The Islamic position on rumours
Catch it. Bin it. Kill it.
Allah does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And ever is Allah Hearing and Knowing. (4:148)
This ayah is one of the main Quranic Ayahs on social discipline and how to deal with gossips and rumours. There are five main principles to follow on this issue.
When scholars and community leaders have allegations made against them, many people are swift to condemn them without the full facts. There is often no evidence – but a rapid detonation of malicious gossip. People react negatively without waiting for the truth to emerge and without giving them the benefit of doubt, or allowing them to clear their position. We have seen this with prominent Muslims recently. This is not the Islamic way to deal with rumours. These treatment of these figures has been unjust. They were tried by public opinion and assumed guilty before they could prove their innocence.
Allah Almighty is saying ‘He does not like evil words to be spread and be said’. Anything which spreads evil in the community is detested by Him. So do not follow this trend. Unfortunately we have gossip shows and paparazzi culture. Zooming in on and magnifying people’s sins is haram. There is a whole industry is based on people’s sins.
Yet, we do not, in general, have the right approach in dealing with rumours. Our first reaction on hearing an accusation should not be to judge. There is no need to judge. We are not judges. Wait for more details and a clearer picture to emerge. Even then say ‘may Allah protect us from sins’.
Don’t jump to conclusions. Do not throw accusations before there is any evidence. The scorn poured on famous scholars has been uncalled for and disproportionate. Yet community leaders couldn’t wait to stick their knives into other scholars,. even though no one had asked them for their opinion.
No one is immune from sinning, but there is a difference between sinning privately, and declaring sins publicly. Sins should always be kept veiled. Of course you should seek forgiveness and repent for your sins, but it is not Islamic to draw attention to them. If we did make a mistake, we would not want people to spread gossip, publicise our sins and humiliate us on social media. Even if this is the culture we live in, we cannot follow such a nasty trend. Allah Almighty did not ask us to follow trends.
What should our response be when a scandal breaks or rumours about anyone reach us? Here are the five steps we should take:
1. Don’t judge based on only one side
First we have to listen to both sides of the story – without reacting emotionally. We were taught this in the story of Dawood (peace be on him) and the sheep . When he was told of 99 sheep he made an instant judgement and although he was a Nabi prophet, he got it wrong. Allah Almighty is telling us this story and did not protect Dawood because he wants us to learn from his error. It is imperative to have both sides, before judging between two parties.
And has there come to you the news of the adversaries, when they climbed over the wall of [his] prayer chamber –
When they entered upon David and he was alarmed by them? They said, “Fear not. [We are] two adversaries, one of whom has wronged the other, so judge between us with truth and do not exceed [it] and guide us to the sound path.
Indeed this, my brother, has ninety-nine sheep, and I have one sheep; so he said, ‘Entrust her to me,’ and he overpowered me in speech.”[David] said, “He has certainly wronged you in demanding your sheep [in addition] to his sheep. And indeed, many associates oppress one another, except for those who believe and do righteous deeds – and few are they.” And David became certain that We had tried him, and he asked forgiveness of his Lord and fell down bowing [in prostration] and turned in repentance [to Allah]. (38:22-26)
2. Innocent until proven guilty
A rumour cannot be believed until it has been proved. Every person is innocent until proven guilty is an Islamic concept.
O you who believe! Avoid most suspicion—some suspicion is sinful. And do not spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would detest it. So remain mindful of God. God is Most Relenting, Most Merciful. (49:12)
3. Investigate the report
O 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)
Allah Almighty is giving us the principles we should follow when someone is maligned. He is saying don’t spread the rumour.
4. Stop the rumour when it reaches you.
Allah Almighty says:
Those who love to see immorality spread among the believers—for them is a painful punishment, in this life and in the Hereafter. God knows, and you do not know. (24:19)
By contrast there is great reward for those who spread kindness between people, and bring about unity rather than animosity:
There is no good in much of their private counsels, except for him who advocates charity, or kindness, or reconciliation between people. Whoever does that, seeking God’s approval, We will give him a great compensation (4:114)
5. Defend the honour of your brother or sister until they are proven guilty
If you hear a rumour, your default is to think well of them. Have a good opinion of them. Allah Almighty says:
Why, when you heard about it, the believing men and women did not think well of one another, and say, ‘This is an obvious lie’? (24:12)
Do not backbite or celebrate sin
Backbiting is saying something bad in the absence of someone. We need to reprogram our minds how to react when we hear gossip. Some suspicion is healthy, but do not spy on one another and do not backbite. Would anyone like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Of course not, so remain mindful of Allah Almighty.
The Prophet (peace be on him) delivered three khutbahs during his Hajj – two in Mina and one at Arafah. He said that it is haram to violate someone’s honour not just their blood and their property.
