The Forty-second Greater Sin: Tale Telling
The second greater sin described as such due to the mention of its punishment in Qur’an and hadith is Namīma or Tale-telling. Shahīd Thani in Kashful Rabi and Shaykh Ansari in Makasibul Muhrima have clearly defined it to be a greater sin, and have presented many Qur’anic ayats to support their view. For example:
“And those who break asunder the covenant of Allah after its confirmation and cut asunder that which Allah has ordered to be joined and make mischief in the land; (as for) those, upon them shall be curse and they shall have the evil (issue) of the abode.” (Surah Ra’d 13: 25)
The tale-teller listens to a thing from a person and goes to tell it to someone else. By this he has broken that which Allah (S.w.T.) had ordered to join. Instead of promoting love and unity among the believers, he creates hatred, separation and enmity. Then the curse of Allah (S.w.T.) is upon him and the punishment in the hereafter.
In Surah al-Baqarah it is mentioned that,
“…and mischief is more severe than slaughter.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 191)
“…and mischief is greater than slaughter.” (Surah al-Baqarah 2: 217)
• Evidently the tale-teller spreads mischief. In Surah al-Qalam Allah (S.w.T.) mentions the signs of disbelievers who become eligible for Hell in the words,
“going about in Slander.”(Surah al-Qalam 68: 11)
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) mentions after describing the different kinds of magic,
“Indeed the worst type of magic is tale-telling that creates separation between friends. It creates enmity among clean and pure people who were of similar views. Tale-telling leads to bloodshed, homes are destroyed and secrets are exposed. The worst creature to walk the earth is the tale-teller.”1
We have already proved that magic is a greater sin. Since tale-telling is the worst form of magic, it is also a greater sin. The Prophet of Allah (S) says,
“Shall I not inform you of the most evil person among you?”
“Certainly, O Messenger of Allah”, said the people.
“The worst are those who go out for tell tales, cause separation between friends and search for defects in righteous people.”2
Imam Baqir (a.s.) says,
“Paradise is not allowed for those who go out to perpetrate scandals.”3
The Holy Prophet (S) says,
“One who goes here there tale-telling between two people, will be sent fire by Allah in his grave which will scorch him. When he comes out from the grave a black serpent will be appointed on him which will continue to chew his flesh till he is made to enter Hell.”4
He (S) also says,
“When I was on Me’raj (ascension) I saw a woman whose face was that of a pig and body of a donkey and she was being subjected to thousands of punishments.”
Someone asked the Prophet (S) what her crime was. The Prophet (S) replied,
“She was tale-teller, a liar.”
Wasa’il ul-Shia has recorded twelve traditions that prove tale-telling is Harām. All these traditions state that Paradise is forbidden for the tale-tellers.
In Surah Humaza, Allah (S.w.T.) says,
“Wael (Hell) is for every Slanderer (Humaza), defamer (Lumaza)” (Surah al-Humaza 104: 1)
Wael is a level of Hell, it can also be a well situated in Hell. It denotes most severe punishment. Humaza means tale-telling or slander as clearly mentioned by Shahīd Thani in his book Kashful Rabi. Some scholars have also narrated the tradition that states that a tale-teller is illegitimately born.
When there was drought in Bani Israel, Prophet Mūsa (a.s.) prayed for rain. It was revealed to him: I shall not accept the prayers of your companions and you because there is a tale-teller amongst you who does not abstain from tale-telling. Mūsa (a.s.) beseeched Allah to tell him the name of that person so that he could be removed from the society. Allah said, “I Myself prohibit tale-telling how can I expose the tale-teller?”
On hearing this all of them repented together and the tale-teller also repented with them and finally it rained.5
Shaykh Ansari (r.a.) has written in Makasibul Muhrima that tale-telling is Harām in the light of Qur’an, hadith, Ijma and Aql. It is reporting a thing a person had said about another. The person who is spoken to, goes on to the one it concerns. The Shaykh also says that till the time the concerned person is prepared to allow the information to be passed on to others, it is Tale-telling as well as Ghiība. The tale-teller would also suffer the punishment for Ghiība. And his punishment will be in proportion to the damage caused by his tale-telling.
