Tuesday 6th of December 2022
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With my isnad going back to Thiqat al-'Islam wa al-Muslimin Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni -may God, the Most Sublime, be pleased with him - from 'Ali ibn Ibrahim, from his father, from al-Nawfali, from al-Sakkuni, from Abu 'Abd Allah - upon whom be peace - that he said: "The Messenger of Allah - upon whom and whose Progeny be God's benedictions - said: 'The havoc wrought by ghibah (backbiting) on the believer's faith is swifter than the one wrought by the disease of aklah in the side of his body."' The Imam (A) said: "The Messenger of Allah - upon whom and whose Progeny be God's benedictions - said: 'To sit in the mosque waiting for the (time of) prayer is worship, so long as one does not commit a misdeed.' He (S) was asked, 'O Messenger of Allah, what misdeed?' He replied, 'Backbiting.' " [1]


Ghibah is the masdar (verbal noun) of ghaba and also that of ightiyab, as mentioned in the dictionaries. Al-Jawhari says:


(It is said) "ightabahu ightiyaban" when one falls into it (i.e. backbiting). The noun is al-ghibah, and it means saying such things about an absent person as well distress him if he hears them. If it is true it is called ghibah and if false, buhtan (slander).

The researcher and traditionist al-Majlisi - may God's mercy be upon him - states that this meaning is a literal one. But, apparently, the author of al-Sihah has given the technical (istilahi) meaning, not the literal one, because this is not the literal meaning of ghaba, ightaba and other related derivatives. Rather, their meaning is of a more general character. The lexicographers occasionally give the technical or Shar'i meanings in their works. The author of al-Qamus is quoted to have taken ghaba to signify 'aba. According to al-Misbah al-munir:


Ightabahu' means making a mention of someone's actual defects that he would find detestable (to be mentioned).

In the view of this author, none of the above-mentioned quotations give the literal meaning; rather, certain conditions inherent in each of them have led to the mix-up with the technical sense. In any case, there is not much benefit in discussing the literal meaning, for the main purpose here is relevance to the Shari'ah and religious duty, and seemingly there are certain conditions implicit in the special meaning which lie outside the literal significance of the term (ghibah or ightiyab). Later on we will have occasion to discuss this special sense.

Al-Majlisi says:


Aklah corresponds (in vowelization) to farhah. It is an affliction of a bodily member that consumes it, as mentioned in al-Qamus and other dictionaries. It has also been read with a mada on the hamzah, corresponding in vowelization to fallah, which means a disease that consumes the flesh, and the first one is more in accordance with classical usage.

In any case, that which is meant is that in the same way as this disease on afflicting a bodily organ - especially the subtle ones, such as pertain to the inner self - consumes it rapidly and destroys it, so does ghibah, rather more rapidly, consume a human being's faith and destroy(fragment) it.

In the phrase 'malam yuhdith', 'yuhdith' belongs to the verbal form if'al and its concealed pronoun (damir mustatir) relates to the jalis, (i.e. the one sitting) implicit in the julus mentioned in the tradition. Ightiyab here is in the accusative form (mansub) and is the maf'ul (object) of the verb implicit in the questioner's speech. In some manuscripts, it is instead of in which case ightiyab will be in the indicative case due to its being the predicate (khabar).

The Definition of Ghibah:

Let it be known to you that the fuqaha' - may God be pleased with all of them - have offered many definitions of ghibah, whose discussion and close scrutiny is not possible here except with brevity. The blessed martyr and researcher, the Shaykh (Zayn al-Din `Ali, known as al-Shahid al-Thani) in his kashf al-ribah `an ahkam al-ghibah says: "There are two definitions for it. The first one, which is famous among the fuqaha', is:


It is the mention of a person in his absence, ascribing to him something whose ascription he rinds detestable and which is generally considered as harmful (to one's reputation), with the intention of impairing (his reputation) and disparaging him.

The second one is:

Informing about something whose ascription to one is regarded as detestable by him.

