It’s been quite a weekend in our house. I’m recovering from a nasty sinus infection, trying to remember to take my antibiotics at the right time and still getting another head cold on top of that. I hate dosing myself with medicine because then all I want to do is sleep. Sleep or sniffle, sniffle or sleep. Finally, alhamdulillah, I’m getting over the worst of it. I can feel the phlegm in my chest wanting to come out and all I can envision is that gross little cartoon character on the Mucinex commercial.
So, I’ve been kind of out of it, but I’m on the upside now. Then, Saturday evening, my husband took ill. For my dear husband, being sick is a family affair. He likes to share symptoms with everyone in the house, and will call his sister to give her a blow-by-blow account of his malaise. This time around was something like food poisoning. Was it something I cooked or something from outside the house? I don’t know. Alhamdulillah, no one else in the house got sick, but my hubby was sick enough for everyone. Poor thing. He was really miserable. When he’s healthy, he’s constantly on the move. It’s impossible for him to sit still unless he’s engrossed in a lecture or a rerun of NCIS (the letters of which he invariably gets out of order when asking me to change channels). This illness laid him low and kept him in the bed. He felt that there were knives poking him in the stomach and he couldn’t keep down any food. I medicated him as best I could, tried to keep him hydrated, and spent most of the weekend corralling the kids and trying to keep them from being too loud. The worst of it passed in about twenty-four hours. When he started feeling a bit better I went in to keep him company and bring him water. He was trying to figure out exactly what it was that brought on this illness, and I was surprised when he told me it was backbiting.
Now, you have to understand my husband. He is mashaAllah a religious and very private person. Never in a million years would he give up a confidence. Brother A can tell him a secret and no one else will ever know about it. He is trusted in our community and people look to him as a role model. But he does have this weakness. He listens. He will listen to someone’s problem. He will listen to a funny story. His ability to listen makes him a good counselor as he tries to help people. But the bad side is that he often listens to things that are, shall we say, not useful. Gossip. Oh, most of us do it, to some extent. He happens to be the kind of person that others feel comfortable sharing stories with, and he is not aggressive enough in cutting off the story teller. This is what happened on Friday. One friend was gossiping about a mutual friend. Of course, this kind of gossip is never along the lines of “Oh, I saw him serving the homeless at the soup kitchen”, but rather was negative. And of course the proper Islamic thing to do is say “Brother, don’t backbite about our friend. Surely if he has committed a sin it is not our job to uncover him, and Allah knows we commit sins as well,” but instead he made all the proper tsk tsk noises and listened in disbelief. He didn’t pass on the gossip, not to me, alhamdulillah, or anyone else, but he feels that just by listening to another backbiting and not correcting him he was guilty of the sin of backbiting himself. No matter if the stomach ache was “caused” by him finishing off a bowl of the kids’ food that had sat too long on the counter or a fast food folly, the illness was a strong reminder from Allah that when you talk about someone, it is likened to eating the flesh of your brother, and you can imagine what kind of a bellyache that would give you.
This has been a weekend for lessons on backbiting. First of all, you can feel how destructive it is. If the psychological damage were always translated to physical distress, to a wrenching pain in the gut and nausea and a throbbing skull, people would be much less eager to pass on the latest tale told round the water cooler (or on that modern water cooler called Facebook). Gossip changes people, damages relationships. My husband now knows something about a friend that causes him to see him in a negative light, and he’ll never be able to take that knowledge out of his head. He almost had an enemy in someone he’d never even met, and he severed a relationship with another due to a breach of trust. Carrying gossip is like taking a feather pillow and tearing it open, then casting all the feathers into a stiff breeze. There’s no way you can ever gather back all that was let loose.
So, next time someone wants to offer you a juicy tale, just stop him or her. Just say “Now, now, that’s not really any of my business, so I’d rather not hear about it”. As long as it’s not something dangerous, like little Johnny tying firecrackers to cats’ tails, or someone abusing his wife or a grownup hurting a child. You have to have some judgment as to what is informational and necessary and what is damaging and malicious. If you think about it and you can’t find any benefit in telling, then stop the gossip and don’t listen to it, and of course don’t pass it on. Not to your neighbor, not to your friend, not to your spouse. Let it die. Think about times you’ve been on the receiving end of gossip and how bad it made you feel. Feel compassion for a fellow struggling human being and think of all the sins you commit that Allah covers over and keeps from being exposed. Yeah, I get a bad shiver at that. Stop and think, and remain silent, no matter how tempting or juicy the story is. You don’t want to eat the flesh of your brother or sister, do you? Neither do I.