Situation Permissible For Backbiting
By Al-Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahullāh)
In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks are due to Allāh, the Lord of al-'ālameen. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam, is His Messenger
Backbiting is permissible only for valid reasons approved by Shari'ah. These reasons are as follows:
1- It is permissible for an oppressed person to speak before the judge or someone in a similar position of authority to help him or her establish his or her rights by telling him 'so-and-so wronged me and has done such and such to me' etc.
2- It is permissible to seek somebody's assistance in forbidding evil and helping someone change his or her immoral conduct. One can say to the person who can offer such assistance, 'so-and-so does such and such evil deeds. Can you exhort him?' etc. This is permissible as long as one intends to forbid evil. If, however, one intends something else apart from this, then this act becomes unlawful.
3- One who seeks legal verdict on a certain matter may point out the defaults of another person or relate something else. One in this case can say to the Mufti (religious scholar who issues verdicts): "My father or brother (for example) treated me unjustly. Can I get my right established?" etc. This is permissible to say only if need be, but it is better to say 'What do you think of someone who did such and such?' This does not mean, however, that naming the person in question is not permissible, Hadith No. 1535 makes this point clear.
4- One who criticizes those who openly commit acts of disobedience, such as drinking wine, gambling, engaging in immoral habits, fornication, hypocrisy, and making mischief.
5- It is permissible to call into question the narrators of Hadith, and witnesses in the court when the need arises. It is also permissible to mention the bad qualities of somebody for marriage purposes in case an advice is sought. Also, if one has noticed that a "seeker of knowledge" frequently goes to the gatherings of an innovator in religion and one fears that this "seeker of knowledge" may be affected by this so-called scholar, then he must in this case give counsel to the "seeker of knowledge" by telling him about the "innovator," etc.
6- It is permissible to use names such as "Al-a'mash" which means 'the blear-eyed' to talk about people who are known by such names for the sake of identification and not for disparaging people and underestimating them. To identify them without resorting to such names is however better.
1531. 'Aishah (radiyallāhu`anha) said: A man sought permission for audience with the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam). He said, "Give him permission but he is a bad member of his tribe." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Commentary: Imam Al-Bukhari (rahimahullāh) has obviously justified the backbiting of wicked people to save people from being deceived from their appearance. If people are not informed of the real conduct of such persons, their religious as well as worldly life will be exposed to a grave danger. For this reason, the backbiting of wicked persons for the purpose of warning others is permissible.
1532. 'Aishah (radiyallāhu`anha) said: The Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said, "I do not think that so-and-so understands anything of our Faith." [Al-Bukhari]
Al-Bukhari said: Al-Laith bin Sa'ad, who is one of the narrators of this Hadith, said: The two men mentioned by the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wa sallam) in this Hadith were hypocrites (i.e., they revealed Faith and concealed disbelief).
Commentary: Hypocrites are also people of mischievous and doubtful conduct. It is, therefore, not only permissible but necessary to make people aware of their real position so that people become cautious about them and their religious and worldly life may remain safe from their machinations.
1533. Fatimah bint Qais (radiyallāhu`anhu) said: I came to the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and said to him: "Muawiyah and Abul-Jahm sent me a proposal of marriage." The Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said, "Muawiyah is destitute and he has no property, and Abul-Jahm is very hard on women." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Commentary: We learn from this Hadith that it is permissible to mention the true facts, virtues and vices without equivocation, about the parties who intend to enter into wedlock provided one does it for their welfare.
1534. Zaid bin Al-Arqam (radiyallāhu`anhu) said: We set out on a journey along with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and we faced many hardships. 'Abdullah bin Ubayy (the chief of the hypocrites at Al-Madinah) said to his friends: "Do not spend on those who are with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) until they desert him." He also said: "If we return to Al-Madinah, the more honourable (meaning himself, i.e., Abdullah bin Ubayy) will drive out therefrom the meaner (meaning Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam))." I went to the Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and informed him about that and he sent someone to 'Abdullah bin Ubayy. He asked him whether he had said that or not. Abdullah took an oath that he had not done anything of that sort and said that it was Zaid (radiyallāhu`anhu) who carried a false tale to the Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam). Zaid (radiyallāhu`anhu) said: I was so much perturbed because of this until this Verse was revealed verifying my statement:
"When the hypocrites come to you (O Muhammad (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam)), they say: 'We bear witness that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah.' Allah knows that you are indeed His Messenger, and Allah bears witness that the hypocrites are liars indeed." (Al-Munafiqun, 63:1)
Then the Messenger of Allah (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) called the hypocrites in order to seek forgiveness for them from Allah, but they turned away their heads.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Commentary: 'Abdullah bin Ubayy was the chief of the hypocrites at Al-Madinah. In the journey mentioned in this Hadith, which was undertaken in connection with the war with Banu Al-Mustaliq, he had used improper words against the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) and Muslims, which were overheard by Zaid bin Al-Arqam (radiyallāhu`anhu). The latter informed the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) about this occurrence. This incident goes to prove that exposing the designs and conspiracies of hypocrites does not form backbiting. In fact, it is essential to keep people informed about them in the interest of Islam and Muslims.
1535. 'Aishah (radiyallāhu`anha) said: Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, said to the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam): Abu Sufyan is a niggardly man and does not give me and my children adequate provisions for maintenance unless I take something from his possession without his knowledge. The Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) said to her, "Take from his possessions on a reasonable basis that much which may suffice for you and your children."
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Commentary: Hind was the mother of Mu'awiyah (radiyallāhu`anhu). Along with her husband, Abu Sufyan, she embraced Islam in the year of conquest of Makkah.
We learn from this Hadith that:
1. In order to know religious injunctions, husband and wife can mention each other's shortcomings before a Mufti (a religious scholar who is in a position to issue verdicts on religious matters).
2. If a husband does not give his wife enough money to cover the domestic expenses, then it is permissible for his wife to take some of his money without his permission, provided the amount thus taken is for essential expenses not for superfluous matters.
And Allāh Almighty Knows best.
[Excerpted from “The Book of Situation Permissible For Backbiting", Chapter, # 256, Riyad-Us-Saliheen, Compiled by Al-Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya bin Sharaf An-Nawawi Ad-Dimashqi Via Guided Way]