Vices cause disease in the heart or soul. Any increase in this disease will cause the death of the soul, i.e. it will cause kufr. Disbelief (shirk), which is the worst of all vices, is a fatal poison of the soul. A dead heart cannot be clean. One of the worst vices is Backbiting (Ghiybat).
Ghiybat means to backbite a Believer or a (non-Muslim citizen termed) zimmî by mentioning (one of) their faults in order to vilify them. Ghiybat is harâm. It is not ghiybat if the listener does not know the person backbitten. If the person who has been backbitten would be sad if he heard it, then it is backbiting. When a person is talked about in his absence, if the remarks made about his body, his family genealogy, his moral behaviour, his work, his speech, his faith, his worldly life, his clothes, or his animals, are in such a nature as to hurt him if he heard them, they are ghiybat. Covert backbiting, as well as that which is done through signs, gestures or writing, is as sinful as overt verbal backbiting. The most sordid type of ghiybat is, for instance, a religious or pious person’s saying, “Al-hamd-u-lillâh (praise and gratitude be to Allah), we are not like him,” when a Muslim’s sins or faults are mentioned behind his back. [A hâfiz is a person who has committed the entire Qur’ân al-kerîm to his memory.] Another utterly loathsome type of libelling is to say, for instance, “Al-hamd-u-lillâh, Allah did not make us shameless like him,” amidst a conversation which somehow concerns a certain person. So is the case with ambivalent backbiting like, for instance, to say about a person, “He is a very good person, unless… .” The twelfth âyat of Sûra Hujurât purports: “… Nor speak ill of each other behind their backs. …” Ghiybat means backbiting, which in turn has been compared to eating a dead person’s flesh. It is stated in a hadîth-i-sherîf: “On the day of Judgement, a person’s reward-book will be opened. He will say, Oh my Lord! As I was in the world I performed such and such acts of worship but they are not recorded in the page. He will be answered as follows: They have been erased from your book and transferred to the books of people you spoke ill of.” Another hadîth-i-sherîf reads: “On the day of Judgement, the book containing a person’s good deeds ‘hasanât’ will be opened. He will see there the worships he never performed. They will tell him that these are the rewards ‘thawâbs’ of those who spoke ill of him.”
Abû Hurayra ‘radiy-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’anh’ related the following event: We were sitting with Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sal-lam’. One of us got up and left. Someone among us made a commenting remark on why he had left. Thereupon Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ta’âlâ ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ said, “You have backbitten your friend. You have eaten his flesh.” Âisha ‘radiy-Allâhu ’anhâ’ related the following event: One day, in the presence of Rasûlullah ‘sall-Allâhu ’alaihi wa sal-lam’ I talked about a certain woman, saying that she was tall. The blessed Messenger of Allah expostulated: “Spit out whatever is in your mouth!” I spat out. A piece of meat came out of my mouth. Allâhu ta’âlâ has power to manifest attributes and specificities as material objects. Ghiybat means to mention a Muslim brother’s or a non-Muslim citizen’s (zimmî’s) fault in their absence and in a manner which would cause them to feel sadness if they heard it. Allâhu ta’âlâ sent the following revelation to Mûsâ (Moses) ‘alaihis-salâm’ “The gossipper who (repents and) makes tawba thereafter will be the last person to enter Paradise, whereas the gossipper who does not (repent and) make tawba for it will be the earliest resident of Hell.” Ibrâhîm Adham ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’, (a beloved slave of Allâhu ta’âlâ,) was invited to a dinner. During the meal an absentee, who must have been late for the reception, was criticized behind his back for his slowness. Thereupon Ibrâhîm Adham ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ’ said, “Ghiybat has been committed at this place,” and left outright. It is stated in a hadîth-i-sherîf: “If the person criticized (behind his back) possesses the fault ascribed to him, then ghiybat has been committed. Otherwise it is a case of buhtân (slander).” It is ghiybat to criticize a person (in his absence) for his religious faults such as negligence of (the obligatory five daily prayers called) namâz, consumption of wine, theft, talebearing; as well as for worldly defects such as deafness and squint-eyedness. Criticism for religious faults is ghiybat if it is intended for vilification, and not if it is intended for the betterment of the person concerned. According to a narration, it is not ghiybat, either, if the criticism emanates from (the critizer’s) personal mercy. Nor would it be ghiybat to say, for instance, “There is a thief, (or a person who neglects his daily prayers, or a communist) in this village.” For, in this case, the accusation would not have been directed to a certain person.
