The Sin of Spying on Others

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Allah Almighty says, “And do not spy on one another,” (49:12)

Imam Al-Nawawi (rh) said: Some of the scholars said that tahassus with letter HA, ‘snooping’ means listening to other people’s conversations, and tajassus with letter JEEM, ‘spying’ means seeking out other people’s faults. it was also suggested that tajassus means looking for secrets. The word is mostly used in the sense of evil. The Jasūs ‘spy’ is the one who seeks out secrets for evil purposes and the nāmūs is the one who seeks out secrets for good purposes. And it was suggested that tajassus refers to looking for information for someone else, and tahassus means looking for information for oneself. This was the view of Tha’lab. And it was said that they mean one and the same, which is seeking out information about people’s state of affairs.

Ibn Kathir, said in his Tafsir commenting upon this Ayah: “Allâh said ‘and spy not’ on each other. Tajassus, usually harbors ill intentions, and the spy is called a Jasus….In the Sahih it is recorded that the Messenger of Allâh said: “Neither commit Tajassus nor Tahassus nor hate each other nor commit Tadabur. And be brothers Oh servants of Allâh.”  Al-Awza’i said: ‘Tajassus means, to search for something, while Tahassus means listening to people when they are talking without their permission, or eavesdropping at their doors. Tadabur refers to shunning each other.’ Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement.[Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Vol. 9, pp. 201 / 202]

Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Beware of suspicion. Suspicion is the falsest kind of speech. Do not spy or pry. Do not be rivals nor envy one another. Do not hate one another nor show enmity to one another. Be slaves of Allah, brothers, as you have been commanded to be. The Muslim is the brother of the Muslim. He does not wrong him nor disappoint him nor despise him. Godfearing is here,” and he pointed to his chest. “It is enough evil for a man that he should despise his Muslim brother. The blood, honour and property of every Muslim is sacred to another Muslim. Allah does not look at your bodies nor your forms, but He looks at your hearts and your actions.”

In one variant, “Do not envy one another nor hate one another nor spy nor pry nor bid against one another to raise the price and be slaves of Allah, brothers.”

Imam al-Khataabi, said about the meaning of the Prophet’s statement: “Do not spy on one another”; it means do not investigate or examine the faults of people, nor pursue them.”

This tradition is a profound prophetic tradition and is evidence of the comprehensive speech (jamaam` `l-kalim) of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. This statement combines in its meaning everything Sayduna Issa, upon him be peace, said on the Sermon on the mount, where he outlined the true nature of those who follow him and the traits needed to be redeemed in the Hereafter.

Mu’awiya said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘If you seek out the faults of the Muslims, you will corrupt them, or are about to corrupt them.'” [Abu Dawud]

Ahadith taken From Riyad as-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous) by Imam Nawawi

Abdullah Ibn Umar (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari)

Spying can be a sin if a person seeks the faults of his Muslim brother for the sake of exposing him in front of other people. It may even be unveiling the secrets of a Muslim brother in front of others. Spying leads to backbiting and backbiting is Haram. Therefore, Allah has closed every door that leads to the evil of backbiting and has made spying Haram. This form of spying is condemned in various Hadith of Prophet (SAW).

Abu Huraira (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAW)said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!”). (Bukhari)

Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet (SAW)said, “Whoever claims to have seen a dream which he did not see, will be ordered to make a knot between two barley grains which he will not be able to do; and if somebody listens to the talk of some people who do not like him (to listen) or they run away from him, then molten lead will be poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection …(Bukhari)

Abu Barza Al-Aslami (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAW)said: O community of people, who believed by their tongue, and belief did not enter their hearts, do not back-bite Muslims, and do not search for their faults, for if anyone searches for their faults, Allah will search for his fault, and if Allah searches for the fault of anyone, He disgraces him in his house. (Ahmad and Abu Dawood)

The Prophet said: ” Backbiting is a worse sin than adultery.” It is further explained in a saying of the Prophet , narrated by Abu Sa’eed and Jubair in Bayhaqi: “Allah may forgive a person if he repents after committing adultery. However, Allah will not forgive the one who backbites, till his victim forgives him.”

One time, the Messenger of Allah pointed towards two graves and said to his companions that both of these people are being punished in their graves. One of them used to backbite people and the other was not careful about spilling drops of urine on his clothes and body whilst urinating.

