Living Simply: Letting Go and Holding Fast
Part Six: Wronging Others in Word and Deed
In order to get through life with ease, the early Muslims (salaf) focused on certain key ways of living that would make it spiritually and practically easier and more fruitful. They coined a term for the variegated rules that they lived by, a term that summarized the system of living for the Hereafter. They called it zuhd: detachment from this world. For the purpose of this article series, we have found the best match in terms of meaning to be asceticism. Other terms to describe zuhd are indifference towards worldly matters or simple or minimal living. This is the sixth article from a series of articles and podcasts by SeekersGuidance scholar, Shaykh Farid Dingle.
Being detached from this world implies that one not be drawn to revenge, putting people down, or taking others’ emotional or material rights. In this chapter, Imam Waki discusses wrongdoing in its broadest sense, and focuses on the sin of backbiting and talebearing.
Imam Waki (Allah have mercy on him) begins this chapter with a hadith concerning oppression and transgression. Transgression means to want something so much that you end up wronging yourself or someone else. It is the very opposite of asceticism (zuhd), which means being emotionally distant enough from something to only do good by it. There is a hadith that goes: “Were one mountain to transgress against another, it would be pulverized.” This tells us that oppression is wrong and that its punishment is severe and swift. It also tells us that only man and jinn wrong others, and that is because they alone are morally responsible. As we wrong each other, the colossal punishments that we deserve are being held back until the time Allah decides to inflict them upon us. This imminence is echoed in another hadith:
“The evil with the fastest punishment is transgression and cutting off family ties.”
Although being patient with abuse is part of accepting Allah’s decree, it doesn’t mean that we should not try to avoid it and pray to be protected from it. Imam Waki narrates that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to pray, “O Allah, give me victory over whosoever transgresses against me.”
One of the worst weapons used in wronging others is the tongue, and this usually takes the form of backbiting and spreading rumours about others. Amr ibn al-As passed by a dead mule and told those with him, “I swear that it would be better for someone to fill his belly with this mule than to eat the flesh of his Muslim brother.” He was making a reference to backbiting, which is described as equivalent to eating a human corpse. Allah Most High says,
“And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the dead flesh of his brother? You would detest it!” (Qur’an, 49:12)
Ibn Sirin said the same thing when his students were discussing the nature of backbiting. He said, “Haven’t you ever seen a stinking rotten corpse?”
Backbiting means to say something about someone who is absent that they would not like, whether or not it is true. Ibn Sirin said, “If someone doesn’t like it to be said of him that his hair is curly, then don’t say that about him.” Ibrahim al-Nakhai put it even more simply: “Only call your brother what he likes to be called.”
The only time it is permissible to say something negative about another person is when it’s needed in worldly dealings, such as when warning someone of danger, or telling a manager that someone isn’t doing their job. Even then, it should be based on facts and not opinions, and it should not be done with malice. Even talking to oneself about how stupid, annoying, dumb, ugly, or incapable someone is is sinful. There is a slight difference between observing a “fact” that someone is ugly and looking down upon them in one’s own head because of it. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Backbiting is to make a comment about someone’s character or physical features.” “We thought that it was saying something that was not true,” they replied. “‘No. That is slander.”
In view of the fact that backbiting is so bad, Waki cites the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saying, “I wouldn’t backbite someone for anything.” The problem with us is that we love to get back at people to make people laugh; our attachment to these low aims makes us backbite. As mentioned previously, this is the very opposite of asceticism and makes trust between family and friends very difficult indeed.
Another cancer of our society is talebearing: spreading stories about what other people did in order to ruin relationships. Imam Waki quotes the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) saying, “A talebearer will not enter Paradise.” That is to say that such a person who does this and dies unrepentant has been threatened by the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) that Allah places him in Hellfire until he pays for his crime.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) passed by two graves and said, “Verily, they are both being punished and not for something major. As for one, he is being punished for the habit of soiling himself with urine. As for the other, he is being punished for the habit of talebearing.” Then he asked for a green branch to be brought and broke it in two, sticking one into each of the two graves. He said, “Hopefully their punishment will be lightened until these dry out.” This shows that talebearing is not just sinful, but that it is one of those major sins that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) specifically mentioned would be punished in the grave.
It is such a serious sin that Allah has mentioned it in the Qur’an as well. Ibn Abbas was asked, “Who are these people that Allah is berating when He says, ‘Woe to every scorner and mocker!’ (Qur’an, 104:1)?” Ibn Abbas replied, “They are those who continually engage in talebearing, who split brothers apart, and who seek ill for the innocent.”
Ata ibn Saib, one of the great faith scholars, came back from Mecca and another great scholar, Shabi, asked him to tell him something interesting that he had learned. He replied, “I only have one thing: Abdurrahman ibn Abdullah ibn Sabit said that nobody lives in Mecca who is a murderer, usurer, or a talebearer. I found it amazing how talebearing was equated with murder!” “Why do you find it so amazing?” said Shabi. “Is there anything other than talebearing that makes people spill blood and dishonor that which is sacred?”
By contrast, those who restrain from such a foul social disease are the closest of people to Allah.
It is narrated that when Musa hastened to his Lord (Qur’an, 20:84), he passed by a man whom he wished to be like because he was so close to [Allah’s] throne. “Who is this man, O my Lord?” he asked. “We will not tell you,” he was told. “But We will tell you what he used to do: he was never envious of what of His blessings [Allah] gave other people, and he would not engage in talebearing, and he would not be rude (uquq) his parents.”
Whether it be with the hand or the tongue, wronging is wrong and its punishment hits hard and fast. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Be very wary of the prayer of the oppressed because there is no barrier between it and Allah.” May Allah protect us all from sin, oppression, backbiting, talebearing and all that He detests. Amen.
About the Author
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to crafts lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language which can be found here.
The corresponding podcast is due for release soon.
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