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The Many Dangers of the Tongue

In the Name of Allâh, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful

Chapter Three

Afflicting a Muslim with the Tongue

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "The whole of the Muslim is sacred, his blood, his property and his honor. " [Muslim]

And in his farewell Khutbah, he (peace be upon him) said: "..Indeed your blood, your wealth and your honor are all Haraam (sacred) to each other, just as this day is sacred (the Day of 'Eed ul-Adhaa), in this sacred month (Zil Hajj) in this sacred place (the place of Hajj). [Al-Baihaqee]


Allah, the Most High said:

"Do not backbite one another, would any one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother, verily you detest this...." [Al-Hujuraat 49:12]

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Backbiting is mentioning something about your brother that he dislikes. " [Maalik & Ibn Mubaraak]

And in another narration, he (peace be upon him) said: "Backbiting is to mention about a person something about him in his absence". [Abu Dawood]

The Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "Do you know what is gheebah (Backbiting)? They said "Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) know best." He (peace be upon him) said: "Mentioning about your brother what he would hate (in his absence)'. It was said: 'What about if what I say about my brother is true?' He (peace be upon him) said: "If what you said about him is true then you would have backbited him, and if it is not true, then he is slandered (buhtaan). [Muslim]

Based on the above Aa-Hadeeth backbiting can be defined as:

"Mentioning about a person in his absence something he would hate even if it is a characteristic he possesses."

Backbiting is haraam and the person who involves in it must repent.

When is talking about your brother not considered to be backbiting:

Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyaan, came to the Messenger (peace be upon him) and said:

"Abu Sufyaan is a miserly man and he does not give me enough for me and my child except if I take from him and he does not know. " The Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "Take what is commonly known as enough for you and your child".

[Bukhari & Muslim]

It is clear from the above Hadeeth, that, in certain specific cases, a Muslim is permitted to talk about someone behind his or her back. For example:

a) If a man is oppressed, he can go to the ruler or judge or someone who has the ability to stop the oppression, and make a petition, as Hind did.

b) Also, when seeking an Islamic ruling, it is allowed to mention a person's bad quality, as is established in the hadeeth of Hind above, as when Hind asked: "Abu Sufyaan is a miserly man and he does not give me enough for me and my child except if I take from him and he does not know".

c) Seeking help to change a wrong by taking one's right. If someone cannot change it himself, then he can go to someone who is in a position to change it. Thus, he will have to backbite his oppressor to inform the person who can give him authority. The hadeeth of Hind above exemplifies this.

In the case of "commanding good and forbidding evil", a person is allowed to mention the known innovation or sin of another person, in order to warn others about it. However, if one declares the actions of people that are done in secret, this is considered to be backbiting.

One is also permitted to inquire about a person who has a specific callname, like the deaf man, or blind man. However, if his correct name is known, then it would not be allowed to use other false names.

In the same vein, one is allowed to forewarn and caution his brother or sister, about someone who is a sinner or innovator, in order for them to be free from their influence. Allah, the Most High said:

"Help one another in righteousness and piety; but do not assist one another in sin or transgression" [Al-Maaidah 5:2]

Some factors that cause backbiting and their cures:

1. Subsiding anger.

This is done by backbiting the person who kindles his anger -so everytime this person makes him angry, he subsides it by backbiting the person. Through this (the backbiting), he feels he is getting even with the other person. The cure for this is the advice of the Messenger (peace be upon him) "Whoever suppresses his anger while in a position to enforce it, Allah will call him at the head of the creation until he chooses for him from the hoor'een (special women of Jannah that are promised to the believer), for him to marry from them as he pleases. [Ahmad and At-Tabaraanee]

2. Wanting to keep Mends.

In order to maintain friends with others, a person indulges in backbiting because he is afraid of losing their friendship. Thus he does not reprimand them when they backbite, but indulge in it with them. To cure this he must remember the saying of the Messenger (peace be upon him) "Whoever solicit the pleasure of men by displeasing Allah, Allah will consign him to mankind. [At-Tirmidhi]

3. Wanting to raise one's status with other people.

This is done by debasing others, by saying things like such and such a person, is ignorant or his understanding is weak, thus indirectly implying that he is more knowledgeable than the one he debases. In order to cure this sickness, the perpetrator must be reminded that Allah is the final judge and this person that he is claiming is ignorant, might be better than him with Allah. Furthermore, that person may be excused because of his lack of understanding.

