Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
Is it sinful to overhear a conversation without any evil intent?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
In short, it is not in itself sinful; however, it may be blameworthy or at least best to avoid.
Listening vs. Hearing
There is a difference between hearing people speak and listening to what they are saying. Hearing people speak is unavoidable unless one plugs their ears.
This is similar to the difference between seeing and looking. If a person is driving or walking through a crowded area, they cannot always lower their gaze or close their eyes. They are only accountable for what they actively look at, not what they merely see.
Vain Actions (Fudul)
Although it is not intrinsically sinful, it is highly discouraged for many reasons to involve oneself in things that do not concern them and do not benefit them.
This applies to speaking and listening as well as other areas of life.
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “It is from the beauty of a person’s submission (Islam) that they abandon that which does not concern them.” [Nawawi, al-Arba‘un al-Nawawi]
Imam Abu al-Hamid al-Ghazali mentions the narration of Imam Hasan al-Basri (Allah be pleased with them both), “From the signs that Allah Most High has turned away from His servant is that he busies the servant in that which does not concern them.” [Ayyuha al-Walad, Ghazali]
A Balanced Approach
If this occurs while you are riding in the bus, try to busy yourself with something beneficial. A long commute can be a great time for reading beneficial books, listening to beneficial (preferably religious podcasts like Soulfood by Ust. Amjad Tarsin), and other such beneficial activities.
If still your ear hears people conversing, pay it no mind. If you specifically overhear the mention of a need or an area that you can assist them in, or an avenue toward calling them to Islam with wisdom – make a righteous intention and try to help as best as possible. In this case, it is of concern to you.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch teaches Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he completed four years at the Darul Uloom Seminary in New York, where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences.
He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he studied for three years in Dar al-Mustafa under some of the most outstanding scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib.
In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Quran and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Quranic exegesis, Islamic history, and several texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.