Abu Bakra (May Allah be pleased with him) said: Delivering the sermon during the Farewell Pilgrimage on the day of Sacrifice at Mina, the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
‘Verily your blood, your property and your honour are as sacred and inviolable as the sanctity of this day of yours, in this month of yours and in this town of yours. Verily! I have conveyed this message to you.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)
Abu Darda reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
Whoever defends the reputation of his brother, Allah will defend his face from the Hellfire on the Day of Resurrection. (Tirmidhi)
We have to activate these principles and formulate a system based on it. On a daily basis we have to deal with rumours.
Allah Almighty is saying one of the main verses on how to deal with rumours is not to spread evil and to conceal it. Do not celebrate sin.
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
Every one of my Ummah (followers) will be forgiven except those who expose (openly) their wrongdoings. An example of this is that of a man who commits a sin at night which Allah has covered for him, and in the morning, he would say (to people): ‘I committed such and such sin last night,’ while Allah had kept it a secret. During the night Allah has covered it up but in the morning he tears up the cover provided by Allah Himself. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Even during prophetic times, the companions were not angelic. They were human. They were not without any sin – they had all the same sins as we have today. And companions who sinned and were discovered were punished accordingly. Sometimes we have a delusion about them that they were all virtuous. However, as long as we are human we will sin. Acknowledging the fact we are liable to sin, we are not born sinners, all the children of Adam are liable to sin and best of them are atawabun, they are continuously repenting,
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
All of the children of Adam are sinners, and the best sinners are those who keep repenting. (Tirmidhi)
Conditions of repentance:
- Stop what you are doing.
- Seek istighfar
- Feel remorse
- Intend not to repeat it
- Rectify what you did e.g. return back property or seek forgiveness
- Break the cycle. Change your location/pattern that makes you fall into the same sin
Until you figure it out the pattern, you will keep repeating a sin, like a mule around the mill. Unless you realise the sequence that keeps leading to it, you are trapped in that cycle of sin.
When to expose the sins of leaders
When leaders do something wrong they should be held accountable. If it involves public money we should dig deep into their financial affairs. We do not have to expose every sin of theirs, unless it is related to public money. If it is a private matter then we have no right to invade their privacy. They do not need to apologise to people – the matter is between them and Allah Almighty.
There is a difference between chopping someone’s hand for actual theft and chopping someone’s hands because of rumours. Sometimes we chop hands based on rumours.
An Arab poet said ‘Whoever has never committed a mistake and whoever has only good things? Who is that?’ Another poet said ‘It is Muhammad the guide whom Jibril descended on.’
In the well known statement in the Bible of Eesa (peace be on him) is in line with this, when he was asked to judge an adulteress:
When they continued to question Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.’ (Bible, John 8:7)
If you have been oppressed seek justice. If you have been wronged, take your case to the judge and get justice.
Allah Almighty wants people to change from their old habits of rumour mongering. It was the power of fake news that was used against the Prophet (peace be on him) who was accused of being mad etc and therefore only 100 people believed in him after 13 years in Makkah after the revelation.
Do not spread evil actions
Words are easier to spread than actions. Spreading evil actions is bad too. Eg a new trend has gone viral of leaving a car door open and then doing some silly dance. There are many stupid trends being spread online and people will follow without thinking many times.
When to expose corrupt wealthy people
If a wealthy person does not pay off his debts and oppresses others, you can expose him and disclose his wrongdoing. Ash Sharid narrated that the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Delay in payment on the part of one who possesses means makes it lawful to dishonour and punish him.
Ibn al-Mubarak said that ‘dishonour’ means that he may be spoken to roughly and ‘punish’ means he may be imprisoned for it. (Abu Dawoud).
Abu Hurairah said:
A man came to the prophet (May peace be upon him) complaining against his neighbour. He said: go and have patience.
He again came to him twice or thrice. He then said: Go and throw your property in the street. So he threw his property in the street and the people began to ask him and he would tell them about his neighbour. The people then began to curse him; may Allah do with him so and so!
Then his neighbour came to him and said: Return, you will not see from me anything which you dislike. (Abu Dawoud)
The neighbour reacted immediately and asked him to return his furniture and stop tarnishing his reputation. It brought justice in that situation.
When to use social media to achieve justice
If a company is not resolving an issue which they are liable for, then you can use social media to pressure them to get justice and rectify what they have not done. This can be an effective tool to get your rights.
Rumours whether they are about people we know personally, or those in the public eye are very damaging. We have to be more cautious when dealing with them. We do not want to be pawns in of the media machine or those who ruin other people’s reputations for their own agenda. Huge amounts of money is spent on destroying the reputations of public figures using cyber technology and all forms of media. We should not let ourselves be manipulated or caught up in the frenzy to vilify others.
Wathilah bin Al-Asqa’ (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
Do not express pleasure at the misfortune of a (Muslim) brother lest Allah should bestow mercy upon him and make you suffer from a misfortune. (Tirmidhi).
September 14, 2023
April 10, 2022