Don't gossip. Don't talk bad of others, even if it might be true. Don't say things you don't know. Or as Thumper (Bambi) puts it, "If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."
Around sometime last year, I backbit someone, and at that point of time, I thought it was the right thing to do, the 'moral' thing to do (sorry, I can't tell you what was the situation, then I'd be falling into the same trap of backbiting again, ha ha ha). At that time I couldn't understand the seriousness of my actions, and as someone who took gossiping/backbiting as second nature ever since teenagehood (I am NOT proud of it), I am having quite a fair bit of trouble even until now knowing what to say (being truthful) and what not to (slandering and backbiting).
What is Backbiting?
Prophet Muhammad said:"Do you know what backbiting is?" They said, "God and His Messenger know best." He then said, "It is to say something about your brother that he would dislike." Someone asked him, "But what if what I say is true?" The Messenger of Allah said, "If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have slandered him."
Backbiting is considered one of the major sins in Islam. In essence, it is saying, writing or gesturing towards unpleasant things about a person. You could say "He is fat", "ugly", "doesn't pray", "talks too much", basically just anything bad about a person that he would not like to hear about himself, even if it is true. That pretty much covers up everything bad.
But... We must also know that some situations allow us to inform others of what someone has done, and is lawful- for example, when a crime has been committed, or when someone seeks your advice on a person for business dealings or marriage, or when someone can help this person from committing more sins. In this case it is not allowed for us to hide what we know about the person so that the enquirer will not be deceived.
So with this, I'll try to follow this train of thought before saying something:
If it is something unpleasant about someone and doesn't help anyone in any way, then don't say it. If it is harmful to anyone if you keep quiet, then speak, but only speak what you know (firsthand, not heard from others).
Which brings me on to the next trap, Slander. Something really, really easy to do if we cannot constantly remind ourselves not to do.
No Slandering, Either...
Behold, you received it on your tongues, and said out of your mouths things which you had no knowledge; and you thought it to be a light matter, while it was most serious in the sight of God.
-- Quran 24: 15
Slandering could be: venting one's anger, pleasing other people, suspicion, believing a report without investigating it, having a bad opinion, being envious, mocking, expressing an unpleasant astonishment at some action in another which one does not comprehend, dissatisfaction or impatience with others, and embellishment of oneself at the expense of others.
Wow. That was quite a mouthful.
One example right now that I can think of and which I am facing difficulty in checking my actions is this: In this world where social media makes everything so accessible- and given current events, it is so easy for the unassuming part of us to believe articles, propoganda and the like, and turn into 'keyboard warriors' in condemning and generalizing groups of people and governments without doing any clear research beforehand.
And yet we feel the injustice when we see such articles being posted, we so badly want to say something to dispel the wrongful parts of it, yet we cannot say things that we have no knowledge of...
“O you who believe! If a Faasiq (liar — evil person) comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done”
-- Quran 49:6
So we are not told to blindly pretend we didn't see anything, because there might be someone out there who would've read the article and gotten the wrong impression from it. We should take it upon ourselves to find out the facts and verify the truth, and only present the facts that we have gathered. Do we present an opinion, like in the case of Gaza? Frankly, I don't know. I feel like we do if it is so obvious to us that one side is oppressing the other, and if we don't have an opinion we'd be on the side of the oppressors. But I may be wrong and if you do know, please enlighten me. :)
Sometimes I feel like I am relearning whatever I have learnt in life, as if I am a kid growing up once again. It's quite crazy, and I do fall a couple of times along the way. I thank Allah for giving me this chance to relearn, though, and I am grateful for the support, understanding and patience coming from the muslims around me during those 'fail' moments.