The second definition is more general than the first one, if dhikr (in the first definition) be taken to mean oral mention, as it is generally understood to mean, for tanbih has a wider meaning and includes speech, writing, narration and other forms of communication. But if dhikr were taken to mean something wider than oral speech, as it does literally signify, the two definitions become similar. The traditions also suggest these two definitions, such as the one recorded in al-Shaykh al-Tusi's Amali (Majalis) and narrated on the authority of Abu Basir:


...In (the tradition about) the counsel that the Messenger of Allah (may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny) gave to Abu Dharr (may God be pleased with him), Abu Dharr is narrated to have said: "I said: 'O Messenger of Allah, what is ghibah?' He replied: '(It is) to mention of your brother that which he detests.' I said, 'O Messenger of Allah, what if that which is mentioned of him should actually be in him?' He replied, 'Know that when you mention that which is in him, you have committed his ghibah, and when you mention that which is not in him, then you have slandered him.' " [2]

In a famous tradition of the Prophet (S) it is reported:


(The Prophet [S]) asked his companions:) "Do you know what is ghibah?" They said, "God and His Messenger know best." He (S) said: "It is to mention about your brother that which he detests." [3]

These traditions correspond to the first definition if we take the generally understood meaning of dhikr and to the second one if a meaning wider than oral statement is ascribed to it. No mention was made in the traditions of absence, for it was implicit in the meaning of ghibah and so was not necessary. It is evident that 'brother' here means a brother in-faith not a brother by kinship. `Ma yakrahu' signifies the mention of things which are ordinarily regarded as damaging. As to the intention to harm and disparage, although it is not mentioned either in the noble tradition narrated by Abu Dharr or the famous prophetic tradition, it can be understood from the context. Rather, the opening of Abu Dharr's narration indicates it, and there was no need of an explicit mention. The narration opens in this manner:


(The Prophet[S] said:) "Ghibah is a graver sin than adultery." I said, "How is that, O Messenger of Allah?" "That is because a man commits adultery and repents to God and God accepts his repentance. But ghibah is not forgiven (by God) until it is forgiven by its victim." Then he (S) said, "The eating of his flesh is a sin vis-a-vis God. [4]

These two sentences reveal that the intention to injure is implicit, otherwise if someone is mentioned with kindness and compassion, it is not an offence against him so as to require his forgiveness, nor it amounts to eating his flesh.

The general character of ghibah is also understandable from the following narration of `A'ishah:


('A'ishah says:) "A woman came to visit us, and when she turned to go away I made a gesture by my hand to indicate that she is short of height. Thereupon, he - may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny - said: 'You have committed her ghibah. ' " [5]

It may be said that the import of the traditions concerning ghibah, as understood in accordance with usage, does not limit it to linguistic expression. Rather, it extends the prohibition to apply to any such kind of communication. That is, the specific mention of linguistic expression is due to its being the ample common form in which, ghibah is committed, not because it is limited to it.

Another thing is that the general import of many traditions indicates that it is haram to reveal the secrets of the faithful (mu'minun). That is, it is forbidden to divulge and uncover their concealed defects, whether of a bodily, moral or behavioural nature, regardless of whether the person to whom they pertain is willing or not, and irrespective of whether a malicious intent is involved or not. However, an overall examination of the traditions shows that malicious intent underlies the prohibition, except when the act per se should be such that its mention and its publicity are proscribed by the Shari'ah - such as sins against God, which not even the sinner may proclaim and whose admission amounts to publication of indecency - and this does not relate to the prohibition (hurmah) on ghibah. It is not improbable that the revelation of the secrets of the faithful even in case of their willingness should be haram, even when there is no malicious motive involved. In any case, further elaboration in this aspect is outside the scope of our discussion.

