by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Biographies of the Prophet usually treat their subject as if he were a person endowed with great magical powers, one who by mysterious means brought the whole of Arabia under his wing. These books read like fairy tales; even events, which have no miraculous content, have been given a fanciful, miraculous interpretation. Take the case of Suhaib Ibn Senan’s migration from Mecca to Medina. When some Quraysh youths blocked his path, Suhaib pleaded with them: “If I let you have all my property, will you let me go?” They said that they would. Suhaib had a few ounces of silver with him. He gave it all to them and carried on to Medina. According to a tradition in Baihaqi, Suhaib said that when the Prophet saw him in Medina he told Suhaib that his trading, that is, his handing over of his property to the Quraysh, had been very profitable. Suhaib, according to the tradition, was astounded, for no one had arrived in Medina before him who could have brought the news. “It must have been Gabriel who told you,” he said to the Prophet.Read more...
Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:
O you who have believed, avoid much suspicion, for some suspicions are sins. Do not spy, nor should any one backbite the other. Is there any among you who would like to eat the flesh of his dead brother?' Nay, you yourselves abhor it. Fear Allah, for Allah is Acceptor of repentance and All-Merciful. (49:12)
Gheebat (back-biting) has been defined thus: "It is saying on the back of a person something which would hurt him if he came to know of it. " This definition has been reported from the Holy Prophet himself. According to a tradition which Muslim, Abu Da'ud, Tirmidhi, Nasa'i and others have related on the authority of Hadrat Abu Hurairah, the Holy Prophet defined Gheebat as follows:
"It is talking of your brother in a way irksome to him." It was asked: "What, if the defect being talked of is present in my brother ?" The Holy Prophet replied: "If it is present in him, it would be Gheebat; if it is not there, it would be slandering him."
In another tradition which Imam Malik has related in Mu'watta, on the authority of Hadrat Muttalib bin `Abdullah, "A person asked the Holy Prophet: What is Gheebat? The Holy Prophet replied: It is talking of your brother in a way irksome to him. He asked: Even if it is true, O Messenger of Allah? He replied: If what you said was false, it would then be a calumny."
These traditions make it plain that uttering a false accusation against a person in his absence is calumny and describing a real defect in him Gheebat; whether this is done in express words or by reference and allusion, in every case it is forbidden. Likewise, whether this is done in the lifetime of a person, or after his death, it is forbidden in both cases.
According to Abu Da'ud, when Ma`iz bin Malik Aslami had been stoned to death for committing adultery, the Holy Prophet on his way back heard a man saying to his companion: "Look at this man: Allah had concealed his secret, but he did not leave himself alone till he was killed like a dog!" A little further on the way there was the dead body of a donkey lying rotting. The Holy Prophet stopped, called the two men and said: "Come down and eat this dead donkey." They submitted: "Who will eat it, O Messenger of Allah?" The Holy Prophet said: "A little before this you were attacking the honor of your brother: that was much worse than eating this dead donkey."
The only exceptions to this prohibition are the cases in which there may be a genuine need of speaking in of a person on his back, or after his death, and this may not be fulfilled without resort to backbiting, and if it was not resorted to, a greater evil might result than backbiting itself. The Holy Prophet has described this exception as a principle, thus: "The worst excess is to attack the honour of a Muslim unjustly." (Abu Da'ud).
In this saying the condition of "unjustly" points out that doing so "with justice" is permissible. Then, in the practice of the Holy Prophet himself we find some precedents which show what is implied by "justice" and in what conditions and cases backbiting may be lawful to the extent as necessary.
Once a desert Arab came and offered his Prayer under the leadership of the Holy Prophet, and as soon as the Prayer was concluded, walked away saying: "O God, have mercy on me and on Muhammad, and make no one else a partner in this mercy beside the two of us." The Holy Prophet said to the Companions: `What do you say: who is more ignorant: this person or his camel? Didn't you hear what he said?" (Abu Da`ud). The Holy Prophet had to say this in his absence, for he had left soon after the Prayer was over. Since he had uttered a wrong thing in the presence of the Holy Prophet, his remaining quiet at it could cause the misunderstanding that saying such a thing might in some degree be lawful; therefore, it was necessary that he should contradict it.
