The way of apologizing for Gheebat (backbiting)
Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) said;

“If a person has committed someone’s Gheebat, then in addition to doing Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah Ta’ala) he also needs to apologize to the person whose Gheebat he has committed. But telling him the full detail of the Gheebat will hurt his feelings. Therefore, just saying “please forgive me for anything hurtful I may have said”, is sufficient.” (Infas-e-Essa)

In this saying Hadhrat Thanvi RE has taught us how to seek forgiveness from a person whose Gheebat we may have committed. Gheebat pertains to the area of Huqooq al-Ibad (rights of people). In committing Gheebat a person violates the rights of another human being and, therefore, these transgressions are not forgiven till the person whose rights have been violated, forgives. If you have hurt someone physically or mentally, or have hurt them in any other way, then doing Istighfar and Taubah (repentance) is not sufficient for forgiveness. Rather, the person whose rights have been violated, has to forgive first.

The gravity of Huqooq al-Ibad
The way of seeking forgiveness for and repenting from the sins which belong to the category of Huqooq-Ullah (rights of Allah), such as drinking alcohol or committing adultery, is that a person feels genuine remorse about them, begs for forgiveness from and repents to Allah Ta’ala, and makes a sincere commitment and intention never to commit those sins in the future. Insha’Allah these will be forgiven. On other hand, the rule for Huqooq al-Ibad (rights of people) is that they are not forgiven until that person whose rights have been violated, forgives first. Gheebat is also included in Huqooq al-Ibad. So, even if a person begs to Allah Ta’ala with genuine remorse that “I have committed Gheebat, please forgive me”, the sin of Gheebat will not be forgiven till the person whose Gheebat he had committed forgives him. That is why Hadhrat Thanvi RE has said that if a person has committed Gheebat, then in addition to doing Istighfar to Allah Ta’ala, he also needs to seek forgiveness from the person whose Gheebat he had committed.

Do not tell him all the details of Gheebat
Then Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah have mercy on him) said;

“But telling him all the details of Gheebat will hurt him.”

For example, if we, at the time of apologizing to someone about any Gheebat we may have committed about them, start telling them that “on this occasion I had said this and this about you, and on that occasion I had said this, so please forgive me,” it will cause them unnecessary hurt hearing everything you had said about them. Therefore, you do not need to tell them everything you had said. It will be sufficient if you just say, “please forgive me if I have said anything that may have hurt you”. Allah Ta’ala makes things so easy for us. It would have been so much more difficult for us to get Gheebat forgiven if we had to tell everyone whose Gheebat we have committed everything bad we have ever said about them.

Please forgive me for anything hurtful I may have said
When we were growing up, we saw our elders that after they had spent some time with someone, when they were parting they would say something like, “please forgive me if I have said anything that may have hurt you”. It is because when people spend some time with each other it is bound to happen that one person would have said something at some point that would have upset the other. That is why it is best to get all that forgiven before parting. If you don’t, and then after a period of time you realize that you need to ask them to forgive you for something, where would you find them? Who knows whether you will ever meet them again or not, or whether you will get the chance to apologize to them or not? That is why it is important to make a habit of saying something like this at the time of parting from someone you have spent some time with. This will be inclusive of Gheebat and Gheebat will be automatically forgiven.

Learning about one’s own flaws
I heard it from Dr Abdul Hai (may Allah have mercy on him) that Hadhrat Thanvi (may Allah mercy on him) used to say that whenever someone says to me, “I have committed your Gheebat, please forgive me”, then I always say to him, “I will forgive you but please first tell me what you had said about me.” The person whose Gheebat was committed has a right to ask what was said. He used to say that the reason I ask this is that sometimes Gheebat is true. It is not necessary that Gheebat is always wrong. So, this way sometimes I come to know about my own flaws.

What do other people say about us
The other benefit of doing this is that one finds out what other, unrelated people say about you. People who are someone’s students or disciples always praise him. They do not say anything bad about him. That is why it is important for a person to also hear what people who are unrelated to him say about him, believe about him. This knowledge is also useful. If everyone around a person keeps praising him, sometimes the person develops ‘Ujub’ (عجب) (believing oneself to be superior to others) in his heart and he starts thinking that “as everyone is praising me so I must be someone special. That is why I have so many followers”.

