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How Should I Apologize After Backbiting Someone?

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Seekersguidance.org

Answered by Ustadh Sharif Rosen

Question: Assalam alaykum

How should I apologize after backbiting someone? Should I tell him everything that I said behind his back?

Answer: BismilLahir Rahmanir Rahim

as-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatulLah.

Thank you for this important question.

Sins like backbiting [ghiba] — whether verbalized, typed or communicated otherwise — are a grave matter and among the most common to befall us when we forget, {No word does one utter save that there is an ever-present watcher}. [50:18]

In terms of atoning for backbiting, there is scholastic disagreement on the issue. Imam al-Nawawi was among many other elite jurists in the opinion that holds that the offender must seek to be forgiven by those subjected to their ghiba [Kitab al-Adhkar, 494]. Some argued that one is also required to detail exactly what one said, or wrote, in confessing to the aggrieved party.

Alongside the preceding opinions, the ‘ulema also recognize the complexities in any given situation. Thus, the jurists stress pausing to consider the dynamics of one’s case and specifically, whether confessing one’s ghiba to those affected will aggravate or improve the relationship(s). In cases where only more damage may ensue, scholars recommend against raising the issue with the one upon whom ghiba was committed. Case in point, the Shafi’i Imam, Ibn Qasim, in his commentary on Imam al-Nawawi’s Minhaj al-Talibin, wrote:

“Regarding atonement, it is sufficient for one to have sincere remorse, seek Allah’s forgiveness and make tauba for any sins of the tongue or limbs. One should not throw off the covering that Allah has placed over one by announcing one’s disobedience. In fact, public proclamations of sin is prohibited. As applied to ghiba, the correct opinion holds that it is not obligatory that one inform those one backbit.” [Hashiya Tuhtfa al-Minhaj, 10/244]

With this authoritative perspective in hand, we should underscore the initial point made by Imam Ibn Qasim which is that irrespective of inter-personal dynamics, one is unconditionally obliged to return to Allah from such offenses, through deep repentance [tauba]. Here, I would recommend for me and others to read and apply the steps outlined in the following post on the essentials to undertake therein:

Ten Duties of Those Truly Repentant – from Imam Abu Talib al-Makki’s Qut al Qulub

In addition to working to mend previous instances of ghiba, we should be as vigilant about assuring that we hold ourselves in check moving forward. This can include ending each night with some thoughtful moments of reflection on one’s days, what one said, emailed, texted, browsed online, and so forth. Doing so will usually uncover a number of things which are afoul of the conduct befitting the beautiful Prophetic example. For that which one can recall and that which one cannot, one should make a comprehensive tauba nightly in the hopes that their heart, tongue, limbs, and register of deeds, may be cleansed anew by the grace of Allah.

May we be so blessed to be shown our shortcomings, and then given the spiritual ambition to correct them.

And Allah Most High knows best.

[Ustadh] Sharif Rosen

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Sharif Rosen is the Muslim Chaplain at Williams College (in the Northeastern United States) where he works to enhance campus life through spiritual and pastoral care; advocacy and coalition building; and deepening mutual understanding within and between communities.  His formative Islamic studies, past and ongoing, have been at the hands of scholars connected via unbroken transmission to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.  Most of Sharif’s training occurred in Amman, Jordan from 2008 – 2013, with a focus on creed, ritual law, spirituality, Quranic recitation and exegesis and through which he has received permission to transmit his Islamic learning.  Sharif has a B.A. in History from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and is now completing his graduate studies.  He completed the Classical Arabic program at the Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman, where he was also the Director of Student Life.  He currently serves as the Vice President for Educational Chaplaincy with the U.S.-based Association of Muslim Chaplains.

This answer was collected from Seekersguidance.org. It’s an online learning platform overseen by Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. All courses are free. They also have in-person classes in Canada.

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