“O you who have believed, if there comes to you an unrighteous person with information, you should verify it or else you may harm a people out of ignorance and then end up regretting what you have done.” [Surah al-Hujuraat 49:6]
Today, I’ll be talking about the evolution of gossip which has been multiplied manifold by accessible social media and increasing fake news.
After the battle of Banu Mustalaq (5 AH/627 CE) in which the Mustalaq tribe was defeated and taken prisoners, all members of the tribe were divided up and given to the Muslims of Madeenah as slaves. The Prophet subsequently married Juwayreeyah, daughter of the former king of the Mustalaq tribe, al-Hãrith ibn AbeeDarãr. The marriage made the Sahãbah ashamed to have the relatives of the Prophet’s wife as their servants so they freed the rest of the tribe. When all members of the Mustalaq tribe were freed, the Prophet invited al-Hãrith to accept Islãm which he willingly did. The Prophet then asked him to invite the rest of his tribe to Islãm and to collect Zakãh from those who became Muslim. Al-Hãrith agreed and asked the Prophet to send a messenger to collect the Zakãh at a particular time.
When the time arrived and no messenger came, al-Hãrith feared that the Prophet might have been displeased with him in some way so he consulted his tribesmen and they agreed to send a delegation to the Prophet in order to find out the reason for the delay. In the meantime, the Prophet sent al-Waleed ibn ‘Uqbah to collect the Zakãh from al-Hãrith. However, on the way, al-Waleed heard that a group from Banu Mustalaq had set out and he became afraid. He returned swiftly to the Prophet and told him that al-Hãrith had refused to turn over the Zakãh and had threatened his life.
The Prophet became angry and dispatched a group of companions to deal with al-Hãrith. The two groups met and returned to the Prophet, who questioned al-Hãrith as follows; “Why did you refuse to pay the Zakãh and try to kill my messenger?” Al-Hãrith replied, “By the one Who sent you with the truth, I did not see him nor did he come to me, and the only reason I came was because I feared that your reason for not contacting me was due to Allãh’s displeasure with us. ” Then the verse, O Believers, if an unrighteous person comes to you with news, you should verify it… was revealed.
This verse was revealed confirming the truth of al-Hãrith’s statement and warning the Believers, in general, to thoroughly check out any information coming from questionable sources. The principle was designed to avoid judgements which could bring harm to others since our sorrow and regret no matter how great it may be cannot wipe out the hurt caused by false ãcusations though it might have been unintentional. Thus, great caution must always be taken when dealing with information conveyed by people of doubtful character, those whose honesty has not yet been proven or by known sinners.
On the basis of the above mentioned legal ruling, the scholars of Hadeeth decided to reject any Hadeeth which had in its chain of narrators an individual classified as Majhool al-Hãl, that is, one whose name is known but his character is unknown, for any such narrator, might be of questionable moral character and his statement false. This shows the great care taken by Hadeeth scholars in weeding out all the questionable narrations thereby preserving the Sunnah in its pristine purity for later generations.
So what do we learn?
This verse advises us to verify any news before we take action. Today it is more important than ever to follow this advice. Viruses developed to infect computers can damage hardware and infrastructure. Fake news, alternative facts or just plain lies also act like viruses that can damage the human mind and can corrupt our societies in a far more diabolical way.
The ayah specifies a faasiq – an unrighteous person – the one who commits major sins, especially the one who lies. Waleed ibn ‘Uqbah (RA) was a companion of the Prophet(SAW) who was specifically selected for this task. Just to clarify, Waleed (RA) didn’t lie nor was he a faasiq, rather he was afraid and misunderstood.
Rather in this ayah, Allah(SWT) draws our attention to the act of lying which is often the head of most evils.
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ كَفَى بِالْمَرْءِ كَذِبًا أَنْ يُحَدِّثَ بِكُلِّ مَا سَمِعَ
5 صحيح مسلم
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “It is sufficient for a person to be a liar that they speak of everything he hears.” kafaa bil mar’i kadhiban an-yuhadditha bikulli maa sami’
– Saheeh Muslim: 5
Imam Al-Nawawi (rh) explained: “Usually a person hears truth and lies, so if he speaks of everything that he hears, he is lying by telling of things that did not happen, and lying by speaking of something other than the way it happened; and he does not have to do that deliberately (in order to be regarded as telling lies)”
Be very careful of what you hear, what you believe and what you pass on. We hear and read so much today. Much of it is gossip, innuendo, insinuations, misconception, exaggerations, misunderstandings and only part of it is truth. Be very careful especially when it affects other’s lives. This is so harmful and detrimental.
The Prophet(SAW) expressly disapproved of gossip – referring to it as qeel wa qaal – “he said”, “she said” or “word on the street is”… :
It was narrated that al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah said: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Allaah has forbidden you to disobey your mothers, to bury your daughters alive, to not pay the rights of others and to beg from others. And He dislikes gossip for you, asking too many questions, and wasting money.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2231.
This is even more the case with social media today. It’s not just speech you hear or say but that which you read and forward. I’m sure we have all received messages like:
- Dont’ eat this brand of rice because it was confirmed to be plastic
- Facebook – I actually got another friend request from you yesterday which I ignored so you may want to check your account.
- You have requested to transfer your number
- Free flights, free trainers or shopping vouchers
- Tomorrow at 6 pm they are ending WhatsApp and you have to pay to open it, this is by law or a message from Jim Balsamic (CEO of Whatsapp) saying the same
Sadly, there are even websites that let you send fake text messages to perpetuate this even further.
