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By: Hosai Mojaddidi & Dr. Nafisa Sekandari
Let’s face it, we live in a society that promotes, distributes, and thrives on gossip. It fuels our economy, provides us a seemingly endless supply of fodder for conversation, and can liven up even the most boring workplace—listen in on the crowd around your office water cooler next time they gather. Every single day there are endless and often up-to-the-minute reports all over the internet, on TV and radio, in newspapers, magazines and “gossip columns” that specifically detail the private affairs of people throughout the world. Websites like Yahoo! OMG! and blogs like that of Perez Hilton’s get millions hits a day! And network shows like Gossip Girl and TMZ are among some of the most watched by impressionable young teens and adults. So, how has all of this impacted the way that we as Muslims living in this society view gossip?
In the literal sense, the famous idiom, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison,” fits perfectly with the Islamic view of gossiping or backbiting. The Qur’an states, “O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, for some suspicions are a sin. Do not spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, you would abhor it, [so similarly, avoid backbiting]. And fear God. Indeed, God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful”(49:12). The mere thought of eating dead human flesh can make even the most intrepid person sick to their stomach. Yet despite that and the fact that many of us have heard this verse multiple times, gossiping is still a common problem in our community.
Contrary to what those who wish to marginalize women may say, the fact is that both men and women have the nature to gossip. The proof of that is in the verse quoted above wherein God addresses the believers, which includes both men and women. Moreover, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “O assembly of those who have believed with their tongues, but into whose hearts faith has not yet reached! Do not backbite the Muslims, nor seek out their secrets! For, whoever seeks out the faults of his brother, God will seek out his secrets. And, whoever has his secrets sought out by God, God will disgrace him, even [if he hides] in the depths of his house.”And in another tradition, “Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is more serious than adultery. A man may commit adultery, and drink [wine], and then repent, and God will forgive him. But, the backbiter will not be forgiven by God until his companion [the one whom he backbit] forgives him.” In addition to the act itself, the actual desire to “seek out faults” in others is also a disease that needs to be remedied. Such a person never stops to ask him/herself, “Why do I have this desire to know someone else’s private business?” “How does that knowledge benefit/effect me?” “How would I feel if the details of my life were suddenly made public without my knowledge?”
It makes no difference whether you are the one who initiates it or the one who listens to it; to gossip or engage someone else who gossips makes you an active participant. The only way to absolve yourself of the sin is to object verbally or in your heart if you are afraid. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever averts [an attack] from the honor of his brother, God will avert the fire from his face on the Day of Arising.” If you’re unable to say something then at the very least you should try to change the subject to something of virtue instead.
It’s also important to note that there is a difference between gossip that is based on truth and that which is unverified. The distinction is made clear in the hadith: “[Backbiting is] mentioning your brother with something about him that he dislikes [being spoken about].” Someone asked [the Prophet], “How about if my brother contains that [characteristic which I am mentioning]?” And he replied, “If he possesses that which you mention, then you have indeed backbit him. And, if he does not contain that which you say, then you have slandered him.” For obvious reasons, to slander someone is a worse offense because not only have you spoken ill of them behind their back but you have also lied doing so.
Both backbiting and slandering are reprehensible acts that can manifest in different forms and sometimes unknowingly. Refer to the list below to find out if you are engaging in either form of gossip:
You Are a Gossiper if You…
- Revel in being the one to “break the news” when you discover something private about someone else.
- Lack emotional empathy upon hearing of a scandal in someone’s family, marriage, work, etc, and immediately become preoccupied with sharing the information with others.
- Eavesdrop in on private conversations, especially when you suspect something is amiss.
- Feel vengeful and take pleasure in people’s downfalls and shortcomings.
- Are judgmental and can find something wrong in just about anyone if you have reason not to like them.
- Lack the courage to stop someone else from gossiping and eventually join in.
- Are afraid you won’t be accepted by your friends if you don’t gossip with them.
- Disparage others to make yourself look better.
- Enjoy mocking or ridiculing others to be praised for your humor.
- Deliberately pry for personal information when talking to others but purposely withhold private information about yourself.
- Try to disguise gossip by using obvious descriptors instead of names. Ex: “I can’t stand people who think they’re so important because they drive a black BMW and have their own law practice!” or “At least I didn’t get engaged to some guy, break it off, and then marry his cousin 6 months later!”
- Delude yourself to think that everyone is out to get you so you live by the motto, “Get them before they get you.”
- Try to disguise gossip as “sharing” about someone’s “problem” to seek advice or to pray for them.
- Don’t have many true friends; in fact you have a high turn-over rate with friends.
- Have a tendency to cut people out of your life and as a result have enemies.
- Are a serial gossiper and as soon as one conversation is over you move on to the next.