If someone is harming others with his actions, informing others about him will not be backbiting because the intention is to protect others from his harm. Also, it would not be backbiting if one tells his harm to others because one pities and feels sorry for him. Exposing his harmful behavior for the purpose of making him look evil would be backbiting. In six instances telling shortcomings and faults of a person to others in his absence would not be backbiting. One tells it because one pities him and feels sorry for him. One tells others so that they may stop him. Telling in order to get a legal decision (fatwâ). Telling in order to protect others from his harm (sharr).
It is wâjib to inform a person about something he does not know. If a person commits acts of bid’at or perpetrates cruelty, it is ghiybat to inform others about his other faults if they are not overt. It is stated in a hadîth-i-sherîf: “It is not ghiybat to inform (others) about (the iniquities of) a person who has doffed the jilbâb of shame.” ‘Jilbâb’ is a wide headgear which women wear to cover their head. In this context, to ‘doff the jilbâb of shame’ means to ‘commit sins overtly.’ The hadîth-i-sherîf points out the fact that such people do not possess a sense of shame. According to Imâm Ghazâlî and some other Islamic scholars ‘rahima-humullâhu ta’âlâ’, “That it is ghiybat to expose an overt sinner’s or someone else’s fault, is not susceptible of the condition that there should be derogatory motives. Hence, ghiybat is a downright atrocity that must definitely be kept at bay.
There are many reasons which tempt a person to commit ghiybat. We will explain eleven of them at this point: Animosity toward the person concerned; propensity to join a common sentiment; the appealing nature of blaming a popularly disliked person; temptation to exclude oneself from a certain sin; to make a show of superiority; jealousy; feelings of jocularity; witticism; and mockery; to express personal surprise, regret, sorrow, or loathing at the sinning of a person not expected to do so.
Backbiting causes decrease in one’s rewards (thawâbs) and causes others’ sins to be added to the backbiter’s sins. Thinking about these all the time protects one from committing backbiting.
Backbiting is of three types: In the first instance the backbiter denies to have committed ghiybat and claims that he has merely stated a fact about a certain person. This denial causes kufr (unbelief), for it means to say ‘halâl’ about something Islam has forbidden (harâm). In the second case the intention is to let the person who has been backbitten hear about his being criticized, which in turn is harâm and a grave sin. This kind of backbiting will not be forgiven only through tawba. It is necessary also to get the forgiveness of the person whom one has backbitten. In the third case, the person who has been backbitten would not be aware of this. This kind of backbiting is forgiven by tawba and by pronouncing a blessing on the person backbitten.
A person who realizes that someone is backbiting in his presence should prohibit it immediately. It is stated in hadîth-i-sherîfs: “Allâhu ta’âlâ will help a person in this world and in the next world ‘Âkhirat’ if he helps a Muslim brother of his in his absence” and “When a person’s Muslim brother is backbitten in his presence, if he does not support his brother though he could if he wanted, this sin of his will be enough for him in both this world and the next.” and “If a person protects the honour of his Muslim brother in the world, Allâhu ta’âlâ will send him an angel and thereby protect him against torment of Hell.” and “If a person protects the honor of his Muslim brother, Allâhu ta’âlâ will save him from hell-fire.” While backbiting is committed, a person who is present there should stop it with words if he is not afraid of the backbiter. If he is afraid of him then he should reject it through his heart; otherwise he will be sharing the sin of backbiting. If it is possible to stop the backbiter or to leave, he should do one or the other. Using sign language, e.g., his head or hand or eyes is not enough. It is necessary to tell him that he should stop backbiting.
The atonement (kaffârat) for backbiting is the feeling of sadness, making tawba, and apologizing to the person backbitten. An apology without feeling sorry is no more than hypocrisy, which is another sin. [It is written in Ibn-i Âbidîn’s book Radd-ul-Muhtâr, 5th volume, page 263 that it is forbidden to backbite a dead person as well as a non-Muslim citizen (zimmî).]
 Ref: These paragraphs are quoted from the book “Ethics of Islam” page 159, which is the translation of the book Berîka written by Abû Sa’îd Muhammad bin MustafâHâdimî ‘rahima hullâhu ta’âlâ’, who passed away in 1176 Hijrî, 1762 A.D. in Konya / Turkey and the book Akhlâq-i-Alâî written in Turkish by Alî bin Amrullah ‘rahimahullâhu ta’âlâ,’ who passed away in 979 Hijrî, 1572 A.D. in Edirne / Turkey. “Ethics of Islam” published by Hakikat Kitabevi, Istanbul. You can find the whole book and the other valuable books in the web site www.hakikatkitabevi.com.tr and download in PDF format for Adobe Acrobat Reader, EPUB format for iPhone-iPad-Mac devices and MOBI format for Amazon Kindle device.