Quranic Reflection No. 344 Āyat 4:114 – Secret Conversations

لَا خَيْرَ فِي كَثِيرٍ مِنْ نَجْوَاهُمْ إِلَّا مَنْ أَمَرَ بِصَدَقَةٍ أَوْ مَعْرُوفٍ أَوْ إِصْلَاحٍ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ
lā khayra fī kathīrin min najwāhum illā man amara bi-sadaqatin
aw ma‘rūfin aw islāhin baynan-nās.
There is no good in most of their secret talks except in he who enjoins charity,
or goodness, or reconciliation between people.

(Sūratun Nisā, No.4, Āyat 114).

The word najwa refers to secret counsel, when two or more people gather to talk together, away from others. The word originally referred to a private place where someone could have a conversation without others finding out. Najwa is referred to as an act of Shaytān (Q58:10) as it is often done with evil or negative intentions. The aim is not to disclose what is being talked about to others. Usually a positive conversation would not require the covering of secrecy.

In social terms najwa is a secret conversation with someone in the midst of others. It is disliked except in the above circumstances. Such secret talks can create ill feeling and negative assumptions among people. During the time of the Holy Prophet (s), the hypocrites would gather in small circles and whisper secretly to each other. These talks were part of their plotting against the Prophet. Although they were told to desist from it, they continued. A verse was revealed saying: Have you not seen those who are forbidden secret counsels, then they return to what they are forbidden, and they hold secret counsels for sin and revolt and disobedience to the Messenger (Q58:8).

In the above verse three exceptions have been singled out. Sometimes circumstances require that a conversation be done in secrecy, not for evil intentions but to maintain the dignity of people. The following secret conversations are not blameworthy:
1) Giving charity to someone in secrecy. That is to maintain the respect of the receiver and shows consideration and sensitivity to the feelings of others. Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) says: The best charity is that which is given most secretly(Ghurar al-Hikam, Eng. Tr. P. 562).
2) Advising someone to perform good deed. It is necessary to remind people to do good deeds and stay away from evil. The Holy Prophet (s) says: Whoever enjoins good and forbids evil is the Khalīfa of Allah on His earth and the Khalīfa of the Messenger of Allah (Tafsīr Majma‘ul Bayan, v.1, p. 484). Doing this in public however might offend the other person and hurt his reputation. Care must be taken to do this respectfully so it can be effective.
3) Reconciling people. When there has been a conflict between two people, reconciling them is a greatly positive deed emphasized in Islam. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: A charity beloved to Allah is reconciling people when their relationships are strained, and bringing them closer when they have become distant (Al-Kāfī, v.2, p. 209). Reconciliation needs to be done away from others so that the matter can be resolved without many people knowing about it. It might even be required that each side of the conflict be addressed separately and in private, and then brought together for mutual reconciliation.

Let this verse remind you that secret and whispered conversations should only be done for a specific good outcome as in the verse above. Other than that it is unmannerly to talk privately amidst people. It is a cause of rifts among people and prevents unity and good will in society.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; https://article.tebyan.net/209732/