4. Playing around and making fun of others.

This could involve mockery and sarcasm. It is enough to remind those indulging in this practice of what Allah, the Most High said:

"O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter is better than the former..." [Al-Hujuraat 49:11]

At other times, it could involve lies, as mention is made of some people in a way to make others laugh. It is enough to answer with the statement of the Messenger (peace be upon him): "Woe to the one who speaks and lies to make people laugh, woe to him, woe to him" [Ahamad, Abu Dawood & others]

5. Envy.

Through envy, a person is backbited because of his noble position and high standing, in order to debase and reduce his worth in people's eyes. The envier should reflect upon the statement of the Messenger (peace be upon him): "Faith and envy cannot exist together in the heart of the slave". [Ahmad 8: 436]

6. Fear of Blame.

Something is attributed to a person who wants to free himself from it, by blaming another person totally, although they both had shared in the act. He does this so that he can free himself from being blamed. The correct thing to do is to acquit himself honestly, and not try to throw the blame upon anyone else.

7. Having too much spare time.

This can cause a person to fall into backbiting, because it is easy for such an idle mind to become busy with men, their honor and their faults. To correct this a person must spend his time in acts of obedience to Allah, worship, seeking knowledge, and teaching others. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Two blessings are misused by people, good health and spare time to do good." [Bukhari]

8. Trying to get close to a person in authority to acquire material gains.

In order to get close to those in authority and to gain their favors, someone may backbite his workmates with his boss. To cure this, he must realize the true value of this world with Allah, the Glorious, and that He is the Provider, and that He would allow him to get only what he deserves. And no boss can give him anything if Allah, the Sublime does not will such for him. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

"...know that if the nation (all mankind) were to gather together to benefit you with something, it would only benefit you with something that Allah had already prescribed for you..." [At-Tirmidhi]

Aspects of backbiting that people might not feel is backbiting:

1. If someone is involved in backbiting, and when he is reprimanded he responds: "I am prepared to say it in front of him,"

he can be replied to with the following: You mentioned about him something he would not like in his absence. This is backbiting, and being prepared to mention it in front of him, is a different issue altogether. There is no proof from the Shar'eeah to show that being prepared to mention it to him allows backbiting.

2. If a specific person is mentioned, and someone says something loudly that implies something negative, like: "We seek refuge with Allah from being misguided" then this is also backbiting, because it is mentioning something bad about a person in his absence in an indirect way.

3. A statement about a person like: "Such and such a person is being tested with such and such" or "we used to do the same thing," implies it is something bad, and mentioned in his absence. Is that not what we have defined as backbiting?

4. Thinking it is allowed to backbite someone because he is a younger person. There is no proof for this.

5. Finding it easy to talk about someone because he is poor, or because he is weak, or a sinner, or the like.

How should the Backbiter be treated:

The backbiter should be corrected by stopping him from backbiting and he should be warned that he is involved In a great sin.

The one to whom the backbiter comes should defend the brother who is being backbited.

Also, the person who listens to the backbiter should be aware that he is encouraging an evil, and if the person does not stop, then he should walk away from him.

Slander & false accusations

Slander, and the making of false accusations, are considered to be major sins in Islam. This involves fabricating or spreading a lie about your brother (Muslim) in his absence.

The Messenger (peace be upon him) said:

"Do you know what is gheebah (Backbiting)? They said: "Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) know best. He (peace be upon him) said, "Mentioning about your brother what he would hate (in his absence)'. It was said: 'What about if what I say about my brother is true?' He (peace be upon him) said: "If in him is what you say you would have backbited him, and if it is not in him. then he is slandered (Buhtaan)."


Of course, slander is a more heinous sin than backbiting, since it involves not only backbiting but also lying with intent to maliciously dishonor a Muslim.

The Messenger (peace be upon him) also said: "...And whoever knowingly argues uselessly, Allah will continue to be angry with Him until he refrains from it, and whoever says about a believer, that which is not in him Allah will house him in a mill of the people of the fire of Jahannam until he leaves off what he said ..."

[Abu Dawood, Al-Haakim & others]

Some of the punishment for backbiting and slandering are:

1. They are both major sins in Islam, and the one who does not cease from it and repent, would be punished severely in the grave. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "...On the night that I was taken (to Jerusalem and up to the heavens), I saw a set of people who were (being punished by) taking their own finger-nails (which were long and metallic) and scraping the flesh of their own faces (and eating it). When I asked Jibreel about them, he said: 'these are people who used to be engaged in backbiting'."

[Ibn Abi Duniya- Kitaab Al-Ghiba wan Nameemah]

Ibn 'Abbaas, may Allah be pleased with him, said, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) passed by two graves and said: 'The inhabitants of (these graves) are being punished for major sins; one of them used to engage in slandering others..."