During Me’raj, the Prophet saw some people who had nails made of red copper. They were tearing apart their faces and chests with these nails. The Holy Prophet asked the Angel Jibrail a.s about them, He said, “They are being punished because they used to eat people’s flesh in their lives, i.e. used to backbite and defame others.

Abu Huraira narrates that the Holy Prophet said, “The killing of a Muslim by another unjustly, usurping others’ wealth or defaming other Muslims is totally forbidden (or Haram).” (Muslim)

Note that listening to backbiting is the same as backbiting somebody. It is better to walk away from such individuals.

Backbiting violates the rights of Allah and the rights of people simultaneously. Hence, it is necessary to ask for forgiveness from the victim first, since Allah will not forgive until the victim forgives. If the victim has died or is untraceable, then ransom has to be paid. Anas narrates that the Messenger of Allah said,

“The ransom for backbiting is to pray to Allah for forgiveness by saying, “ O Allah! Forgive my sins and his too.”

The Punishment for those Who Spy Against the Believers in Support of Disbelievers and Engage in other forms of Espionage

Scholars have differed concerning the punishment reserved for the one who engages in spying and espionage spy depending on his status. Imam Nawawi stated that as far as the spy from the enemies of the Muslims is concerned, then he is to be killed and there is consensus on this issue. But the difference is concerning those spies who live under the Muslim rule. Mālik and Auzāi are of the opinion that if the spy is a Dhimmi (Disbelievers living under the Muslim rule), then he has annulled the contract that existed between the Muslims and himself, thus he and may be killed. Shāfi’ scholars are in variance with this opinion and say that he is not to be killed. They add to that that such a Dhimmi is only to be killed if it was stipulated in the Muslim contract between Muslims and the Dhimmis that they will not spy on the Muslims. Ibn Al-Qayyim is of the opinion that the case of the spy is left to the leader of the Muslims. He may kill him if he finds it beneficial and he may leave him if he finds beneficial. (See Nail al-Awtār by Shawkānī and Zad Al-Ma’ād by Ibn Al-Qayyim). The correct opinion however is that he is to be killed and his repentance is not accepted as is stated by numerous scholars. Imām Sahnūn (rh) said:

“If a Muslim corresponds with ahl al-Harb (People that the Muslims are at war with), he is to be killed and is not asked to repent…”

Ibn al-Qāsim (rh) said: He (spy) is to be killed and it is not known that he is to be asked for repentance. He is like a Zandiq.

Ibn Taymiyyah (rh) said: Mālik and a group of Ahmad’s companions (Hanbali scholars) hold the opinion that the spy is to be killed.

Al-Azhar House of Fatwa issued the following Fatwa:

“Muslim jurists hold different opinions regarding the Shari`ah ruling on a person who spies on Muslims and reports (to non-Muslims) their situation, particularly those secrets that are related to the defense of Muslim countries. Imam Ash-Shafi`i, Abu Hanifah and Ahmad are of the view that a Muslim spy should not be killed. However, Imam Malik, Ibn al-Qayyim (a follower of Imam Ahmad’s School of Fiqh), and others hold the view that it is permissible to kill the Muslim spy.

The second group of scholars cite the incident of Hatib ibn Abi Balta`ah in support of their view. Al-Bukhari and Muslim reported that `Ali ibn Abi Talib said: Allah’s Messenger sent me, Az-Zubayr and Al-Miqdad somewhere saying, “Proceed till you reach Rawdat Khakh. There you will find a lady with a letter. Take the letter from her.” So, we set out and our horses ran at full pace till we got to Ar-Rawda where we found the lady and said (to her). “Take out the letter.” She replied, “I have no letter with me.” We said, “Either you take out the letter or else we will take off your clothes.” So, she took it out of her braid. We brought the letter to Allah’s Messenger and it contained a statement from Hatib ibn Abi Balta`ah a to some of the pagans of Makkah informing them of some of the intentions of Allah’s Messenger. Then Allah’s Messenger said, “O Hatib! What is this?” Hatib replied, “O Allah’s Messenger! Don’t hasten to give your judgment about me. I was a man closely connected with the Quraysh, but I did not belong to this tribe, while the other emigrants with you had their relatives in Makkah who would protect their dependents and property. So, I wanted to recompense for my lacking blood relation to them by doing them a favor so that they might protect my dependents. I did this neither because of disbelief not apostasy nor out of preferring kufr (disbelief) to Islam.” Allah’s Messenger, said, “Hatib has told you the truth.” `Umar said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Allow me to chop off the head of this hypocrite.” Allah’s Messenger said, “Hatib participated in the Battle of Badr, and who knows, perhaps Allah has already looked at the Badr warriors and said, “Do whatever you like, for I have forgiven you.”

