Among the many vices in our society, backbiting is one that is perhaps the most prevalent and deep-rooted. The act of backbiting has become second-nature for many; therefore, most people are not conscious about their actions when they are committing this huge sin. The Holy Quran talks about the evils of backbiting and mentions its adverse effects that can have a severe impact on our interactions with others. Often, we may not give much thought to what we say about the people in our lives in their absence. Doing that can be very detrimental to maintaining long-lasting and healthy relationships with those around us, whether at home, at work, or at school.

An Act That Is Despised by the Almighty

Backbiting is an abhorrent act detested by God, Who has openly condemned those who backbite in the Holy Quran. The Almighty says, “Do not spy on one another or backbite. Would any of you like to eat the disgusting dead flesh of your brother? Have fear of God; God accepts repentance and is All-merciful.”1 God’s disdain for backbiting is so intense that He, the Most High, has made it equivalent to cannibalism. Moreover, it is widely known that scholars may interpret many verses in the Holy Quran in different ways, but when it comes to backbiting, God is forthright in expressing His repulsion.

Backbiting Significantly Reduces Our Sustenance

Sinning, in general, reduces our sustenance tremendously. Narrations tell us that Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) said, “[When] a servant (of God) commits a sin, it causes a serious reduction in his means of living.”2 The sixth Imam (p) also reportedly said, “The sin deprives the servant (of God) of sustenance.”2 Since backbiting is one of the biggest sins, our sustenance would lessen greatly, both in the material world and in the hereafter. Imam Ali (p) reportedly said, “Beware of backbiting, as it makes you abhorred by God and by the people, and it annuls your reward.”3

Backbiting will also make one come across as a dishonest person.  Suppose we sit in a gathering where we participate in the backbiting of absent people. How will others in that gathering perceive us afterward, knowing that we may participate in backbiting when they are absent? Our own integrity comes into question. It can also result in the end of many relationships, as backbiting usually stems from jealousy and animosity toward someone, and will eventually be revealed to the absent person. Therefore, we should be cautious of what we say about others when they are not present. Moreover, we should not take part in backbiting conversations and should encourage others to avoid impious talk. If they do not stop, then we should leave such discussions. Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) has said, “The right of the ears is to keep them pure from listening to backbiting and from that which is unlawful to listen to.”4

How to Avoid Backbiting: First Steps

Be considerate of others. – Imagine how someone, who values you and respects you, would feel if they found out that you spoke ill of them in their absence. It may not only hurt them, but it may also permanently break the trust they had in you.

Change the subject. – If you find yourself in an environment where an absent person is being talked about in a bad light, politely ask everyone present to change the topic. Let others, whether it is your family, friends, or co-workers, know that you do not tolerate backbiting, and inform them of how harmful it is.

Avoid those who continuously backbite. – If you often encounter someone who has a habit of backbiting and you cannot influence them to stop, then try to avoid them. Do your best to remove yourself from situations and places where backbiting is a common occurrence. This way, you will not only avoid sinning, but others around you will also start to notice that you do not condone such behavior.

Remember that God is aware of our misdeeds. – We know that God is all-knowing and all-seeing, so if we indulge in a conversation that leads to backbiting about an individual who is not present, we must remember that God, however, is present. The person might not be aware they are being talked about, but God surely knows, and we cannot expect to be forgiven for a sin that we persistently commit. When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) was asked about the expiation for backbiting, he replied, “You must seek God’s forgiveness on behalf of the one you have talked about every time you remember him.”5  Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) is reported to have said, “No, I swear by God, God does not accept any act of one’s obedience to Him when one is persisting in disobedience to Him.”6  To achieve forgiveness, we must stop committing the sin for which we are repenting.

1. Quran 49:12.
2. Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-khisal, 566.
3. Rayshahri, Mizan al-hikmah, vol. 3, p. 2328.
4. Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-khisal, 566.
5. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 357.
6. Shaykh Al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 288.

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