I have a question regarding back biting. Is all kinds of talking behind someone considered back biting? Is talking behind someone without the intention of slandering still back biting? Is it true that basically you can not talk about or take someone’s name to another person if their are not present because it’s considered back biting?

‎يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِّنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ ۖ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَب بَّعْضُكُم بَعْضًا ۚ أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَن يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ تَوَّابٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“Believers, stay away from conjecture; acting upon some conjecture may lead to sin. Do not spy on one another or back-bite. 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.” Quran 49:12

Imam Ali (as) said “Beware of backbiting. True Muslims should never backbite each other, because God forbids this in His saying: “Would any of you like to eat the disgusting dead flesh of your brother?”
Seriousness of Backbiting
Imam Sadiq (as) said: “Backbiting is equal to disbelief and listening to and being pleased with it is like polytheism.”
The Prophet (s) said: “Be careful of backbiting because backbiting is worse than adultery, in that a person who commits adultery can repent and ask forgiveness from God, and God can forgive him whereas God will not forgive the backbiter until the person who was at the receiving end forgives him.”

Backbiting is so serious that it is in fact worse than adultery! We look at Adultery as something horrible that we would never want to commit that act, but then we take backbiting as something light and indulge in it on a daily basis. Backbiting is much worse as for this sin you need to seek forgiveness from God, but on top of that you must seek forgiveness from the one that you were backbiting against. Imagine saying something horrible about somebody and then in order to be forgiven you need to go approach that person and ask for them to forgive you. We would be humiliated in front of this person. I know this would be so hard for us to do, so we need to be more mindful and refrain from this sin of backbiting.

Nevertheless, we see that right after God shows us the seriousness of this sin and the repulsive nature of backbiting by comparing it to eating the flesh of our dead brother, we see that he ends the verse by calling us to repent and turn away from this action by saying that He accepts repentance and is All-merciful.

Imam Hussain (as) said “Do not say a word about your brother in his absence that you would not like him to say during your absence.”

What is backbiting (Gheeba)?

“Backbiting is defined as the exposure of the fault of a brother-in-faith with the intention to vilify him in such a way that irritates him, whether it is by speaking, behaving, implying or suggesting.

Some people take backbiting to cover only that, which is false or contrary to the truth. According to them, to relate what was seen or heard, exactly as it was, is not backbiting. They say that they are not backbiting but only relating exactly what they saw or heard. But in fact, backbiting is the name of this very relating of the facts because if it is not factually correct, it will be slander, a false accusation and a wrong blame.

The Prophet (s) said: “Do you know what backbiting is?”

People said, “God and His Prophet (s) know better.”

Then he said, “Backbiting means that you say about your brother a thing which causes him pain.”

Someone said, “But what if I say what is actually true about him?”

The Prophet (s) replied, “It is backbiting only when it is factually true; otherwise, you will be accusing him falsely (committing slander).”

There are many causes for indulging in backbiting. Because of this, a man commits it sometimes knowingly and sometimes unknowingly.”

The intention of the backbiter is to hurt and defame the other and expose his faults to others people. This is definitely not how we should behave with our brothers in faith. We should never want to humiliate our brothers and sisters in faith. We should always wish the best for them and to build them up, not tear them down.

Imam Sadiq (as) said: "God will humiliate you in this world and the Hereafter if you humiliate one of your believing brothers while you are able to help them. The reward of helping a believing brother is more than that for one month of fasting and spiritual retreat in the Ka'aba."

He (as) also said: "Whoever says something about his believing brother with the intention of belittling him and damaging his honor and respect in the eyes of the people, God the Almighty will force him away from God's friendship and push him into the domain of friendship with Satan."
We definitely should want to be in the favor of God and earn the rewards of fasting for one month and doing retreat in the Ka’aba. God said in order to attain this we need to help our brothers in faith and honor them and refrain from humiliating and dishonoring them by going around backbiting them.

We have to examine our lives and ask ourselves are we earning God’s favor and friendship or are we the first to send out the group message on Whatsapp or on social media talking bad about one another? “Did you see what that person wore to the center? It was so ugly right?” Did you see the brothers car? What a piece of junk?” These are just some examples. May God help us all from partaking in backbiting.