The treatment of this Ujub is to try to learn what people who are not your followers say about you, what they really think about you. This reduces Ujub. That is why whenever someone came to Hadhrat Thanvi RE to apologize for doing his Gheebat he always first asked, “I will forgive you but first tell me what you had said about me. Then I will forgive you.”

Seek forgiveness from all your acquaintances
The next question is, who to seek forgiveness from? Who remembers how many people’s Gheebat we committed throughout our lives when we were completely neglectful about it? Should we draw up a list of all of them and ask all of them for forgiveness? Hadhrat Mufti Muhammad Shafi (may Allah have mercy on him) used to say that Paradise is not cheap. If you really want to go to Paradise then you will have to make some effort for it. Draw up a list of all your acquaintances, all your friends, all your relatives, and then seek forgiveness from all of them.

The Holy Prophet’s ﷺ Sunnah in seeking forgiveness
Once the Holy Prophet ﷺ stood in front of a large gathering of his Companions and said, “if I owe some money to someone, he should tell me and take it from me. If I had hurt someone physically he can either take revenge for it, or forgive me.” One companion stood up and said, “O Prophet of Allah ﷺ, one day you had hit me on my back.” The Holy Prophet said ﷺ, “If I had hit you on your back, then you have a right to hit me on my back.” When the companion came close to him he said, “O Prophet of Allah ﷺ! When you had hit me, I didn’t have a cloth covering my back, but there is a cloth covering your back.” The Holy Prophet ﷺ lifted his cloth. The real intention of the companion was not to take revenge, it was to kiss the seal of Prophethood and so he did. But the Holy Prophet ﷺ was prepared that if he owed a right to anyone, he was ready for that person to take revenge from him.

When a person has fear of Allah Ta’ala in his heart, when he is concerned about what will happen to him in the Hereafter, when he is mindful that he will be presented before Allah Ta’ala one day, then he does not care about being embarrassed and humiliated in front of people. Our Nafs (inner-self) and Satan have created these barriers in our minds that we will be humiliated if we apologize to someone, we will be shamed, we will be embarrassed. We should be prepared for all these embarrassments, as long as this saves us from the displeasure of Allah Ta’ala. May Allah Ta’ala protect us from His anger. Aameen.

Mufti Muhammad Shafi’s (RE) letter of forgiveness
When my father Mufti Muhammad Shafi (may Allah have mercy on him) had a heart attack he was lying on a hospital bed. When he regained consciousness the first thing he told me to do was;

“Write a letter to all my acquaintances from my side that if I have violated anyone’s rights, or I have committed anyone’s Gheebat or said anything untoward, they should please either take revenge from me, or forgive me.”

So, I wrote that letter and it was first published in al-Balagh as “کچھ تلافیٴ مافات” and then I published it as a pamphlet and sent it to all of my father’s acquaintances.
Anyway, just doing repentance by itself (Taubah) is not sufficient for getting violations of rights of other people forgiven. It is also necessary to seek forgiveness from people whose rights a person has violated. Because Gheebat is a violation of rights of other people, therefore, it is obligatory to apologize to the person whose Gheebat one has committed, to get it forgiven.

Praise the person you have badmouthed
Hadhrat Thanvi RE further said;

“Along with apologizing it is also necessary that you praise the person whose Gheebat you had committed, in front of the same people in front of whom you had committed his Gheebat, and clarify that you were wrong.”

This is because you have apologized to him, and have also done Istighfar in front of Allah Ta’ala, but the people in front of whom you had committed his Gheebat are still carrying that bad impression from what you had said. To negate that bad impression, now you should praise him in front of the same people and admit that what you had said may not have been completely true.

Hadhrat Thanvi then said;

“And if what you had said wasn’t wrong, it was true, then say something like, ‘please do not start doubting that person because of what I had said because now even I am not 100 percent sure whether what I had said was true or not.’ This will be توریہ because one cannot be 100 percent sure about anything without Wahy (Divine revelation).”

