In the path of the Imam (64)
Backbiting is considered as one of the greatest sins in Islam. God says in the Qur’an that backbiting is like eating the meat of a dead brother. Ayah 12 of surah Hujurat reads, “O you who have faith! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin; and do not spy nor some of you should backbite others. Does anyone of you like to eat the meat of hid dead brother? But you abhor it; and be Godwary, surely God is Penitent, Merciful.”
The ayah prevents from three correlated sins: suspicion toward others, espionage in the affairs of others and backbiting. In Islam, backbiting means in someone’s absence saying something about him that he will be upset if he is informed of.
Backbiting, in addition to destructive impacts on the backbiter and backbitten, has negative effects in the society, too. This is because social interactions are based on optimism and public trust. Lack of public trust leads to reduction of social interaction and backbiting destroys the fundamentals of social trust. Imam Ali (AS) says, “Avoid backbiting since it will make you hated by God and the people and will annihilate your reward.”
Imam Sajjad (AS) also emphasizes that listening to backbiting is as evil as backbiting itself. He says, “The right of your ear is to refrain it from hearing backbiting and hearing whatever is not permitted to hear.”
According to the Islamic culture, listening to backbiting is an evil deed; because when someone is being backbitten he is in fact being humiliated and he loses his repute. In view of this emphasis on prevention of backbiting in Islam, Imam Khomeini was used to refrain from it very seriously from his adolescence. As a matter of fact, all those who knew the Imam would admit that he was very heedful of this matter. All of the ulema would admit that Imam Khomeini would firmly shun from backbiting or hearing it.
Ayatollah Khatam Yazdi says, “In the early years of studying at seminary as a youth, whenever Imam Khomeini was present, it was impossible to backbite and he would strictly prevent others from backbiting.”
Late Hojjatol-Eslam Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini, the Imam’s younger son, said, “What all maintain unanimously is that the Imam since his youth would not stay in a meeting where there was lying and backbiting. The Imam has strictly refrained from lying and backbiting from the very beginning; and would either leave the session meeting or cut the word of the speaker.”
Imam Khomeini would attend meetings and gatherings provided that there was no backbiting of others. Thus, he would prevent the gathering from turning into the place of sin. Ayatollah Shobeiri Zanjani, one of the present Sources of Emulation, writes on this, “Imam Khomeini had friendly meetings with his friends like Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Zanjanai, Haaj Mirza Abdullah Mojtahedi and Aqa Seyed Ahmad Lavasani. His condition for these gatherings was to refrain from backbiting.”
Imam Khomeini was so sensitive on refraining from backbiting that nobody dared to backbite in his presence. Martyr Ayatollah Mahallati said, “The Imam was very careful not to backbite since the prime of his youth. Even when we were sitting with other fellow students at his presence, nobody dared to speak about somebody else because he would make us silent with a sharp look from the very beginning. He would stick to a few things: congregational ritual prayer in time, midnight prayer and refraining from backbiting. Even in his youth before marriage, his friends used to say that he would refrain even from minor sins.”
Ayatollah Tavassoli, who worked at Imam Khomeini’s office for several years, “The Imam had two characteristics which were distinct among all his friends: Firstly, not only he would not attend a gathering of backbiting, he would even prevent from backbiting very seriously; and secondly, he was very careful about performing midnight prayer.”
Today, it is very common among some people to backbite colleagues. This stems from professional rivalry, jealousy and so on. This habit leads to spiritual contamination of the workplace and causes suspicion and adversity. But Imam Khomeini was seriously sensitive over this. Ayatollah Tavassoli relates another memory from the Imam, “Nothing would change the Imam’s state more than negligence of the divine commandments, especially if someone was going to backbite about a person or disrespect the scholars of religion. Once I was present and someone said something about one of the ulema and Sources of Emulation that sounded as insult. The Imam vehemently castigated and protested him, although the speaker was one of the Imam’s sincere lovers. The Imam would not consider anybody at the time of fulfilling the divine duty. If the nearest ones wanted to speak of certain news that sounded backbiting or insult, he would not dare to mention it because the Imam would say, ‘I don’t want to hear this.’”