Some of the things that are considered to be backbiting are mentioned by the late Ayatollah Dastaghayb Shirazi in his book Greater Sins:

1. 1) Backbiting of ones family origin is saying, ‘His father was a sinner, evil, stingy, immoral, from the lower class, etc. 

How can we begin to criticize one based upon their families? How many times have we seen in the history that amazing personalities ended up coming from some of the worst of people? Look at Muawiya son of Yazid (Muawiya the 2nd). He had a teacher from a young age who taught him the fundamentals of the faith and also secretly cultivated the love of Ahl ul Bayt (as) in his heart. He ended up renouncing his father, mother and grandfathers deeds against Islam. He regretted that he even came from such a family and cried profusely because of the atrocities his family committed. Listen to what he said after his fathers death:

“It is written in Hayatul Haiwan that the son of the accursed Yazeed made himself aloof from the Caliphate of his father and sat for a long time on the pulpit. And after praise and glory of God he said: “O people! I am not interested in Caliphate and you consider the material kingdom to be something great, while I find it detestable and you all find me detestable too, because I will be involved with you and you would be involved with me. My grandfather, Muawiyah opposed Ali (a.s.) for this very Caliphate. His Eminence, Ali (a.s.) was rightful and superior. No companion of the Messenger of God (S) was equal to him in any quality. At last, by deceit, the Caliphate came into the hands of Muawiyah and then to Yazeed. Yazeed did not deserve the Caliphate. He committed greater sins and transgressions. By God, I am helpless due to lack of control on myself that I am speaking these words. The love of Ali (a.s.) is inscribed on my heart.”

The people of Shaam disliked the words of this supporter of Ali (a.s.) and the one who left the worldly kingdom. They caught hold of him and buried him alive, by which his soul departed to the spiritual realm. “Surely we belong to God and to Him we shall return.”

And often times we see that some disbelievers came from honored individuals and even prophets such as the son of Noah (as).

‎وَهِيَ تَجْرِي بِهِمْ فِي مَوْجٍ كَالْجِبَالِ وَنَادَىٰ نُوحٌ ابْنَهُ وَكَانَ فِي مَعْزِلٍ يَا بُنَيَّ ارْكَب مَّعَنَا وَلَا تَكُن مَّعَ الْكَافِرِينَ
‎ قَالَ سَآوِي إِلَىٰ جَبَلٍ يَعْصِمُنِي مِنَ الْمَاءِ ۚ قَالَ لَا عَاصِمَ الْيَوْمَ مِنْ أَمْرِ اللَّـهِ إِلَّا مَن رَّحِمَ ۚ وَحَالَ بَيْنَهُمَا الْمَوْجُ فَكَانَ مِنَ الْمُغْرَقِينَ
“When the Ark sailed on with them amid the mountainous waves, Noah called out to his son who kept away from them, ‘My son, embark with us. Do not stay with the unbelievers.’ His son replied, "I shall climb up a mountain and this will save me from the flood." Noah said, "No one can escape on this day from God's command except those on whom He has mercy." The waves separated Noah from his son who was then drowned with the rest (of the unbelievers).” Quran 11:42-43

1. 2) Backbiting of character is saying such and such is bad-character, stingy, arrogant, coward, weak, hypocrite, thief or an oppressor.

We should not try to search out the flaws of our brothers and sisters in order to highlight them to others in order to belittle them. We should try to conceal the faults of our brothers as we would want God to conceal our faults.

Imam Sadiq (as) said “The smallest thing which turns a man out of faith (renders him faithless) is that he keeps counting the faults, lapses and mistakes of his brother in faith so that one day he may reprimand him (by those weaknesses).”

We are only permitted to reveal the faults of others in specific situations which will be brought up later.

1. 3) Backbiting with regard to religious matters is saying that a person is a liar, a drunkard, he neglects prayers, he is bad mannered, ungrateful, he doesn’t realize his low position, etc. 