Two of the Companions, Hadrat Mu`awiyah and Hadrat Abu Jahm, sent the proposal of marriage to a lady, Fatimah bint Qais. She came to the Holy Prophet and asked for his advice. He said: "Mu`awiyah is a poor man and Abu Jahm beats his wives much." (Bukhari, Muslim). In this case, as there was the question of the lady's future and she had consulted the Holy Prophet for his advice, he deemed it necessary to inform her of the two men's weaknesses.
One day when the Holy Prophet was present in the apartment of Hadrat 'A'ishah, a man came and sought permission to see him. The Holy Prophet remarked that he was a very bad man of his tribe. Then he went out and talked to him politely. When he came back into the house, Hadrat `A'ishah asked: "You have talked to him politely, whereas when you went out you said something different about him. " The Holy Prophet said, "On the day of Resurrection the worst abode in the sight of Allah will be of the person whom the people start avoiding because of his abusive language." (Bukhari, Muslim). A study of this incident will show that the Holy Prophet in spite of having a bad opinion about the person talked to him politely because that was the demand of his morals; but he had the apprehension lest the people of his house should consider the person to be his friend when they would see him treating him kindly, and then the person might use this impression to his own advantage later. Therefore, the Holy Prophet warned Hadrat `A'ishah telling her that he was a bad man of his tribe.
Once Hind bint 'Utbah, wife of Hadrat Abu Sufyan, came to the Holy Prophet and said: "Abu Sufyan is a miserly person: he does not provide enough for me and my children's needs. " (Bukhari, Muslim). Although this complaint from the wife in the absence of the husband was backbiting, the Holy Prophet pemitted it, for the oppressed has a right that he or she may take the complaint of injustice to a person who has the power to get it removed.
From these precedents of the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, the jurists and traditionists have deduced this principle: 'Gheebat (backbiting) is permissible only in case it is needed for a real and genuine (genuine from the Shari'ah point of view) necessity and the necessity may not be satisfied without having resort to it". Then on the basis of the same principle the scholars have declared that Gheebat is permissible in the following cases:
(1) Complaining by an oppressed person against the oppressor before every such person who he thinks can do something to save him from the injustice.
(2) To make mention of the evils of a person (or persons) with the intention of reform before those who can do expected to help remove the evils.
(3) To state the facts of a case before a legal expert for the purpose of seeking a religious or legal ruling regarding an unlawful act committed by a person.
(4) To warn the people of the mischiefs of a person (or persons) so that they may ward off the evil, e g. it is not only permissible but obligatory to mention the weaknesses of the reporters, witnesses and writers, for without it, it is not possible to safeguard the Shariah against the propagation of false reports, the courts against injustices and the common people or the students against errors and misunderstandings. Or, for instance, if a person wants to have the relationship of marriage with somebody, or wishes to rent a house in the neighborhood of somebody, or wants to give something into the custody of somebody, and consults another person, it is obligatory for him to apprise him of all aspects so that he is not deceived because of ignorance.
(5) To raise voice against and criticise the evils of the people who may be spreading sin and immorality and error, or corrupting the people's faith and persecuting them.
(6) To use nicknames for the people who may have become well known by those names, but this should be done for the purpose of their recognition and not with a view to condemn them. (For details, see Fat-h al-Bari, vol. X, p. 362; Sharah Muslim by An-Nawawi; Riyad us-Salihin; al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur an; Ruh al-Maani commentary on verse wa a yaghtab ba 'dukum ba 'dan).
Apart from these exceptions it is absolutely forbidden to speak ill of a person behind his back. If what is spoken is true, it is Gheebat; if it is false, it is calumny; and if it is meant to make two persons quarrel, it is slander. The Shari'ah has declared all these as forbidden. In the Islamic society it is incumbent on every Muslim to refute a false charge made against a person in his presence and not to listen to it quietly, and to tell those who are speaking ill of somebody, without a genuine religious need, to fear God and desist from the sin. The Holy Prophet has said: If a person does not support and help a Muslim when he is being disgraced and his honour being attacked, Allah also does not support and help him when he stands in need of His help; and if a person helps and supports a Muslim when his honour is being attacked and he is being disgraced, Allah Almighty also helps him when he wants that AIlah should help him. (Abu Da'ud).
As for the backbiter, as soon as he realizes that he is committing this sin, or has committed it, his first duty is to offer repentance before Allah and restrain himself from this forbidden act. His second duty is that he should compensate for it as far as possible. If he has backbitten a dead person, he should ask Allah's forgiveness for the person as often as he can. If he has backbitten a living person, and what he said was also false, he should refute it before the people before whom he had made the calumny. And if what he said was true, he should never speak ill of him in future, and should ask pardon of the person whom he had backbitten. A section of the scholars has expressed the opinion that pardon should be asked only in case the other person has come to know of it; otherwise one should only offer repentance, for if the person concerned is unaware and the backbiter in order to ask pardon goes and tells him that he had backbitten him, he would certainly feel hurt.
In the verse, Allah by likening backbiting to eating a dead brother's flesh has given the idea of its being an abomination. Eating the dead flesh is by itself abhorrent; and when the flesh is not of an animal, but of a man, and that too of one's own dead brother, abomination would be added to abomination. Then, by presenting the simile in the interrogative tone it has been made all the more impressive, so that every person may ask his own conscience and decide whether he would like to eat the flesh of his dead brother. If he would not, and he abhors it by nature, how he would like that he should attack the honour of his brother-in-faith in his absence, when he cannot defend himself and when he is wholly unaware that he is being disgraced. This shows that the basic reason of forbidding backbiting is not that the person being backbitten is being hurt but speaking ill of a person in his absence is by itself unlawful and forbidden whether he is aware of it, or not, and whether he feels hurt by it or not. Obviously, eating the flesh of a dead man is not forbidden because it hurts the dead man; the dead person is wholly unaware that somebody is eating of his body, but because this act by itself is an abomination. Likewise, if the person who is backbitten also does not come to know of it through any means, he will remain unaware throughout his life that somebody had attacked his honour at a particular time before some particular people and on that account he had stood disgraced in the eyes of those people. Because of this unawareness he will not feel at all hurt by this backbiting, but his honour would in any case be sullied. Therefore, this act in its nature is not any different from eating the flesh of a dead brother.
What commercial and cultural propaganda presents as beautiful is rooted in ugly paganism but most blind followers do not know.
Posted: 24 Zul-Qa'dah 1422, 7 February 2002
twin sister of bidah
There is a group of practices that we can consider as the twin sister of bid'ah. Like bid'ah they flourish on the twin foundations of ignorance and outside influence. Like bid'ah they entail rituals. But unlike bid'ah the rituals have not been given an Islamic face. They are followed because they are considered an acceptable cultural practice or the hottest imported "in" thing.
Most of those who indulge in them do not know what they are doing. They are just blind followers of their equally blind cultural leaders. Little do they realize that what they consider as innocent fun may in fact be rooted in paganism. That the symbols they embrace may be symbols of unbelief. That the ideas they borrow may be products of superstition. That all of these may be a negation of what Islam stands for.
Consider Valentine's Day, a day that after dying out a well deserved death in most of Europe (but surviving in Britain and United States) has suddenly started to emerge across a good swath of Muslim countries. Who was Valentine? Why is this day observed? Legends abound, as they do in all such cases, but this much is clear: Valentine's Day began as a pagan ritual started by Romans in the 4th century BCE to honor the god Lupercus. The main attraction of this ritual was a lottery held to distribute young women to young men for "entertainment and pleasure"--until the next year's lottery. Among other equally despicable practices associated with this day was the lashing of young women by two young men, clad only in a bit of goatskin and wielding goatskin thongs, who had been smeared with blood of sacrificial goats and dogs. A lash of the "sacred" thongs by these "holy men" was believed to make them better able to bear children.
