Think before you speak
To protect oneself from Gheebat Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) has described a general rule which is;

“Do not say anything before reflecting on it first. It will happen sometimes that you won’t remember to think about it but if you keep reminding yourself about it, you will start remembering most of the time to think before you speak. Insha’Allah (God willing) you won’t neglect it then. Whenever you are about to say something, think first whether what you are about to say will constitute a sin. Insha’Allah this will lead to improvement.”

It means that try to get rid of the habit of speaking without thinking. Whenever you want to say something, reflect on it first, will what I am going to say lead me towards sin and Allah Ta’ala’s disobedience? Imam Shafa’i (may Allah have mercy on him) says;

“Either say something good, or keep quiet.”

Staying quiet is infinitely more preferable to saying inappropriate things which may earn a person the punishment of Hell.

What will make people fall face down in Hell?
In a Hadith the Holy Prophet ﷺ said;

“The thing that will make people fall face down in Hell will be the words that have come out of their mouth.”

Allah Ta’ala has granted us this machine (tongue) completely out of His mercy. It starts working since the day we are born and keeps working till the day we die. It neither needs greasing, nor service or repair. And it works so quickly that as soon as a thought comes into our mind, it pops out of our mouth through our tongue. We do not appreciate the value of this blessing because it was granted to us for free, without even having to ask for it. It has been with us since birth and has been working since then. We did not have to spend any money or make any efforts to obtain it.

Two great kalimah
Shariah demands that you have been granted this ‘machine’ (tongue) by Allah Ta’ala for free, and it is a very beneficial tool, so use it for acts which bring you benefit, and save it from Haraam acts. If a person wishes they can derive great benefit from their tongue. It has been narrated in a Hadith that when a person says Subhan Allah (سبحان اللّٰہ) or Alhamdulillah (الحمداللّٰہ) (all praise be to Allah) with his tongue, it fills half the balance of the scale with which his good and bad deeds will be weighed on the Day of Judgment. You hear this in the end session of teaching of Bukhari Sharif that there are two Kalimah which are loved greatly by Allah Ta’ala, which are very easy to say, but will weigh very heavily in the balance (on the Day of Judgment). These are;

سبحان اللّٰہ و بحمدہ سبحان اللّٰہ العظیم

So, if a person uses him tongue productively he can accumulate a huge number of good deeds. A person should keep doing Dhikr (Allah’s remembrance) sitting, standing, walking, all the time.

It is narrated in a Hadith that a Companion (Sahabi) asked the Holy Prophet ﷺ, “O Prophet of Allah ﷺ, which is the most exalted act of worship?” He replied, “the most exalted act of worship is that your tongue always remains active with Allah’s Dhikr (remembrance).” If you keep doing Allah’s Dhikr (like reciting Tasbeehat, reciting Qur’an that one has memorized, reciting Durood Sharif), then a person will keep accumulating good deeds, and he will earn more and more rewards and merits for Aakhirah (Hereafter).

A person’s tongue also leads him to paradise
But it is also the same tongue which brings a person out of Kufr (disbelief) and leads him to Iman (faith). If Allah Ta’ala grants Taufeeq (enablement) to a Kafir of 70 years and he recites the kalimah “there is no god but God and Muhammad ﷺ is His Messenger” with his tongue, then in that one moment his destiny and final station moves from the lowest status of Hell to highest status of Paradise. What brought this about? This was brought about by his tongue. Allah Ta’ala has granted such power to a person’s tongue. There are so many examples when a person all his life in Kufr, in major sins, and right towards the end Allah Ta’ala granted him Taufeeq to recite the Kalimah of Shahadah soon after which he died. If he had died a few minutes before reciting the Shahadah, he would have gone to hell for all eternity. But because he died after reciting the Shahadah he went straight to paradise.

