On what is permitted in talking about people

Riyad as-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous)

by Imam Nawawi

256. Chapter: On what is permitted in talking about people

Know that talking about people is permitted for a sound legal reason which can only be realised by doing that. There are six reasons for which it is allowed:

1. Being a victim of injustice. The person who has been wronged is permitted to complain about that to the ruler or qadi or others in authority or those who have the power to rectify the injustice. He says, "So-and-so has wronged me."

2. Seeking help to alter something objectionable or to return someone who disobeys Allah to the correct path. He says to the one he hopes will remove what is objectionable (munkar), "So-and-so is doing such-and-such, so restrain him from it. That is allowed if his aim is to remove that objectionable. Otherwise it is forbidden.

3. Asking for a fatwa. He says to the mufti, "My father (brother, spouse or so-and-so) has wronged me by such-and-such. Can he do that? How can I be saved from it and obtain my right and remove the injustice?" This is permitted as it is legal argument, but it is better to be more circumspect and say, "What do you say about a man, person or spouse who does such-and-such?" Then he will obtain what he desires without mentioning him specifically, although it is nonetheless permitted to mention him specifically.

4. Warning the Muslims about evil and advising them. There are various forms of that. Part of that is invalidating the testimony of witnesses and transmitters. That is permitted by consensus. Indeed, it is mandatory because of need. Another instance is consultation about someone as a potential in-law, partner, keeper of a deposit or employee, or the like, or neighbour. Then the one consulted must not conceal his state and must mention his bad qualities with the aim of giving good advice. Another case is when someone sees someone learning fiqh frequenting an innovator or impious person to study with them and he fears that the student of fiqh will be harmed by that. Then he must give him good advice by explaining the person's situation, always provided that his intention is to give advice. This is something in which it is possible to err and the speaker may be moved by envy to do that and Shaytan confuses the matter for him so that he imagines that it is good advice. Another case is when someone has guardianship which he does not administer properly, either because he does not deal properly with it, or is impious or neglectful or the like. Then it is obliged to mention that to the one with general authority so that he can remove it and appoint someone who will look after it properly, or in order that he knows that about him so that he can deal with him appropriately and not be deceived by him.

5. When someone is open about his impiety or innovation, like someone who drinks wine openly, oppresses people, imposes tolls on people and taxes property unjustly and engages in false matters. What he does openly is mentioned, but it is forbidden to mention other faults he has unless it is for another justifiable cause.

6. Recognition. When a person is known by a nickname, like al-A'mash (the blear-eyed), al-A'raj (the lame), al-Asamm (the deaf), and the like, it is permitted that they be known as that but it is forbidden to use it to deprecate them. It is better if there is another way of identifying the person.

These are six reasons which scholars mentioned and there is agreement on most of them. The evidence for that in sound hadiths is well-known.

1531. 'A'isha reported that a man asked permission to visit the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and he said, 'Give him permission. He is an evil brother of the tribe.'" [Agreed upon]

Al-Bukhari used it as a proof for the permissibility of speaking ill of the people of corruption and people of doubt.

1532. 'A'isha reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, "I do not think that so-and-so and so-and-so know anything about our deen." [al-Bukhari]

Al-Layth ibn Sa'd, one of the transmitters of this hadith, said, "These two men were among the hypocrites."

1533. Fatima bint Qays said, "I went to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Abu'l-Jahm and Mu'awiya have both proposed marriage to me.' The Messenger of Allah said, 'Mu'awiya is poor and without property. Abu'l-Jahm does not put down the staff from his shoulder.'" [Agreed upon]

In a version of Muslim, "As for Abu'l-Jahm, he beats women," which explains the transmission, "He does not put down the staff from his shoulder." It is also said to mean he travels a lot.

1534. Zayd ibn Arqam said, "We went out with the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, on a journey during which the people suffered considerable hardship. 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy said, 'Do not spend on those who are with the Messenger of Allah so that they become disunited.' He said, 'When we return to Madina, the mightier will drive out the humbler from it.' I went to the Messenger of Allah and told him that and he sent for 'Abdullah ibn Ubayy who took a strong oath swearing that he had not said it. They said, 'Zayd has lied to the Messenger of Allah," and I felt great distress inside me because of what they had said until Allah Almighty sent down a confirmation (of what I had said): 'When the hypocrites come to you...' (63). Then the Messenger of Allah , may Allah bless him and grant him peace, invited them in order to ask forgiveness for them but they arrogantly turned their heads away." [Agreed upon]

1535. 'A'isha said, "Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, asked the Prophet, 'Abu Sufyan is miserly and does not give me enough for me and my children unless I take it from him without his knowledge.' He said, 'Take what is reasonably enough for you and your children.'" [Agreed upon]