As usual, Christianity tried, without success, to stop the evil celebration of Lupercalia. It first replaced the lottery of the names of women with a lottery of the names of the saints. The idea was that during the following year the young men would emulate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn. (The idea that you can preserve the appearance of a popular evil and yet somehow turn it to serve the purpose of virtue, has survived. Look at all those people who are still trying, helplessly, to use the formats of popular television entertainments to promote good. They might learn something from this bit of history. It failed miserably) Christianity ended up doing in Rome, and elsewhere, as the Romans did.
The only success it had was in changing the name from Lupercalia to St. Valentine's Day. It was done in CE 496 by Pope Gelasius, in honor of some Saint Valentine. There are as many as 50 different Valentines in Christian legends. Two of them are more famous, although their lives and characters are also shrouded in mystery. According to one legend, and the one more in line with the true nature of this celebration, St. Valentine was a "lovers'" saint, who had himself fallen in love with his jailer's daughter.
Due to serious troubles that accompanied such lottery, French government banned the practice in 1776. In Italy, Austria, Hungry, and Germany also the ritual vanished over the years. Earlier, it had been banned in England during the 17th century when the Puritans were strong. However in 1660 Charles II revived it. From there it also reached the New World, where enterprising Yankees spotted a good means of making money. Esther A. Howland, who produced one of the first commercial American Valentine's Day cards called--- what else--- valentines, in the 1840s, sold $5,000 worth--when $5,000 was a lot of money--the first year. The valentine industry has been booming ever since.
Halloween and Christmas
It is the same story with Halloween, which has otherwise normal human beings dressing like ghosts and goblins in a reenactment of an ancient pagan ritual of demon worship. Five star hotels in Muslim countries arrange Halloween parties so the rich can celebrate the superstitions of a distant period of ignorance that at one time even included the shameful practice of human sacrifice. The pagan name for that event was Samhain (pronounced sow-en). Just as in case of Valentine's Day, Christianity changed its name, but not the pagan moorings.
Christmas is another story. Today Muslim shopkeepers sell and shoppers buy Christmas symbols in Islamabad or Dubai or Cairo. To engage in a known religious celebration of another religion is bad enough. What is worse is the fact that here is another pagan celebration (Saturnalia) that has been changed in name ---and in little else--- by Christianity.
Even the celebration considered most innocent might have pagan foundations. According to one account, in pagan cultures, people feared evil spirits - especially on their birthdays. It was a common belief that evil spirits were more dangerous to a person when he or she experienced a change in their daily life, such as turning a year older. So family and friends surrounded the person with laughter and joy on their birthdays in order to protect them from evil.
How can anyone in his right mind think that Islam would be indifferent to practices seeped in anti-Islamic ideas and beliefs? Islam came to destroy paganism in all its forms and it cannot tolerate any trace of it in the lives of its followers.
Further, Islam is very sensitive about maintaining its purity and the unique identity of its followers. Islamic laws and teachings go to extra lengths to ensure it. Salat is forbidden at the precise times of sunrise, transition, and sunset to eliminate the possibility of confusion with the practice of sun worship. To the voluntary recommended fast on the tenth of Muharram, Muslims are required to add another day (9th or 11th) to differentiate it from the then prevalent Jewish practice. Muslims are forbidden to emulate the appearance of non-Muslims.
A Muslim for life
A Muslim is a Muslim for life. During joys and sorrows, during celebrations and sufferings, we must follow the one straight path --- not many divergent paths. It is a great tragedy that under the constant barrage of commercial and cultural propaganda from the forces of globalization and the relentless media machine, Muslims have begun to embrace the Valentines, the Halloween ghost, and even the Santa Claus. Given our terrible and increasing surrender to paganism the only day we should be observing is a day of mourning. Better yet it should be a day of repentance that could liberate us from all these days. And all this daze.