How to Avoid Being in a Fake News Chain
The REAL danger of compromising your akhirah by indiscriminately hitting the forward button…
Allah the Almighty says in the Qur’an,
‘Oh People of the Book! Why do you mix truth with falsehood and conceal the truth while you know?’ (3:71)
And in another verse, Allah says,
‘And there are a group of people from the People of the Book who are twisting their tongues with the Book to deceive people, that this is from the Book and it is not from the Book. And they say it is from Allah and indeed it is not from Allah, and they deliberately lie.’ (3:78)
There are plenty of similar verses to this in the Qur’an related to the People of the Book. But to be honest with you and fair, this issue is not simply related to the People of the Book. This constant twisting and changing and delivering Fake News is a common phenomenon not just amongst the People of the Book, but amongst us as Muslims, and amongst any community. Mixing the truth with falsehood started ever since Allah the Almighty created Iblees, and will continue until the Day of Judgement.
When Iblees asked:
Then Satan whispered to him; he said, ‘O Adam, shall I lead you to the Tree of Eternity and to a kingdom that will never waste away?’ (20:120)
He was mixing truth with falsehood; faking the news to deceive Adam. And since that time, we have had deceitful people present in the community and in politics. Be it in Brexit, which was mainly based on fake news, scaremongering, and fake statistics, or be it in Trump’s election campaign and continuously since then, where we have the proliferation of fake news based on fake news and so on and so forth.
Even in religion, we started with some of the People of the Book twisting and corrupting the Book to deceive others that what they fabricated was from the Book, when it was not. And now ISIS is no different. They spread fake news, fake narrations, and mix the truth with falsehood.
In economics we saw the global financial collapse of 2008 and 2009 which has been considered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Fake news is an ongoing phenomenon. How can we deal with this? If you follow the news closely after these campaigns, the government wants to create or fund some separate independent bodies to verify the news, especially for social media and Google etc., to stop these phenomena from growing and affecting reputations, businesses, campaigns, and lives.
We have many examples in our history, such as the three occasions of hijra, when the companions migrated to escape persecution – twice to Abyssinia and once to Medina. The first migration happened to Abyssinia Habasha, and at that time fake news spread that people of Mecca had accepted Islam so the migrants could come back. Some companions believing this news came back and were tortured by the Quraysh. They suffered as a direct consequence of fake news, which cost some of them their lives. And we’ve seen many other examples as well, such as in the Battle of Uhud, when the Quraysh spread the rumour that the Prophet (peace be on him) had passed away in the battle, causing chaos and demoralizing the troops. So, what is this mechanism to stop this?
Allah the Almighty clearly says in the Qur’an:
‘Oh, you who believe! If a troublemaker brings you any news, investigate, lest you harm people out of ignorance and you become regretful for what you have done.’ (49:6)
And in another narration it says, ‘Be clear that this is confirmed; it’s true,’ and the Prophet (peace be on him) in many narrations he directed us to telling the truth and being careful what to say, and what to utter.
Imam Muslim in his beautiful introduction to his Sahih, which is well known as Muqaddimah, dedicated a special chapter to talk about the effect of telling bad news or fake news which is relevant to authentication:
‘It’s enough of a lie for a person to attribute everything he hears, to relate everything he hears.’
And in another narration the Prophet (peace be on him) said,
‘To attribute lies to me, is not equivalent to attributing lies to anyone else.’ (Muslim)
He was keen to direct his Ummah towards telling the truth. So we need to verify any news, especially on social media, which now is not under anyone’s control but at the control of our fingertips. We need to have the etiquettes of social media. The other day I came across 40 hadiths of the etiquettes of social media, which I liked. And we need some etiquette especially if it is related to news. Sometimes, as I said, it affects people’s reputations, lives or businesses, so we need to be very careful. Starting from the closest thing to our hearts, the Qur’an and the sunnah: do NOT just forward anything unless you are certain that this is a verse from the Qur’an or an authentic hadith from the sunnah of the Prophet (peace be on him), and do not forward anything simply because somebody said, ‘By Allah forward this and Allah will reward you etc…’ which is not true if the narration being forwarded is not authentic.
Ignore the Carrot and Stick of Social Media Posts
Just before I came here, I received a post saying ‘Please, by Allah, do this and Allah will reward you and I ask Allah to grant you this and this.’ I do not care about his supplication if the narration he is delivering is not authentic. What am I do with his supplication if I am part of fake news and a hadith which not authentic? You must not be part of this, so do not be attracted by these supplications at the end of the posts. Or sometimes they say, ‘Those who deliver this to 10 people have received such and such and those who don’t will be punished.’ What’s that? Are we going back to Jahiliyyah now? Don’t buy into this business at all. If it is authentic, fine, Alhamdulillah share the goodness. If not, don’t fall into this trap.
I’m not doubting in any shape or form the intentions of those who think they are posting good things. I usually say, ‘May Allah reward you for your good intention, but this is a very weak narration; please don’t share it.’ If I find something better, I would say use that instead, but do not share this narration or news because it is not authentic.
