Is there a permissible ghibah?
Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
Islam is a religion which strongly preserves the sanctity and honor of humans be it a Muslim or not. Hence, this religion forbids anything that degrades or defame one’s honour like backbiting. Allah SWT compares this group of people as the following:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ
O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And 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
Surah al-Hujurat (12)
This verse clearly states the prohibition of backbiting that it is counted the same as eating one’s brothers’ flesh in comparison. Imam al-Maraghi in his tafsir states that ghibah is compared to eating one’s flesh as it dishonours another person like when one tear the flesh when eating. This comparison suits the way Arabs communicate with each other. [See: Tafsir al-Maraghi, 139-140/26]
Definition of al-Ghibah (Backbiting)
Before answering the above question, we would like to state first the definition of al-ghibah as given by the Prophet PBUH:
أَتَدْرُونَ مَا الْغِيبَةُ " . قَالُوا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ . قَالَ " ذِكْرُكَ أَخَاكَ بِمَا يَكْرَهُ "
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.
Sahih Muslim (2589)
Based on the above question, here, we cite the opinion of Imam al-Nawawi as stated in his book. Permissible backbiting with righteous intentions that is permissible according to syarak in which something may not be achieved except through backbiting. It is divided into six types:
- When submitting a complaint to a ruler or judge for any oppression that took place.
- Helping in combating the evil doings by guiding the sinners back to the right path.
- Telling the Mufti for the purpose of the issuance of fatwa.
- Forbidding the Muslims from any evil as well as advising them like warning from learning something not from the right persons.
- Telling on people who commit sins openly.
- Calling people with any makruf (known) attribute like mute, blind, and etc. However, if we are able to call them with other names, it is better. It is haram to call them by these names in the purpose of offending them.
Therefore, these six matters are stated and decided by scholars. All of these come from sahih and known dalil or hadith. [See: Riyadh al-Solihin, 432-433]
Imam Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in his book also stated on types of backbiting which are permissible by syarak the same as what is stated by Imam al-Nawawi above. [See: Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin, 172-173].
In conclusion, backbiting is a haram action, unless with intentions permitted by syarak as we have explained above. Besides, as a Muslim who pronounces his faith to Allah SWT, we should preserve our tongue from haram and unbeneficial actions. This is because one of the criteria or attributes of a believer is to always utter good things or be silent from speaking foolishly. Amin.