Backbiting and Slander: a Muslim Perspective
In the inventory of major sins, backbiting and slander occupy one of the foremost places. This way of settling scores is so appealing to some that they just cannot stop doing it. So it could be worthwhile to appreciate how despicable and ignoble the two are.
The Prophet has clearly defined backbiting and slander and this definition leaves no loopholes. “Do you know what is backbiting? They (the Companions) said: Allah and His Messenger know best. Thereupon He (the Holy Prophet) said: Backbiting implies your talking about your brother in a manner which he does not like. It was said to Him: What is your opinion about this that if I actually find that failing in my brother which I made a mention of? He said: If that failing is actually found in him what you assert, you in fact backbited him, and if that is not in him it is a slander.” (Sahih al-Muslim, 2589)
Backbiting and slander are the means of suppressing love and inciting enmity. And what can be worse than replacing love with hatred? What can be worse than hitting an unarmed person? For he whom you slander is not present and cannot respond to the slight. If your cause is just, you must say things in someone’s face and never behind his back. This is why backbiting and slander are so vehemently opposed in the Holy Quran. Especially since they very often become habitual, seem to be no big deal and seem to be a satisfying way of avenging oneself on someone who has done you wrong.
Take heed and beware, for the Holy Quran makes no concessions on this issue. Backbiting and slander are condemned and vilified. The only exception is made when backbiting and slander cease to fit their definition, that is, when a lawful report on a wrongdoer must be made to the authorities. In this case the ‘behind-the-back’ part does not apply, but only when you report facts and abstain from hearsay.
Allah prescribes not only passive aversion from backbiting and slander but active opposition to them. When one hears someone backbiting another person in one’s presence, one must stand up to defend that person. “If a man’s Muslim brother is slandered in his presence, and he is capable of defending him and does so, Allah will defend him in this world and in the next. But if he fails to defend him, Allah will destroy him in this world and the next.” (Al-Baghawi) Such is the disgust for backbiting in the eyes of Allah. Such is His wish for you to pursue the righteous path openness.
And may you not tire in this pursuit, for Allah will not only reward those who hold backbiting and slander in contempt but will also punish those who perpetrate them. “Do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” (49:12)