You should know that there is consensus about the hurmah of ghibah. Rather, it is one of the essentials of fiqh, being a major and mortal sin. Discussion of its fiqhi aspect and the exceptions that relate to it is outside the scope of these pages. That which is necessary here is to inform about the viciousness of this fatal vice and its consequences, so that, God willing, by reflecting upon them we may abstain from it, and if, God forbid, we commit it, we may desist immediately from it and repent, purify ourselves of its abomination, and not permit ourselves to remain in this filth and the affliction of this faith-consuming mortal sin while departing from this world. This is because this major mortal sin has an ugly, deformed form in the spiritual world hidden behind the veils of the corporeal. In addition(totaling) to its evil, it is the cause of disgrace in front of the Sublime Company (al-mala' al-'ala) and in the presence of the apostles, prophets and the archangels. Its spiritual form is the same as what God, the Blessed and the Exalted, has indicated in His noble book and which has been pointed out explicitly and implicitly in the noble traditions. Allah, the Glorious and the Exalted, says:


...Neither backbite one another; would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would abominate it. (49:12)

We are neglectful of the fact that our deeds return to us in the other world as objectified entities, with forms appropriate to their character. We do not know that this act (i.e. ghibah) has the form of cadaver eating. It will return to its perpetrator in the hell in its other-worldly (malakut) form, for he, like a ferocious dog, has torn other people's honour to shreds and devoured their (moral) flesh.


In a tradition it is narrated that once the Messenger of Allah, may God's peace and benedictions be upon him, stoned a man for commission of adultery. One of the persons present remarked to his companion: "This one was finished where he stood, like a dog." Thereafter, the Prophet, accompanied by the two men, passed by a carcass and he (S) said to them, "Now take a bite of it, you two," They said, "O Messenger of Allah, should we take a bite of a carcass?!" The Prophet replied, "That which you have taken of your brother was more putrid than this." [6]

Yes, the Noble Messenger (S) with the light of his powerful insight saw the greater putridness of their action, greater than that of a decomposed carcass, and the more abominable and repulsive character of its form. It is mentioned in another tradition that the perpetrator of ghibah would devour his own flesh on the Day of Resurrection. In a tradition of al-Wasa'il, cited from the Majalis (Amali) of al-Saduq, may God's good pleasure be with him, Amir al-Mu'minin (A) is reported to have said the following in the course of his advice to Nawf al-Bakali:



Nawf al-Bakali says: "I said, 'Tell me something more.' He (A) said: 'Abstain from ghibah, for it is the food of the dogs of hellfire.' Then he added: 'O Nawf, untrue is the one who claims to be of legitimate birth and yet devours the flesh of people through backbiting.' " [7]

There is no contradiction between these noble traditions, and all these things are possible. It is possible that the backbiter shall eat the flesh of carcasses, devour his own flesh, have the form of a carcass-eating dog, and, simultaneously, be a carcass that is devoured by the hounds of hell. There, the forms are subject to the efficient dimensions and a being may possess several outward forms - something the proof of which has been given in its appropriate place.


(Al-Saduq) in 'Iqab al-'a'mal, narrates with his isnad from the Messenger of Allah, may God's peace and benedictions be upon him and his Progeny, that he said in a tradition: "One who walks on the path of the ghibah of his brother and the divulging of his defects, the first step that he takes will be into hell and God shall divulge his defects in front of all the creatures." [8]

Such is his state on the Day of Resurrection and in hell and that is how God, the Exalted, shall disgrace him amongst the creatures and in the presence of the inhabitants of the celestial realms. In al-Wasa'il, with a chain of transmission reaching al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), the Prophet (S) is reported to have said:


The Noble Messenger (S) said: "whoever backbites a Muslim spoils his fasts and breaks his wudu' and shall come on the Day of Resurrection with his mouth stenching more putridly than a carcass and it shall irk those who are with him in his station (mawqif). If he dies before repenting, his death is like that of one who dies while considering the things prohibited by God, the Exalted and the Glorious, as permissible." [9]


This is his state before his entry into hell, so that he is disgraced in front of the people of his mawqif and is reckoned among the kuffar, for the mustahill (one who considers haram as halal) of God's maharramat (that which has been forbidden by God) is a kafir. The backbiter (mughtab) is, in effect, like him according to this noble tradition. Another tradition has been narrated from the Messenger of God (S) regarding the state of such a one in the Barzakh:


