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Why do people love to gossip?

"Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day then let him speak good or remain silent."

By Deana Nassar / 14 Mar 2013

Backbiting is a disease of the heart.

Spreading private information or negative judgments is painful to others and reflects poorly on the backbiter.

Last week as I was sitting at a station listening to some girls talk about people I was shocked at how awful they were.

As I rolled my eyes, I stopped to think, do I sound like that when I talk about other people?

Prophetic Guidance

Let’s face it, we all gossip at one time or another. This made me think about backbiting and gossiping and the hadith by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) who informed us that backbiting is:

"To say something about your brother that he would dislike."

Someone asked him (peace and blessings be upon him):

“But what if what I say is true?”

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

"If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have slandered him." (Muslim)

Although this gossiping seems like mere words – they are words that bring upon the one who utters them shame and humiliation and ultimately consign them to Hell. Words falling from the tongue are simply a reflection of what is in the heart. By giving in to backbiting and gossiping we have given in to vain desires and succumbed to destructive tendencies.

Backbiting in Islam has been described as cannibalism and although we know it, we ignore its significance.

Allah warns in the Quran:

{O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah, verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.} (Al-Hujurat 49: 12)

Backbiting is a disease of the heart, and it requires some serious spiritual refinement. To rid yourself of backbiting, you need to fight your tongue before you open your mouth. According to the great scholar, Imam Al-Ghazali: "The tongue is a great endowment from Allah; though small in size, its crime is enormous."

Mind Your Tongue

There are similar hadiths to this effect. I remember when younger, my mother always telling me to 'think before I leap' as it will definitely help me land somewhere safe and sound. Therefore, you should think before you say something; if the possibility exists that it could be interpreted as backbiting, it would be best not to say it.

Many years later I remember my mother's words and in turn I tell my children to think, think, think, then and only then if it's free from the Satan's words and insinuations you may say it. After all, whoever gossips to you will gossip about you.

The scholar, Imam Al-Shafi’i said: “If you wish to speak then it is upon you to think before you speak. If you think there is good in it then speak and if not then do not speak.”

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) sums up backbiting in a nutshell where he relayed:

"Mentioning about your brother something that he would dislike includes what concerns his body, his religious practice, his worldly station, his physical appearance, his moral character, his wealth, his parents, his children, his spouse, his servant, his clothing, his activities, his smiles and frowns and anything else that pertains to him. It does not matter if you mention it explicitly by word or implicitly by indication or a gesture… This includes the likes of saying “O Allah, pardon us all!” “O Allah, forgive us!” “Allah keep us safe!” All of this is backbiting."  (An-Nawawi)

He (peace and blessings be upon him) also said:

"Most of the people, who will enter the fire, will do so due to their tongues so a Muslim must beware and learn to imprison the tongue from vain talk. Every saying of the children of Adam is cursed, except for enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, or for the remembrance of Allah." (At-Tirmidhi)

So why do we fall into the trap of backbiting and gossiping? Why do people love to gossip?

This habit may be the result of a number of things including, ignorance, envy, low self confidence, boredom and unfortunately low faith.

Research reveals that people who backbite the most have very high levels of anxiety. They are generally not particularly popular because they cannot be trusted. Spreading private information or negative judgments is painful to others and reflects poorly on the backbiter.

Tips to Shun Gossip and Backbiting

So now that we have established the seriousness of backbiting, what can we do if we are put in an environment where other people are backbiting or somebody is trying to backbite with us, how should we behave?

Firstly, if we hear a person spreading gossip about someone or backbiting we should not confirm it; we should express disapproval towards the gossiper and tell them not to do it again. It’s important not to feed the gossiper with curiosity, agreement and further questions. It’s best to simply change the subject.

If however the gossiper persists, we should attempt to defend the person being gossiped about. If they keep backbiting despite this warning, we should leave the area in fear of being dragged into joining the conversation.

Abu Dawud, Ibn-i Abi’d Dunya cites:

“To the person who defends his believing brother against hypocrites, on the day of judgment Allah sends an angel and protects him/her from the hell. And when someone backbites a Muslim to humiliate, Allah keeps him waiting on Hell Bridge until his crime is forgiven. Allah frees the person who defends his brother in his absence from the hell fire."

He continues:

“To the person who protects his believing brother’s honor in this world, Allah sends an angel to protect him from hell fire on the Day of Judgment.”

What if the situation is different and the backbiting is about you, how do you react?

It sounds absurd but try this trick, send them a gift! After all, they are providing you with rewards!

One story relays how Hassan Al-Basri, an important and religious figure in early Islam, was told:

“So-and-so has gossiped about you.”

So he sent him a dish of dates, with the message:

“I heard that you had given me your rewards as a gift, and I want to return the favor; please excuse me for not being able to pay back in full!”

A few guidelines can help us avoid falling into the trap of becoming backbiters:

“Will this saying of mine please Allah?

Will this saying of mine bring me closer to Allah?”

If yes, then speak, otherwise one should keep quiet.

When the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked which of the Muslims were best he replied:

"He whose tongue and hand the Muslims are safe from." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

While most of us may have a natural curiosity about what’s going on among people in the community we must keep this in mind: “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Remember, always “be impeccable with your words, speak with integrity, say only what you mean and always avoid using words to gossip about others.” (Miguel Angel Ruiz)

In conclusion use the power of your words in the direction of truth and love.

And always remember Prophet Muhammad's (peace and blessings be upon him) words:

"Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day then let him speak good or remain silent." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)


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