The benefits and harms of the tongue are both great
If you want, you can accumulate a great amount of good deeds for the Aakhirah (Hereafter) with your tongue. You can do this by continuing to recite the Holy Qur’an, keep doing Dhikr, reciting Tasbeehat, keep saying Allah Ta’ala’s praises, and keep doing Shukr (expressing gratefulness to Allah Ta’ala). You can accumulate good deeds by making other people happy because saying words that make one’s Muslim brother happy is also a Sadaqah (charity).

On the other hand, if one uses one’s tongue in a wrong way, it can cause great harms as well, as per the Hadith I had recited above that the thing that will make people fall face down in Hell will be the words that come out of their mouth. It is because it is the tongue that lies, the tongue that commits Gheebat (backbiting), the tongue which hurts other people’s feelings, the tongue that says inappropriate things, and all of these acts can make people fall face down in Hell.

So, when the benefits of tongue are great, and the harms of tongue are great, then the path of safety and deliverance is that a person uses his tongue very very carefully. That is why Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) says that before you say anything, reflect on whether what you are going to say will lead you to Hell or Paradise.

Imam Shafa’i’s (RE) remaining quiet before replying
It has been written about Imam Shafa’i (may Allah have mercy on him) that when someone asked him a question sometimes he remained quiet for a period of time and did not reply immediately. Someone asked, “Hadhrat! It has been so long but you have not said anything.” Imam Shafa’i RE replied;

“I am quiet because I am reflecting on whether it is better for me to stay quiet or speak.”

So, first think about whether what you are going to say is going to be beneficial or harmful for you. If it is going to be beneficial, then say it. Otherwise, stay quiet.

Think before you speak
Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) has taught us the way of using our tongue carefully that before you say anything, judge whether what you are about to say is true or not? Is it going beyond the boundaries set by Shariah? Is there any lie in it? Is there any exaggeration in it? Am I just repeating things I have heard without verifying them?

These days a lot of conflicts and disagreements happen because people make statements without thinking about them. They hear something, then neither remember it correctly, nor try to verify it, and just repeat it. This then leads to major discord within families. So, first reflect on what you have heard. Do you remember accurately what you had heard? And if you want to quote it elsewhere, quote exactly what you had heard, do not add any unsubstantiated details to it. And if you have not been able to verify it, then do not quote it as a statement of fact.

Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah Ta’ala have mercy on him) is saying that we have become used to saying whatever comes to our mind without thinking about it. How then do we change this habit? Hadhrat is saying that learning every new skill takes practice, so start practicing. Even after you first decide to start thinking before speak, you will not remember it. But if you keep reminding yourself, you will develop this habit over a period of time. Even if you forget to do so in the beginning, just start doing it when you remember, and just keep reminding yourself to think before you speak. Over a period of time it will become second nature to you, and you won’t have to make as much effort to think before you speak. Then whatever you say will be correct and free of sin. This is the only way to stop oneself from committing Gheebat, telling lies, or hurting other people’s feelings.

Rationalization for doing Gheebat
A person wrote to Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him);

“My Nafs (inner-self) teaches me this rationalization that people do your Gheebat too. On the Day of Judgment, the reward you get from people who did your Gheebat will be handed over to people whose Gheebat you have done.”

It has been narrated in a Hadith that if a person commits Gheebat about someone, then on the Day of Judgement their good deeds will be given to the person whose Gheebat they have done. This person wrote that that is why it comes to my mind that people do my Gheebat and I also do other people’s Gheebat. The good deeds of people who do my Gheebat will be transferred to my account, and my good deeds will be transferred to the accounts of people whose Gheebat I have done. These good deeds will neutralize each other so I shouldn’t worry too much about doing Gheebat.

Hadhrat Thanvi’s reply to this rationalization
In reply, Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) said;

“First, there is no evidence to prove that the thawab (reward for good deeds) received as a result of others doing your Gheebat will be sufficient to atone for this (demerits received as a result of doing other people’s Gheebat). It is possible that the thawab received from others stays with you and specifically your thawab is given to the people whose rights you have violated, and thawab received for others is not sufficient for deliverance. Besides that, there is no evidence for equivalence; it is possible that more thawab is taken from you and you get less thawab from others. Then how will it be sufficient for atonement?”