Anas ibn Malik says: "The Messenger of Allah (8) said, 'On the night of my celestial journey (mi'raj) I passed by a people scratching their faces with their finger nails. I said: "O Gabriel, who are these?" He replied: "These are those who perpetrated the people's ghibah and slandered their reputation(renown)." [10]

This shows that the backbiter suffers disgrace and infamy in the Barzakh and faces humiliation in front of the people of his mawqif. He will dwell in disgrace and dishonour in the hell too. Rather, some of its degrees will bring him disrepute in this world also, as is mentioned in the following noble tradition of al-Kafi


Ishaq ibn 'Ammir reports on the authority of al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A) that the Messenger of Allah (S)said: "O you who have embraced Islam with their tongues but faith has not entered whose hearts, don't disparage Muslims and don't be after their defects. Verily, God will be after the defects of him who is after their defects, and one who has God after his defects will be humiliated even in his own house. [11]

God, the Blessed and the Exalted, is ghayur (i.e. sensitive about His honour) and the exposing of the secrets and defects of the faithful is tantamount to violation of His honour. If a man surpasses all limits in his shamelessness and violates Divine sanctities, God, the Honourable, exposes his secrets which He had concealed before out of His concealing grace. Such a man is then disgraced in this world before the people and in that world in front of the angels, the prophets and the awliya', upon whom be peace. In a noble tradition of al-Kafi whose isnad goes back to al-'Imam al-Baqir (A) it is stated:


(Al-'Imam al-Baqir [A]) said: "During his celestial journey, the Prophet (8) said to God: 'My Lord, what is the status of the mu'min before Thee?' He replied: 'O Muhammad, whoever insults a friend(mate) of mine, has declared open war against Me, and I am the quickest of all in rallying to the aid of My friends.' " [12]

There are many traditions in this regard. In a tradition whose isnad goes back to al-'Imam al-Sadiq (A), al-Shaykh al-Saduq reports the Imam as having said:


Whoever perpetrates the ghibah of such a person (i.e. of one who conceals his defects and is just in outward conduct, though he should be a sinner in his own eyes) will go out of the wilayah of Allah, the Most Exalted, and enter the wilayah of Satan. [13]

It is obvious, that one who leaves the wilayah of God will enter the wilayah of Satan and will not be characterized with faith and salvation. As mentioned in the tradition of Ishaq ibn `Ammar, the Islam of the backbiter is merely oral, not having entered his heart. It is also obvious that one who has faith in God and believes in the Day of Judgement and in encounter with the forms of deeds and the reality of sins, such a person will not commit such a major mortal sin which brings disgrace in the apparent and the hidden worlds, in the life of this world as well as in the barzakh and the Hereafter, leads to the evil affliction of hell, and expels him from the wilayah of God and makes him enter the wilayah of Satan. If we perpetrate such a major sin, then we must know that it arises from a polluted(dirtied) source, that the reality of faith has not entered our hearts. Should faith enter the heart, things will undergo a reform and its effects will percolate to all the hidden and the manifest, the outward and the inward realms of one's being.

Hence we must cure the ills of the hearts and the inner self. The traditions reveal that in the same manner as the weakness of faith and lack of its sincerity results in moral and behavioural vices, so do these vices in their turn lead to further deterioration or rather destruction of faith. This is in accordance with rational proofs, as demonstrated in its proper place.

And let it be known to you that this sin is graver and of greater evil consequences than other sins from another aspect. It lies in this that in addition(adding up) to violating the right of God (haqq Allah) it violates the rights of people (haqq al-nas), and God does not forgive the backbiter unless the victim is propitiated by him. This theme is mentioned in the noble hadith through several chains of transmission.