We should try to go to those who need help with their religious matters secretly and offer to help them. We shouldn’t go to them like we are so superior to them and kick them while they are down making them feel worse than they already do. We need to be more compassionate towards each other and remember that we are one big family.

Imam Hassan Al-Askari (as) said, “Whoever admonishes his brother secretly he has decorated him and the one who admonishes him openly and publicly has vilified and rebuked him.”

He also (as) said, “The best of your brothers is the one who forgets your sin and remember and mentions the favor you did for him.”

1. 4) Backbiting in relation to dress is saying his dress is dirty, torn, old, long or short. If these are mentioned in a manner that a person wouldn’t like to hear about himself, it is considered backbiting.

We shouldn’t judge a person by what he has or doesn’t have, what type of house, car or clothes he has, but rather one should judge a person on their fear of God.

1. 5) Excessive praise of someone. For example, saying: ‘He is so nice! It’s a shame he’s caught in Satan’s trap and became such and such.’

The Prophet (s) said: "Never gloat over the misfortune of your brother, for he may be freed from it and you may be the next victim."

1. 6) Being sad in a hypocritical way, for example saying: ‘I am really sad and my heart breaks in the sorrow for such and such person.’

This isn’t true because if he were really sincere and a true friend he would not have criticized him and exposed his defects.

It should be clear that it makes no difference whether the defect is mentioned verbally or expressed in action or gestures. Even if one makes an allusion and it is understood in the sense he intends, it is backbiting.

Who is it forbidden to backbite against?

Imam Sadiq (as) said “The one who deals with the people and does not commit excess upon them, talks to them and does not tell lie, makes a promise and does not break it he is one of those whose slandering and backbiting is prohibited, his forbearance and fortitude is completed, his justice and equity is exhibited and evident, his brotherhood is obligatory and binding upon others.”

We should always think the best of our brothers and sisters in Islam. If only we talked about the good qualities that people had instead of always focusing on the negative. If a person is shown a blank piece of paper with a black dot on it, we will immediately focus on the black dot and start to talk about it. This is similar how people are with each other too, they only focus on the negative.

In some cases, criticizing falls under permissible backbiting:

1. 1) Backbiting of a person whose defect is not hidden and it is known to all, like the one who roams the streets with a drinking wine openly.
We find in the book al Makasib A tradition that says,
“One who sins openly is not worthy of respect and his backbiting is not forbidden (haram).”
A tradition also says,
“(The backbiting of) one who has thrown away the robe of shame (and commits sins openly) is not backbiting.”
If the person has already given up the sin his backbiting is forbidden. By the same token he must not be scolded or criticized because forbidding what is wrong (Nahi ‘Anil Munkar) is to wean him away from sin; if he himself has given it up there is no sense in reprimanding him. If he has not discontinued it and he does it secretly then his sin comes in the scope of secret sins and it is forbidden to mention them to others.
If a person has left a life of sin and repented to God, we should not keep reminding him of his or her past. We should not be asking them how was it when you used to drink alcohol and go to nightclubs? How was it when you used to get high and sell drugs? What did pork taste like when you used to eat it? These things and types of questions would definitely bother someone and make them feel uncomfortable and even ashamed.
I have a good friend who was at one time a salafi who hated the followers of Ahl ul Bayt (as). This guy was on his way to scope out the place where one of the shia scholars resided in order to come back with a group to hurt the scholar. However, this scholar started debating with him and proving why the shia believe the way they do and it completely opened the eyes of the guy. He had never heard this before and never seen the proofs from the Quran until that moment. He left his hatred of Shia’s and actually became a believer at that very moment by accepting the guardianship (wilayat) of Amir al Mumineen and the 12 Imams (as) from the family of Muhammad.
Now my point in mentioning this story was that now any time some people are around him and see a group of salafi’s doing something against Ahl ul Bayt (as) they say remember when you used to do that? Or if they see a terrorist group calling to kill the shia’s some others would say O’ so and so remember when you used to be on the same side as them? This really is offensive and causes pain to the brother who sincerely repented and regrets what he used to do. This is a type of backbiting that we must stay away from.
1. 2) If an oppressed person complains about the oppressor and mentions his acts of injustice, it is not backbiting. As God says in the Holy Quran:
“And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed these it is against whom there is no way (to blame). The way (to blame) is only against those who oppress into and revolt in the earth unjustly, these shall have a painful punishment.” (Quran 42: 41-42)
“God does not love the public utterance of hurtful speech unless (it be) by one to whom injustice has been done.” (Quran 4: 148)
Precaution demands that we must complain of injustice to someone who is capable of redressing it. It is not permitted to complain to someone who is not capable of getting justice for you.
If we feel that someone has wronged us then we should only address this with one who can actually make a difference in solving the matter. We shouldn’t go around and publicize what happened to every person we meet.
Also, times we can go from being the oppressed one to becoming the oppressor. How is that so? For example, a person backbites about you to one person, then you find out and decide to get revenge for what they did. Instead of backbiting them to the extent that they did to you, which was one person, you go into a crowd of people and backbite against that person to everyone in that place. Now you have surpassed the sin they did and you went from being the oppressed to becoming the oppressor.
1. 3) Giving advice to those who ask for it. If a Muslim approaches you for advice in a particular deal that he intends to enter with a person and you know about a defect of that person which, if he does not reveal then the person who enters into the contract will suffer loss and have problems; in this case there is no harm in passing such information.

