Qasim Choudhary, USA

After a grueling day at work, all one yearns for is to unwind and indulge in some relaxation, preferably by nestling into the embrace of a sofa and turning on the television. Yet, despite this anticipation, a nagging discomfort persists. Slowly, almost instinctively, one finds themselves drawn to the refrigerator, where amidst the cool interior, lies a tantalizing sight: a crème brulé cheesecake, its creamy surface glistening in the soft glow of the fridge light. It seems to cower, aware of its imminent demise at your hands.

Salivary glands kick into overdrive, and a rush of anticipation floods the senses, turning one’s mouth into a miniature Niagara Falls. With trembling fingers, a spoonful of the decadent confection is scooped up, its aroma enveloping in a cloud of sweetness. As the first bite melts on the tongue, a wave of comfort washes over, wrapping one in a familiar cocoon of warmth and contentment. Yet, in the throes of this culinary ecstasy, restraint is but a fleeting thought.

Before one realizes it, the entire dessert disappears, consumed in a flurry of indulgence. In its wake, a faint pang of guilt mingles with the fading echoes of satisfaction, a bittersweet reminder of the fleeting pleasure of indulgence.

Believe it or not, the scenario described above bears a striking resemblance to another, more insidious form of indulgence: Satan’s dessert, the act of backbiting or gossiping. 

Let’s imagine a familiar scene: friends or family members casually mentioning something about an absent individual. Ears perk up, and an insatiable curiosity drives to delve deeper into the details of another’s life. Despite knowing deep down that it’s morally wrong, the allure of gossip is irresistibly sweet, drawing one in for just one more morsel of information.

It may seem as though one only occasionally engages in discussions centered around others, but according to studies, the average person spends a staggering 52 minutes per day gossiping.[1] Like indulging in a decadent dessert, gossip provides a fleeting sense of satisfaction, but leaves behind a bitter aftertaste of guilt and remorse, or at least it should.

A crucial question to consider is, what implications does backbiting and malicious gossip hold for our moral and spiritual well-being? Should we dismiss it as harmless banter, or does it carry significant consequences? Let’s delve into what the Islamic tradition teaches on this matter.

Religious Scriptures

Some vices may appear insignificant on the surface but can have long-lasting and widespread effects on society. Backbiting is one such vice. Similar to a contagious virus, it begins with one individual, spreads to a group, and eventually affects an entire community. Hence, religious scriptures caution humanity to refrain from this vice.

In the Old Testament, we encounter the following admonition:

‘He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore, do not associate with a gossip.’[2]

Likewise, the New Testament provides guidance in the words:

‘If your brother sin, go and show him his fault in private…”[3]

The Holy Qur’an, the divine scripture of Muslims, echoes these sentiments while strongly denouncing backbiting and likening it to consuming the flesh of one’s brother,

‘And spy not, nor back-bite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his brother who is dead? Certainly, you would loathe it. And fear Allah, surely, Allah is Oft-Returning with compassion and is Merciful.’[4]

While it may seem unthinkable for even a wicked person to engage in such a despicable act, when it comes to backbiting, sometimes even the sensible among us often overlook the abhorrent nature of this sin, tarnishing our spiritual character not only in this life but also in the hereafter.

Defining Backbiting

To rationalize speaking ill about someone, a person might contest that their words are true and claim that if the subject were present, they would speak the same words to their face. Is this excuse plausible? The Prophet Muhammad (sa) defined backbiting by stating:

‘Backbiting implies your talking about your brother in a manner which he does not like.’

When his Companions inquired if the fault mentioned was indeed present in the person being discussed, the Prophet (sa) responded, saying that it then becomes slander.[5]

Consequences of Backbiting

During the night of Mi’raj, a spiritual journey where the Prophet Muhammad (sa) was shown the heavens among other things in a vision, he recounted, ‘I passed by people who had nails of copper and were scratching their faces and their breasts. I said: Who are these people, Gabriel? He replied: They are those who were given to back biting and who aspersed people’s honor.’[6]

It is narrated that once the Holy Prophet (sa) passed by two new graves, mentioning that one of the deceased was being punished because they used to walk around spreading malicious gossip.[7]

Again, commenting on the state of those given to backbiting, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) stated, ‘On the Day of Judgment, every person will be given their record of deeds. They will read it and say, O my Lord! I had performed such and such good deeds in the world, but they are not here!’ Allah will reply, it is because your good deeds were wiped out due to your backbiting of others.’[8]

The gravity of this sin becomes apparent upon reflecting on this narration. How unfortunate it must be for a person who strives to attain spiritual reward and virtue throughout their life, only to see it all dissipate due to speaking ill about another.

Listening to Gossip

One might think, Thankfully, I don’t explicitly gossip myself, but I occasionally listen to others gossiping, which isn’t so bad… right?

Wrong.

The Second Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), commenting on the perils of listening to backbiting elucidates,

‘Backbiting itself is not only wrong… but listening to backbiting is also wrong. Because those who listen to backbiting, they provoke backbiting… So, a believer should be careful that if someone backbites about their brother in their presence, they should reject it. Meaning, they should respond with an answer. They should have reasons to reject it. So, present them and if they don’t know how to reject it and don’t understand it, then stop the backbiter… and if they don’t stop, then stand up and leave from there.’[9]

Complaining Leads to Backbiting

The teachings of Islam emphasize the avoidance of even the slightest proximity to sin.

