Slander, backbiting, and double dealing

Speaking ill of others behind their backs, scandal-mongering, slander, and vilification are moral vices that bring bad consequences. Backbiting, malicious upbraiding, and spreading false reports against anyone that tend to cause pain or injure ones reputation is the height of perversity. To stress the foulness of backbiting, it has been likened in the Qur’an and the Traditions to ‘eating the flesh of one’s dead brother.’ In case of double dealing, it is the habit of some people that when there is a dispute or enmity between two persons or groups they speak to each of them about the other in terms that are unfavourable. In the same way, some people show friendliness and sincerity when they meet a person, but speak ill of him or act against his interests behind his back. It is a form of hypocrisy and has been disapproved.

1] Abu Hurayrah related to us saying that one day, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Do you know what is backbiting?” “God and His Messenger know best,” the Companions replied. The Prophet, thereupon, observed: “When you talk about a brother in a way that hurts or harms him, it is backbiting.” “Would it, also, amount to backbiting if I spoke of an evil of my brother that was, actually, present in him?” asked a Companion. “It will be backbiting only when the evil is present in him, while if it is not present, it will be slander (which is even worse than backbiting),” the Prophet replied. – Muslim

Commentary

It should, however, be noted that, in case, it became necessary to relate, truthfully, the fault or viciousness of an individual or group to others out of good will and sincerity to the bondsmen of the Lord or for the eradication of an evil or mischief, or should the realization of an objective relating to the Shari’ah or morality be dependent on it then it will not amount to backbiting which is forbidden by the Shari’ah and is a major sin. On the other hand, in certain circumstances, it will be a virtuous act, meriting rewards….

Thus, to depose against a criminal before an officer of the realm or to warn the people against a professional cheat or the rebutting of evidence of false and unreliable narrators by the scholars of the Traditions, or to acquaint the people with the errors of treacherous pedlars in Faith by religious doctors will, all, belong to the same category.

2] It is related by Abu Barza Aslam that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “O people who have affirmed Faith (only) with the tongue, and Islam has not yet entered into their hearts! Do not speak ill of Muslims behind their backs, and do not pry into their secrets, for whoever does so, God, too, will treat him in the same manner, and whoever will be treated like that, from the side of God, will be made lowly and debased, by Him, in his own house.” – Abu Da’ud

3] It is related by Anas that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “During the ascension (Miraj), I passed by some people whose nails were red like copper, (and) they were scratching their faces and breasts with them. I enquired about them from Jibra’il as to who they were that such a terrible punishment was being inflicted upon them. Jibra’il replied that they used to eat the flesh of men in their lives, i.e., spoke ill of them and played foul with their reputations.” – Abu Da’ud

4] It is related by Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “On the Day of Resurrection, the biggest loser will be the double-faced person who talks in one voice when he goes to one party, and, in another voice when he goes to the other party.” – Bukhari and Muslim

5] It is related by Ammar bin Yasir that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Whoever is double-faced in the world, there will be two tongues of fire in his mouth on the Day of Final Judgment.” – Abu Da’ud

Commentary

Good manners and good deeds on which there is the promise of a reward in the Hereafter are of different kinds and belong to different grades. Similarly, bad manners and evil deeds on which there is the warning of a penalty in Afterlife, too, are of different kinds and grades. The Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, has prescribed a reward or punishment on every good or evil act in proportion to its goodness or evilness. Thus, for double-dealing, the punishment on the Day of Reckoning will be that there will be two tongues of fire in the mouth of such a man….

There are, in fact, some faults and weakness that are dangerous, but we do not, generally, take enough care to avoid them. It is about such acts and iniquities that the Qur’an said: “You counted it a trifle, (but) in the sight of Allah it is very great.” [Chapter 24, Verse 15].

The evil habit of hypocrisy and double-dealing, too, is one of them. Many of us are apt to regard it an ordinary matter though Traditions tell how sinful it is to indulge in it and what bad consequences it brings about, and the punishment for it in result.