Shahīd Thani writes in Kashful Rabi: Tale-telling is exposing the secret of the person who is bad in the eyes of one who utters it or the repetition of it, to whom it was told to another, who further repeats it to still another. They are all equally guilty. Tale-telling can be verbal or in writing or by gestures, or by action. Whether it concerns a defect or a fault or not, tale-telling is exposing confidential matters. Since it reveals secrets it can lead to undesirable or evil consequences. One should mention it only to the extent that benefits the Muslim or that which corrects his errors. For example one sees a person squandering the wealth of another. If he is called upon as a witness he must not hide the fact. But if he sees that a person has hidden his treasure in a particular place and he informs another person about it, it is tale-telling and exposing secrets. If the secret concerns personal defects of the Muslim it is also Ghiība.
Shahid Thani also says that there are many reasons for tale-telling. First of all to speak evil of the person and cause harm to him. Secondly to pretend loyalty and support with the one to whom he speaks. Thirdly, to exhibit humour and talkativeness.
The person to whom secrets are being told has six responsibilities. Shahīd Thani says if someone says to you, “Such and such person has mentioned such and such thing about you”, or “he has criticized you, he is about to spoil your affairs and destroy you”; you have to follow six steps: First of all do not believe the story and do not accept it as true because the tale-teller is an evil-doer and the Almighty Allah says,
“If an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it.” (Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 6)
Secondly, restrain him from tale-telling and advise him against it according to Allah (S.w.T.)’s command,
“and enjoin the good and forbid the evil.” (Surah Luqmān 31:17)
Thirdly, for the pleasure of Allah (S.w.T.) we must consider him an enemy because Allah (S.w.T.) Himself considers him an enemy and enmity with the enemy of Allah (S.w.T.) is Wajib.
Fourthly, do not harbour misunderstanding against your believer brother due to this tale-telling because the Almighty says,
“Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin.” (Surah al-Hujurāt 49: 12)
Fifthly, do not take any action as soon as you hear the tale-teller and start investigation against the person about whom he has spoken because Allah (S.w.T.) says. “And do not spy.” That is, do not start spying on people on the basis of suspicion.
Sixthly, do not consider tale-telling as something good for you and do not fall into this habit yourself. You should also not pass on these things to others because you shall also become a tale-teller and a back-biter. The Shahīd has quoted an incident in Kashful Rabi: There was a scholar who had a friend, who had come to meet him after a long time. During the conversation the friend mentioned an unpleasant remark a person had passed about this scholar. When the scholar heard this he said, “You have come to me after such a long time but you have brought Three types of ‘mistrusts’. First of all you have driven a wedge between me and that person, secondly you have involved me in useless thoughts that I was hitherto free from. Thirdly you have proved yourself a betrayer of trust.
The Shahīd has said that there is a very high possibility that a person who tells tales to you about someone would also tell tales regarding you. So do not consider him trustworthy. How beautifully a poet has worded the following couplet: “One who tells you the defects of others will surely take your defects to him as gifts.”
The Shahīd has quoted another incident: A man was selling a slave and saying that he had no defects except that he is a tale-teller. The buyer agreed to purchase him and took him home. The slave told the man’s wife. “Your husband loves you no more and he is planning to get a slave-girl so when he goes to sleep you cut off some hair from his beard with a sword that I may use them in a magic potion so that he will again be attached towards you.”
On the other hand he told his master that his wife was having an illicit affair with another man and was planning to kill him while he was asleep. So he should pretend to be asleep and see what she does.
The master agreed and pretended to be asleep. After a while the wife approached with a sword and got hold of his whiskers. The man was convinced that she has come to cut his throat. He jumped up and with that same sword killed the wife. The wife’s relatives revenged her murder by killing her husband. Later the relatives of the husband engaged in the massacre of the wife’s kin. Thus there was untold bloodshed. All as a consequence of tale telling.