“He really didn’t deserve that promotion.”
“She may act nice, but she is so two-faced.”
“Did you hear about what happened?! They got into so much trouble for those emails…”
Sound familiar? Unfortunately this is what we witness on a day-to-day basis in the workplace. It’s hard to resist just listening to others gossip, let alone joining in ourselves. As Muslims, we first need to recognize the gravity of such talk, and then try and learn from the character of the best of creation, the Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu `alayhi wa sallam – peace be upon him).
Misuse of the Tongue
Misusing the tongue in the workplace can take many forms. It can be from telling outright lies about someone, to assuming the worst about our colleagues, to making fun of them. It is crucial to remember that the Prophet (s) said: “The majority of man’s sins emanate from his tongue.” (Tabarani)
Even if we may avoid the major sins, on the Day of Judgment we may have to face a nasty surprise: a mountain of sins, accumulated simply because of our tongues. The Prophet (s) said: “Will anything else besides (irresponsible) talk cause the people to be thrown into the Hellfire upon their faces or on their nostrils?” (Tirmidhi)
Allah (swt) has warned us in the Qur’an:
“O you who believe! Avoid much suspicion, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear God. Verily, God is the one who accepts repentance, Most Merciful.” (49:12)
Many scholars have said that listening to others backbite is just as bad as gossiping itself, because we are approving the act. Listening to such talk affects our hearts, causing us to subconsciously start to draw conclusions about people’s characters or have negative thoughts about them simply because of what we have heard, regardless whether it is true or not.
If someone invites you to a bar to have a drink on the pretext that it will help advance your career because you’ll meet people, what do you do? You most likely will think twice, try to convince yourself that you aren’t doing anything wrong because you won’t be drinking, then (hopefully) reassess the situation and realize you shouldn’t go. You’ll remind yourself this a test, a temptation, and for the sake of Allah, you’ll do the right thing. After all, it is Allah who provides.
Gossip and backbiting in the workplace are the same. When our colleagues gossip around us, it is an implicit invitation to sin or to be a witness to sin. It is that same test: to join in or not to join in?
The Best Example
Imagine if the Prophet (s) worked where you work. Imagine if the people around him snickered at someone’s misfortune or expressed their anger at someone behind their backs. How would he be?
Once, two men were walking and talking about a man that had been punished that day for drinking wine. So one said, “Did you see how he was whipped like a dog?” The Prophet (s) heard him, and when they passed by a donkey, the Prophet (s) said “Eat.” Surprised, the men said “Why?” He said, “Because you have eaten that which is worse, you have eaten the dead flesh of your brother.”
Even though these men were not even lying, because they were degrading the man because of the events that happened that day; the Prophet (s) stopped them immediately. In an oft-repeated hadith, the Beloved (s) states, “Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand, and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue, and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” (Muslim)
Thus the first step that we should take as Muslims is precisely what the Prophet (s) did: attempt to change it with our tongues. Whoever works in a high-stress and competitive environment will know that this isn’t easy to do especially because gossiping and backbiting happen so often. However, we have to try to do so with the utmost adab (manners). This is especially important if what is being said is a lie or pure speculation, as Allah (swt) in the Qur’an has said about the incident of Al-Ifk, where the hypocrites slandered the wife of the Prophet (s), `Aisha: “And why, when you heard it, did you not say, ‘It is not for us to speak of this. Exalted are You, [O Allah]; this is a great slander?’” (Qur’an, 24:16)
If that doesn’t work, another thing that one could do is to change the subject and talk about something that would be more important.
Another scenario emerges: what if someone comes to tell you something they have heard? The Prophet (s) was put in that same situation, and his response was,
“Let no one among you convey to me what is said about me (in terms of what will give rise to bad feelings in my heart). For indeed I love to come out to you with a pure and clean heart (without having negative feelings about any of you as a result of knowing what you said about me).” (Tirmidhi)
The Prophet (s) did not want to know. He closed all the doors to enmity and bad thoughts about people by telling them that he did not want to hear it.
As a final solution, one should ideally get up and leave, not to seclude oneself, but rather to avoid hearing poisonous talk that would affect our hearts and encourage us to join in. Even the Companions used to say, “[O Allah,] protect my sight and my hearing!”
We must remember that the Prophet (s) was an example of upright character even before he received revelation, rejecting many of the normal practices of the ignorant Arabs. He was known as as-Sadiq (the Truthful), al-Ameen (the Trustworthy). His beautiful character was why our mother Khadija, his first wife, was so drawn to him.
Sincerity and Allah’s Name Ash-Shakoor (The Appreciative)
Some of us, while reading the above, may feel nervous. It’s already a struggle not to join in the backbiting; is even harder to try to stop it or leave when it happens. Yet Allah told us, “…and whoever commits a good deed – We will increase for him good therein. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Appreciative” (Qur’an, 42:23).
Especially when a situation is hard for us, Allah appreciates and rewards us generously for our efforts in persevering. In one incident, `Aisha was going to perform `umrah (the lesser pilgrimage) with the Prophet (s), and there was difficulty in performing the task. So the Prophet (s) told her, “The reward is according to your expenses or the hardship (which you will undergo while performing it).” (Bukhari)
In Islam, we are not meant to make things more difficult for ourselves. However, if we find ourselves in a situation that is trying, then we must know that Allah is with us and will reward us accordingly for our struggles. Therefore, with these situations that require patience and perseverance, we must know that following the example of the Prophet (s) and putting our trust in Allah will not be wasted, insha’Allah (God-willing).