SHAFAQNA – The Grand Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Sistani has comprehensively responded to a question on backbiting (al-Ghibah). According to Shafaqna, the text of the question and the response of this Shiite religious authority is as follows:
Question: What is the definition of backbiting? And when are we allowed to commit it? And what is our duty when hearing someone is backbiting other people?
Answer: Backbiting a believer (Mo’min) is among the great sins and is unlawful (haraam). And backbiting: it means “speaking ill of a believer in their absence, with the purpose of disparaging him/her, no matter whether the alleged shortcoming was related to his/her body, lineage, behavior, deeds, statements, religion, or life, and other defects which are [usually] concealed from the people. Similarly, it does not matter whether the description was done by words or by gesture.”
And it is realized only when there’s a listener and the backbiter intends to tell it to the listener and make him understand it. Yet when the exact person being backbitten is not determined (like saying that “one of the townsmen is coward”), it is not backbiting. The one who has committed backbiting should regret his deed and repent, and “precautionary obligation” (Ihtiat al-Wajib) rules that he – if it will not involve any other wrongdoings – should ask for the absent person’s forgiveness, or do Istighfar on his/her behalf.
Although in some cases, it is permissible: (among the cases is) backbiting someone who publicly commits sins, then backbiting on his flaws that are not covered is permitted. (And among the cases is) backbiting the oppressor, so the oppressed is permitted to backbite him, and “precautionary obligation” (Ihtiat al-Wajib) rules that it is only permissible with regard to cases in which the oppressed intends to win and overcome him. (And among the cases is) advising a believer, so it is permissible to backbite when providing consultations, like when advising a woman on marrying someone. So even if you are not asked for advice, but you’re certain that keeping silent on the other side’s flaws will cause problems, you are permitted to speak about it.
It is obligatory (wajib) to prevent other people from committing or continuing backbiting, and the “recommended precaution” (Ihtiat al-Mustahab) rules that the listener of backbiting defends the absent person.
Source: Shafaqna Farsi
Translation: Shafaqna English