In which cases backbiting is permissible?
“Backbiting” in Islam means accusing someone in his absence of something that is not religiously or customarily acceptable, and this is oppression in this respect that causes suspicion toward him while he is not able to defend himself, and the indecency of oppression is self-evident. Therefore, God in His book has guided to the indecency of this deed and has said: ﴿وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ﴾; “And do not backbite one another. Will any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?! So you would hate it and be wary of God! Indeed God is Forgiving the Merciful”!
Yes, backbiting someone who is not “faithful” is not considered forbidden; because God by addressing ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا﴾ and with the term ﴿بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا﴾ and the term ﴿لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ﴾ has forbidden the faithful of backbiting one another, and with this description, backbiting someone who is infidel or oppressor or sinner and consequently is not considered a faithful, is not forbidden by God, although abandoning it, if there is no benefit in it, is preferred, and the benefit is to inform the present individuals of his infidelity or oppression or sin in case that it is necessary for them to be aware of it, not to inform them of a defect in body or wealth or family of him that he has had no role in its creation; because this is considered as insulting and mocking him, and insulting and mocking no one is permissible; as one of our companions informed us, said:
«ذَكَرْتُ عِنْدَ الْمَنْصُورِ الْهاشِمِيِّ الْخُراسانِيِّ عَدُوًّا لَهُ جَبّارًا فَقُلْتُ: ذَاكَ السَّمِينُ الْكَوْسَجُ! فَتَغَيَّرَ لَوْنُهُ وَقالَ: أَسْرَفْتَ! أَسْرَفْتَ! لا نُعادِيهِ لِخَلْقِهِ وَلَكِنْ نُعادِيهِ لِخُلْقِهِ وَإِنَّما خَلْقُهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ وَخُلْقُهُ مِنْ قِبَلِ نَفْسِهِ!»; “In the presence of Mansoor Hashemi Khorasani, I mentioned an oppressive enemy of him, then I said: that fat and patchy beard man! Then the color of his Honor changed and said: You went too far! You went too far! We are not his enemy because of how he has been created, but we are his enemy because of his behavior; because his creation is from God and his behavior is from himself!”
This is the manner of Mansoor Hashemi Khorasani, whereas the manner of his enemies is nothing but insult, humiliation, destruction, mocking and slander, and only the wise heed advice.
Please provide a precise and comprehensive definition of backbiting and its limits.
Talking about others in their absence in such a way that they get upset if they hear it is considered backbiting and is a sin; unless they are not Muslims, or there is a religious necessity in talking about them; for example, if they are not talked about, a Muslim’s religion or life or wealth or reputation will be damaged. For this reason, Muslim scholars have considered it permissible to consider some narrators of narration incompetent or liar; because without this, Muslims may trust their narrations and as a result, their religion and possibly their lives, wealth and reputation will be damaged; as taunting unjust witnesses or rulers in the sense of informing about them not being just is permissible, rather obligatory; because God has deemed their justice necessary and has said: ﴿يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا شَهَادَةُ بَيْنِكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ حِينَ الْوَصِيَّةِ اثْنَانِ ذَوَا عَدْلٍ مِنْكُمْ﴾; “O you who believed! When death approaches any of you, call upon two just Muslim men to witness as you make a bequest” and has said: ﴿وَأَشْهِدُوا ذَوَيْ عَدْلٍ مِنْكُمْ﴾; “And take two just men from among you as witnesses” and has said ﴿يَحْكُمُ بِهِ ذَوَا عَدْلٍ مِنْكُمْ﴾; “Two just men from among you judge it” and with this description, taking an unjust witness or arbiter and accepting his testimony or verdict is against the command of God and the interest of Muslims, and consequently the concealment of his condition by someone who is aware of his condition, is considered helping in sin and aggression and harming Muslims, which is forbidden.
It is hereby understood that it is permissible to mention the defects in beliefs or deeds of the following people in their absence, whenever it is far from lies, exaggeration and suspicion:
1. Narrators of narration
4. The ones who invite people toward falsehood
5. Disbelievers and hypocrites
6. Wicked Muslims who do not care about people’s awareness of their sin; like those who commit sin in the streets and public places.
7. Wicked Muslims who harm people by hiding their sin; like swindlers who deceive people and take their wealth.
Therefore, to say that a certain narrator of narration is a liar or a reckless person, or a certain witness is addicted and testifies by taking money, or a certain arbiter takes bribe, or a certain disbeliever or inviter of people toward falsehood has a wrong belief or action, or a certain hypocrite is conspiring against Islam, or a certain Muslim appears in streets or public places without hijab, or is a swindler and has taken the wealth of several people by deceiving, or something like that, has no problem; provided that it is really based on knowledge and with good intention, that is, to prevent material or spiritual harm; because in this case, it is considered “goodness” and God has said: ﴿مَا عَلَى الْمُحْسِنِينَ مِنْ سَبِيلٍ ۚ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ﴾; “There is no way for (blaming) those who do good and God is Forgiving the Merciful”, but it is forbidden to mention the defects of just Muslims or virtuous Muslims in their absence from whom no sin has been revealed, although it be permissible in their presence; because mentioning their defects in their presence can be an example of enjoining good and forbidding evil and benefit them, whereas it is not so in their absence; as it is not justified to mention the physical defects of others, even if they are among those whom it is permissible to backbite, as well as mentioning some of their conditions which religiously are not considered as defect; like saying that fellow’s clothes are ugly, or that fellow’s house is small, or that fellow’s cooking is bad, or that fellow travels a lot, or that fellow’s girl does not have a suitor, or that fellow’s son is unemployed, or something like that which is common among people , while it is useless and bad.