- Attend social events and mock people for what they’re wearing, how they walk, talk, dance, etc.
- Mock someone’s possessions, such as the model car they drive, or the furniture/decor in their house, etc.
- Make fun of people’s pictures and updates on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter.
And FYI, it doesn’t make it okay to gossip and then say, “Well, it’s not really gossip because if so-and-so were here I’d say it to them in their face!” This is an absolute cop-out and in no way justifies or absolves you of blame.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are circumstances that require us to disclose information about others but are not considered gossiping, as in the examples below:
- It is
NOT gossip if one is afraid for their safety due to abuse, oppression, or any other harm at the hands of another person and is compelled to get help. In fact, in this case it’s not just permissible but necessary for them to reach out to a qualified person who can help, such as a counselor, therapist, social worker, law enforcement agent or local imam/scholar.
- It is
NOT gossip if one wishes to warn a friend or family member about a potential business partner or suitor for marriage whom they know to be deceitful, untrustworthy or of questionable character.
- It is
NOT gossip if one is seeking treatment and shares the details of their life with a therapist. A therapist is a licensed professional who is sworn under oath to protect any information you share with them. Just as you may have to disrobe in front of your doctor for medical reasons, it is completely permissible to shed your emotions and “bare it all” to a therapist for mental health reasons. They are there to listen, provide insight, and ultimately do whatever is in their power to help you. As a community we need to begin to see the value of therapy and disassociate ourselves from the stigmas, stereotypes, and misinformation that often preclude people from seeking the treatment they so desperately need.
- It is
NOT gossip if one is seeking a legal ruling from a scholar and must disclose pertinent details. An example would be if a person says to a scholar, “My husband/wife has done such-and-such to me. What can I do about it?” On the authority of `A’ishah: Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, said to the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Abu Sufyan is a miserly man, and he is not giving me what would suffice me and my child, unless I take from him without his knowing.” He said, “Take what suffices you and your child according to common usage.”
- It is
NOT gossip if one is trying to prevent a potentially harmful or evil act from happening and has no other ulterior motive but to help. An example would be if a teenager was planning a risky late night trip to a precarious location without his parent’s permission. In such a case it would be wise to inform the teenager’s parents of his plan and let them handle it.
*Note: As in all private matters, it is important to use wisdom and discretion. If you find yourself in any of the above circumstances, it is advisable to first purify your intentions and make certain that you truly have a pressing need to divulge the matter. Secondly, avoid any melodrama and be mindful of time and place; these matters are best handled in private.
The Negative Social and Spiritual Implications of Gossip:
- Gossip can permanently ruin friendships and tear families apart
- Gossip compromises your principles of trust and loyalty
- Gossip discredits your reputation
- Gossip distances you from God
If you can identify with any of the qualities/habits of a gossiper mentioned above, then you have to confront the truth and admit that you have a problem. Look deep inside and try to ask yourself why you gossip. Do you do it because it makes you feel better about yourself? Do you do it because your whole life you’ve been around people who gossip and it comes naturally to you? Do you do it because you don’t know how to deal with your anger or resentment towards people and channel those negative feelings in the form of gossip? Are there specific people you like to gossip about? If so, find out why they trigger such a response from you. Are you jealous of them? Are you threatened by them? Do you envy them? This type of deep introspection is absolutely imperative if you wish to stop your gossiping tendencies. And realize that by continuing to gossip you expose yourself to the displeasure of God. Moreover, you will bear the sins of the one whom you’re backbiting and he/she will take your good deeds.
Furthermore, to strengthen your resolve and help overcome the urge to gossip you must start at the door of humility. Remind yourself of your own faults and how you would feel if they were exposed. Then, work on trying to correct those faults; the more time you spend on yourself, the less you’ll focus on others. It’s also important to take responsibility for the gossip you helped to spread in the past and feel sincere shame and remorse. Pray for the good fortune and happiness of those you maligned. And occupy yourself with gratitude to God for all of the blessings in your life. The more gratitude and humility you display before God, the more God-conscience you become overall, and the less likely you will feel inclined to gossip.
Finally, the most important thing to keep in mind is that when you gossip you not only hurt the one you are speaking ill of but more importantly you hurt yourself. After all, what is worse than engaging in anything that denies you an intimate fellowship with God? Sins do just that and gossiping is among the worst sins. So, next time you feel inclined to “share” something about someone or engage another person who is gossiping remember the verse in the Qur’an: “[Successful are] those who shun vain talk” (23:3).
 Abu Dawud
 Al-Suyuti, Al-Jami` as-Saghir
 Al-Bukhari & Al-Muslim
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Source : https://muslimvillage.com/2018/04/08/18095/are-you-a-gossip-girl-or-guy/