Thereupon Allah revealed the Qur’anic verse, “O ye who believe! Choose not My enemy and your enemy for friends…” (Al-Mumtahanah: 1) In this verse Allah has forbidden befriending non-Muslims if their enmity is known. Almighty Allah says: “Allah forbiddeth you only those who warred against you on account of religion and have driven you out from your homes and helped to drive you out, that ye make friends of them.” (Al-Mumtahanah: 9)

After mentioning the hadith about Hatib’s incident in his book, Zad al-Ma`ad, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim comments, “This hadith is used as a proof by those who hold the view of killing the spy such as Malik, Ibn `Aqil (the follower of Imam Ahmad) and others. They argued that he was excused from killing not because it was not permissible but due to another reason which does not apply to others. Were Islam to prevent killing a spy, it would not make it exceptional (in the case of Hatib) because of a particular reason (i.e. it would not have been stated that he was not to be killed because he witnessed the Battle of Badr).”

In Ibn Farhun’s Tabsirat al-Hukkam, Sahnun said that a Muslim who writes to the inhabitants of Dar al-Harb (the abode of war, i.e., the enemies of the Muslims) about the Muslim situation and conditions should be killed even without being asked to repent. Also, there is no compensation or blood money to be given to his heirs just as in the case of muharib (those who launch war against Muslims and spread corruption in the land).

The author of Nayl al-Awtar recorded this same hadith stating that it is agreed upon. Commenting on the hadith, he said that it indicates that it is permissible to kill the spy and constitutes evidence for those who hold that it is permissible to kill the spy even if he is a Muslim.

In his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari entitled Fath al-Bari, Ibn Hajar writes: “When the Prophet said, ‘Hatib participated in the Battle of Badr!’, thereupon `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘Yet he has broken his pledge and aided your enemy.’ Then the Prophet added: ‘Who knows, perhaps Allah has already looked at the Badr warriors and said, Do whatever you like, for I have forgiven you.’

In fact, this hadith gives weight to the opinion of those who permit killing the spy, citing it in support as we have explained. Moreover, spying on Muslims for the interest of their enemies is an act that endangers Muslim interests and lands. It is a way of spreading corruption. In respect to the punishment of those who make war upon Allah and His Messenger and strive after corruption in the land, Almighty Allah says: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His Messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom…” (Al-Ma’idah: 33) “

In his commentary on the Qur’an, Ibn Jarir at-Tabari elaborates on the occasion of the revelation of this verse as explained by Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: A group of the People of the Book had made treaties of cooperation and alliance with the Prophet but they broke their treaties and spread corruption in the land. Therefore, Allah gave the Prophet the option to execute them or cut off their hands and feet on alternate sides. A similar narration is reported on the authority of other than Ibn `Abbas.

Al-Qurtubi, in his exegesis, explains that scholars have differed regarding those who can be described as muharib. Imam Malik defines a muharib as the one who attacks people whether it is in a city or highway and forces them to give up their money and lives, without any enmity or cause for revenge being between him and these people.

Imam Ash-Shafi`i and Abu Thawr view that the verdict on a muharib is valid whether his crime occurs in cities, houses, highways, or against the inhabitants of deserts and villages. Ibn Al-Mundhir comments on this view stating that this is true because the crime of a muharib applies to all these cases, as the Qur’anic verdict is general and no one has the authority to make exceptions without valid evidence.

However, another group are of the view that this crime only exists outside cities. This is the opinion of An-Nawawi, Is-haq, and An-Nu`man.

Moreover, scholars have differed regarding the punishment of the muharib. Some of them are of the view that the punishment should be in accordance with the gravity of his crime. However, Abu Thawr, Malik and many Companions of the Prophet are of the view that the imam (ruler) has to choose one of the options, taking support from the apparent meaning of the verse.

It is to be concluded from the above discussions that there are two opinions regarding the punishment of the muharib. The first is that the punishment should be determined according to the gravity of his crime; and the second is that the Muslim ruler (or judge) is to choose one of the punishments mentioned in the verse in accordance with its apparent meaning. The wisdom behind the severity of the punishment for those who launch war against Allah and his Messenger (i.e., against Muslims who are their followers and supporters) and spread corruption in the land is to guarantee the security of Muslims and their lands.

