Muslims & Rumours on Social Media

By Rasshad Khan

The rise of social media and the ability it provides to share opinions quickly and with countless people raises questions about its proper use — as a positive mean to achieve a just end — and how it can be used as a mean of spreading fitnah.

During troubled times, propaganda, especially in the form of rumours, is used to excite emotions. In Muslim history, rumours have exacted a heavy price. We all know about the Battle of Uhud, when Muslims stopped fighting or returned to Madinah because of a rumour that our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had been killed.

The issue I wish to address is the circulation of fake pictures on Facebook and other social media Websites in the name of Muslims being persecuted in Burma.

Let there be NO doubt that Muslims have been persecuted by a section of Burmese society for years now. There is no denial that in recent days the persecution has increased and Muslims are being killed, raped and forced from their homes. As Muslims, as human beings, we must feel their pain and stand up in solidarity and mobilise every possible resource to help them and to resolve the conflict.  We must feel the pain of anyone who is persecuted, as if it were us who are under persecution.

But at the same time we must not succumb to the rumours, to the work of faasiqs — liars and evildoers.

Allah (Subhanahu wa-ta'ala - may He be glorified and exalted) says in the Quran:

“Oh you who believe! If a Faasiq 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]

Each one of us can testify from personal experience how rumours and false news have negatively impacted us.

The violent protests over the persecution cannot be justified. I am sure those who indulged in violence are regretting the moment when they gave up to the temptation, even in the month of Ramadan, when we strive to overcome all kinds of temptation.  

I was not in cities where violent protests took place such as Mumbai, hence can not tell if violence was preplanned, or the threatening text messages circulated in Bangalore was handy work of hate groups such as Ram Sena or other right-wing organisations to defame Muslims, but we can see how certain political groups are trying to benefit from such isolated incidents by demonising Indian Muslims.

But the point is that we can avoid such situations if we follow the guidance on the dangers of rumours in the Quran and hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

It was narrated that al-Mugheerah ibn Shu’bah said: The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Allah 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.” Bukhaari, 2231.

In a commentary on this hadith, Al Hafiz ibn Hajar says one of the opinions about the last part, “and he dislikes gossip for you,” (the Arabic phrase is qeela wa qaala means “said and he said” Echoes of share and retweet?) is: Allah (swt) doesn’t like people speaking too much, because it has the potential to lead to you to make mistakes.

In terms of social media, I think it means, the more you speak, the more chances of making an error. The more you post on Facebook, the more the chances of posting wrong information. However it doesn’t mean you should not post on Facebook, but there should be a method to verify posts received from others.

The other point of view on the hadith is that it refers to a desire to gather information and to pass it on just for the sake of being acknowledged that you shared certain information.

This is a very important point of view in our times of social media, where options such as “like,” “share” and “retweet” have become tools to express solidarity or occasionally to show off that we share certain opinions, even though we may not have enough knowledge about the issue to have a genuine opinion of our own. We merely join the herd, to be seen among those who are doing something worthwhile. 

At a time when our credibility and integrity are under attack from left, right and centre, we need to exercise greater caution. You can see people questioning our intelligence, mocking at us for being fooled by handful of fake images that are being circulated on social media sites.

Allah (swt) said we must verify the news that we receive from a faasiq. If we don’t know who is a faasiq for sure, then we verify each news item that comes to us. We should learn the lesson from false dossier on Iraqi WMD. 

It is very tempting to share posts that appeal to our emotions and empathy we nurture for members of the ummah. However, we must forsake our responsibilities.

One such responsibility is to deliberate and reflect. The Quran asks repeatedly, “Don’t you reflect?”  or “Don’t you use your intellect?” and notes signs “for those who think and reflect.”

According to a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Deliberation is from Allah (swt) and haste is from the shaytaan” (Al-Silsilah al-Sahih, number 1795).

Today we have tools such as search engines to verify information we receive from the Internet. If you cannot verify it, then there is no reason to feel ashamed to ask someone who you think is better informed about such issues.

We should remember the saying of a famous Islamic scholar, Al-Hasan al-Basri, “The believer reserves judgement until the matter is proven.” 

May Allah (swt) give us patience and hidayah to overcome these testing times. May we exercise caution in passing on news. Ameen.


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