When a poor opinion of others occurs to mind, recognize that it is a type of whispering the devil has sent your way. You should consider it a fabrication, as he is the most evil of evildoers, and Allah has said, “When an evildoer brings you news, verify it before you harm others in ignorance and are then sorrowful over what you have done.” It is therefore not permissible to lend credence to the devil.
If there happens to be some circumstantial evidence that indicates impropriety, but it is also possible that the charge is not true, it remains impermissible to harbor malignant thoughts towards another.
One of the signs of having such thoughts towards others is that your heart is no longer the same with respect to them; you flee from them and find their company burdensome; you are unable to give them due consideration, to be hospitable towards them or to feel pain at their situation.
That is simply because the devil tries to convince the heart, with even the most tenuous of threads, of the evilness of another. He even throws into the heart the idea that this observation of another’s state is actually due to one’s own perspicacity, intelligence, and sharpness of mind, and that after all a believer can see clearly with the light of the Divine, while he is really speaking through the deception of satan and his darkness!
Even were one trustworthy person to tell you something about another person, do not lend credence to it, but do not at the same time consider it false. This is just so that you don’t end up thinking badly of another.
Do The Opposite
Whenever a malevolent thought towards another Muslim comes to mind, respond by doing even more to treat him well and honor him. That alone angers the devil and drives him away from you, such that he no longer throws those kinds of thoughts your way, for fear that you would respond by busying yourself with prayers for that person.
Whenever you learn of the misstep of another Muslim, through clear proof that does not admit doubt, advise them secretly. Do not allow yourself to be deluded by Satan, who calls you towards speaking about them behind their backs.
When you admonish them, do not do so happy that you’ve managed to come across a deficiency on their part, such that they have to look up at you in your position of strength, while you look down at them as if they are nothing.
Rather, have as your ultimate goal ridding them of this sin, while being in a state of sorrow, the way in which you would be sad over your own character when it is found to be be in some way deficient.
It’s Not About You
And finally, let it be the case that this person’s leaving off this blameworthy trait without you having said anything is more beloved to you than them having done so due to your having admonished them.
May Allah reward Shaykh Shuaib Ally for unearthing this valuable advice from Imam al-Ghazali, as quoted in Nawawi’s Adhkar.
Resources for seekers:
- When is Backbiting Permissible?
- What is Ghiba (Slander)?
- Backbiting (ghiba) and Seeking Counsel
- What is Backbiting and How Can One Be Safe?
- Seeking Forgiveness from Others Before Hajj
- Slander, Backbiting and Talebearing
- Is Backbiting Permissible for Marriage Prospects?
- Is It Sinful to Watch a Reality Show In Which Backbiting Takes Place?
- Can a Muslim Backbite Non-Muslims?
- What Should I Do With Friends Who Swear and Backbite?
- Having Hatred for a Sinful Person & Falsely Accusing Someone
- How To Repent From Gossiping?
- Can Good Deeds Be Sabotaged?
- The Criteria of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil