Islam assigns great importance to preserving people’s honor and guarding them against any malicious defamation and slander. It is in this light that Islam prohibit backbiting and gives serious warning against it. Allah says: ( And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Ye abhor that (so abhor the other)) (Al-Hujurat 49: 12)
However, there are some exceptions for this ruling. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to show the faults of certain people to ward off a serious evil that may occur if they are covered. Elaborating on these exceptions Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states: Generally speaking, backbiting is considered an abomination and is therefore, haram (forbidden) for us to indulge in. Someone asked the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), “What is backbiting?” He said, “It is to speak about a person (behind his back) that which he hates (to be told about him)”
Although, indulging in backbiting is generally considered a sin, in light of their detailed study of the sources, scholars have considered it permissible to state the negative aspects or traits of a person or persons in their absence in certain exceptional cases in order to protect the interests of the people. Here are the conditions where it has been considered permissible:
1. It is not considered forbidden to mention the negative aspects of a marriage candidate in order to help the person who is planning to get married to formulate a sound opinion. In such a case, it becomes the religious duty of everyone who is asked about an individual to divulge any relevant information about him/her.
2. A public figure who may be running as a candidate for a position is just like a marriage candidate. Since it is vital to protect the interests of the public, it is considered permissible to disclose such information about him which may reflect negatively on his performance or eligibility to serve. Public office is a position of trust and, as such, only people of integrity should be appointed to such positions.
3. It is allowed to mention the tyrants, despots and rebellious persons who are role models of impiety, immorality and rebellion against Allah in order to warn people against such behavior. It is in this spirit that we find the Qur’an narrates to us the stories of Pharoah, Nimrod, Haamaan and Qarun, and so on. Therefore, it is not considered sinful to speak negatively about personalities like Abu Lahab and Abu Jahl.
4. It is also not considered sinful to mention a person who is openly violating the laws of Allah. It is said, “An immoral person has no honor to protect” since he has already tarnished his honor by openly flaunting the laws of Allah.
5. If a person has been harmed or has been treated unjustly and unfairly by someone, he can speak about it to the proper authorities in order to seek justice or restore his legitimate rights. Included in this category are those who complain to the authorities about an abusive husband, or guardian, or leader, and so on.
6. If a so-called leader, preacher, or scholar is known to be spreading corrupt ideas or heretical ideas it is considered permissible to forewarn people about him. However, in order for this to be permissible, one must have ascertained a fact that the ideas or opinions he is advocating are indeed heretical beyond a shadow of doubt. Otherwise, it would be a terrible sin, for it has been rightly stated by scholars, “The flesh of scholars is poisoned meat!
May Allah keep us all safe from the terrible sin of backbiting, and may He also empower us to be steadfast in performing the duty of counseling what is good and forbidding what is wrong — Ameen.