.
Published on: April 7, 2019
I have a question about a person whose ideology is wrong. He is considered a leader to be followed and a great person to many of his followers. Does warning or exposing the mistakes of such a person is considered backbiting? Also, does the exposing of his wrong ideology a cause of division in the community?
If a leader who is being followed by many is found to have a false ideology or committed (an ideological) mistake, it is permissible for us to inform the public about his wrong ideology. This is so that the general public does not become a victim of his wrong ideology. In Sharia, this act is not considered backbiting.
If a leader who is being followed by many is found to have a false ideology or committed (an ideological) mistake, it is permissible for us to inform the public about his wrong ideologyDarul Uloom Deoband Fatwa #169327
One should however adopt a soft approach (do not take extreme measures) and avoid fights, as well as taking into account the appropriate time and situation. Such duty is an important religious duty in order to preserve the Deen. Such also does not mean that one is dividing the ummah but would be preserving the Deen and Sharia.
Such duty is an important religious duty in order to preserve the DeenDarul Uloom Deoband, on warning against a widely spread Fitna. Fatwa #169327
If one separates himself from those (who follow the false leader), to avoid back-biting and disputes, according to the sharia, this is not an offense but rather something that is demanded (in Deen). This also stops the wrong Aqeedah or ideology from (covertly) spreading amongst the people.
What about the saying of Umar RA not to speak about falsehood?
There is a saying of Umar Al-Khattab RA:
عن أبي يوسف عَنْ عُمَرَ بْنِ الْخَطَّابِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قال وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ لِلَّهِ عِبَادًا يُمِيتُونَ الْبَاطِلَ بِهَجْرِهِ وَيُحْيُونَ الْحَقَّ بِذِكْرِهِ
Abu Yusuf reported: Umar ibn al-Khattab RA said, “Know that Allah has servants who cause some falsehood to die out by ignoring it and they give life to the truth by mentioning it.”
Source: Kitab al-Kharraj 1/23 (كتاب الخراج)
It is to note that this was said by Umar Al-Khattab and not by the Prophet Muhammad SAW. We have misunderstood this saying to mean that one should not warn people about falsehood i.e. forbid evil (Nahi Munkar).
We have misunderstood the saying of Umar to mean one should not warn people about falsehood. This is against the Quran!
How is it so when Allah SWT himself has commanded the Prophet SAW to address the falsehood some of his people were doing?
What Umar Al-Khattab actually meant was:
- Some Baatil, not all of it! The word used by Umar Al-Khattab is ‘Al-Baatil’ (الْبَاطِلَ). This is not referring to ALL Baatil (كل الباطل) but some. Thus so, whether to ignore or warn, depends on the situation, For example, conspiracy theories and false rumors thrive on people talking about it. Thus so, it is best to ignore them. False ideologies thrive when people ignore and allow them to grow unchecked.
- There is a difference between ‘Idle Talks’ and ‘Warning‘. The saying of Umar is to ignore Baatil, i.e. don’t add fuel to the fire through idle talks about Baatil. ‘Warning‘ on the other hand is with worry and concern. The objective is to help people. On the other hand ‘Idle Talks‘ is aimed at entertainment/gossip bringing no benefit at all.
Summary: When is exposing considered backbiting?
Scholars have unanimously agreed that it is permissible and an important religious duty to warn the masses against a false ideology that is widely spread. The keyword here is that the false Ideology must be widely spread.
It is permissible and an important religious duty to warn the masses against a false ideology that is widely spread
Merely exposing a local Imam or leader due to him committing a sin does not fall into this category. Such would be backbiting. Rather, politely tell and pray that he abandons the sin he is doing. If the mistake/sin he is doing is harming a particular individual, it is adequate to only inform the relevant authorities to take action.
And Allah SWT knows best.