What’s the harm?
Hearing this, you’re probably thinking “I wouldnt fall for that” or “so what, its only someone pulling your leg”, however, the consequences can be dire.
Firstly, if this message contains information about someone, it can cause hurt and mental anguish, even going as far as pushing others to suicide. In July, the BBC reported that an aspiring doctor, Edward Senior, made a post in a private form about a personal relationship. This message was shared by friends in that forum with the consequences that he was excluded from the majority of his lectures while it was being investigated. Imagine the shame and worry this may have caused him about the impact it may have on his GP career. The assumption was incorrect but sadly, they found the 22-year-old’s body in a wood near his home in Monmouthshire shortly thereafter.
You may remember the Blue Whale Challenge which was a suicide game, conducted primarily through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The game lasts for a total of 50 days, presenting the “player” with daily tasks – dares with increasing challenge finally leading to suicide. Hundreds of people lost their lives to this game.
Early this year, we also saw in India that 30 people were arrested after a 2,000-person mob became incensed by WhatsApp rumours of a child kidnapping and lynched a man. They had to change Whatsapp policy on bulk forwarding messages after this.
It can feel easy to forward on a message online. Everyone gets brave when they’re distant and possibly anonymous but remember Allah(SWT) knows every thought and action and it’s all being recorded. Sadly, this is the backdrop behind new-age torture – cyberbullying, trolling, harassment, blackmail,
We all know that text messages can be easily misunderstood and we have probably all had to apologise or clarify something which has been misread by others which we sent, on email or other digital forums.
Worse that his is that a message which you pass on can quickly spiral, like chinese whispers, way out of your control and there is no way to call it back once it has reached others and been passed on beyond your knowledge.
Remember, you will be personally responsible for any evil or wrong which comes from that.
The Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,
“Some people open the doors to good and close the doors to evil, and some people open the doors to evil and close the doors to good, so glad tidings to those in whose hands Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta’ālā) places the keys to good, and woe to those in whose hands Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta’ālā) places the keys to evil.” Ibn Majah: 237
‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “Beware of fitnah, for a word at the time of fitnah could be as devastating as the sword.”
How should we respond on coming to know of something?
- Verify the news – is it true in its facts and its conclusion?
- Think about the information before doing anything – how will this benefit you, others or bring harm? Beware of lies and slander.
- Examine the cirumstances – do you understand the full situation in which it occured? If its important enough, have you confirmed with others and seniors before drawing conclusion?
- Stand up for truth and justice while always making excuse if there is any doubt.
- Be careful of what you say and transmit
Imam Jassas in Ahkaam-ul-Qur’an says “Do not rush into taking actions or measures; be stable, and stand firmly in your place; and do not be easily moved or shaken. Wait until the news or information is confirmed by other independent sources. Since it is not lawful to accept the information or report of an ungodly sinful person, then the testimony of such a person would not be acceptable with greater force, because every testimony is a statement which is confirmed by a kind of oath.”
Verify matters and not to rush to pass on news until they are sure that it is true, even if the news is good news, because if it becomes apparent that the one who passed it on is mistaken, he will lose credibility before the people… and anyone who bears a grudge towards him will use it against him. May Allaah help us all to do that which He loves and which pleases Him.
Al-Hasan al-Basri said: “The believer reserves judgement until the matter is proven.”
There is a remedy!
Having said all of this about fake news and checking messages before we forward, if we were as zealous and trigger-happy in sharing something beneficial, this could be our Jannah.
I want to share a true story with you which was transmitted to me for a student of knowledge in our very own town. There was a simple man in Egypt who hadnt studied much and worked odd jobs. On one occasion he was informed of a beautiful hadith which changed his life.
وعن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: “كلمتان خفيفتان على اللسان، ثقيلتان في الميزان، حبيبتان إلى الرحمن: سبحان الله وبحمده، سبحان الله العظيم” ((متفق عليه))
Both Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim narrated that Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon him) said, “There are two statements that are light for the tongue to remember, heavy in the Scales and are dear to the Merciful: `Subhan-Allahi wa bihamdihi, Subhan-Allahil-Azim [Glory be to Allah and His is the praise, (and) Allah, the Greatest is free from imperfection)’.”
On hearing these words, this man couldnt believe how easy this was and he immediately fell in love with these words. He would take time to stop everyone he would meet, his family, friends and even complete strangers and narrate to them – kalimaataana khafeefataani ‘alal lisaan… He did this every day without fail and his energy and enthusiasm in conveying it didnt weaken. To the extent that people did not know his name but would refer to him as kalimaataan and many would precede him in reading the hadith before he could say it.
Sadly, this same man was later involved in a car accident and the paramedics arrived to find him unconscious and losing blood rapidly. He was quickly taken to A & E so they could operate on him. As they were preparing in surgery, he gained consciousness and reaching over to the nearest surgeon, he said softly “kalimaataana khafeefataani ‘alal lisaan thaqeealataani fil meezaan, habeebataani ilar Rahman – SubhanAllah wa bihamdihi SubhanAllahil adheem…” and these were his final words.
Your action from this khutba is to find some words which you can convey daily which will spread some good rather than cause harm, so that we can overcome the tide of fake news for divine news in the same way as the Messenger (SAW).