The Holy Prophet (sa) was exceedingly cautious in this regard. Once someone had referred to another woman’s height, using a hand gesture to indicate her short stature. The Holy Prophet (sa) regarded even this as backbiting, admonishing:

 ‘You have said a statement which, if it were mixed in with the water of the sea, it would pollute it.’ [10]

In the shadowy depths of Satan’s confectionary of vice, backbiting gleams as one of his most cherished indulgences. A mere slip of the tongue unfurls a cascade of consequences. What begins as a seemingly harmless compliment soon meanders down a treacherous trail of criticism and unwarranted scrutiny.

Complaining, another natural expression by humans, is deftly ensconced within Satan’s deceptive wrappers. Yet, as we gingerly peel away these layers, the saccharine poison of backbiting reveals its grotesque visage once more.

Reflecting on the perils of complaint, the Fifth Caliph and current Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) provides the following profound insight,

‘Complaining is also a form of backbiting. Because once mutual friends start sharing complaints during gatherings, these complaints gradually increase. Then, a habit of backbiting forms. Therefore, even the slightest hint of backbiting should be avoided.[11]

Backbiting Breaks One’s Fast

As we journey through the sacred month of Ramadan, a time dedicated for moral and spiritual growth, it is fitting to highlight that indulging in Satan’s dessert of backbiting, renders a person’s fast as invalid as it directly opposes the spirit of Ramadan. Ramadan serves as a period for purifying and elevating both our inner and external states, whereas malicious gossip only releases the stench of arrogance and impurity.

It is recounted that once; a Sufi (mystic) witnessed a vision of someone engaging in backbiting. Suddenly, the individual vomited, expelling flesh accompanied by a foul stench.[12]

After reflecting on these strong passages regarding the detestable habit of backbiting and recognizing how this spiritual malady is abhorred in the sight of God, should one feel tempted to delve into Satan’s bag of deception, let them heed the words of the Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) who once stated regarding this sinful act,

‘Which wise person then, for a fleeting pleasure, for a worldly thing, for a little enjoyment, would waste their paradise?’[13]

The Solution

The repercussions of engaging in the spiritually lethal act of backbiting are unmistakable and, frankly, alarming. However, how can we protect ourselves and prevent ourselves from falling into this spiritual pitfall laid by Satan? Here are a few tips for safeguarding oneself against indulging in backbiting.

  1. As the popular adage goes ‘great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.’This proverb carries deep and timeless wisdom. In essence, we should refrain from being overly curious about the lives of others, as it often leads to backbiting, diverting one from the path of righteousness.[14]
  2. Consider the statement you are about to make about someone else being said about yourself. Would you appreciate it? If not, it’s a cue to pause and reflect.[15]
  3. It is crucial not to rush to judgment and jump to conclusions, especially in a society dominated by cancel culture, where a single mistake can permanently tarnish a person’s reputation regardless of their guilt. We should refrain from assuming the role of judge regarding another person’s character, as only God truly knows the state of one’s heart. Instead of criticizing someone for their perceived weaknesses, it is better to sincerely pray for them. The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), offered timeless advice over a century ago that remains relevant today. He emphasized the need for restraint, stating,

‘After noticing someone’s flaw, you should be careful not to immediately become incensed. It is possible that they may rectify themselves. Sometimes, even a saint or a righteous person may commit a mistake. To renounce someone out of haste and impatience are not our ways. It is unfortunate that some individuals may repeatedly mention someone’s flaws a hundred time over yet fail to offer even a single prayer for them.’[16]

Let us conclude with the words of Prophet Muhammad (sa) and earnestly pray that God Almighty save us from this spiritually rotting disease. The Holy Prophet (sa) once stated,

‘The servant who conceals the faults of others in this world, Allah would conceal his faults on the Day of Resurrection.’[17]

About the Author: Qasim Choudhary is a graduate of the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada, and serves as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States of America.

ENDNOTES


[1] https://time.com/5680457/why-do-people-gossip/

[2] Proverbs 20:19 (New American Standard Version [1995])

[3] Matthew 18:15 (New American Standard Version [1995])

[4] The Holy Qur’an 49:13

[5] Sahih Muslim, Kitab Al-Birr Wa-Silah Wal-Adaab

[6] Sunan Abi Daud, Kitab al-Adab

[7] Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab Atihara Wa Sunnanhaa

[8] Khutbat-e-Masroor, Vol.1 p.574

[9] Khutbat-e-Mahmud, Vol.6, p.530

[10] Jami at-Tirmidhi, Kitab Siffatul Qiyamah, Ar-Riqaq and Al-Wara & Friday Sermon December 26, 2003

[11] Friday Sermon, December 26, 2003

[12] Haqaiqul-Furqan Vol.4 p.7

[13] Friday Sermon, December 26, 2003

[14] Ibid

[15] Ibid

[16] Malfuzat, Vol.4, p.60-61 [1988 Online Edition]

[17] Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Bir Wa Sillah Wal Adaab

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