Question: What does the Prophetic narration “backbiting is worse than fornication” mean?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate,
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Backbiting is worse than fornication.” [Tabrizi, Miskat al-Masabih]
In some of the narrations, the Companions then asked, “How is backbiting worse than fornication?” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) replied, “A person may commit fornication then repent, and Allah will forgive him; whereas the backbiter is not forgiven until the one they backbite forgives them.” [Tibi, al-Kashif ‘an Haqaiq al-Sunan; ‘Ali Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih]
Why Is Backbiting Worse Than Fornication?
The above narration is in no way condoning backbiting. Rather, it must be understood that any sin that affects the rights of others is worse than a sin that merely affects oneself. In that vein, consensual intercourse, though sinful and forbidden, has fewer consequences than a polemic attack on the honor of another when backbiting is committed.
Furthermore, sinful actions that are kept to the private sphere have less reciprocal consequences than sins done in the public sphere. Generally, fornication is a private matter that is seldom publicized or spoken about; whereas backbiting necessitates a public presence which may then spread in the form of gossip and tale-bearing thus expanding its harm.
Another explanation is that the one who commits fornication knows the severity of such a heinous act and is likely to be remorseful and repents, whereas, it is common that the one who backbites does not give this vile act its due importance. Allah Most High says, “You thought it was trivial but to God, it was very serious.” [Qur’an; 24:15]
[Mulla ‘Ali Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih]
I hope this helps,
Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch is a graduate from Tarim; a student of Habib Umar and other luminaries; and authorized teachers of the Qur’an and the Islamic sciences