Gossip (Ghibah), Slander (Buhtan), and Talebearing (Namimah)
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم
Praise be to God the Creator of the world, the One Who exists without beginning, without end, without location, without a "how" and Who does not depend on time. Nothing resembles Him in anyway and He hears and sees everything without organs. Whatever you imagine, God is different from that. May the elevation in degree and preservation of his community of what he fears for it, be granted to our master Muḥammad Al-'Amin, the Honest One, who called for following Islam, the religion of truth, the religion of all the Prophets: of the first, Adam, to the last Muḥammad.
Thereafter, Allâh, the Exalted, endowed upon His slaves uncountable endowments. Allâh said in Sûrat Ibrâhîm, Ayah 34:
﴿ وَإِن تَعُدُّواْ نِعْمَتَ اللّهِ لاَ تُحْصُوهَا ﴾
which means: « Should you attempt to count your endowments from Allâh, you would be unable. »
The tongue is one of many endowments Allâh bestowed upon His slaves. Although the tongue is a tiny organ, the person who uses it to comply with the orders of Allâh, the teachings of the Qur'ân, and the teachings of the Prophet may earn blessings in this world and the in Hereafter. However, the one who uses his tongue in disobedience does not display thankfulness to Allâh and leads to his own destruction. Certainly, being thankful to Allâh means not using the endowments bestowed by Allâh in what is forbidden.
One needs to know the sins of the tongue can be small or enormous. One should be aware some of these sins take the person out of Islam, as the Prophet, Salla lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, said in the Hadîth related by At-Tirmidhiyy:
« ان المرء ليتكلم بالكلمة لا يرى بها بأسا يهوي بها في النار سبعين خريفا »
which means: « A person may utter a word he thinks harmless, which results in his falling the depth of seventy years into Hellfire. » This Hadîth clearly refers to the bottom of Hellfire a place only the blasphemers will reach.
Included among the sins of the tongue are gossip (ghîbah) and tale-bearing (namîmah). Ibn Abid-Dunyia related the Prophet, Salla lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, said:
« خصلتان ما ان تجمل الخلائق بمثلهما حسن الخلق وطول الصمت »
which means: « One can greatly beautify himself with two habits--good manners and lengthy silence. » In this Hadîth lengthy silence means not speaking except for what is good, such as remembering and praising Allâh and teaching others what is good.
Al-Bukhâriyy and Muslim related from the route of Abu Hurayrah, that the Prophet said:
« مَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَاليَومِ الآخِرِ فَإِذَا شَهِدَ أَمْراً فَلْيَتَكَلَّمْ بِخَيْرٍ أَوْ لِيَسْكُتْ »
This Hadîth means: « Let the one who believes in Allâh and the Hereafter utter good words, or let him be silent. » We are responsible for our words. Allâh said in Sûrat Al-Isrâ’, Ayah 36:
﴿ وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَـٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا ﴾
which means: « One is responsible for what he hears, sees, and believes. »
At-Tirmidhiyy narrated a saying of the Prophet to the Companion, Mu`adh Ibn Jabal, in which he responded to Mu`adh by saying:
In this Hadîth the Prophet answered the question of Mu`adh Ibn Jabal, confirming what makes the people fall into Hellfire on their faces is the reaps of their tongues.
Hence, wisdom entails that one uses his tongue in remembering Allāh, performing obedience, ordering the lawful, and forbidding the unlawful. Let us remind ourselves of what Allâh, ta`âlâ, said in the Qur’ân:
﴿ مَا يَلْفِظُ مِن قَوْلٍ إِلاَّ لَدَيْهِ رَقِيبٌ عَتِيدٌ ﴾
(Mâ yalfiDHu min qawlin illâ ladayhi Raqîbun `Atîd)
which means: « Whatever one says, be it good or evil, two angels Raqîb and `Atid write it. » [Ayah 18 of Sûrat Qaf]. The wise person should be keen to protect his tongue from everything that is evil.
However, it is known that some of these sinful words will be erased if the person repents. On the Day of Judgment wouldn’t each one of us want to have all good words in his record and not those disliked or sinful words?
Thus, it is important to emphasize on matters relating to the tongue. The Prophet advised us in a Hadîth related by At-Tirmidhiyy, which means: « The one who adheres to the lengthy silence (except from that which is good) will be saved on the Day of Judgment. »
In the Hadîth related by Al-Bayhaqiyy, the Prophet said which means: « You shall be saved as long as you are silent, for if you speak, it will either be in your favor or stand against you. »
Due to the importance of this subject the scholars of Islam were compelled to write extensively about it. Among the great scholars of Islam is Imam Al-Ghazaliyy, who said about the tongue which means: « The tongue is a great endowment from Allāh ; though small in size, its crime is enormous. » A person may utter words of praise and thankfulness to Allâh for which he earns reward. One might also utter a word that take him out of Islam thereby loosing the reward of all his previous good deeds. Reported in the texts of the scholars are narrations that highlight significant matters of the tongue.
Among these is what Imam An-Nawawiyy reported: Qiss Ibn Sa`idah and Aktham Ibn Saifiyy met together. One of them asked the other, « Generally how many errors have you found the sons of Adam commit? » The other replied, « I have counted 8000 such errors, but let it be known, we cannot count them all. However, there is one good trait that would cover up for all of these errors and mistakes: To have control over one’s tongue. »
Imam Ash-Shafi`iyy, in addressing his companion, Ar-Rabi`, said which means: « Do not haphazardly speak without a need. Once uttered, you no longer control the words, but they control you. » That is, once you speak a word it will be to your benefit if it is good. However, if it is sinful, then it will be written against you and will require a valid repentance.
`Abdu lLâh Ibn Mas`ûd said which means: « The tongue is the thing that deserves imprisonment most. » Other scholars said which means: « The tongue is like a beast. If you do not tie it up, it attacks you. » Various scholars talked at length about issues related to the tongue to highlight for Muslims the importance of keeping control of one’s tongue. When asked about the one who controls and protects his heart the most, Dhun-Nun Al-Misriyy, (Ibrahim Ibn Tawbah) replied: « The one who controls his tongue the most. »
Allâh made the tongue witness to what is in the heart, as mentioned by the great scholars of Islam. Words of goodness reflects what is in the heart, as sinful or blasphemous words reflect what is in the heart.
Among what is evil is: gossip (ghibah), fabrication (buhtan), and talebearing (namimah). These three matters are among the sins of the tongue and are bad habits.
It is confirmed that one of the Companions addressed his tongue by saying:
« يا لسان قل خيراً تغنم واسكت عن شر تسلم من قبل أن تندم، إني سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول: “أكثر خطايا ابن آدم من لسانه »
(Yâ lisânu qul khayran taghnam waskut `an sharrin taslam min qabli an tandam. Innî sami`tu Rasûla lLâhi, Salla lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, yaqûl: Aktharu khaTâya bni Adama mi l-lisânih)
Which means: « O tongue, say what is good and you will gain, and keep silent about what is bad before you regret it. I heard the Messenger of Allâh saying: ‘Most of the human’s sins are from his tongue.’ » [Related by At–Tabaraniyy]
Gossip (Ghîbah): Means to mention a matter related to a Muslim in his absence in a way that he hates. If a Muslim person was short, and hated for that to be said about him, and someone else said in his absence, so and so is short, then this is considered among the unlawful gossip that the Prophet prohibited.
Allâh, ta`âlâ, said in the Qur’ân:
﴿ وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضاً ﴾
(Wa lâ yaghtab ba`Dukum ba`Dâ)
which means: « Do not make gossip against one another. » [Ayah 12 of Sûrat Al-Hujurat]
In this verse, Allâh ordered us not to commit gossip (ghîbah) amongst one another as it is similar to one eating the flesh of his dead brother. Allâh gave us this comparison to show the ugliness of this sin and to guide us to clear ourselves of it. There are many Hadîths of the Prophet highlighting the unlawfulness of gossip (ghîbah). Among them is one related by Al-Bukhâriyy and Muslim from the route of Abu Musa Al-Ash`ariyy:
This Hadîth refers to when the Prophet was asked about the best among the Muslims, to which he replied: « He whom the Muslims are safe from his hands and his tongue. » Also, in a Hadîth related by Abu Dawud from the route of Anas, he said:
This Hadîth refers to when Prophet Muḥammad ascended to the skies. He passed by people who were scratching their faces and chests with nails made of brass. The Prophet asked Jibrîl who those people were, and Jibrîl replied, « The ones who were eating the flesh of other people. » This is a direct reference to those who commit gossip (ghîbah).
When the Prophet spoke about gossip (ghîbah), he gave a very specific definition. In a Hadîth related by Muslim, Abu Dawûd, An-Nasa'iyy, and At-Tirmidhiyy, from the route of Abu Hurayrah, the Messenger, when asked about gossip (ghîbah), said:
The Prophet defined gossip (ghîbah) as mentioning something about your Muslim brother that he hates. The Prophet was asked, « What if that thing I mentioned was something truthful about him? » The Prophet said, « If it was in him, then you have committed gossip (ghîbah), and if it was not in him, then you have committed Al-buhtan. » which is a sin more enormous than gossip (ghîbah).