It means that if what you had said was true, now you cannot knowingly say that it wasn’t true. Rather, say something like “do not start thinking bad of that person because of what I had said because now I am also not sure whether what I had said is 100 percent true or not.” For 100 percent certainty one needs either direct observation or divine revelation. There is no other way of having 100 percent certainty. Therefore, it is okay to make a statement like this. Insha’Allah it will atone to some extent for the Gheebat you had committed about that person.

If the person whose Gheebat was committed is deceased
Hadhrat Thanvi RE said:

“If the person whose Gheebat you had committed has passed away then the way to get that Gheebat forgiven is that you keep praying for that person, and keep praying for his sins to be forgiven, till you heart tells you that now he would have forgiven you.”

Even though the matter of rights of people is so grave that even repentance alone is not accepted till the person whose rights were violated forgives, and this gets even more complicated if the person whose rights were violated has passed away, but in Shariah there is no hopelessness. Till a person dies, there is always a way for him to atone for his sins, no matter how many sins he may have committed.

There is no need to feel hopeless
However, there is no need to feel hopeless that we had violated other people’s rights who have passed away now so our sins cannot be forgiven. It is not like that. First, take exceptional care about rights of people and consider violating them in any way a very serious matter. Make your best efforts not to violate any human being’s rights. If by mistake or negligence you end up hurting someone physically, financially or emotionally, immediately ask them to forgive you. In such circumstances when there is no way of asking a person for forgiveness, either because he has passed away, or has moved elsewhere and you have no way of contacting them, even then do not feel hopeless. Keep doing Istighfar (praying for forgiveness) for them, and keep praying to Allah Ta’ala that, “O Allah Ta’ala! With your blessing and mercy please make those people happy with me whose rights I have violated. O Allah please elevate their status, please be happy with them.” Keep doing these prayers till you start feeling that now they would have forgiven you.

In Hadhrat Thanvi’s teaching there is no room for hopelessness. In every situation he guides a person as to do this, or do that. Allah Ta’ala has created a remedy for every situation.

Repentance from Kufr (disbelief) and Shirk (association)
There is no sin greater than Kufr and Shirk. These are the two sins about which Allah Ta’ala says that I will forgive every other sin but not these two. However, Allah Ta’ala has left the door open to repent from these two sins too, as long as a person does it from his time of death arrives. Even if a disbeliever or associator of seventy years repents with sincerity, Allah Ta’ala forgives him completely.

Satan’s deception
Therefore, even though the matter of getting violation of rights of people forgiven is more complex, there is no reason for hopelessness. It is Satan’s trick that he tries to create hopelessness in a person’s mind by saying to the person, “You have committed such a great sin that as a result of committing this sin you have now been condemned. Now your final abode is Hell. There is no way for you to repent for this sin, therefore, now do whatever you wish to do. If you are destined to go to Hell anyway, you might as well enjoy your time here in this temporary world and commit all the sins you want to commit.” This is how the Satan deceives a person and makes him commit even more sins.

On the other hand, the reality is that it does not suit a Momin (believer) to ever lose hope in Allah Ta’ala’s mercy. No matter how great the sins we have committed, they are insignificant relative to Allah Ta’ala’s mercy.

Do not judge people on their external appearance
That is why wise elders have advised never to judge a person whether they are pious or impious on the basis of their external appearance alone. Who knows which of his acts may please Allah Ta’ala, what good deeds he performs before the time of his death comes, and Allah Ta’ala may forgive his sins altogether.

Hadhrat Thanvi RE used to say that “I believe every Muslim to be better than me presently, and every non-Muslim to be better than me on the basis of what might happen in the future”. This second phrase means that it may happen that Allah Ta’ala may bless him with guidance to accept Iman (faith) and he may become a better Muslim than me. That is why no matter how a person looks by their external appearance, no matter what sins he is engaging in, do not consider him inferior to yourself, do not hate him, and do not pass judgments that he is destined to go to Hell. Hate a person’s bad deed, for example, if he is drinking alcohol, but do not hate his person. Who knows, Allah Ta’ala may grant him motivation to repent and he may become a much better Muslim than us. May Allah Ta’ala bless us all with the true understanding of Deen and make us practice it properly. Aameen

وآخر دعوا ان الحمد ﷲ رب العالمين