(From the book of Imaam An-Nawawee,Guarding your Tongue, Chapter 2: Prohibition of Backbiting & Gossiping, Page 41-44)
Everything by which one causes others understand the deficiencies found in Muslim, then that is backbiting, that is forbidden.
1. When someone tells others that “such and such” individual walks with a limp or that he walks while humped over” or anything similar to that from the aspect by one body desires to narrate in order to belittle the individual is Haraam–there being no difference of opinion in this regard.
2. When an author mentions a specific individual in his book, saying “Such-and-such person say this.. ” desiring to degrade him and dishonour him is Haraam.
● If the author’s intention is to clarify that person’s mistake so that it will not be followed, or clarify his deficiency in knowledge so that he will not mislead others or have opinions accepted, then this is not backbiting. Rather it is advice (Naseehah), which is an obligation and which will be rewarded if that is what he (truly) intended.
● If the author or anyone else speaks generally, saying: “those people” or “this group says such-and-such, and this is an error” or “mistake” or “ignorance” or “negligence” or similar to that, then this is not backbting. Backbiting is only when one mentions a specified individual or specific group of people (i.e by name).
3. When one says: “Some of the people did such and such” or “some of the scholars” or “some who claim to have knowledge” or “some of the Muftees” or “some who attribute themselves to rectifying (the Ummah)” or ” who claims abstinence” or “some people who pass by us today” or “some people we saw” or similar to this “…did such-and-such”, without specifying anyone, but yet the one being spoken to realizes who the individuals are specificially, due to speaker’s causing him to understand who they are (through his words) is also from the forbidden type of backbiting.
4. When it is said to one of them: “How is such and such person?” He responds: “May Allah rectify us” or “May Allah forgive us” or “May Allah rectify him” or “We ask Allah for his pardon!” or “We give praise to Allah for not having tested us with entering us into darkness” or “We seek refuge in Allah from evil” or ” May Allah save us from having little modesty” or “O Allah, accept our repentance”, and what is similar to that, by which one will realize that person’s defects is from the forbidden type of backbiting.
5. When one says: “Such and such person is being tested with that which all of us were tested with” or “his wealth is a means for that (test)” or “we all have done such an act” is still Haraam. We must refer back to the source principle of Backbiting, which is: One’s causing his audience to understand the defect found in certain people (even without mentioning their names).
Know that in the same way that backbiting is forbidden for the one who speaks it, it is likewise forbidden for the one who listens to it and approves of it.
- It is obligatory on the one who hears an individual embarking on committing the prohibited form of backbiting to forbid him from doing it as long as he does not fear any open harm resulting from it.
- It is obliged for the person to reject the backbiting with his heart and to detach himself from that gathering if he is able to do so.
- If he has the ability to reject it with his tongue or to cut the backbiting off by changing the topic, then that become required of him. And if he does not do that, then he has committed an act of disobidience (i.e sinned).
- Making remembrance of Allah (Dhikr) with both his tongue and heart or just his heart is the only way out if one is being forced to stay in a gathering in which backbiting is taking place.
- If someone is being forced to stay where backbiting takes place, he should think about something else in order to preoccupy himself from having to listen to the backbiting.
- Know that in the state of being forced to stay in a place where backbiting takes place will not harm an individual, but if he is able to withdraw from them and they are still backbiting, then separating oneself is an obligation.
“And when you see those who engage in false conversations about Our Verses by mocking at them, then turn away from them until they engage in different topic of speech. But if the Devil causes you to forget, then after remembering, do not sit in the company of those people who are the wrongdoers.” [Al-An’aam (6): 68]