Hence, gossip (ghîbah) is mentioning about your Muslim brother something that he hates, whether he is alive or dead. The precept is that if the person spoken about would be hurt by your words reaching him, then it is gossip (ghibah). Therefore, mentioning about your Muslim brother something he hates is gossip (ghîbah) whether regarding his body, dress, house, character, or the like.
Many people fall into gossip (ghîbah) as a result of negligence and not having proper control over their tongues. Examples of gossip are to say about another Muslim: He is short. He is cross-eyed. He is rude. He likes to sleep a lot. He eats too much. His house is messy. His son is rude. He is controlled by his wife. He is too fat. He does not have good taste. His car is ugly. His father is a garbage collector (with the purpose of slandering him).
These are only a few examples of gossip (ghîbah) recognized by most people. May Allâh protect us from committing gossip (ghîbah) which is an enormous sin when committed against a pious Muslim. However, if gossip (ghîbah) is committed against sinful Muslims, it is not always an enormous sin.
Some people say gossip (ghîbah) is an enormous sin by scholarly consensus (ijma`), however this is not a sound opinion. Hence, if one commits gossip (ghîbah) against a non-pious Muslim, we do not generalize and say it is an enormous sin. However, if it reached a stage of exaggeration, exceeding the limit in the Religion, it is classified as an enormous sin. This is known from the Hadîth of the Prophet related by Abu Dawûd:
which means: « Exaggerating in gossiping about the Muslim is as sinful as the highest levels of usurious gain (riba). » The Prophet resembled exaggerating in committing gossip (ghîbah) against the Muslim and the highest levels of usurious gain (riba) indicating the enormity of the sin. Furthermore, listening to gossip (ghîbah) also is unlawful in Islam. Praising the actions of the God-fearing Muslims in Sûrat Al-Qasas, Ayah 55, Allâh said:
﴿ وَإِذَا سَمِعُوا اللَّغْوَ أَعْرَضُوا عَنْهُ وَقَالُوا لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لَا نَبْتَغِي الْجَاهِلِينَ ﴾
which means: [If they hear gossip (ghibah) they walk away]. That is, they neither approve nor lend their ears to gossip. At-Tirmidhiyy related the Messenger of Allāh said:
which means: <<Allāh shall protect one’s face from Hellfire in the Hereafter if he protects his Muslim brother from gossip>> Hence, if within a gathering of people someone is committing gossip, then it is obligatory on the others to forbid this. If they are unable to stop it by speaking or by force, then they must leave that gathering and hate the gossip in their hearts. In this way they escape being sinful themselves.
Highlighting what was the practice of some pious Muslims in that regard ; it was related Ibrahim Ibn Adham was once invited to a banquet. When the guests were seated, some people mentioned the name of a person not in attendance by saying his presence was not pleasant anyway. Ibrahim Ibn Adham immediately reacted by saying: "This is what I have done to myself; I have allowed myself to be present in a session with people who commit gossip (ghibah)." He immediately departed that banquet without eating anything, and he continued to abstain from eating for three days.
Furthermore, if a Muslim committed enormous sins and then repented to Allāh, it is not permissible for any of us to mention these sins about that Muslim because he already repented. The criterion for judging the Muslim is by his current prevailing state. As related by Al-Hakim in his book, Al-Mustadrak, the Prophet, in highlighting this matter, said:
This means: The reward of the person who covers up the previous mistakes of a Muslim is similar to the reward of the person who rescues a girl buried alive. The prevailing state of the one who repented a valid repentance is that Allāh has forgiven him for committing that sin and so this is why we don’t mention it.
At the time of our Master ^Umar Ibnul-Khattab, a man came to him and told him: "In the Era of Ignorance, I buried my daughter alive, however, at the last moment I took her out. Then Islam spread, and we became Muslims. Time passed, and then this daughter of mine fornicated and later attempted to commit suicide by slitting her wrists. Afterwards she repented a valid repentance. Some people asked me for her hand in marriage. I told them her story so that I would not cheat them about my daughter." ^Umar scolded that man and told him: "You have spread that which Allāh ordered covered about your daughter. Let me warn you: If you tell anyone about this story again, I shall punish you in a manner that will make you an example for all the people."
From this story we understand that once a Muslim repents from his sins, it is unlawful to mention these sins about him. Therefore, the prevailing precept for the person must always be his prevailing situation.
There are certain cases the scholars of Islam excluded from being a sinful gossip (ghibah). These are classified into six categories, and one would not be sinful for committing gossip (ghibah) if his case fell into one of these six:
1. To go to the Muslim judge or one with jurisdiction to tell him about an injustice done to him in order to help him take his right.