It is narrated in al-Majalis wa al-'akhbar with isnad on the authority of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan from Abu Dharr from the Prophet (S) that in a counsel that he (S) gave to him he (S) said: "O Abu Dharr, beware of backbiting, for backbiting is graver than adultery." (Abu Dharr says:) "I said, 'Why is that so, O Messenger of Allah?' He replied, 'That is because when a man commits adultery and then repents to God, God accepts his repentance. But backbiting is not forgiven until forgiven by its victim.' " [14]

In the traditions narrated in `Ilal al-sharayi', al-Khisal, Majma' al-bayan and Kitab al-'ikhwan the same or a similar point has been made. If, God forbid, one were to depart from the world with people's rights on his neck, his task would be very difficult. As to the rights of God, one has to deal therein with the Noblest and the Most Merciful, Whose sacred being is free from hatred, enmity, vengefulness, and the urge to satisfy the thirst for revenge. But if one had to deal with creatures, it is quite possible that one may get entangled with someone with such traits, who will not easily forgive anyone or will not be placated at all.

Hence it is necessary for man to be careful of himself and pay due attention to these matters, for the danger of it is very great and the matter is of supreme difficulty. The traditions concerning the serious nature of ghibah are more than can be quoted here and we shall confine ourselves to a few of them.


In a sermon the Prophet (8) spoke about usury and its great evil. Then he said: "Verily, a single dirham earned by a man through usury is greater (in sinfulness) than thirty-six counts of adultery. And verily, more heinous than usury is (violating) the honour of a Muslim. [15]


The Prophet (8) said: "No fire is faster in consuming dry wood than ghibah consuming a devotee's virtues." [16]


The Prophet (S) said: "A person shall be made to halt in front of the Glorious and Exalted Lord on the Day of Resurrection and handed over his book. On not seeing his good deeds therein he shall say, 'My God, this is not my book, for I don't see my virtues in it.' He shall be told, 'Verily, your Lord neither errs nor forgets. Your deeds are gone for your backbiting of the people.' Then another person shall be brought and handed over his book. He will see in it many deeds of obedience (ta'at) and he will say: 'My God, this is not my book, for I have not performed these deeds of obedience.' He shall be told: 'So and so committed your ghibah and so his good deeds have been awarded to you.' " [17]


The Prophet (S) said: "A lower degree of kufr is for a man to hear something from his brother and to commit it to his memory intending thereby to cause him humiliation. Such persons shall have no share (in the Hereafter)". [18]

The traditions cited here relate specifically to the subject at hand. But in case the backbiter were guilty of other sins and vices besides - such as the insult, humiliation, contempt and disparaging of a believer (mu'min), the revelation and counting of his failings, and his defamation, each of which is an independent cause of one's destruction - the traditions condemning each of them are overwhelming and shattering. We abstain from citing them here for brevity's sake.


[1]. Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab al-ghibah wa al buht", hadith no. 1.

[2]. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasai'l al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16312.

[3]. Al-Fayd al-Kashani al-Mahajjat al-bayda, v, 266.

[4]. Wasai'l al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 18312.

[5]. Al-Naraqi, Jami' al-sa'adat, ii, 294.

[6]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 263.

[7]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16319.

[8]. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, 'Iqab al-'a'mal, 340.

[9]. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah, viii, hadith no. 16316.

[10]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda; v, 261.

[11]. Al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab man talaba 'atharat al mu'minin", hadith no. 2.

[12]. Ibid., "bab man adha al-Muslimin", hadith no. 8.

[13]. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-'anwar, lxxv, "bab al-ghibah", hadith no. 12, from al Saduq's al-'Amali'

[14]. Wasail al-Shiah, viii, hadith no. 18312.

[15]. Al-Mahajjat al-bayda', v, 263.

[16]. Ibid., 264.

[17]. Jami' al-'akhbar, 171, with some difference of wording.

[18]. A similar tradition in al-Kafi, ii, "kitab al-'iman wa al-kufr", "bab man talaba' atharit al-mu'minin".

source : Forty Hadith/ by Imam Ruhullah al-Musawi al-Khumayni
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