What is Backbiting? 6 Things to Consider

Gheebah is one of those where the definition is subject to some discussion amongst the scholars of Akhlaq and spirituality. They give a broad definition, but the detailed understanding of what it is, how one can really define what is gheebah or not, is slightly different in that because there are so many other sins connected with gheebah, you see different scholars may look at it from a different perspective.

But, as a principle, it is mentioned as this: "Al-gheebatu dhikr ul-akhirina bima ya'asuhum fi dhahara al-ghayb". Gheebah generally is to mention others in a way that they dislike. When they're not present. That's the general definition.

So when you talk about somebody in a manner in which if they heard that you talked in such a way, they will be unhappy. That's defined as backbiting, as a general principle. However, the scholars come forward and say, yes, we can understand it as such, but there are certain criteria that must be fulfilled for gheebah in itself to be the case, to actually be determined or for it to take place. These conditions are the following. They say:

Number one. It should be that the individual is revealing that which is hidden from people, or that which is generally not known, or that which is not exposed to the world, or to everyone else. So, for example, you saw someone do something and then you speak to someone and you say, I cannot believe it, I saw him do that. But these people, this individual you're speaking to, did not see that individual committing this act and perhaps committing this act amongst a group of individuals or within a very restricted area, certainly not not something public.

However, if it was something public, so if somebody comes and does something in front of a lot of people or it is known somehow, does this make it gheebah? It doesn't, but it doesn't make it okay. Do you see? When we are talking about these criteria, it's very important to understand.

We are not saying: if you don't fulfill the criteria, it is okay. We are saying: if you do not fulfill the criteria, it's not gheebah, but it's something else which is also forbidden. So that's the key-thing to understand.

Number two. It must be something which is true in that person not a falsification, not a lie. Not something that's made up about that individual. So if you have seen them do something actually real, in other words you are not making it up, that is Gheebah. If it's something that they haven't done and you talk about it, and you say they have done it, that is another thing called Bukhtan, slander. It's perhaps even worse, yeah?

Number three. This is an interesting one, because some of the scholars say the intention should be for degrading, for mocking, for laughing, or to depict the individual negatively or to show them a lower status. So when you mention something, when you talk about something or refer to something or write or type something about somebody, which is number one, not known by people, number two, actually true, and number three, the purpose behind it is to somehow get people to laugh, somehow to make yourself feel better by presenting yourself to be a better individual, sometimes somehow degrading them, lowering their status.

Number four. It must be a statement or an act which identifies the person. So the name, some thing which alludes to where they are, who they are, if you talk about a community or somebody in the community or a number of people where the tahdeed, the specification, the identification of that individual is not possible, yeah, is not gheebah. Again, it may fall into another sin, but it wouldn't necessarily fall under the category of gheebah.

But sometimes with these, it's a very dangerous element that perhaps both the person, the speaker and the listener, when they are conversing or communicating, they say, I do not want to mention, you know, their name, but you know that person who did this and this and that, the moment that person who is listening knows who that individual is, it is their responsibility to say, stop, stop, stop. You know what? I know who that person is. Don't mention. Don't keep going, yeah.

And sometimes Subhana Allah, Shaytan comes within the framework of people's understanding of Shari'ah. So, you know, people talk about somebody and say, you know, I don't, you know, I don't want to, I don't want to tell you who it is, but I'm sure you all know. You know, I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. Just say the name and what else is left. You are trying to avoid gheebah, but somehow you want people to go you know what I'm talking about, you know the person I'm referring to, for example, in that aspect.

Number five. It's the idea that they must be a Muslim and possibly a Mu'min, however, does that make backbiting non-Muslims okay? No. In essence, does it? Is the definition then backbiting? No, but is it right? No. Because what does it do? It creates within the human being the hypocrisy. Yes, I can for this person, not for that person. Yeah? It gives a bad image. It develops into the human being the ability or the audacity to commit or to say wrong, vile words sometimes or even inappropriate comments, so to speak.

Finally, a very crucial condition for it to be fulfilled, to be known as a Gheebah, is that the Mukhtab, the one who we're actually talking about, must not be Mutajahiran bi 'l-fisq, meaning that they openly and publicly sin, known as a fasiq, an open public sinner, somebody who does sin just in the view of everyone and is not necessarily a Mutaqqi or somebody who tries and so on and so forth, and that is something which excludes them from the definition or the the idea of gheebah.

Now, how gheebah is practiced or performed not only by words, of course, through movements of the hands, through writing, through ishara, ishara means to point, yeah? Through keyboards. It's not found in books three hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, but it is certainly an application of it today.