Are Backbiting Rules Between A Married Couple Different?

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

I have a question concerning the rules for gheeba between a married couple. Are they different than they would be for two people who are not married? I seem to remember hearing a shaykh say that the rules are different, but he didn’t elaborate more on the subject.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Walaikum assalam,

If you mean a married couple mentioning 3rd parties to each other in a way the latter would dislike, this would be considered backbiting, and would be sinful.

Imam al-Barkawi said in his masterpiece on the operationalization of taqwa, al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya,

“Backbiting is to mention the negative points of a specific brother who is known to those being addressed, or to indicate these points or make them known by the hand or any other limbs.”

Allama Abu Sa`id al-Khadimi explained,

“(A specific brother who is known to those one being addressed) for the who is not specified or known would not be backbiting.” [al-Bariqa al-Mahmudiyya fi Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, 3: 183)

Safety lies in holding fast to the counsel of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say that which is good or remain silent.” And he said, “Whoever is silent is saved.” And, “From the excellence of a man’s Islam is to leave that which does not concern him.”  The scholars explain “that which concerns him” as being anything in which there is a real worldly or next-worldly benefit.

2. However, this would be normally be from the ‘slander of the heart,’ as explained in the chapter on Holding One’s Tongue in Reliance of the Traveller:


r2.14 Entertaining bad thoughts about others (su’ al-zann) is as unlawful as expressing them. Just as it is unlawful to tell another of the failings of a person, so too it is unlawful to speak to oneself of them and think badly of him. Allah Most High says,

“Shun much of surmise” (Koran 49:12).

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace said,

“Beware of suspicions, for they are the most lying of words,”

There are many hadiths which say the same, and they refer to an established conviction or judgement in the heart that another is bad. As for passing thoughts and fancies that do not last, when the person having them does not persist in them, scholars concur that they are excusable, since their occurrence is involuntary and there is no way to avoid them. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

“For those of my Community, Allah overlooks the thoughts that come to mind as long as they are not uttered or acted upon.”

Scholars say this refers to passing thoughts that do not abide, whether of slander, unbelief (kufr), or something else. Whoever entertains a passing notion of unbelief that is a mere fancy whose occurrence is unintentional and immediately dismissed is not an unbeliever and is not to blame. The reason such things are excusable is that there is no way to take precaution against them. One can only avoid continuing therein, which is why persistence in them and the established conviction of them in one’s heart is unlawful.

Whenever one has a passing thought of slander, one is obliged to reject it and summon to mind extenuating circumstances which explain away the appearances that seem to imply the bad opinion Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali says in the Ihya’: “A bad thought about someone that occurs in one’s heart is a notion suggested by the Devil, and one should dismiss it, for the Devil is the most corrupt of the corrupt, and Allah Most high says,

“‘If a corrupt person brings you news, verify it, lest you hurt others out of gnorance and then regret what you have done’ (Koran 49.6).

It is not permissible to believe Satan, and if the appearance of wrongdoing can possibly be interpreted otherwise, it is not lawful to think badly of another. The Devil may enter the heart at the slightest impression of others’ mistakes, suggesting that one only noticed it because of one’s superior intelligence and discernment, and that “the believer sees with the light of Allah,” which upon examination often amounts to nothing more than repeating the Devil’s deceit and obscurities. If a reliable witness informs one of something bad about another, one should neither believe it nor disbelieve it, in order to avoid thinking badly of either of them. And whenever one has a bad thought about a Muslim one should increase one’s concern and respect for him, as this will madden the Devil and put him off, and he will not suggest the like of it to one again for fear that one will occupy oneself with prayer for the person.

“If one learns of a Muslim’s mistake by undeniable proof, one should advise him about it in private and not let the Devil delude one into slandering him. And when admonishing him, one should not gloat over his shortcoming and the fact that he is regarding one with respect while one is regarding him with disdain, but one’s intention should rather be to help him disengage from the act of disobedience, over which one is as sad as if one had committed it oneself. One should be happier if he desists from it without being admonished than if he desists because of one’s admonishment.” These are Ghazali’s words.

r2.15 We have mentioned that it is obligatory for a person with a passing ill thought of another to dispel it, this being when no interest recongnised by Sacred Law conduces one to reflect upon it, for if there is such an interest, it is permissible to weigh and consider the individual’s deficiency and warn others of it, as when evaluating the reliability of court witnesses or hadith transmitters, and in other cases we will mention below in the section on permissible slander.

And Allah alone gives success.


Faraz Rabbani

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