Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick
In many sports like football and basketball, one should support a team. We often find ourselves talking bad about a team behind their back, however, I assume this is the point of professional sports (to encourage your team and do the opposite to others), is this backbiting, and will this affect us on the day of judgment?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him and forgive us for our shortcomings, Amin.
Abstinence from backbiting should be the default state of the believer in most cases, but there are certain situations wherein, otherwise, inappropriate talking about others becomes conditionally acceptable.
Still, even in those situations, a believer should not transgress the boundaries of Allah Most High. A touch of competitive sportsmanship is harmless, and so is game strategizing of one’s opponents, but you should not insult others in the process, and Allah knows best.
What is Backbiting (ghiba)?
Backbiting (ghiba) means speaking about a Muslim in his absence and saying things he would not like to have spread around or mentioned.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Do you know what backbiting (ghiba) is?” They said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “Saying something about your brother that he dislikes.” It was said, “What if what I say about my brother is true?” He said, “If what you say is true, then you have backbitten about him, and if it is not true, then you have slandered him.” [Muslim]
Based on the above and other evidence, backbiting is unlawful. However, in sports and play, one often strategizes against an opponent and analyzes their gameplay. As long as one’s analysis is not an ad hominem attack (a personal attack against someone’s character or person) against individuals, especially fellow believers, this type of sportsmanship is not unlawful, and Allah knows best.
Not Quite Transgression
There are times and occasions that call for some qualities that ostensibly appear to be transgressions in Sacred Law. The story of the Companion Abu Dujana (Allah be please with him) beautifully demonstrates this.
Abu Dujana (Allah be pleased with him) was a brave companion. He was always ready to sacrifice his life in the way of Allah and His Messenger (may Allah bless him and give him peace). He wrapped a red turban as a sign of this readiness in both the Battles of Badr and Uhud. When the Ansar saw this, they said, “Abu Dujana wrapped the turban of death again.”
Abu Dujana (Allah be pleased with him) started to proceed to the ranks of the enemy proudly, holding the sword that the Prophet gave him on the condition that he would use it as was necessary.
In the meantime, the Companions did not like it when they saw that Abu Dujana (Allah be pleased with him) walked proudly. They feared that he might be destroyed because of this deed. Thereupon, the Prophet stated the following, indicating that it was permissible to walk proudly against the enemy:
“Allah does not like this kind of walking anywhere except on battlefields.” [Mubrakpuri, Rahiq al-Makhtum]
Competitiveness in Sports
There is enough evidence in the Sunna showing that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) participated in sport-like activities and, at times, displayed moderate competitiveness.
Still, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) cautioned believers to uphold the boundaries of Allah in every situation and not let their competitive aggression cause them to react in unlawful ways.
The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The strong man is not good at wrestling, but the strong man controls himself in a fit of rage.” [Bukhari; Muslim].
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) passed by some people who were wrestling. He asked, “What is this?” They said: “So-and-so is the strongest; he can beat anybody.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Shall I not tell you who is even stronger than him? The man who, when another mistreats him, controls his anger. He has defeated his devil and the devil of the one who made him angry.” [Bazzar, Bakhr al-Zakhkhar; Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) Raced with His Family
The well-known foot-races between the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and our mother, Sayyida ‘Aisha (Allah be pleased with her), indicates that the Prophet had a playful yet moderate competitive nature.
ʿAisha (Allah be pleased with her) said: I went out with the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace) on one of his journeys when I was still young and had not put on weight. He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said to the people: “Go on ahead.” So they went on ahead, then he said to me, “Come, let me race with you.” So I raced with him, and I beat him, and he said nothing.
Then when I had put on some weight, and I had forgotten about it, I went out with him on one of his journeys, and he said to the people: “Go on ahead.” So they went on ahead, then he said to me, “Come, let me race with you.” So I raced with him, and he beat me, then he smiled and said: “This is in return for that.” [Abu Dawud]
Based on the above, it appears to be permissible to engage in moderate sportsmanship and strategy against opponents in appropriate situations but observe the boundaries of Allah in every situation, and one should never engage in ad hominem attacks as that would be unlawful backbiting, and Allah knows best.
Allah says: “O believers! Do not let some ˹men˺ ridicule others, they may be better than them, nor let ˹some˺ women ridicule other women, they may be better than them. Do not defame one another, nor call each other offensive nicknames. How evil it is to act rebelliously after having faith! And whoever does not repent, it is they who are the ˹true˺ wrongdoers.” [Quran, 49:11]
I pray this is of benefit.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.
Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.
He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.
Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.