Gossip and Talebearing

One’s etiquette in social situations is the key foundation to having strong relationships with others. This article is the fifteenth in a series taken from the On Demand Course: Discussion on Sulami’s Adab of Keeping Company.

Relations have a purpose. We seek Allah. Relations must be purposefully cultivated. Sometimes you may need to prune certain relationships or certain types of interactions that are harmful. 

Gossip and talebearing are both toxic qualities. Spreading gossip is evil. Talking about other people, in general, is harm rather than benefit.

The early Muslims used to say, “One of the most dangerous questions you can ask is how is so and so?” It opens the door to slander, gossip, backbiting, and talebearing. 

It hurts relationships and people’s good names. Both of these are sacred. Allah says:

یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱجۡتَنِبُوا۟ كَثِیرا مِّنَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعۡضَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِثۡم وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا۟ وَلَا یَغۡتَب بَّعۡضُكُم بَعۡضًاۚ أَیُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمۡ أَن یَأۡكُلَ لَحۡمَ أَخِیهِ مَیۡتا فَكَرِهۡتُمُوهُۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ تَوَّاب رَّحِیم

“O you who believe: Shun much of suspicion: Verily some suspicion is heinous sin; Nor pry into the private matters of others. Nor speak any of you ill of another behind his back: Would any of you love to eat the flesh of his own brother when dead? You would loathe it! And fear Alla; Verily Allah is oft-relenting, all-compassionate.” [Quran, 49:12; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

Much of ill opinion is sinful, let alone going beyond that.

Gossip is to talk speculatively about other people. To speculate about people’s private affairs. To pry into people’s private affairs. There could be a lot of commentary such as a certain person moved out of their house, I wonder how they financed it, and such things. 

Talebearing is to disclose what people would want to keep private. Gossip is more speculative, it is a take or an interpretation. Talebearing is to disclose things about people or to mention things they would want to keep private. 

Private Is Private

An example of talebearing is if a person visits his friend. The friend told him that he was considering moving to another city. But, they just shared it with you, it is private. For you to mention it to another is talebearing. 

It is wronging them. They have a right to privacy. It is harming your relationship with them. It can have other harms that you did not know.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) reportedly said, “Gatherings are a trust.” The assumption is anything that is said in a private gathering (which would include a family gathering) is private until you are sure of the contrary. 

This is serious. Our beloved messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“The talebearer shall not enter paradise.” 

This applies in general. It applies even more so concerning your friend, to your family, even to a colleague at work. Anytime there is some point of relationship between you and another, they have greater rights over you than other people do. 

This also includes past relations. You try to maintain them. You have to be more careful about how you speak about relations that you may have moved on from. This includes a couple who parted ways. 

Allah says:

فَإِذَا بَلَغۡنَ أَجَلَهُنَّ فَأَمۡسِكُوهُنَّ بِمَعۡرُوفٍ أَوۡ فَارِقُوهُنَّ بِمَعۡرُوف

“O when they draw to the end of their term, then retain them honorably or part from them honorably” [Quran, 65:2; tr. Keller, Quran Beheld]

One of the ways of parting in a good way is not to listen to, let alone be a party to gossip or talebearing about them. 

If you work in a company, you get to know private things. You know both strengths and weaknesses. If someone starts speaking up, you have to stop them or change the topic.

Keeping Trust

Ask yourself, “If I ask them permission am I fully sure that they would be fine with it.” If you have any hesitancy then you have to assume assume that it is private. If you would find it awkward to ask for permission to mention it that is a sign that you cannot mention it. 

You need to not believe anything that was said, let alone relate it. Ignore it as if it was not said. If someone says, “Did you know that so-and-so is pregnant?” treat it as if it did not happen. If you can, politely say, “I am not sure whether they want that to be known right now.” Be as diplomatic as you can, or just change the topic. 

Be careful of faking concern to put another person down. A person could even start a conversation by saying, “Supplicate for such and such a person,” and then they may go on to disclose private information.