Backbiting or honest testimony

Q54 :It is well known that Islam forbids backbiting. What if a person happens to be dishonest or a petty thief? Should not people be warned of the fact, so that they be on their guard when they deal with him? Similarly, should not people in the neighborhood be warned that certain individuals of the wrong types of character have moved into their area?

A54 : Backbiting is certainly one of the actions Islam forbids. Its effect on individuals and communities is all there to see. It creates ill feelings and mistrust. Moreover, it betrays a cowardly attitude, as the backbiter takes the opportunity of the absence of another person in order to speak ill of him, giving other people a bad picture of him. Had he been speaking the truth, he would not have chosen to speak of him in such terms when he is away. He actually acknowledges that he does not have the courage to face him with similar statements. Indeed, I do not have to dwell on the evils of backbiting and how they affects society. Those are well-known to everyone. I only wish to add that backbiting also gives a bad image of the backbiter himself. However, there are cases when pointing out the faults of another person is permissible. Suppose that people come to you to ask for information about a man you know intimately. They tell you that he has proposed to marry their daughter, or to go into business partnership with them. In such a case, you have to give them all the information which is likely to influence their decision one way or the other. You must point out the faults you know of that person in order to make an honest testimony. For example, if you know him to be stingy or hot tempered or negligent of his family duties, you must tell them of all that because these are qualities which influence a decision on accepting a proposal of marriage. If you know from your long association with that person, that, for example, he had entered into a business partnership with others and the business collapsed and there was some suspicion about his honesty, or his handling of the affairs of the business, or that he did not have a sound business sense, you must tell that to the inquirers. In such cases, you are not indulging in backbiting; you are simply acting as a witness who must give an honest testimony. There are, however, certain things to take into account when you are called upon to give such information. The first thing is that you give it only to the people who need it. You must not publicize it. The second is that you give only the information which is necessary. Thirdly, you must be very objective. You must not allow your own prejudice to either exaggerate or make little of what you know. Fourthly, you should give the information in the least offensive way. You should use the words that give a clear idea of the man and his standing and that are not too personal. That is not backbiting by any measure.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )