Failing to forbid backbiting out of shyness
Fatwa No: 347629

Question

Assalaamu alaykum, Scholar. First, I want to thank you all for answering my questions. I have a problem: whenever I hear Gheebah (backbiting), I almost always feel to shy to react. However, this does not happen with everyone; there are situations in which I do not feel shy to correct certain people. And as we know, Gheebah may be the most common sin amongst Muslims, so I hear Gheebah almost every day. I have been repenting every day after hearing Gheebah and not reacting with sincerity. I cry and fulfil its (repentance) three conditions, but then I again feel shy to react. So what I am doing now is that, as I know that I will find it difficult to react, I do not want to mix with people, and I stay by myself almost all of the day. Notice, Shaykh, that these people are not bad; it is the opposite as some of them are Shaykhs, memorisers of the whole Quran, etc. I want to know if the sin accuired by listening to Gheebah but denying it with the heart is the SAME MAJOR sin or whether it is recorded as a small sin (not a major one). Also, Shaykh, tell me, if I feel shy to react, is it correct to leave the gathering but not put an end to it? Please, Scholar, reply to me directly since I could not get my problem solved with the links that you have sent me previously. Again, may Allaah bless you.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.

You should know that it is impermissible to listen to Gheebah (backbiting) and approve of it. Rather, it is an obligation to censure those who engage in Gheebah and clarify the prohibition of Gheebah and Nameemah (tale-bearing) to them. If doing this does not stop them, then you have to avoid sitting with them as much as you can. It is not sufficient to leave the gathering if you are able to forbid the evil and defend the backbitten person.

An-Nawawi  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him said:

You should know that it is prohibited to listen to Gheebah and approve of it just as it is prohibited to say it. When one hears a person starting to engage in prohibited Gheebah, it is an obligation on him to forbid that person from it if he does not fear clear harm as a result. If he fears harm, then he must reject this Gheebah with his heart and leave this gathering if he is able to. So if he can forbid this Gheebah verbally (by speaking against it) or put an end to it by changing the subject of the conversation, he is obliged to do so, and if he does not do so, he bears a sin for it ... If he is obliged to stay in that gathering where Gheebah is being committed and he is unable to forbid it, or he did so but it was not accepted from him and he could not leave the gathering, then it is prohibited for him to attentively listen to Gheebah. Rather, he is required to remember Allah, The Exalted, with his tongue and heart or with his heart only or think of something else to distract himself from listening to Gheebah. He bears no sin for accidentally hearing Gheebah as long as he does not attentively listen to it in this situation. If he can leave this gathering later on while they are still engaged in Gheebah and its like, then he is obliged to do so.” [Al-Athkaar]

The scholars held different views as to whether listening to Gheebah is from the Kabaa'ir (major sins) or not. As-San‘aani  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him wrote:

If a Muslim witnesses Gheebah, he is obliged to do one of the following actions: defend his fellow Muslim's honor (who is being backbitten) even if only by changing the subject, leaving the gathering in which Gheebah is committed, renouncing it in the heart, or disliking what is said. Some scholars held that keeping silent in such a situation is considered a major sin because it is subject to the stern warning (in the Quran and Sunnah) in addition to being included in the warning against refraining from forbidding sin. Moreover, if he remained silent, he is considered one of the backbiters in terms of committing the sin, even if he did not actually engage in the backbiting himself...” [Subul As-Salaam]

It is impermissible to let shyness prevent you from forbidding an evil; this type of shyness is dispraised in the Shariah.

The author of Mat-harat Al-Quloob (poem) said (what means), “As for dispraised shyness, it is what prevents from forbidding evil or asking about a religious matter and the like. It is one of the traits that lead to destruction.

Allah knows best.

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