Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
1. How should one view the material rights of others that were taken by one during childhood? To my shame, in my personal situation I remember having done such things more than once, and having been found out by my parents.
2. As a student of history, I often find myself confused about how to apply the rules regarding backbiting and slander in historical sources. Could you please clarify what is permissible and impermissible to read/write in an academic context?
3. Could you define ‘al-khawd fil-batil’ clearly for me so I know how to avoid it?
Thank you for your questions.
The Messenger of Allah said, ‘The pen has been lifted from [documenting and acts of] three particular types of people: someone who is sleeping until he wakes up, a child until he reaches puberty, and an insane person until he regains his sanity’ (Narrated by Imam Ahmad). Based on this hadith you are not sinful for having taken the material possessions of others, however the Noble Shari’a still demands that their property and financial rights be returned. This is even the case if someone damages the property of another whilst asleep by falling onto it, for example.
If you cannot recall exactly what you took and when, you should make a list of what you know for certain, repent from the acts, and pay them back. If you recall anything else at a later date do the same for that too. As for anything which you cannot recall, the great master of spirituality Shaykh Abdul-Wahhab al-Sha’rani mentioned in one of his works that one should regularly perform an act of worship and then donate its reward to anyone who he many have wronged in any way; this was he will have something to compensate them with on the Day of Judgement.
The Messenger of Allah told us that mentioning something about another person which they would dislike having said about them is backbiting (Muslim). The wording of the hadith is applies to any negative comment which could be made about someone; however, what we know from other sources in the Noble Shari’a that there are certain exceptions to this rule where criticising another is not impermissible:
1. When seeking to have a wrong redressed. For example, reporting someone to the police saying that he stole your property.
2. When someone well-known to have a particular name or quality. An example of this is the famous hadith narrator al-Hafiz Muhammad b. Ja’far al-Basri, who was affectionately referred to as Ghundar, troublemaker, after an incident in his days as a student. Despite this being a derogatory term, referring to him with this name is not backbiting, but this exception is conditioned upon the person not minding being referred to like that. This would also be the case for referring to someone with a description that defines them well such as ‘Zayd, the blind man, and Yasir, the short man.’
3. When warning someone. One can mention people when warning others about the potential harm that could occur through them, such as saying, ‘Don’t do business with so and so; he’s dishonest. However, due to the legal principle Necessity only allows the bare minimum (al-ḍarūra tuqaddaru bi qadriha) one would not be allowed to make unrelated criticisms such as, ‘His breath stinks and he doesn’t change his socks for a week!’
4. When mentioning someone who publicly sins, whilst being unconcerned about people’s regard for him. An example of this is someone who walks down the street drinking a bottle of alcohol. Such a person loses the sanctity afforded to believers. Mentioning his misdeeds in the proper context is not sinful, whereas doing so without need could land one in another sin.
5.When seeking a legal verdict, such as asking a mufti something like ‘My father forces me to work and wrongfully claim benefits; what shall I do?’
6. Seeking help to undo a wrong, such as saying to someone ‘Will you speak to your son please? He keeps stealing from the donations box.’
Some of the scholars have added another category which allows one to mention something negative about another out of concern, such as a father saying, ‘I think my son takes drugs.’
In an academic context it would be permissible to documents the misdeeds of people of the past due to the benefit future generations can gain from it. Knowing about the consequences of the disobedience of the archers at the battle of Uhud, or the ultimate end of an unjust ruler is food for thought. Also, having an accurate historical record is essential to maintain the credibility of one’s historical record amongst other things. For these reasons and others the Ulema documented and transmitted matters which may ostensibly seem like backbiting.
Delving into the Forbidden (al-Khawd fi al-Batil).
Delving into the forbidden is a sin which is defined as discussing acts of sin without a worthy purpose. The great Damascan scholar, Shaykh Abdul-Ghani al-Nabulsi mentions in his commentary on Imam al-Birgivi’s al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya that this means discussing sins in a way which gives one pleasure and delight – and not necessarily just mentioning the act. From this we can see that someone talking about the the sinful acts of people in a nightclub, for example, is not impermissible if there is a Shari’a countenanced purpose to it. Simply discussing sinful matters to gain a few laughs is what is not permissible.
As for literature, there are many potential benefits to be gained from works which may have some questionable content, which renders reading it permissible. For example, when teaching Arabic Rhetoric, I instruct my students to read The Lord of the Rings because it will aid in them assimilating the concepts of rhetoric easily, which ultimately leads them to being able to see that the Qur’an is inimitable book of Allah.
The concepts of evil and magic in such books are important to know so that one can develop a keen sense of right and wrong. This is especially important for developing the morality of children, who cannot appreciate nuances in the way adults can. Parents should discuss these matters with their children alongside a reading of such literature and re-enforce the morality with Islamic standards. Not knowing about bad and harmful matters leaves one vulnerable to them, which is why the companion Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman habitually asked about the difficulties which would afflict the Muslims so he could remain safe from them.
Stories based on the concept of an ‘anti-hero’, someone who does good overall but by taking bad means, should be avoided as they give a mixed message, as should literature which one is not qualified to read, such as the convoluted arguments of atheists if one does not have a thorough grounding in Islamic Theology.
May Allah bless you with the best of both worlds.
[Shaykh] Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History he moved to Damascus in 2007 to study and sit at the feet of some of the most erudite scholars of our time.
Over the following eighteen months he studied a traditional curriculum, studying with scholars such as Shaykh Adnan Darwish, Shaykh Abdurrahman Arjan, Shaykh Hussain Darwish and Shaykh Muhammad Darwish.
In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies for the next six years, in Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, Theology, Hadith Methodology and Commentary, Shama’il, and Logic with teachers such as Dr Ashraf Muneeb, Dr Salah Abu’l-Hajj, Dr Hamza al-Bakri, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, Dr Mansur Abu Zina amongst others. He was also given two licences of mastery in the science of Qur’anic recital by Shakh Samir Jabr and Shaykh Yahya Qandil.
His true passion, however, arose in the presence of Shaykh Ali Hani, considered by many to be one of the foremost tafsir scholars of our time who provided him with the keys to the vast knowledge of the Quran. With Shaykh Ali, he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Qur’anic Sciences, Tafsir, Arabic Grammar, and Rhetoric.
When he finally left Jordan for the UK in 2014, Shaykh Ali gave him his distinct blessing and still recommends students in the UK to seek out Shaykh Abdul-Rahim for Quranic studies. Since his return he has trained as a therapist and has helped a number of people overcome emotional and psychosomatic issues. He is a keen promoter of emotional and mental health.