[Al-Bukhari Vol. 2 Pg. 259]

2. Whoever backbites or slanders, Allah, the Most High vows to expose their faults. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "O you who believe with your tongue and not your hearts, do not seek after the faults of Muslims, nor pry into their mistakes or downfalls. For whoever amongst you will investigate the mistakes of Muslims, then Allah will go after his mistakes and expose him, even if that mistake was committed (secretly) in the privacy of his house."

[Ibn Abi Duniya- Kitaab Al-Ghiba wan Nameemah]

Giving false testimonies or bearing false witness

Among the other blatant misuse of the tongue is witnessing to falsehood or bearing false witness. Allah, the Glorious said:

"...And shun lying speech (false statement)" [Hajj:30]

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Shall I not inform you about the greatest of sins." We said: "Most assuredly" He (peace be upon him) said: "Shirk! (associating partners) with Allah, ungratefulness to parents', he was reclining but now sat up and said: 'and bearing false witness', he continued to repeat it so much that we said: We wish that he would stop speaking." [Bukhari & Muslim]

Imaam Adh-Dhahabee in his work Al-Kabaair (The Major Sins) said: The bearer of false witness commits several major sins. These are as follow:

(a) He is spreading lies and falsehood. And Allah, the Most High said: "... Truly, Allah does not guide anyone who is a Musrif (one who commit great sins, oppressor, transgressor), a liar..." [Ghaafir 40: 28]

(b) He was unjust to the person against whom he testified, because it is from his witness, that the person was either deprived of his property, or his honor, or his life.

(c) He was unjust to the person in whose favor he testified,, because he made it possible for him to acquire property that does not belong to him, thereby rendering him a sinner.

(d) He is unjust to himself, by being the one who bore false witness.

Accusing/slandering pious women (of adultery).

Allah, the Sublime said:

"Verily, those who accuse chaste women who never ever think of anything touching their chastity, and (who) are good believers, (their accusers) are cursed in this Life and in the Hereafter, and for them will be a great torment " [An-Noor 24:23]

Allah, the Most High, is making it clear in this aayah that anyone who slanders pious women are cursed in this world, and in the Hereafter, they will have a severe torment.

The Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "Keep away from 7 (seven) dangerous and destructive sins (and from them is) ............ slandering pious women (by accusing them of adultery)..." [Bukhari & Muslim]

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

"Whoever accuses what his right hand possesses of adultery will have the judgment established (against him for it) on the Day of Judgment, unless it is as he claimed.

[Bukhari & Muslim]

Note: The Shar'eeah stipulates that, for the accusation of Zinaa (adultery or fornication), that four mature, male witnesses must testify that they all (together) saw the accused in the actual act itself (i.e. "as a bucket enters into a well" according to the Prophet (peace be upon him). If the testimony is not as stipulated above (i.e. they have not seen the actual act in itself), but have only seen convincing evidences, or there is three or less witnesses, then their testimonies are rejected. And Allah, the Most High stipulates:

"And those who accuse chaste women, and produce not four witnesses, hog them with eighty stripes, and reject their testimony forever..." [An-Noor 24: 4]

Lying is another evil of the tongue.

Allah, the Sublime, said:

"Indeed those who fabricate Lies upon Allah, are only those who disbelieve in His signs, and it is they who are truly liars." [An-Nahl : 105]

Allah, the Almighty said:

"A painful torment is theirs because they used to be liars" [Al-Baqarah 2:10]

Ibn Mas`oud, may Allah be pleased with him, said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: 'Truth guides to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Janaah and indeed a person would involve in truth until he is written with Allah as truthful. And lying guides to immorality which guide to Jahannam, and a person would lie until he is written with Allah as a liar. [Bukhari & Muslim]

From among the characteristic of a hypocrite, described to us by the Prophet (peace be upon him), is that " when he speaks he lies': [Bukhari & Muslim]

Hypocrites are the worst of people, because of their evil deeds which involve deception. Consequently, their punishment would be the most severe on the Day of Judgment. So, brothers and sisters, avoid lying at all cost, so as to save yourself from being even considered to be associated with the worst of mankind.

'Aaishah, informing us about the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "If he (peace be upon him) finds anyone from his family lying, he would turn away from that person until he/she repents." [Ahmad and Al-Haakim]

Situations in which lying is allowed:

A person is only allowed to lie if it involves the following:

-Making peace between two Muslims.

-Lying to the enemy in battle to protect other Muslims.

-The lying of a man to his wife and she to her husband (to keep their relationship harmonious). However, this should not be understood to mean cases of clear lies. Rather, it is the extolling of the virtues of each other, by using pleasant words, although it contains exaggeration. And Allah knows best.

