In Classical Arabic poetry, there is a poem from Hassan ibn Thabit that states:

حَصَانٌ رَزَانٌ مَا تُزَنُّ بِرِيبَةٍ وَتُصْبِحُ غَرْثَى مِنْ لُحُومِ الْغَوَافِلِ

Here is the word by word translation of this expression.

ArabicTranslation
حَصَانٌA chaste [woman],
رَزَانٌrespectful
مَاnot
تُزَنُّshe conceives a suspicion
بِرِيبَةٍin doubt / suspicion / evil thought
وَتُصْبِحُand [she] becomes
غَرْثَى[she] hungers
مِنْfor
لُحُومِ(the) flesh
الْغَوَافِلِthe unaware [women]

Put another way:

A respectful chaste woman does not conjure evil suspicious thoughts and becomes hungry for the flesh of the unware women.

This expression to “غَرْثَى مِنْ لُحُومِ الْغَوَافِلِ” to “hunger for the flesh of the unaware” is an Arabic idiom that means to backbite.

This concept of backbiting and being suspicious, particularly for women, reminds me of the following verses of the Quran and uses a similar idiom.

[49:12] O you who believe, you shall avoid any suspicion, for even a little bit of suspicion is sinful. You shall not spy on one another, nor shall you backbite one another; this is as abominable as eating the flesh of your dead brother. You certainly abhor this. You shall observe GOD. GOD is Redeemer, Most Merciful.

 يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اجْتَنِبُوا كَثِيرًا مِنَ الظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ الظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ وَلَا تَجَسَّسُوا وَلَا يَغْتَبْ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا فَكَرِهْتُمُوهُ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَوَّابٌ رَحِيمٌ

The phrase from the verse above states, “أَيُحِبُّ أَحَدُكُمْ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ لَحْمَ أَخِيهِ مَيْتًا” and below is the word by word translation of this expression.

We could take this expression as literal, but alternatively, we could potentially understand the concept of eating the flesh of another, similar to the idiom. So this would infer, that to backbite someone is just as wrong as backbiting one’s dead brother. The significance here is when someone we love passes, we want to remember the good about them. It would be frowned upon for someone to backbite against such a person, particularly since they are not around to defend themselves against such accusations.

Interestingly, we have two examples in Joseph, that though he was not dead, it is of people speaking badly about him in his absence – almost as if he was dead. The first, was the governor’s wife when it became apparent that she was the one who lied regarding Joseph. Her response insinuates that she did not betray him after her initial false allegations were used to send him to prison.

[12:52] “I hope that he will realize that I never betrayed him in his absence, for GOD does not bless the schemes of the betrayers.

(٥٢) ذَٰلِكَ لِيَعْلَمَ أَنِّي لَمْ أَخُنْهُ بِالْغَيْبِ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يَهْدِي كَيْدَ الْخَائِنِينَ

The second instance was when one of Joseph’s brothers made a snide comment about Joseph to Joseph while he was unaware it was him after he contributed to leaving him for dead and the framing of his death by his own father. This shows the grossness of such an action.

[12:77] They said, “If he stole, so did a brother of his in the past.” Joseph concealed his feelings in himself, and did not give them any clue. He said (to himself), “You are really bad. GOD is fully aware of your accusations.”

 قَالُوا إِنْ يَسْرِقْ فَقَدْ سَرَقَ أَخٌ لَهُ مِنْ قَبْلُ فَأَسَرَّهَا يُوسُفُ فِي نَفْسِهِ وَلَمْ يُبْدِهَا لَهُمْ قَالَ أَنْتُمْ شَرٌّ مَكَانًا وَاللَّهُ أَعْلَمُبِمَا تَصِفُونَ

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