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O SON OF BEING!
How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.
O SON OF MAN!
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 10.
In these two Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah uses the strongest and most emphatic language possible to condemn backbiting and slander. Echoing the biblical injunction – “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” – these two Hidden Words prohibit speaking ill of another person. The powerful word “accursed” only appears in the Baha’i writings in this context, where Baha’u’llah describes slandering of others behind their backs. The Baha’i Faith has no clergy, no dogma and few rules – but backbiting is forbidden to Baha’is:
Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk. God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. – Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 181.
Has your soul ever been deeply hurt by the slander, gossip or backbiting of someone you know? It probably has – this sad experience seems unfortunately universal among all human beings, a trait that the Baha’i teachings say we should attempt to completely eliminate from our characters.
Some people gossip and backbite and insult others in their absence to elevate themselves. Others use such tactics to seek revenge. But for whatever reason, the behavior that we variously call calumny, traducement, defamation and vilification is wrong because it harms the heart and soul of another person. Baha’u’llah characterizes our best possible reaction to such backbiting – to resolve never to do it:
He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vainglory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence, and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century. That seeker should also regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. – The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 193.
In Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book, the Kitab-i-Aqdas, backbiting is considered a crime. Elsewhere, the Baha’i writings describe backbiting as the worst human quality. And you can understand why after reading the profound passage above, which describes backbiting in terms that have no equal in the Baha’i writings. Baha’u’llah tells us that backbiting quenches “the light of the heart” and extinguishes “the life of the soul.”
Can words actually do that much? Everyone who has been deeply hurt by cruel words from another person will tell you that yes, they can – and they often do. Every child who has ever felt the deep spiritual hurt of a cutting insult knows the feeling of betrayal and pain it can produce. The solution: remember your own faults first, Baha’u’llah tells us:
If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others. – The Hidden Words, p. 45.
Even if what you say about someone else is true, it can still hurt them — and harm your own heart and soul. When you think of the faults of others, the Baha’i teachings recommend, try to concentrate on that person’s good qualities instead. And, as Baha’u’llah counsels us, remember your own faults before you think about the faults of others. Each human being walks a difficult path in this life, and all of us have failings and foibles. But seeing the good in others, and never mentioning their deficits, insures that our spiritual path remains free of the self-created stumbling blocks we so often scatter in front of us, only to trip over eventually.