Don’t be Gullible
Sometimes we have stories about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). One of these fake stories I have come across many times is that Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) was once walking in the street and an alcoholic person in the street who had just bought a bottle of wine saw Omar and put the wine in a bag. I don’t know if in that time period they had bags but anyway he put it in a bag and then he said, “Oh Allah, if Omar asks me to show what I have in the bag and (of course Omar can’t and should not ask what is in the bag, it is not up to Omar to ask this) then I will show him the wine and he will punish me. Ya Allah, if you turn this into vinegar I will stop drinking alcohol.” And then Omar asks him what is in the bag and he shows him, and it turns to be vinegar. Allahu Akbar! And people were just about to cry in the mosque and it was the title of one of the khutbahs. What’s this? Just use your mind. If someone is hiding his sin, would any pious person ask him to bring his sins out in the open? It is not Christianity where they have confession. You don’t do this in Islam. You keep sins between you and Allah but do not display them in front of anyone, no matter what his status. And so, I just want us to be of people of knowledge and understanding.
Don’t be in a Chain of Sin
Do not be like parrots and repeat whatever you are told, even if it is an insult. Don’t do that! Do not fall into this habit. First verify that the news is right or the hadith is correct or if the story is true. If it is a story about a lay person, fine, I won’t put that much weight on it, but when they say Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) has done this, then people will follow his lead. The other fake story which is widespread is the story of a shepherd who accidently killed somebody else’s animal and they went to Omar. I don’t know if you have heard this absolutely fake story, which has nothing to do with Omar (may Allah be pleased with him). It has many mistakes from a shariah point of view and from a fiqh point of view, yet people just forward it, even cry because it is so touching. However, there are plenty of verses in the Qur’an which touch your heart, plenty of authentic hadith in Bukhari and Muslim and others that will touch your heart, so instead use the authentic and don’t be part of this chain of fake news, as you will be sharing the sin if the information you forwarded was wrong. Don’t forward it if you are not certain.
The Science of Verification in Islam
The importance of verification is deeply embedded in Islamic history. What makes our religion credible is that we received the Qur’an through Tawaatur, the highest level of authentication, from Jibreel to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) and his multitude of companions, through the Taabi’een and so on and so forth. We receive the sunnah in this way. Although the sunnah is not at the same level as the Qur’an without a doubt, the scholars of hadith created a special science for the authentication of the narrators and the Rijaal and for the narrations and the hadiths. So we need to be careful, and not share anything unless we are certain about it. And even sometimes if we are certain about something, if it is related to people’s mistakes or faults, we are not to spread the faults and mistakes of others, especially if they were keen to hide them, we have been commanded not to expose them.
The Sin of Flaunting Others’ Faults
Contrary to exposing other’s sins and faults, our sunnah is to avoid publicising sin, broadcasting and fanning the flames of blame and gossip. The Prophet (peace be on him) said,
‘Whoever conceals [the faults of] a Muslim, Allah will conceal [his faults] in this life and the Hereafter.’ (Muslim)
This is the exact opposite of the ongoing trend of exposing others’ mistakes and faults and sins. The paparazzi and tabloids specialize in this phenomenon. They zoom into your bedroom to expose you. This is absolutely haram. You have no right whatsoever to invade anyone’s privacy. This is haram. If you share and forward these stories you are sharing haram as well. Do not be part of it.
We should create an immunity inside our community, so that we are not part of any fake news or part of distributing any inauthentic narration. When posting any story, particularly if it is related to the first generation of the companions, be very careful.
Allah the Almighty is saying be certain, and verify what you pass on, otherwise you will regret what you have done. So we do not want to regret what we have done. We want to celebrate what we have done. We want to spread goodness and be part of this chain of goodness and not be part of the chain of fake news.
Let’s spread the word about authentication and verification. Filter everything you receive before posting and sharing. Apply Islamic conditions to what you send: is it related to someone’s reputation or privacy, or secret? Then do not shine a spotlight on it, or be part of this, or spread it.
The Perils of Following the Crowd
Even if everyone is doing it, don’t follow the crowd, as this is the statement of the people of Saqar, who are in the lowest ranks of Jahannam. They said they were just following the crowd:
‘We used to indulge with those who indulge.’ (74:45)
Don’t follow the crowd; follow Allah the Almighty and His Messenger (peace be on him), the instructions of Qur’an, and the sunnah. Make it a habit to verify the news we receive, filter it and deliver only the accurate and good messages, rather than automatically hitting the forward button.
Fir’aun, too was part of a fake news campaign against Musa (peace be on him) and said,
(Pharaoh) said: ‘Truly your apostle who has been sent to you is a veritable madman!’ (26:27)
Since that time ’til today we have fake news. In America we have scaremongering, as in Europe against migrants and the pernicious noise of the extreme far right and their message of ‘White Supremacy’ infiltrating every sphere. So be careful not be part of any fake news. Instead stick to verification and clarification. We ask Allah the Almighty to help us stick to the Qur’an and the sunnah in our practices, and in the social media and make us amongst those who always be a part of the chain of goodness. Ameen.
Khutbah delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim in March 2017
Transcribed by Reza Omar
January 24, 2020
January 17, 2020