A person who spies on Muslims, contacts their enemy and gives them military secrets that benefit them in oppressing Muslims and inflicting harm on the Muslim lands deserves to be dealt with like those who make war upon Allah and His Messenger and strive after corruption in the land. Each nation has its own military system and the public interest necessitates that military secrets be kept and hidden from its enemies. These secrets should not be known save to those who, due to the nature of their job, are connected with these secrets. If any citizen is lured to explore such secrets in his own ways and convey them to the enemies of his country, then he is a spy who spreads corruption in the land. This is because revealing such secrets to the enemies will enable them to attack Muslims, undermine their strength, or even to occupy Muslim lands, Allah forbid, and hold sway over them.”

Sources:

See also the fatwa of Shaykh Munajjid below…

I work for a company and my boss has asked me to tell him what the employees are saying about him personally, despite the fact that some of what they are saying is true. Is the money that I receive in return for this spying halaal or haraam?

Praise be to Allaah.  

It is not permissible for you to do this haraam action, because it involves nameemah (malicious gossip) and spying, and the reward you receive for this is haraam earnings.

You should note that nameemah is a major sin. Nameemah means telling some people what others have said about them in order to cause trouble among them. This is the most common definition of nameemah. Ibn Hajar al-Haythami narrated it in his book al-Zawaajir ‘an Iqtiraaf al-Kabaa’ir, then he said: “It says in al-Ihya’: it is not limited to that, rather it refers to disclosure of anything that may hurt or offend somebody if it is disclosed, whether it is the person who is spoken about who is offended, or the person who hears the gossip, or a third party, whether it is disclosed verbally, in writing or by means of a hint or a gesture, and whether what is transmitted is an action, a word, a fault or a shortcoming in the person who is being talked about, or in someone else. The definition of nameemah is uncovering secrets and disclosing that which it is not appropriate to disclose. Hence we should keep silent and refrain from telling everything that we see of people’s situations, unless speaking of it will bring some benefit to a Muslim or ward off some harm. For example, if you see a person taking someone else’s property, you have to bear witness to that, in contrast to if you see someone hiding his own money, in which case speaking of it would be nameemah and disclosing a person’s secrets. If what is spoken of is a fault or shortcoming in the person of whom one speaks, then this is gheebah (backbiting) and nameemah (malicious gossip).”

(al-Zawaajir, no. 252: al-Nameemah)

It was narrated that al-Haafiz al-Mundhiri said: “The ummah is unanimously agreed that nameemah is forbidden and that it is one of the greatest sins in the sight of Allaah.”

From this we know that your passing on to your boss what your colleagues say is a kind of disclosing secrets and creating mischief and falling into this major sin, in addition to it being spying, which is haraam.

There are many texts which condemn nameemah and spying and seeking out people’s faults, which will deter the Muslim from committing these haraam actions:

1 – The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No person who spreads nameemah will enter Paradise.” According to another report, “No eavesdropper (qattaat)…” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 6056; Muslim, 105.

A qattaat is someone who spreads nameemah. It was said that the one who spreads nameemah is the person who is with a group who are speaking, then he spreads gossip about them, and that the qattaat is the one who listens to them without them realizing, then he spreads gossip about them.

2 – In al-Saheehayn it is narrated that Ibn ‘Abbaas said: “The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) out of one of the gardens of Madeenah, and he heard the sounds of two people who were being tormented in their graves. He said, ‘They are being punished, not for something that was difficult to avoid, but it is nevertheless a major sin. One of them did not protect himself from urine (i.e., take measures to avoid contaminating himself or his clothes) and the other used to walk about spreading nameemah.’”

(al-Bukhaari, 216; Muslim, 292).

3 – It is also narrated in al-Saheehayn from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the falsest of speech. Do not eavesdrop; do not spy on one another; do not envy one another; do not forsake one another; do not hate one another. Be, O slaves of Allaah, brothers.”

Al-Bukhaari, 5144; Muslim, 2563.

Al-Nawawi (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “Some of the scholars said that tahassus [‘eavesdropping’] means listening to other people’s conversations, and tajassus [‘spying’] means seeking out their faults. Or it was suggested that tajassus means looking for secrets. The word is mostly used in the sense of evil. The jaasoos (spy) is the one who seeks out secrets for evil purposes and the naamoos is the one who seeks out secrets for good purposes. And it was said that tajassus means looking for information for someone else, and tahassus means looking for information for oneself. This was the view of Tha’lab. And it was said that they mean one and the same, which is seeking out information about people’s circumstances.” 