All of the above are established in the following Hadeeth of the Prophet of Allah (peace be upon him): "I do no consider it lying: A man who makes peace between other men, a man who speaks in battle, a man speaking to his wife, or a wife speaking to her husband "

(Abu Dawood]

Incidents of lying that are not considered by people as lies:

There are many blatant cases of lying, although people do not consider them to be such:

1. Calling a child for something and there is nothing to give him.

'Abdullah ibn 'Aamir said: "The Messenger of Allah came to our house while I was a boy, so he 'Abdullaah said: 'I left to go and play. My mother said 'Come 'Abdullaah for me to give you (something).' The Messenger (peace be upon him) said: 'What will you give to him?' She said 'I will give him a date. " He (Abdullaah) said, that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "If you did not have anything to give to him, a lie would have been written against you. [Abu Dawood & Ahmad]

Parents, take heed! Since we want to raise our children upon Islam, and to train them to be truthful, we must beware of lying to them, because that will teach them to lie.

It should be noted that this incident was related by someone who was young when it happened to him. So, children take note of incidents much more than we realize. Therefore, we must not assume that we are playing around and trying to make fun with them, by fooling them.

2. Speaking about everything we hear.

The Messenger (peace be upon him) said: "It is enough (to make) a man a liar if he speak! everything he hears". [Abu Dawood & Al-Haakim]

A person might transfer something that was not verified saying: 'This is what I heard, and I did not add anything to it'. So what would be his end, if what he heard was slander or vilifying of a pious person?

3. Lying to make others laugh. The Messenger said: "Woe to him who speak? and lie so that he can makes people laugh - woe to him, woe to him ".

[Ahmad, Abu Dawood & others]

Tale carrying (scandal) or strife-making.

Allah, the Most High said:

"And obey not everyone who swear much and is considered worthless, a slanderer going about scandal-mongering, hinderer of good, transgressor, sinful.. " [Al-Qalm 68:10-12]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "The tale-carrier (scandal mongerer) would not enter Al-Jannah " [Bukhari & Muslim]

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Do you know what is scandaling (carrying tales)? It is transferring of the speech of someone to another person to cause trouble between them. [Al-Bukhari in Adab Al-Mufrad]

However, it should be noted that it is not scandalling if a man informs his brother what was said about him, if there would be some benefit from this. Ibn Mas'oud said: The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) divided something, so a man from the Ansaar said: 'By Allah! He (i.e. the Prophet) did not do that seeking the pleasure of Allah (implying that it was unfairly done)'; so I came to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and informed him, immediately his face reddened and he said: "Allah's Mercy be with Moosaa, he was tested with more than this and was patient. " [Al-Bukhari]

How to treat the carrier of tales.

One must verify the tales or stories brought by the carrier of tales, lest he act upon his words, thus harming someone who is innocent. Allah, the Most High, said:

"O you who believe. If a rebellious evil person come to you with a news, verify it - lest you harm a people to ignorance, sad afterwards you become regretful of what you did "

[Al-Hujuraat 43:6]

The tale carrier should be advised, admonished, and even prevented from doing such an evil action. One should also express his hate for tale carrying, by desisting from listening to such a person. In addition to the above, one should not perpetrate the evil of the tale carrier, by entertaining bad thoughts about his brother, or disclosing what was said by the tale carrier.

It is prohibited to deceive a Muslim who is seeking sincere advice.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "...and whoever directs his brother in

an affair; but knows that the right guidance is other than that, has deceived him.

[Abu Dawood & Haakim]

Generally, all persons who are directly or indirectly responsible for leading and educating the Muslims, individually (i.e. like one's wife, children, relatives, etc.) or collectively (their Jama'ah i.e. like Masjids, communities, organizations, etc.) should pay careful attention to this Hadeeth and its implications. This is because they are the ones who are most likely to find themselves involved in this serious sin of injustice and misguidance of their brothers and sisters. This often occurs when such educators/leaders knowing the truth in a given issue or affair, as established from the Quraan and the authentic Sunnah, deliberately gives a fatwaa, or promote directly or indirectly, the wrong opinion or version of that particular issue. The motivating factors for such deliberate deception of his fellow Muslim/s, who vested their trust in him to lead and guide them correctly, is one or more of the following:

(a) Ititbaa'`ul-Hawaa (i.e. Following their personal prejudices/preferences/tastes/desires, etc.)

(b) Seeking to acquire or maintain a position of office (either because of fame or money)

(c) Political motives (partisianship i.e. to support the operative view of a particular organization because it appeals to its adherents, or because it appeal to the masses).

