Riyadh as-Saliheen on Six Lawful Instances of Backbiting

Excerpts from this source: https://www.meccabooks.com/1109-riyad-al-salihin-english-commentary-3-volume-set-9780620602495.html

Before reading this chapter, it’s important to read the chapters before it on the prohibition of backbiting and listening to it.

Imam Nawawi (رحمه الله) wrote in Riyadh as-Saliheen in chapter 256 on Lawful Instances of Backbiting:

Backbiting for a valid Sharia objective is permissible if there is no other alternative for achieving that objective. There are six such objectives:

  1. To rectify an injustice. It is permissible for the person who was treated unjustly to complain to the ruler, judge, or others who have the authority or ability to mete out justice to the person who acted unjustly. He may said, “so-and-so person has wronged me.”
  2. Seeking to help change a wrong and return the wrongdoer to the right path. He may therefore say to the one whom he hopes has the power to remove the wrong: “so-and-so is committing such-and-such an action. Reprimand him about it.” His objective should be to utilize a means to remove the wrong. If this is not his objective, it is haram (forbidden).
  3. Requesting a fatwa (verdict). He may say to the mufti: “my father, brother, spouse, or so-and-so has wronged me by doing such-and-such a thing. Is it permissible for him to do so? How can I save myself, claim my right, and remove the injustice?” It is permissible due to necessity, however, the better and more cautionary approach is to say: “what do you say about a man, person, or spouse who did such-and-such a thing?” In this way, he will be able to achieve his objective without identifying any person. Nonetheless, it is permissible to reveal the identity of the person as proven from the hadith we will quote regarding Hind, insha’Allah.
  4. Warning the Muslims about an evil and advising them. There are various forms of this:
    1. Declaring certain narrators and witnesses as unreliable. This is permissible by consensus of the Muslim scholars. In fact, it is wajib (obligatory) due to necessity.
    2. Seeking advice and counsel regarding a person for the purposes of marriage, business partnership, giving a trust, engaging in some transaction, or being a neighbor. THe person whose advice is requested should not conceal his condition, rather he should mention his qualities with the intention of advice.
    3. If one sees a student studying fiqh under a person who is involved in bidat (innovations) or is a flagrant sinner, and he fears that the student will be harmed by it, then it is necessary for him to advise the student of his teacher’s condition, provided that his objective is to give advice. In this one may easily err, as the speaker is sometimes prompted by jealously, and Shaytan confuses him causing him to think that it is good advice. He should be wary of this.
    4. A person in a position of authority which he does not administer correctly either because he is incompetent, a flagrant sinner, negligent, or due to a similar reason. It is necessary to inform a person in higher authority to remove such a person from his position and appoint someone who is competent, or so that he is at least aware of the person and can deal with him accordingly and not be deceived by him, and he may encourage him to rectify his affairs or replace him.
  5. A person who publicizes his sin or bid’ah (innovation), such as one who consumes alcohol publicly, usurps the property of people, collects unjust customs and taxes from people, or handles false matters. It is permissible to mention the sins he commits publicly, but it is haram to mention any of his other faults, unless it is for an objective we mentioned previously.
  6. For the purposes of identification. If a person is known by a certain defect such as being bear-eyed, lame, deaf, blind, squint-eyed, etc. then it is permissible to mention them as such, but it is haram to use such words in a derogatory way. If it is possible to describe such people by other means, then these should be utilized.

These are the six reasons which the scholars have mentioned. There is agreement on most of them and their proofs from authentic ahadith are well known. Some of these ahadith are:

‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:A man sought permission for audience with the Prophet (ﷺ). He said, “Give him permission but he is a bad member of his tribe.”

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].


Imam Nawawi adds: “Bukhari used it to prove the permissibility of speaking ill of the people of corruption and people of doubt.”

Commentary: People are often misled by the outward appearance of others causing harm to their worldly and religious lives. It is therefore necessary to inform people of their harm just as the messenger of Allah ﷺ informed those around him about the evil of others.

‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “I do not think that so-and-so understands anything of our Faith.”


Al-Bukhari said: Al- Laith bin Sa’d, who is one of the narrators of this Hadith, said: The two men mentioned by the Prophet (ﷺ) in this Hadith were hypocrites (i.e., they revealed Faith and concealed disbelief).


Commentary: It is permissible to make people aware of the hypocrites so that the former do not fall prey to the latter’s dangerous plots.

Fatimah bint Qais (May Allah be pleased with her) said:
I came to the Prophet (ﷺ) and said to him: “Muawiyah and Abul-Jahm sent me a proposal of marriage.” The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “Muawiyah is destitute and he has no property, and Abul-Jahm is very hard on women.”

[Bukhari and Muslim].

Aanother narration in Muslim has: “Abul Jahm beats women,” which is an explanation of the narration, “he does not remove his stick from his shoulder.” It is also said to mean that he travels a lot.


Commentary: This hadith teaches us that if one is aware of some weakness in a potential spouse, he should inform the opposite party of this. This is not prohibited provided that one’s intention is to give good advice and not to disgrace or disunite people.

From other narrations we learn that the messenger of Allah ﷺ married Fatimah bint Qays (may Allah be please with her) to Usamah ibn Zayd (may Allah be pleased with him). She later said, “we had such love between us that I was envied.” (Muslim)

Zaid bin Al-Arqam (May Allah be pleased with him) said:We set out on a journey along with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and we faced many hardships. ‘Abdullah bin Ubaiy (the chief of the hypocrites at Al- Madinah) said to his friends: “Do not spend on those who are with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) until they desert him.” He also said: “If we return to Al-Madinah, the more honourable (meaning himself, i.e., Abdullah bin Ubaiy) will drive out therefrom the meaner (meaning Messenger of Allah (ﷺ)).” I went to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and informed him about that and he sent someone to ‘Abdullah bin Ubaiy. He asked him whether he had said that or not. Abdullah took an oath that he had not done anything of that sort and said that it was Zaid who carried a false tale to the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ). Zaid said: I was so much perturbed because of this until this Verse was revealed verifying my statement:

“When the hypocrites come to you (O Muhammad (ﷺ)), they say: ‘We bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah.’ Allah knows that you are indeed His Messenger, and Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are liars indeed.” (63:1) Then the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) called the hypocrites in order to seek forgiveness for them from Allah, but they turned away their heads.

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].


Commentary: This incident took place during the Battle of Banu Mustaliq in Sha’ban around 5 Hijri.

Abdulahh ibn Ubayy, the leader of the hypocrites, referred to the Muslims as poor and said that if tehy are not given wealth, they would disperse. Allah ﷻ answered him by stating:

هُمُ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ لَا تُنفِقُوا عَلَىٰ مَنْ عِندَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ حَتَّىٰ يَنفَضُّوا ۗ وَلِلَّهِ خَزَائِنُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَفْقَهُونَ – 63:7

They are the ones who say, “Do not spend on those who are with the Messenger of Allah until they disband.” And to Allah belongs the depositories of the heavens and the earth, but the hypocrites do not understand.

Abdullah also referred to himself as honorable and the messenger of Allah ﷺ and his sahabah (Allah be pleased with them) as disgraced and lowly. His aim was to stoke the flames of hatred so that the residents of Medina Munawwarah would expel the Muslim emigrants. Allah ﷺ answered this by stating:

يَقُولُونَ لَئِن رَّجَعْنَا إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ لَيُخْرِجَنَّ الْأَعَزُّ مِنْهَا الْأَذَلَّ ۚ وَلِلَّهِ الْعِزَّةُ وَلِرَسُولِهِ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَلَٰكِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ – 63:8

They say, “If we return to al-Madinah, the more honored [for power] will surely expel therefrom the more humble.” And to Allah belongs [all] honor, and to His Messenger, and to the believers, but the hypocrites do not know.

Zayd ibn Arqam (may Allah be pleased with him) was a young boy at the time. He proceeded to inform the messenger of Allah ﷺ about what he had heard. That the messenger ﷺ heard his words and acted, teaches us that to inform others about the plots and plans of the hypocrites is permissible.

‘Aishah (May Allah be pleased with her) said:

Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, said to the Prophet (ﷺ): Abu Sufyan is a niggardly man and does not give me and my children adequate provisions for maintenance unless I take something from his possession without his knowledge. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to her, “Take from his possessions on a reasonable basis that much which may suffice for you and your children.”

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].


Commentary: From this hadith the jurists have extracted the following laws:

  1. It is compulsory for a husband to provide food, clothing, and shelter for his wife and children.
  2. It is permissible to speak to a strange woman due to necessity.
  3. It is permissible to mention the evil quality ofa person whilst asking a legal ruling (fatwa) regarding him.
  4. If a husband does not provide for the basic expenses of his wife and family, she may take from his wealth to the extent of necessity.
  5. A woman may emerge from her home due to necessity.

Arabic copy online: https://archive.org/details/ar_Riyad_AlSaliheen_Maher/page/n423/mode/2up


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