Answered by SeekersGuidance Answers Service
Could you provide guidelines on what ghiba is and when is it permissible to talk about someone else without them knowing?
I pray that you are in the best of health and faith, insha’Allah.
Slander: Its Basis and Ruling
Slander (ghiba) means to mention anything concerning a person that he would dislike. [Nahlawi, al-Durar al-Mubaha] (i.e. if he is known to the one addressed)
Birgivi said it is “to mention the negative points of a specific person who is known to those being addressed, to indicate these points, or to make them known by hand or any other limbs.” [Birgivi, al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya]
The basis is that all slander (ghiba) is absolutely unlawful (haram). Allah Most High says, “Do not slander one another.” [Qur’an, 49:12]
Backbiting or slander is permitted in certain situations. One of these is to complain about any wrongdoing to someone who can do something about it. Another would be to seek assistance in correcting the ways of a sinner.
When is it Permissible to Mention A Person’s Flaws?
There are 6 exceptional cases in which mentioning another person’s flaws is permissible, and that too, only that flaw which is relevant to the cause for exception, to the extent needed to convey the information, and only to the concerned party. Those cases are:
1) To redress the grievances of someone who is wronged to a ruler, judge or someone with authority who can help one.
2) To stop a wrong-doing by telling someone who can correct it, with the intention of using the necessary measures to eliminate that wrong. [AM: Sound religious knowledge of the matter in question and of the rules of forbidding the wrong is required first]
3) Asking an Islamic scholar for a legal opinion involving someone else, though if their identity can be made anonymous, it is better.
4) To warn Muslims of evil , or of something disadvantageous to them if one’s advice is sought in matters of marriage, business relationships, entrusting someone, in which case it is obligatory to advise honestly. If this can be done without going into detail, such as saying “This is not in your best interest” then one should suffice with this, unless need to elaborate presents itself.
5) Someone who openly does sin or oppression and is not concerned with hiding it, that matter can be discussed [AM: though it is sinful to discuss sinful things or falsehood without a valid reason].
6) To identify someone who is known by a certain nickname [such as “Skinny” or “Chubby”], as long as the intention is not to point of their deficiencies, and using another name is better if possible. [NHM Keller, Reliance of the Traveller; al-Khadimi, al-Bareeqa al-Mahmudiyya]
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Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani