Backbiting is highly forbidden in Islam and is considered as a major sin. By speaking behind the back of others, people might deliberately spoil the dignity of each other, and in Islam, nothing is far more valuable than the honour of a human being. It is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) that during the miraculous night journey (Mi’raj) [i] that he (PBUH & HP) had, he (PBUH & HP) passed a group of people in hell who were scratching their own faces with nail. He (PBUH & HP) asked who they were. It was said that, those were the ones who used to backbite and dishonour others . This punishment, besides others, was due to the fact that backbiting destroys the face of others and misrepresents them, hence, the backbiters scratched their faces which caused them to look more monstrous and nasty. Let’s see what Islam’s definition of backbiting, its conditions, types, consequences, etc is.
According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP), backbiting is to mention and scold someone behind his back which is unpleasant and unkind to him/her . It can be about his/her physical appearance, body, origin, character, deeds, or possessions like clothes, home, children or spouse.
Notice that there is a delicate difference between backbiting and slander. According to Imam Sadiq (AS), backbiting is to reveal something about your Muslim brother which Allah Almighty has concealed. But, revealing which is apparent such as being irascible or hasty is not considered as backbiting. But, slander is to attribute something to someone which is basically wrong .
Not every act or saying about another person is backbiting. Backbiting is:
• If someone talks about the apparent and obvious characteristics of another person, it won’t be backbiting anymore, unless he\she intends to mock and deride that person. Hence, revealing the hidden defects of someone else is considered as backbiting whatever the intention is, but, talking about the obvious defects is considered as backbiting if one aims to reproach;
• When someone reveals the “defects” of someone else, but revealing the “strong points” of another person won’t be backbiting anymore;
• If the deficiency attributed to another person is unpleasant and blamed by everyone else;
• If one aims to dishonour another person by revealing his\her defects;
• And, if there is someone else who listens to or hears what is said about another person. It means that if one reviews someone’s defects by him\herself alone, it is not backbiting.
Backbiting is so denounced in Islam that it is said: “Whoever dies while he had repented from backbiting, he\she will be the last who enters Heaven. And, whoever dies while have kept on backbiting, he\she will be the first who enters the Hell !
In another narration, backbiting is compared to leprosy disease. It is said that backbiting ruins one’s faith much faster than leprosy disease ruins his\her body . In surat Hujurat it is said: “O you who have faith! ... do not spy on or backbite one another. Will any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And be wary of Allah ...” (49:12).
Backbiting is “mentioning” someone’s deficiency behind his\her back. Accordingly, the types of backbiting are:
• By words: it is the most common type of backbiting. It means one “speaks” about another person’s defect;
• By writing: if someone writes down the imperfection of someone else such that others can read it, too, the cartoons drawn to mock a personality or using someone’ pet phrase in order to make fun of him\her ;
• By act: if one reveals other person’s defect to someone else by showing or imitating it;
• By indirect words: like saying that “how lucky we are that we don’t have such a stingy partner!”;
• By gesture: like revealing one’s defect by a special movement of hand, head, eyes, etc.
Now that we found out how much backbiting is disapproved in Islam and what it is consists of, we need to find out its consequences, the way to prevent ourselves or others from backbiting, etc. Follow us on the second part of this topic to find the answers.
[i] The Mi’raj refers to the materialistic journey of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) from Mecca to Jerusalem, and from there, to the skies and back home again. That was during this journey that he (PBUH & HP) saw heaven and hell. For more details see: https://www.islamquest.net/en/archive/fa6152
- Mirza Hussain Nouri, “Mustadrak al-Wasa’il”, vol. 9, p. 119.
- M. Naraqi, “Mi’raj al-Sa’sah”, p. 447.
- Shaykh al-Kolayni, “al-Kafi”, vol. 2, No. 7.
- Mulla M. Faydh Kashani, “Al-Mahajjat al-Baydha' ”, vol. 5, p.252.
- Shaykh al-Kolayni, “al-Kafi”, vol. 2, No. 1.
Whatever we look at or even see, enters our mind and soul, and sticks to them. Imam Ali (AS) said: “The eye is the reporter of heart and the messenger of mind.” . It means that every act of looking profoundly affects our heart and soul. The prophet (PBUH&HP) said: “Avoid unnecessary excess looks as they grow lust in your hearts and make you heedless.” .
In another saying from Imam Ali (AS), we read that: “The eyes are the snares of Satan” . That is why Islam has special guidelines and rules about at what or whom, one is allowed or not to look. And, this is more pressing in case of Muslims living in a non-Muslim society, where they are constantly exposed to both men and women freely and improperly dressed in the streets, TV, magazines, web pages, etc. Islam has regulated looking at the opposite gender according to the two categories: Mahrams and non-Mahrams .
A man is permitted to look at the body of a woman who is his Mahram, except her private parts (Awrah). And he must not look at her body from the navel down to the knee. This means that a woman should dress decently even in the presence of her Mahrams. One’s wife is an exception to this rule; married couples are allowed to look at the entire body of each other.
It is forbidden for a man to look at the body of any non-Mahram woman but he can look at her hands and face as long as they do not have any decoration. If the woman is Muslim, then he is not allowed to look at her hair. But if she is not Muslim, looking at her hair is not forbidden as long as it is not for pleasure.
Generally, there is no sin on a man for the first involuntary look at any non-Mahram woman, but the second look should be avoided . In any case, men should remember that: “Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them.” (24:30).
This rule also extends to adolescent boys and even younger ones, who understand women’s physical attributes and might be attracted to them. They should be taught to lower their gaze, too. Since children’s minds and souls are clear lands ready to be cultivated with several types of thoughts and ideas mostly captured by eyes, we need to teach them which seeds they should plant in their lands to attain Allah’s eternal satisfaction.
A man is not allowed to look at another man’s private parts, nor a woman at those of another woman; whether Muslim or not. Besides, looking at any parts of the body of another man, even the face and arms, will be forbidden for a man if done with the intention of having pleasure. The same ruling applies to a woman towards another woman. This also means that one should always cover his/her private parts in the presence of others, even of the same gender.
A woman is allowed to look at the body of a man who is her Mahram, except his private parts, if it is not for having pleasure. One’s husband is an exception to this rule as mentioned earlier.
A woman is not permitted to look at the body of a non-Mahram man, except for the face, hands, and that amount which men usually [i] do not cover and if it is not for pleasure.
One is permitted to look at the entire body of a child until he/she reaches the age when the child’s consciousness of sex has developed, or when evidence of sexual urge is noticed on him/her; even if it is before reaching puberty. However, it is better to accustom the child to always dress properly.
As a general rule, it is forbidden (Haram) to look at anyone (even at one’s own body) or anything (including people’s photos and films, statues, etc.) with the intention of having pleasure (with the exception of one’s spouse), even if one is looking at a Mahram.
In cases of “necessity” such as in administering first aid, medical treatment [ii] or during a trial testimony where the judge requests the witness to look at a non-Mahram to identify him/her , all the rules of the prohibition of looking become void. As an instance, if a doctor is compelled to look at a part of the body of a non-Mahram woman, he must only look at that part necessary for the treatment, but not more than that. Also, if possible, the examination or testing must be performed over the clothing. Other exceptions are looking at one’s spouse as explained above.
[i] This, although following a definite limit indicated in Islamic ruling that should be respected, is based on the normal condition of each society to some extent.
[ii] In the case that a doctor of the same skill and with the same gender is not available.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 104, p. 41, T. 52.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 72, p. 199.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 77, p. 294.
- Ibn Babawayh, “Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih”, vol.3, p.474, T. 4658.
- looking to others
Following the discussions on the concept of responsibility in Islam and Muslims' duties towards other human beings, this article reviews the duties towards the teachers, students, and young and older adults.
Teachers are acknowledged and valorized in Islam. It is said that God, angels, earth inhabitants and even the small ants in their nests and the fish in the seas, all salute the mentors who invite to goodness . Imam Ali (AS) said that whoever has taught me a word has made me “his slave”[i] . Regarding the Islamic resources, the rights of the mentor over the students are:
to be polite and grateful to the mentor, and honor him\her ;
to sit down politely in his\her presence such that to face him\her directly ;
to listen carefully to him\her and forget anything else during the session except what the mentor explains ;
not to answer the questions that the mentor has been asked about and let him\her to reply ;
to lower your voice when talking to him\her  as a means of showing the respect for him\her;
to ask in order to know and not to annoy the mentor or to mock him\her  and then to listen carefully to the answer of the question ;
not to talk and whisper to anybody in his\her presence  otherwise the mentor feels being ignored;
not to talk behind other people’s back with him\her  since this is an unpleasant act which also bothers the audience ;
not to let others insult the mentor or lie about him\her ;
not to reveal his\her deficiencies and to tell others about his\her positive characteristics .
Seeking knowledge is such important in Islam that according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), trees, winds, clouds, seas and stars, plants and everything that the sunshine falls on, all ask for mercy for whoever seeks knowledge . Also, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) said that whoever seeks knowledge is beloved by God, angels, and prophets and good for them on the judgment day . Of the rights of the knowledge-seekers over their mentor are:
To be kind to them ;
To be humble and flexible to them ;
To know their names and some details about each of them . This helps to maintain a better relationship and consequently to better teach and educate them;
To respect their character and to consider their words and thoughts ;
To equally love them and pay attention to them . In this regard, mentors are almost like judges in Islam;
To teach with serenity and dignity , therefore, his\her lessons impress their mind and soul ;
To be tolerant of them and answer their questions properly ;
To consider and support kindly the newcomers ;
To honestly tell if he\she does not know the answer to a question  instead of saying what he\she is not sure about;
Of the rights of young people over older adults and their responsibility in Islam are:
To be kind to them ;
To be engaged in their education and training ;
To ignore and forgive their mistakes and hide their deficiencies ;
To tolerate them, be patient with them and help them in difficulties ;
If the young people do something wrong because they are naive, the older adults should not reveal that ;
To avoid arguments and conflicts with them .
The responsibility in Islam of the younger people toward the elderly include:
To respect them since they are older than you ;
If they argue with you, do not react unpleasantly ;
If you accompany each other on the way, do not overtake them ;
If they do not know about something, do not humiliate them ;
And, if they ignore you because you do not know something, keep calm and do not react as they are older than you .
[i] The word “slave” here does not mean servant, but is used to valorize the mentor and emphasizes the importance of respecting him\her.
[ii] Knowledge-seeker is used as a more general word than a student to cover whoever seeks knowledge.
- M. B. Majlisi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 61, p. 245
- M. Naraqi, “Jami' al-Sa'adat”.
- Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (AS), “Treatise On Rights (Risalat al-Huquq)”.
- “Nahj al Balaqa”, I. 320.
- Ibn Babawayh, “Ilal Al-Shara'I”, vol. 2. p. 334.
- H. al-Daylami, "Irshad al-Qulub", p. 164.
- M. Shoueiri “Jami’ al-Akhbar”, p. 37.
- Al-Shahid al-Thani, “Munya al-murid fi adab al-mufid wa al-mustafid”, p. 190-219.