Warning People Against a Person’s Mistake – Is it Backbiting?
I have thought about the need of this topic in the past due to our ignorance of it. In addition, considering recent events on Facebook and other social networking websites, I felt a stronger need for posting something of this sort.
The issue is about correcting an individual if he has committed mistake, in public and warning others against that person and his mistake. Is this called criticizing or slandering that person? If so, then is every criticizing a form of forbidden gheebah (backbiting)?
Is it so that every criticizing means that the person being criticized is correct because of the logic that “People who are upon truth are criticized the most because critics don’t criticize a good for nothing man”?
Wallaahi ya Ikhwaan! (By Allaah, Oh Brethren)! If you think so, then you are deeply mistaken.
Know that although backbiting is forbidden (See: The Varying Forms of Wrongful Backbiting), but exposing a person’s fault becomes permissible under certain circumstances when done for a beneficial reason, and this does not amount to backbiting that person. That which makes it allowable is a valid and legitimate goal, which cannot be achieved except by doing it (i.e. the backbiting).
Also, if you ponder carefully over the permitted instances, you would notice that although they fall under gheebah as an Arabic word, the same isn’t the case for English and other languages. So for example, when we complain about someone’s oppression, in their absence, is it not gheebah? The answer is yes, but it is allowed. Something I don’t think anybody here denies. The difference is perhaps they would prefer to word it ‘complaining of oppression’ as oppose to ‘backbiting’.
There are many people who are greatly followed online, and revered as Da’ees and their activities always respected by those who love them for their works. Whatever they post or comment online are read, liked and shared by many people immediately without understanding whether that particular thing is erroneous or not, islamically.
One of the problems with these famous people is that they speak to so many people and tell them things that they are unable to comprehend, and that leads them to confusion and makes them develop misconceptions. This applies if what they tell them is sound, so how about if it is false?
There would not have been an issue if that person, when he comes to know about his mistakes, then he corrects himself in front of the people, so that those who followed, liked and shared those posts, may also be corrected.
The problem arises when the person, after being advised in private, sticks firm to his mistakes and tries to justify it by giving one reason or the other and also, labels those who bring out his mistakes, as the one who backbites and slanders the prestige of his brother in Islam etc etc. What he should have done is repented immediately from his mistakes, and there would have been no sin on him, but his justifying his mistakes, and hating (thinking bad about) the person who brings out the mistake by accusing him of doing gheebah (backbiting), makes him eligible for being of those who follow his personal desires and logic over matters of religion and hence he should be warned from.
This (clarifying) about a person’s mistake is done so that this individual would not be followed in that which he erred in. The scholars have also unanimously agreed upon the permissibility of doing this (clarification).
What follows next is taken from the works of various scholars, past and present.
Note: What we are discussing here, is that person’s statements and actions about Islam, and nothing related to that person’s statements and actions of his personal life. Also, note that we should not run after seeking faults in a Muslim.
Ibn Al-Mubaarak said:
“Whenever a man would see something from his brother that he dislikes, he would give him orders in private and forbid him in private. Conversely, he would be rewarded for him screening his brother and also rewarded for forbidding evil. As for today, whenever a man sees what he dislikes he angers his brother and unveils his screen.” [Raudatul ‘Uqaalaa, p. 197]
Fudayl Ibn ‘Iyaad said:
“The Believer screens and gives sincere advice and the wicked evil doer unveils and exposes.” [Jaami’ul ”Uloom Wal-Hikam, p.77]
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “O you who have spoken the words of faith but faith has not entered your hearts! Do not backbite about the Muslims or seek our their faults, for whoever seeks out their faults, Allaah will seek out his faults even if he is his house.” [Narrated by Abu Dawood, no. 4880; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani.]
So, we should keep the above statements in mind and first advise the Muslim who committed the mistake in private, and ask him to correct it. There is no sin on the person who committed the mistake, was informed of his mistake in private and then repented sincerely, for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The one who repents from sin is like one who has never sinned.” (Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 4240; classed as saheeh by al-Busayri in al-Zawaa’id, commentary on Sunan Ibn Maajah).
But if the person sticks to his mistakes and justifies it because of his whims and desires and thinks that by accepting the mistake in public, his reputation will be at stake, then he should be warned of, by observing proper Islamic etiquettes.
Shaykh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid says:
As for warning others against a person about a person’s mistake, then that varies according to the person and the extent of the error into which he has fallen, and the extent to which the Muslims benefit from his da’wah.
If the man is calling people to a way other than the way of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah and is fighting the way of Ahl al-Sunnah, and praising other ways, or his way is based on innovated principles, even if he does not clearly declare that, then if there is some goodness in his message but the evil outweighs the goodness, he must be warned against lest the people be deceived by his words and he cause them to go astray.
There are some people – daa’iyahs – who claim to belong to Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, and do not promote any other way, but they have so many wrong and weird ideas that the bad effects of their call outweigh the good, and they are wrong more than they are right. These too must be warned against.
There is a third category of people who belong to Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah, and who make some mistakes – which no human being can avoid – due to either misinterpretation or incorrect ijtihaad or weak knowledge or on the basis of what he believes is in the public interest of the Muslims and so on – but in general they adhere to the Sunnah, promote it and defend it, and their good aspects outweigh the bad, and the benefit that people get from their da’wah is greater than the harm that befalls some from following these mistakes.
In this case we must point out the mistakes so as to warn people and advise them, and denounce evil, but it is not permissible to overstep the mark and slander the people themselves, or try to bring about their downfall and warn people against listening to them or learning from them, or accuse them of errors that they have not actually uttered. The fair-minded person can overlook a small slip if a person is mostly correct; what human being is ever right all the time and never makes a mistake?
The Salaf condemned innovators and critiqued the narrators of reports, who may not have been innovators, in sincerity to Allaah and His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him). What is important is to look at the aim and intention. And Allaah knows best.
Imaam an-Nawawi lists six categories for when backbiting is permissible, in his Riyaadh Us-Saaliheen and Al-Adhkaar.
[These 6 Categories will be dealt with in details with proofs in our coming articles Insha’Allaah]
One of the scholars summed up in two lines of poetry the situations in which it is permissible to talk about a person in his absence, and said:
“Criticism is not gheebah in six cases: complaining about mistreatment, identifying a person, warning about a person, highlighting evildoing, seeking a fatwa, and seeking help to remove an evil.”
But if there is no obvious interest to be served by mentioning him in a way that he dislikes, then it comes under the heading of gheebah which is haraam.
See Fataawa al-Lajnah al-Daa’imah li’l-Ifta (26/20)
Following are excerpts which Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbalee (rahimahullaah) wrote in his treatise “The Difference between Advising and Condemning”:
These are some brief, yet comprehensive words concerning the difference between advising and condemning, for indeed they are counterparts in the sense that they both consist of mentioning something about a people that they hate to have mentioned. However, the distinction between the two is something that is not understood by many people. Thus, Allaah is the One who grants correctness.
Know that mentioning something about a person that he hates to have mentioned (about him) is forbidden, if the objective behind that is for nothing else but to dispraise and declare (his) faults and defects.
However, if there is found in this mentioning, a beneficial good for the general masses of Muslims – specifically for some of them – and the objective behind it is to accomplish this beneficial good, then it is not forbidden, but rather recommended.
Therefore, refuting weak (erroneous) opinions and clarifying the truth with regard to what opposes it, based upon sound evidences, is not from what these scholars detested. Rather, it was from that which they loved and for which they commended and praised those who did it.
So it does not enter into the realm of backbiting at all. But suppose there is someone that hates to have his error, which contradicts the Sunnah, exposed. In this case, there is no consideration given to his hatred for that, because hating to manifest the truth – if it is in opposition to the opinion of a man – is not from those matters that are praiseworthy.
Rather it is an obligation on the Muslim to love that the truth be made manifest and that the Muslims (in general) are aware of it, regardless of whether it is in conformity or in opposition to his (personal) view.
This is from the aspects of sincerity (naseehah) towards “Allaah, His Book, His Messenger, His Religion, the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” And this is, in fact, the Religion itself, as the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, has informed us.
[More than one of the Companions have reported this hadeeth, among them Tameem Ad-Daaree. It is transmitted by Muslim (55), Abu Dawood (4944), An-Nasaa’ee (7/156), Ahmad (4/102) and Al-Bukhaaree in At-Tareekh-us-Sagheer (2/35)]
All of this relates to the outer and apparent matters. With regards to warning people about some scholars, then as for the inner affairs, if one’s intention in doing that (criticism) is to just clarify the truth and so that the people will not be deceived by the sayings of someone who erred in his opinions, then there is no doubt that this individual will be rewarded for his intention. And by doing this with this intention, he falls into the category of being from those who show sincerity to Allaah, His Messenger, the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk. And it is the same whether the one who clarifies the mistake is young or old.
But if the intention of the one refuting is to expose the faults of the scholar being refuted and to debase him and manifest his ignorance and shortness of knowledge, then this is forbidden, whether the refutation is done in the presence of the one being refuted or in his absence, or whether it is done during that person’s lifetime or after his death. This type of action falls under the acts which Allaah condemns in His Book and which He threatens the one who does it, concerning his slander and backbiting. It also falls into the statement of the Prophet, sallAllaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam:
“O you group of people that believe with your tongues while not with your hearts! Do not abuse the Muslims nor seek after their faults. For indeed, he who seeks after their faults, Allaah will seek after his faults. And whomsoever has Allaah seek after his faults, He will expose them, even if he may have committed them in the privacy of his own home.”
[Reported by Abu Ya’laa in his Musnad (1675) and Abu Nu’aim in Ad-Dalaa’il (356) on the authority of Al-Baraa’, radyAllaahu ‘anhu. Al-Haithamee (rahimahullaah) said in Al-Majma’ (8/93): “Abu Lailaa reported it and its narrators are all reliable. It has also been reported from the hadeeth of Abu Barzah, radyAllaahu ‘anhu, with a strong chain of narration in Ahmad (4/421 & 424) and Abu Dawood (4880).” And in this section occurs the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Umar with a hasan chain of narration in At-Tirmidhee (2033), Al-Baghawee (3526) and Ibn Hibbaan (1494 of the Mawaarid). See also At-Targheeb wat-Tarheeb (3/177) of Al-Mundhiree.]
All of this talk is with respect to the scholars that are followed in the Religion.
As for the people of innovation and misguidance and those who imitate the scholars but are not from them, (as in these days, how many people exist who imitate the scholars yet are not from them. They deceive the people by making beautiful expressions and using nice words!!) then it is permissible to expose their ignorance and manifest their deficiencies, in order to warn others against following them.
End of Excerpt.
Note: We should not forget to stick to and abide by the proper Islamic etiquettes while warning others against a person’s mistake and should not follow our own whims and desires, because it is human nature to appoint oneself as judge, praising and condemning on a whim.
We must go against the whims and desires of our own selves and measure people by the criteria set out in Islam; we should make mention of their good points and advise them with regard to their mistakes.
Allaah knows best and He is the Source of all strength.