Have My Back: Reflections on Backbiting
You know that feeling upon entering a room and realizing that you were just being spoken of? Everyone has experienced this moment. The real question is however: should we only be feeling this way or do we perhaps make others feel this way too?
I remember as a teenager in high school the constant affair of fellow students was up for discussion. Society had molded such conversation into something both acceptable and encouraged it as a discussion even among my few Muslim friends. I never quite understood this — how can an individual feel it is acceptable to denounce other’s appearance, personality traits and even life-style choices? Perhaps this is the reason I was continuously pushed away from the individuals I grew up with. I felt I had no sense of connection because I was not interested in the discussion of people to the degree they were. It felt as if girls were obsessed with the topic of other girls.
I applied to the best of my ability the known principle of “If you cannot say something good, say nothing at all.” Which our own Prophet (pbuh) encouraged: “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should talk what is good or keep quiet, and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should not hurt (or insult) his neighbor…” (Sahih Bukhari: Volume 8, Book 76, Number 482).
Unfortunately, my silence kept me disconnected and so I drifted. Upon entering University I came to learn that this was not the solution; not for my own need for companionship or a solution to problems in social circles. University was when I was first exposed to an Islamic environment that allowed me to integrate myself more into my local Muslim community. This was when I first truly saw the respect and integrity my fellow Muslims held for one another. The evil of gossiping was apparent, when someone or their affairs were brought up as a topic it was quickly hushed.
“Do not concern yourself with things about which you have no knowledge. Verily, your hearing, sight, and heart — all of them will be called to account” (Quran 17:36)
I was witnessing a side of humanity that inspired a sense of hope and for friendships within me. The companionships that nourished over the test of years are those that not only respect each other’s differences but also bond over common morals. I felt if I was to unify myself with individuals who practiced such principles I would have nothing but contentment in my heart upon entering the room with them. I was right. The exposure to good character and manners allowed me to grow on many different levels. There were also instances of falling short of my growth and realizing I needed others to fall back on. Alhumdulilah (Praise be to God), I now understood that I had a safe haven of individuals to turn towards with morals that would not judge.
A foundation had been set but at this point I must turn inwards and wonder what it is that I am doing to prevent such behaviour with others. The first call to action is to focus on our behaviour in both conversations — online and in our minds. We cannot fall short by forgetting that Allah swt is All-Hearing and All-Seeing. We must not engage in such conversation and turn the other cheek when confronted with various forms of gossip.
“If they hear gossip, they walk away” (Quran 28:55).
The need to realize that allowing ourselves to review another individual’s life and perhaps mock or assume of them is incorrect. If we ourselves do not stand against injustice how is it that we can expect others to stand for us?
“O you 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” (Quran 49:11).
Assumption is a form of poison that seeps into our being from the shaytan; it can be disastrous for relationships, friendships and especially brotherhood. Suspicion will reduce trust and commitment between various bonds weakening the strength of our community. Each reminder that the Holy Quran entails has a higher level of consideration and resolve of benefit for the Muslim Ummah as a whole.
“Oh you who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible), for suspicion in some cases is a sin. And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? No, you would abhor it…But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful” (Quran 49:12).
This last verse sends shivers down my spine. Shivers of guilt for each time I engaged in gossip or allowed gossip to occur and did not intervene on behalf of my fellow sister or brother. From these reminders and a clear understanding of the morals that Islam encompasses we can learn to not physically, mentally and socially harm others and we can grow as Muslims. It is a matter of self-control of the nafs and a sense of self building confidence which will not leave room for doubting other’s achievements. Because how can I expect another to have my back when I fall short of having theirs?