If someone comes to you and says so and so brother wants me to invest $100,000 dollars with them and the opportunity looks great. What do you think? If you know that this person they are referring to is a con artist for example or is known for his shady business practices then you should inform them so that you are protecting you brother in faith from loss.

1. 4) Backbiting of a person is allowed if in addition to committing the sin himself he is instrumental in instigating others to follow him. For example, he introduces an innovation in God’s religion. In order to warn the people of his deceit his backbiting is permitted.

If a person is misguiding others due to his sins or is leading people away from Islam by making false claims that are rejected by the teachings of Ahl ul Bayt (as) then it is permissible to warn others of that person.

Note that some scholars have differing opinions on issues and this is due to their ijtihad (juristic reasoning). Some scholars have written books refuting each other, but in a respectable way and they both show their points on why they have come to their different conclusions. That is fine and this is not what we are talking about here. So, if a marja has a different view than yours this is not a cause to say he is innovating something not permitted in the religion, but rather we are speaking about if someone makes claims that are against Quran, Hadith and Ijma (consensus of the early scholars). For example, if someone now comes and claims he is the special appointed representative of Imam Zaman (aj) and that he is in direct communication with him. This would be some one that we would need to warn people against his false claims.

1. 5) Backbiting is allowed in connection with a person who narrates a false hadith or gives a false testimony. It should be to ensure that people are not misled by his falsehood.

We must expose those who narrate false traditions in order to make sure we do not become duped by people who forged narrations.

1. 6) It is allowed to mention the defect of a person by which he is well-known. For example, blind, deaf, lame etc. Our intention must not be to point out his defect but by way of indication. Also, one must bear in mind that the person himself not feel irked by these titles. Only in such circumstances is it allowed, otherwise we must use some other means to indicate towards him.

Also, “To describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment is not backbiting.”

If describing a person by their disability is the only way to convey the meaning to the person you are talking to, then it should be done with respect and dignity. We should never use a person’s disability to make fun of them or belittle them.

Imam Sadiq (as) said: "Whoever says something about his believing brother with the intention of belittling him and damaging his honor and respect in the eyes of the people, God the Almighty will force him away from God's friendship and push him into the domain of friendship with Satan."

The Prophet (s) said: "Never gloat over the misfortune of your brother, for he may be freed from it and you may be the next victim."

1. 7) “If the life, property or honor of someone can be protected only by informing him of some fault, it will not be backbiting.”