It means that it is possible that the thawab for your Salah, your fasts, your recitation of the Holy Qur’an, will all be taken from you and given to others whose Gheebat you have committed, and you get thawab for other people’s good deeds who have committed your Gheebat, but the thawab you receive is less than the thawab that has been taken out of your account and what is left is not sufficient for your deliverance.

These are Satan’s tricks
All these are Satan’s rationalizations that he puts in human beings’ minds to make them commit bad deeds that if you do these things this way or for this reason, it will be fine.

May Allah Ta’ala save us, on the Day of Judgment when all our deeds will be weighed, and we will see our good deeds being transferred to other people whose rights we have violated, only then we will realize how greatly Satan had tricked us. We would have done a lot of good deeds, prayed Salah, fasted and recited the Holy Qur’an in the month of Ramadan, had the great fortune to perform Aitakaf, kept waking up at night to pray, and then on the Day of Judgment we will see all of these good deeds being taken out of our account and being transferred to other people’s accounts. All our efforts would have been in vein. There will be no limits to the regret and grief we will feel at that point but it will be useless then. That is why we should not give in to this trick of Satan’s now thinking that on the Day of Judgment the Gheebat we do of other people, and the Gheebat they do of us, will balance out. May Allah Ta’ala protect us all from this fate. Aameen

Gheebat is a voluntary act
Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) further said;

“Gheebat is a voluntary act. Its treatment is determination and continuously reminding oneself not to engage in it. If a person engages in it, he should skip one meal. That is helpful in giving it up.” (Infas-e-Essa)

What Hadhrat Thanvi RE is pointing out is that Gheebat is a voluntary act. It never happens without a person’s volition. If Gheebat was an involuntary act, it would have not been declared Haraam (unlawful) by Allah Ta’ala as Allah Ta’ala has said in the Holy Qur’an;

“Allah does not obligate anyone beyond his capacity.” (2:286)

Therefore, it is within a person’s control to stop oneself from committing Gheebat. However, this does require determination and continuing reminders. A person has to make a conscious decision that from now on I will not commit Gheebat, I will not say anything that is against Allah Ta’ala’s wishes. He should also keep reminding himself how great a sin Gheebat is, and that his good deeds will be transferred on the Day of Judgment to the people whose Gheebat he has committed.

Revealing other people’s flaws
A person asked Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him);

“Some people are engaged in committing major sins. Would revealing their flaws and sins be included in Gheebat? My Nafs (inner-self) rationalizes that if their flaws are not revealed to other people they may get deceived by them, and it is necessary to protect Muslims from being deceived.”

So, is it okay to disclose people’s sins if hiding them might mean that other people might get deceived by them? Should we commit such a person’s Gheebat or not?

A beginner should not engage even in permitted Gheebat
The person who had asked this question had just started on the path to self-improvement and had just started undergoing Tazkiyah (purification of inner-self). So, Hadhrat Thanvi RE replied;

“Only a person who has completed his Tazkiyah should ask this question. A beginner on this path should not do Gheebat even in situations where it is permitted.”

It means that a person who has just started on the path to self-improvement, who still has to get his Nafs (inner-self) cleaned, should not do Gheebat even in situations in which it is allowed to do so. This is what Maulana Yaqoob Nanotvi (may Allah have mercy on him) have explained with an example that if a paper has been folded to one side, if you try to straighten it you will not be able to do it. The way to straighten it is to bend it in the opposite direction for a short while. Then it will become straight. Similarly, people’s Nafs is used to committing Gheebat indiscriminately. If a person wants to stops committing Gheebat in situations in which it is Haraam to do so, then initially he also needs to stop committing Gheebat in situations in which it is permitted to do so. Only after he has practiced it over a period of time, then his Nafs will be tamed enough to do Gheebat in situations where it is permitted, and not when it is Haraam. May Allah Ta’ala grant us the determination to act on this. Aameen

وآخر دعوا ان الحمد ﷲ رب العالمين