This type of deception can also result because of material benefits. For example, someone seeks the advice of his brother in relation to a particular business venture, but his brother likes the idea himself, and then Shaitaan influences him to reserve the business for himself, thus he responds to the seeker of the advice against getting into the business, explaining that there is little or no benefit in it. It can also be that he deceives him because he is envious of his brother, and so he withholds what he knows from him.

The prohibition of proposing to a woman who is already engaged.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "No one should propose (to marry a woman) if his brother already proposed ." [An-Nasaaii]

He (peace be upon him) also said: "The believer is the brother of a believer, so it is not allowed to undercut his brother in business and he does not propose (to the same woman) to whom his brother has already proposed, until the proposal of his brother is canceled."


Indulging in defaming a Muslim.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "Ribaa (interest) is divided into seventy two categories, the least is (as evil as) the like of a man who comes (fornicating) with his mother; and the worst form of ribaa is (the like) of a man who deliberates in the honor of his brother. " [At-Tabaraanee].

The two faced person.

The two-faced person is someone who moves frequently between two persons, who are enemies of one another, and speaks to each one of them with words of praise for each one of them, and speak against the other's enemy.

This is also manifested by a person who praises another on one occasion (like in his presence), and on another, debases him. This is one of the signs of hypocrisy.

It was said to Ibn `Umar, may Allah be pleased with both of them, that when we are amongst our leaders, we speak highly of them. However, when we leave them, we would say otherwise (i.e. speak badly of them). Ibn 'Umar said (of that attitude): "We (the Sahabas) used to regard that attitude as hypocrisy during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). [Ibn Abi Duniya Kitaabl Gheeba wan-Nameemah]

Transferring the speech of each person to the other is also described as two-tongued. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "The most evil of people is the two faced person who come to these with one face and goes to those with another."

[Abu Dawood]

He (peace be upon him) also said: "Who is two faced in this world will have two tongues of fire on the Day of Judgment." [Abu Dawood]

However, if someone enters upon both of them, and agrees with what is truthful from each side without trying to find favor with either one, but his desire is to be just and to try to settle their differences, then this is not two-faced nor hypocritical. On the contrary, this is a noble act.

Mockery, sarcasm and debasing Muslims.

It is evil enough for a Muslim to misuse his tongue, by indulging in mockery, sarcasm, debasing Muslims, scoffing etc. Mockery is to highlight someone's weaknesses and faults, in such a way that it is laughed at. This could either be by statement, or action. These and other related characteristics, like irony, taunting, scoffing, etc. are all prohibited in Islam.

Allah, the Glorious said:

"O you who believe! Let not a group mock at another group, it may be that the latter is better than the former, nor let some women mock at other women, it maybe that the latter are better than the former.. " [Al-Hujuraat 43:11]

This is because, in most cases, it is used to debase the person that is mocked at. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

"...It is only evil that causes a man to debase his Muslim brother..." [Muslim]

Disclosing and Spreading of Secrets.

Secrets are meant to be kept. We are forbidden from disclosing and spreading the secrets of people. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

"If someone confided something (to another person), then it is a trust.

[Abu Dawood, Ahmad and others].

So, spreading of secrets would thereafter be faithlessness, or betrayal of a trust. If there is harm resulting from this, then this is Haraam. If there is no harm, then it is blameworthy because Allah, the Most High said:

"Fulfill your trusts..." [Al-Israa 17:34]

Breaking a trust is a sign of Hypocrisy. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: "The signs of hypocrisy are four...(from among them is) if he is entrusted he breaks it..." [Bukhari and Muslim].

It is Prohibited to Remind Others of One's Generosity.

Allah, the Sublime said:

"O you who believer do not render vain your charity (sadaqah) by reminders of your generosity or by injury..." [Al-Baqarah 2:264]

Allah, the Almighty, also said:

"Those who spend their wealth in the Cause of Allah, and do not follow up their gifts with reminders of their generosity or with injury, their reward is with their lord.. "

[Al-Baqarah 2:262]

Abu Dhar said that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:

"Allah will not speak to three (groups) of people on the Day of Judgment, nor look at them, nor purify them, and they will have a severe torment. "He (Abu Dhar) said: The Messenger of Allah said this thrice. Abu Dhar said: "They have failed and are losers, who are they, O Messenger of Allah?" He (peace be upon him) said: "Al-Musbil (one who wears his lower garment below his ankles), the one who reminds (the person he gave to) of his generosity…" [Muslim]

The proper attitude is described by Allah, the Wise:

"Kind words and forgiving of faults are better than Sadaqah (charity) followed by injury..." [Al-Baqarah 2: 263]

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