The backbiter is not a true brother
Imam Baqir (as) said: "How bad is a hypocrite with two faces and two tongues. He admires his brother in his presence, but gossips about him in his absence. He will envy his brothers if they get rich and will not help them if they get in trouble."
Some people befriend you in order to get close to you and find out your personal matters. Once they find out private issues in your life they try to use these to destroy you and ruin your life. These types of people are miserable and they want to wreak havoc on anyone who is happy or successful. They pretend to be your brother or sister in faith, but in reality they are just out to ruin your life and care nothing about you.
Imam Sadiq (as) said: "A believer will never deceive his fellow believing brothers, nor oppress them, be treacherous with them, humiliate, gossip about or grumble at his believing brothers. He will never say his believing brother is lying. Should he ever grumble, their friendship will be ruined. Should he accuse him in any way he will lose his faith in just the same manner that salt gets dissolved in water."

So, from the above narration we see that a true believer would never wish any ill will towards his brother in faith and would never backbite against him.

Imam Kadhim (as) said “And believer is the real brother of believer although his parents may not have given birth to him (Biologically). Cursed is the one who accuses his brother, cursed is the one who plays trickery and treachery with his brother. Cursed is the one who does not admonish and advise his brother. Cursed is the one who back bites his brother.”

We must take note that all of these evil characteristics that Imam Kadhim (as) has mentioned were cursed by him. We must strive our utmost not to acquire any of these evil qualities and if we have found that we do possess one or more of these than let’s turn to God and seek His forgiveness.

We should never humiliate our brothers

We should never want to humiliate our brothers and sisters in faith. We should always wish the best for them and to build them up, not tear them down.

Imam Sadiq (as) said: "God will humiliate you in this world and the Hereafter if you humiliate one of your believing brothers while you are able to help them. The reward of helping a believing brother is more than that for one month of fasting and spiritual retreat in the Ka'aba."
Imam Sadiq (as) said: "Whoever says something about his believing brother with the intention of belittling him and damaging his honor and respect in the eyes of the people, God the Almighty will force him away from God's friendship and push him into the domain of friendship with Satan."
Defending the honor of your brother

We should do more than just be mindful of the sin of backbiting ourselves, but we should also refrain from listening to it. Furthermore, we should defend our brother or sister in faith when they are being dishonored.

Once a man defamed and slandered another man in presence of the Prophet (s) so a person who was present there refuted him. The Prophet (s), said: "Whoever defends the honor of his brother, that act will shield him from hellfire."

“He (s) also said: “If the backbiting of ones believing brother is being done in ones presence and it is possible to defend him, one must defend him and God will help such a person in Hereafter. And if in spite of being able, he does not defend him then God will leave him on his own in the Hereafter and He shall not help him.”

“If one defends his believer brother’s honor while back-biting is done about him in a way that he proves his innocence, God shall remove from him thousands of mischiefs from the world and the hereafter. But if he does not dispel them in spite of being able to do so, his sin shall be seventy times that of the back-biter.”

After quoting the above tradition, the Shaykh (The Late Ayatollah Dastaghayb Shirazi) says that the sin of the listener is more than that of the back-biter because, if it were not for the ones willing to listen then the backbiter would not have dared to back-bite. Also, we should note that listening to backbiting silently without saying anything implies support of the back biter.

What should we do when we hear backbiting?

1. 1) If the defect mentioned is according to religious law, one should try to absolve the believer in whatever way possible.
2. 2) One can present a valid excuse for his actions
3. 3) If this is not possible, one should draw the attention of the criticizer that after all a believer is not infallible;
4. 4) If a believer falls into sin we should pray for his forgiveness, instead of exposing and defaming him.
5. 5) We should also make him realize that his revealing the sin can be a more serious sin than the one originally committed by the believer.”
May God save us all from this evil vice of backbiting and protect us from its harmful effects. May God help us all to be more supportive and kind to each other and become united as brothers and sisters under the banner of the family of Muhammad (as)
‎رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا وَلِإِخْوَانِنَا الَّذِينَ سَبَقُونَا بِالْإِيمَانِ وَلَا تَجْعَلْ فِي قُلُوبِنَا غِلًّا لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ رَءُوفٌ رَحِيمٌ
"…Lord, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in the faith, and clear our hearts of any ill will against the believers. Lord, You are Compassionate and All-merciful." Quran 59:10