Half way through an Islamic course, it occurred to me that the guy sitting in front of me could be my friend’s ex boyfriend. I had little idea of what her ex looked like but the chances of another white convert, around my age, with the same name were pretty small. I went home and whatsapped her to tell her about this surprising coincidence. She in return sent me a pic of him from a few years ago and I was now sure that it was in fact him. I told her I had wanted to ask him if he knew my friend and I wanted to see his reaction. I even told her that if I get an opportunity, in the next class, I’d ask him. But I’m rethinking that idea now.
You see, despite having never met him and barely knowing what he looks like I already knew certain details about his life that I’m sure he wouldn’t want me to know; especially certain sins. This is a huge violation of his privacy. It also means that I have a slightly negative opinion of the stranger I would otherwise think of as cool/inspiring/amazing etc for being a white convert (I guess it humanises him, at least huh? :p) or someone I would have little opinion on if he wasn’t a convert.
This is a testament to the damage that unnecessary talk, gossiping and backbiting do. They create figments of individuals in our heads, sometimes of people we barely know, which influence how we think about, talk about and interact with the real people. Our blind judgements can be so strong that they loot the individual of the opportunity to show themselves to us in their true light. Instead everything can be interpreted through a cognitive bias which does not allow us to accept their positive aspects or overwrite their negative traits.
Consequently we get a community in which not only do people look down at one another but also stifle the growth of one another. It’s easy to say “don’t care about people’s opinions” but it isn’t easy to act upon. People who try to change have to battle with their inner demons as well as the external ones created by gossip and backbiting. It’s unfair and demeaning especially when such wrong talk comes from those who think they’re actually ‘helping’ these people. The prophetic way of correcting behaviour was gentle, just and with a high degree of understanding of each individual’s needs and characteristics. It was not a one size fits all public lambasting.
Allah (swt) and his messenger have told us how wrong it is to backbite:
Allah says in the Qur’an, “O you who have believed, avoid much [negative] assumption. Indeed, some assumption is sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his brother when dead? You would detest it. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Accepting of repentance and Merciful.” [49:12]
'Abdullah reported that the Prophet said, "A believer is not a defamer nor a curser nor coarse nor obscene." [Bukhari]
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah said: “Whoever covers (the sin of) a Muslim, Allah will cover him (his sin) in this world and in the Hereafter.” [Bukhari]
These words are extremely important for us to remember now that we have the ability to mock and harm others by a simple click of a button in the form of a “like”, “tweet”, “retweet” or screenshot. Social media has made it incredibly easy for us to join the status quo in taking cheap shots at people or transforming them into memes/jokes for a laugh. But the angels on our shoulders continue to note even the things we type. We must hold ourselves accountable and not be sucked into popular trends. The individuals we are looking down upon may have already asked for forgiveness therefore we are only wronging ourselves further by continuing to mention their wrong deeds.
Furthermore, the open discussion of sins only causes the sins to become normalised. If they stayed hidden and were only talked about in a formal manner, with haya, we would remain shocked and have a real hatred for them. However, as time goes on, more and more sins are openly committed and openly talked about which has resulted in a desensitisation of harmful and disgusting acts. Hearing of Muslims gambling, drinking alcohol, having relationships outside of marriage and so on wouldn’t make some people bat an eyelid. Yet these sins are cause serious harm to individuals and the society at large. This is the product of the society we live in which promotes such indulgence in desires but we could at least try to not give in. We could stop spreading the rumours of our fellow Muslims drinking or having partners.
If it does not make a difference to our lives there’s no reason for us to talk about it and increase the scale of our bad sins.
(I did not mention any names so afaik I have not defamed or revealed a specific person's sins. Correct me if I'm wrong.)