BACKBITING AND GOSSIP
O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: and spy not on each other nor speak ill of each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay ye would abhor it... but fear the Lord: for the Lord is Oft-Returning Most Merciful. (49:12)
The believer is a person from whom his neighbor is safe from harm. Truly, one of the most injurious acts a person can commit is to backbite or gossip about another, as is seen from the verse above that likens it to eating human flesh. Who would not be repulsed by such an act? Yet even those who claim to fear and believe in the Lord are all too ready to listen to useless and harmful words and to pass them on indiscriminately.
There is a parable about a scholar who was the victim of gossip. The perpetrator realized his mistake and went to the man to apologize to him for having spread malicious rumors. The scholar forgave him, yet thereafter instructed him to take a sackful of feathers, cut it open, and scatter the feathers on the wind. Having done thus, the man asked him what else he should do. The scholar then told him to find and gather up each of the feathers — an impossible task, as impossible as erasing the harmful effects of ill-chosen words. This illustrates the damage done by false words and should serve as a warning of how important it is to avoid this sin.
Gossip needn't be malicious in order to be harmful. Idle words spoken without thought can be just as damaging to a person. It is a symptom of that great tendency of man to concern himself with things that are none of his business, a tendency that, in this world, has been raised to an art form and is the foundation of much of what passes for entertainment in the media. People who do not concern themselves with the welfare of family or neighbors slaver over the latest tidbit about a perfect stranger who is labeled a celebrity. They neglect studies that would bring them closer to the Lord in order to read titillating gossip about this week's fallen idol and eagerly share unsubstantiated rumors hot off the presses as if it were revealed truth. Without guilt they sully the reputations of family and friends in the guise of giving advice, and earn for themselves a harsh punishment from the Lord.
The believer, in contrast, recognizes that the tongue is one of the hardest parts of his body to control, and thus he uses every tool at his disposal to control it and not be a source of harm for his brother. He listens to the admonition of his Lord and seeks advice in His revealed Word:
O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (Indeed) doing wrong. (49:11)
The believer guards his words as he would guard a precious jewel, and he would prefer to cut off his own tongue rather than use it to vilify his brother. He is well aware that his tongue will speak either for or against him on the Day of Judgment, testifying to his behavior. He avoids suspicion and does not seek out the faults of others and stays away from doubtful matters. Most importantly, he does not sit with those who engage in idle talk and gossip, and does not tolerate that it takes place in his presence. Thus the believer protects himself from a sickness that engulfs so many.
The habit of gossip is difficult to break, and doing so requires great discipline and thought. The best discipline is silence, and busying oneself with productive learning in the company of good strong believers. It also is helpful to reflect on how we would feel to be the object of gossip, and to bear in mind the great mercy of the Lord covering up our shortcomings and sins. By reflecting on our own deeds and recognizing that Judgment Day will be a time when everyone's words and actions will be scrutinized by the Lord, we will be far too humbled to concern ourselves with the deeds of others