4 – al-Bukhaari (7042) narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever speaks of a dream that he did not actually see will be ordered [on the Day of Judgement] to tie two grains of barley together, and he will never be able to do so. Whoever listens in on other people’s conversations when they do not like that will have molten lead poured into his ears on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever makes an image will be punished and will be ordered to breath life into it, and he will not be able to do so.”

5 – Ahmad (19277) and Abu Dawood (4880) narrated that Abu Barzah al-Aslami said: “The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: ‘O you who have spoken the words of faith but faith has not truly entered your hearts! Do not backbite about the Muslims, and do not seek out their faults. For whoever seeks out their faults, Allaah will seek out his faults, and if Allaah seeks out a person’s faults He will expose him even in his own house.’” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 4083.

We do not think that a believer would read these great ahaadeeth and then volunteer to spy on his fellow-Muslims, or seek out their faults, or spread nameemah among them. We think that you are one of those who will benefit from this and pay attention, in sha Allaah. Hence we say that you must refuse to do this task, no matter what encouragement or threats you may receive, whilst also advising your colleagues to stop gossiping about their boss and telling them off for doing so.

You should also advise your boss to stop spying on his employees and not be suspicious about them, because that will corrupt them and make them lose trust, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “If you seek out people’s faults you will corrupt them or almost corrupt them.”

Narrated by Abu Dawood, 4888; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 4088.

We will conclude with a few points about the attitude of the Muslim towards nameemah or malicious gossip when it is passed on to him.

Ibn Hajar al-Haythami said in his book al-Zawaajir ‘an Iqtiraaf al-Kabaa’ir:

“The person who hears some malicious gossip, such as being told ‘So and so said this about you’ or ‘he did this to you,’ must do six things:

1 – He should not believe it, because the one who spreads nameemah is a faasiq (evildoer) according to scholarly consensus, and Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“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”

[al-Hujuraat 49:6]

2 – He should tell him not to repeat this evil action, which is evil in both religious and worldly terms.

3 – He should hate him for the sake of Allaah if he shows no sign of repenting.

4 – He should not think badly of the one of whom it was said, because he does not know whether that person really said it or did it.

5 – What he has been told should not make him spy on others or look for their faults for the purpose of verifying what was said, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“Avoid much suspicion; indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not…”

[al-Hujuraat 49:12]

6 – He should not approve for himself that which he has told the other person not to do, so he should not pass on the malicious gossip and say, ‘So and so told me this,’ otherwise he will also be gossiping and backbiting, and he will be doing that which he told someone else not to do.

‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez (may Allaah be pleased with him) said to someone who passed on some malicious gossip to him: “If you wish, we can look into the matter. If you are lying, you will be one of the people mentioned in the verse ‘If a Faasiq (liar — evil person) comes to you with any news’ [al-Hujuraat 49:6 – interpretation of the meaning]; and if you are telling the truth, you will be one of the people mentioned in the verse, ‘A slanderer, going about with calumnies’ [al-Qalam 68:11 – interpretation of the meaning]. Or if you wish, we will forgive you.” He said, “Forgive me, O Ameer al-Mu’mineen, I will never do it again.”

The caliph Sulaymaan ibn ‘Abd al-Malik rebuked someone who had spread nameemah about him, in the presence of al-Zuhri. The man denied that and Sulaymaan said to him, “The one who told me about it is one who does not tell lies.” Al-Zuhri said: “The one who spreads nameemah (malicious gossip) cannot be truthful.” Sulaymaan said, “You are right,” and he let the man go in peace.

Al-Hasan said: “The one who tells malicious gossip to you will tell malicious gossip about you. This indicates that the person who spreads malicious gossip should be hated and not believed or trusted. How can he not be hated when he persists in lying, backbiting, slandering, betraying, deceiving, envying, spreading mischief among the people and cheating? He is one of those who try to sever the ties which Allaah has commanded must be upheld and who spread mischief on earth. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

‘The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress men and rebel in the earth without justification; for such there will be a painful torment’

[al-Shoora 42:42]

– and the one who spreads malicious gossip is one of them.”

And Allaah knows best.

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