Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
During a halaqa on campus today the subject came up about whether gheeba/lying is permissible in certain situations and what those situations might be.
The scholars mention that arguably the best presentation of the sins of the tongue was made by Imam al-Nawawi in his al-Adhkar. Thankfully, much of it has been translated by Sh. Nuh Keller in his Reliance of the Traveller in the book on ‘Holding One’s Tongue.’ What you ask about is dealt with at length there.
Is it permissible to lie to avoid hurting another person? Is gheeba permissible in official matters? (matters of government and so forth)
Islamically, one is duty-bound to obey the laws of the land one has entered, unless they clearly force one to disobey Allah Most High. One is also duty-bound to not cheat or deceive the government or the people in any way.
Is gheeba permissible in the case where there is an oppressive ruler? (meaning can one talk about the bad things an oppressive ruler is doing).
But only about his oppression, not his personal life, etc.
At the same time, we have been instructed by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say the good or remain silent,” and, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.”
Some early Muslims said, “Whoever busies themselves with that which does not concern them misses out on much of that which does concern them.”
Mulla Ali al-Qari (Allah have mercy on him) mentioned in his expansive commentary on Mishkat al-Masabih:
“The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is leaving that which does not concern him.”
“That is, to leave that which is not important or befitting of him, whether in speech, actions, or thought. Thus, ‘the excellence of a man’s Islam’ is its perfection, such that one remains steadfast in the submission to the commands and prohibitions of Allah, and surrenders to His rulings in accordance to His destiny and decree (qada wa qadr). This is the sign of the heart having been expanded by the light of its Lord, and the descent of quietude (sakina) into the heart. The reality of ‘that which does not concern him’ is that which is not needed for a worldly or next-worldly benefit, and does not aide in attaining his Lord’s good pleasure, such that it is possible to live without it… This includes excess acts and unnecessary speech… This hadith may well be taken from Allah Most High’s saying, “And who shun all vain things.” (Qur’an, 23: 3 – changed from Pickthall’s ‘vain conversation’, for lagw is, as Baydawi explains: ‘that which does not concern them of speech and actions’)…
“And it has been related in a Prophetic hadith that, “The people of the Garden will not remorse except for moments that passed them by without remembering Allah.” (Tabarani from our master Mu`adh (may Allah be pleased with him)). So glad tidings to one who takes himself to account (hasaba nafsahu) before he is taken to account. Allah Most High has said, “O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah. And let every soul look to that which it sendeth on before for the morrow. And observe your duty to Allah! Lo! Allah is Informed of what ye do. And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their souls. Such are the evil-doers.” (Qur’an, 59: 18) al-Awza`i said, ‘`Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz wrote to us, ‘Whoever is frequent in remembering death is content with but a little of this world. And whoever counts his speech from his actions speaks little except in that which benefits him.’’ (Mirqat al-Mafatih, 8: 585 #4840, excerpt translated by Faraz Rabbani)