Excerpts from this source: https://www.meccabooks.com/1109-riyad-al-salihin-english-commentary-3-volume-set-9780620602495.html
The following are selected excerpts from chapter 254-255 in the translation and commentary of Riyadh As-Saliheen by Muslims At Work Publications.
Imam Nawawi writes in the intro to the chapter: “It is the responsibility of every mature person to safeguard his tongue from all speech except that which is beneficial. At a time when speaking and remaining silent are both beneficial, then it is sunnah ti remain silent because lawful speech may sometimes lead a person to engage in speech that is prohibited or disliked. This happens quite often, hence safety is unsurpassed in virtue.”
Abu Musa Al-Ash’ari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ): “Who is the most excellent among the Muslims?” He said, “One from whose tongue and hands the other Muslims are secure.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].https://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/17/2
This hadith does not mean that it is permissible to harm non-Muslims. It mentions the word “Muslim” merely because a Muslim generally deals more with other Muslims. In reality, a true Muslim ensures that he does not cause harm to even animals and his natural surroundings.
The tongue and hand have been mentioned because the harm caused by these is more than that of other limbs. Backbiting, slandering, false accusations, lies, cursing, and using vulgar language all come within the scope of the harms of the tongue. Physical abuse, murder, writing offensive words and messages are some of the evils of the hand.
The tongue has been mentioned before the hand because the harm caused by the tongue is greater and more common. For this reason, the messenger of Allah ﷺ said to Hassan (may Allah be pleased with him), “utter poems disparaging the polytheists, since this is heavier on them than a rain of arrows.” (Muslim) (Note: This is something specific & limited, and government sanctioned, not general for all Muslims of all ages to pick up carte blanche). A poet stated, “the wounds of the spear can heal, but the wounds of the tongue never heal.”
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) said:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Do you know what is backbiting?” The Companions said: “Allah and His Messenger know better.” Thereupon he said, “Backbiting is talking about your (Muslim) brother in a manner which he dislikes.” It was said to him: “What if my (Muslim) brother is as I say.” He said, “If he is actually as you say, then that is backbiting; but if that is not in him, that is slandering.”
Backbiting refers to speaking ill of any person in his absence or about anything related to him, such as his children, vehicle, house, etc. Backbiting may be verbal, by means ofh and signs, eye-signs, writing, or mimicking any of his actions. If one feels that the person will be displeased if he gets to know about it, then it is backbiting, even if it is true. If it is not true, then it is referred to as buhtaan (slander), which is also prohibited.
However, if one informs parents of their children, teachers of their students or spiritual guides of their disciples, with the intention of reformation, then it will not be regarded as backbiting. Similarly, if one comes to know of someone intending to cause harm to another person, then to inform the latter with the intention that he will be saved, is necessary.
Backbiting is generally caused because of evil thoughts and pride. If one is concerned about himself, then his gaze will not fall onto the faults of others. He will fear his own condition in the Hereafter and restrain himself from backbiting.
If the person about whom one spoke evil knows about it, then one should seek his forgiveness. However, if he is not aware of it, and by seeking his forgiveness and informing him, there is a fear of causing sorrow and enmity, then one should make a firm intention not to backbite in the future. In addition, one should praise him in the gathering of people in which one had spoken ill of him.
Abu Bakrah (May Allah be pleased with him) said:Delivering the sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage on the day of Sacrifice at Mina, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Verily your blood, your property and your honour are as sacred and inviolable as the sanctity of this day of yours, in this month of yours and in this town of yours. Verily! I have conveyed this message to you.”
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]https://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/17/14
Juast as Mecca Mukarramah, Dhul Hijjah and the day of Eid are honored and sanctified, so too are the lives, wealth, and honor of Muslims. In fact, the honor and respect of a believer is even more sanctified. Once Ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) looked towards the Ka’bah and said, “how great you are and how great is your sanctity! However the sanctity of a believer is greater than you in the sight of Allah.” (Ibn Kathir)
Allah ﷻ prohibited murder and physical violence so that the lives of Muslims are protected. He prohibited robbery and misappropriation so that the properties of Muslims are protected. He prohibited backbiting, slander, and vulgar language so that the honor of Muslims is protected.
‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:I said to the Prophet (ﷺ): “Such and such thing of Safiyyah (May Allah be pleased with her) is sufficient for you.” (She means to say that she was a woman with a short stature). He said, “You have indeed uttered a word which would pollute the sea if it were mixed in it.” She further said: I imitated a person before him and he said, “I do not like that I should imitate someone even (if I am paid) in return such and such.”
[Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi].https://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/17/15
Imam Nawawi: “The words ‘pollute it’ mean that it is polluted in such a way that its taste or smell changes because of the terrible odor and stench of the pollutant. This is one of the most eloquent forms of reproach against backbiting. Allah ﷻ says: ‘He does not speak of his own desires. Whatever he says is revelation revealed to him.’ (Surat al-Najm, 3-4)”
When a single undesirable statement has such disastrous effects on the largest of Allah’s ﷻ creations in this world, namely the ocean, then one can imagine the effects of continuous backbiting and slandering.
Imam Nawawi specifically quoted the verse at the end to indicate the severity of backbiting and that the messenger of Allah ﷺ was not speaking of his own accord, but in accordance with divine revelation.
Scholars have stated that one should abstain from all the following forms of backbiting:
- Backbiting about another’s physical features by saying that he is fat, short, dark in complexion, ugly looking, etc., in order to disgrace him. Allah ﷺ has created all forms and features, hence by mocking another person, one is objecting to the creation of Allah ﷺ.
- Backbiting about another’s clothing by saying that he wears cheap or ugly clothing.
- Backbiting about another’s family lineage by saying that he is from such-and-such tribe, his forefathers were of a low caste, etc.
- Backbiting about another’s habits by saying that he is very weak, he sleeps too much, he is lazy, he fears his wife, etc.
- Backbiting about another’s weakness in acts of worship by saying that he does not perform his salah correctly, he does not perform Tahajjud salah, his only objective of performing Umrah is shopping, etc.
- Backbiting about another’s sins by saying that he is very jealous, he lies a lot, he is disrespectful to his parents, he drinks wine, etc.
However if the intention for any of the above is to correct a person or to inform those who can correct him, then it will not be regarded as backbiting.
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The blood, honor and property of a Muslim is inviolable for another Muslim.”
The word “Muslim” has been used here to indicate that a true Muslim would never cause harm to others as the literal meaning of a Muslim is one who gives security and safety to others. When a Muslim gives safety to others, how can it ever be possible for him to cause harm to the lives, honor, and properties of fellow human beings?
On the Prohibition of Listening to Backbiting
The command for a person who hears backbiting is to refute it and prevent the speaker. If he is unable to do so, or his objection is ignored, he should leave that gathering of it is possible.
Just as backbiting is forbidden, listening to backbiting is also forbidden. If a person hears backbiting, he should do the following:
- He should not form evil thoughts about the person whose evil qualities are mentioned.
- He should not mention these qualities to others.
- He should realize that the person who engaged in backbiting has committed a major sin, and his speech is therefore not reliable in any case.
- He should attempt to defend the honor of his Muslim brother. If he cannot do so, he should immediately leave that gathering, showing his dislike for it. If his iman is weak and does not permit him to object by leaving, he should excuse himself in some other way and leave. If one is forced to remain in that gathering, he should engage in the dhikr of Allah ﷻ and istighfar, and he should regard the action of backbiting as evil.
وَإِذَا سَمِعُوا اللَّغْوَ أَعْرَضُوا عَنْهُ وَقَالُوا لَنَا أَعْمَالُنَا وَلَكُمْ أَعْمَالُكُمْ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لَا نَبْتَغِي الْجَاهِلِينَ – 28:55
And when they hear ill speech, they turn away from it and say, “For us are our deeds, and for you are your deeds. Peace will be upon you; we seek not the ignorant.”
وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ عَنِ اللَّغْوِ مُعْرِضُونَ – 23:3
And they who turn away from ill speech
وَلَا تَقْفُ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ ۚ إِنَّ السَّمْعَ وَالْبَصَرَ وَالْفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُولَٰئِكَ كَانَ عَنْهُ مَسْئُولًا – 17:36
And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.
Abud-Darda’ (May Allah be pleased with him) said:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who defends the honour of his (Muslim) brother, Allah will secure his face against the Fire on the Day of Resurrection.”
If a believer is spoken ill of in any gathering, then it is the duty of another believer to defend him, since all believers are brothers. In addition, as this hadith explains, defending a Muslim in this world is a cause of salvation from the Hellfire in the Hereafter.
The messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “if a Muslim does not assist another Muslim in a place where his honor is torn apart and he is being dishonored, then Allah will not come to his assistance in that place where he will love assistance. If a Muslim assists another Muslim in a place where his honor is torn apart and he is being dishonored, then Allah will come to his assistance in that place where he will love assistance.” (Abu Dawud)