2. To talk about a person’s sins that he hates mentioned, in order to seek help in preventing the person from continuing their sins. Hence, one is not sinful if he knows a Muslim who is committing a particular sin, and informs another of that matter so that the latter will help the sinful Muslim refrain from committing those sins.
However, be advised here of a very fine line: Many times a person lets loose his grudges against another to break him and seek revenge. Still, this person bluffs himself by claiming his intention is to help that person clear himself of his sin. In such a case, one does not escape the sin of gossip (ghibah).
3. To tell the mufti about someone else’s sin that he hates mentioned for the purpose of seeking the judgment of that particular matter. For example, for a man to tell the mufti his wife leaves the house against his permission does not make him sinful if one is seeking the religious judgment on that matter. However, the scholars said in such a case, one is recommended not to mention names, but to phrase the question in the third person. For example, to say: "What is the judgment according to the Religion if one's wife left the house against her husband’s permission?"
4. To depict a person with one of his attributes that he hates mentioned with the purpose of identifying him. For example, it is allowed for someone to tell his son to go and give some money to ‘the one-legged man next door’, to clarify for the son exactly which man is meant.
5. To tell about another person’s sins which he himself openly declares. Hence, it is not sinful for one to tell about a person who himself declares he drinks alcohol or does so publicly.
6. To warn other Muslims against a sinner. This is a very important issue. It is an obligation on us to warn against those who cheat Muslims. If, for example, one knows of a waylayer targeting a route along which Muslims intend to travel, one would be sinful if he kept silent from warning the Muslims of this, thereby letting them fall prey to the waylayer. Moreover, it is more of an obligation to warn against those who cheat Muslims in their Religion than to warn against those who cheat in the worldly matters. If one knows of anyone who cheats the Muslims in their Religion, by falsely claiming to be knowledgeable, teaching them blasphemy, and/or giving them answers to Islamic questions that are incorrect--then it is an obligation to warn the Muslims against them.
In a hadith related by Al-Hakim, which he classified as sahih, and was agreed upon by Adh-Dhahabiyy, the Messenger of Allāh said:
This hadith means: « If you see my nation fearful of telling the unjust person, 'You are unjust', then know the support of Allāh is withdrawn from them. » Also, in a hadith related by Al-Bayhaqiyy, the Prophet said:
The meaning of this Hadith is: « Until when will you withhold mentioning the person who commits enormous sins? Mention what is in him so the people would be warned against him. » Thus, we are encouraged to go out and warn the people against those who cheat and do ill things to the Muslims so that Muslims may heed the warning.
Muslims who practice this methodology of the Prophet and adhere to the teachings and the principles of Ahl us-Sunnah stand up and defend the creed of the Prophet. They defend and protect Muslims against the swindlers who do injustice to themselves and others.
Slander (Buhtan): This is mentioning untrue matters that a Muslim hates to be mentioned about him. It is more sinful than gossip.
The Prophet, Salla lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, said, addressing some of the Companions:
« أتدرون ما الغيبة قالوا الله ورسوله أعلم قال ذكرك أخاك بما يكره قيل أفرأيت إن كان في أخي ما أقول ؟ قال : إن كان فيه ما تقول فقد اغتبته وإن لم يكن فيه ما تقول فقد بهَتَّه »
Which means: « Do you know what gossip is? » They said: « Allâh and His Messenger know best. » He said: « Mentioning your Muslim brother with what he hates. » It was said: « What if what I said was true? » The Prophet said: « If it was true, then you have committed gossip about him. However, if it was untrue, then you have committed buhtan against him. » [Related by Muslim]
The one who listens to the prohibited gossip has committed one of the sins of the ear. One must forbid people to gossip.
Talebearing (Namimah): It is relating the words of one person to another with the intent of making trouble between them. An example of this is relating inciting words to two people who like each other, with the intent of breaking them up or making them hate each other.
Allâh, ta`âlâ, said in the Qur’ân:
﴿ هَمَّازٍ مَّشَّاءٍ بِنَمِيمٍ ﴾
(hammâzim mashshâ’im binamîm)
[Ayah 11 of Surat Al-Qalam] refers to dispraising the person who slanders others and spreads talebearing.
The Prophet of Allâh, Salla lLâhu `alayhi wa sallam, said:
لا يدخل الجنة قتات
(lâ yadkhulu l-Jannata qattât)
Qattat is a term for the one who practices talebearing. This Hadîth means that he will not be among the first people to enter Paradise ; rather, the qattat will enter it after receiving the punishment that he deserves in Hellfire.
الحمد لله رب العالمين