COVID-19: Dangers Of Spreading Fake News and Blind-Following Religious Speakers, By Murtadha Gusau
Friday, Ramadan 15, 1441 AH (08/05/2020)
In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May Allah extol the mention of the Prophet in the highest company of Angels and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly till the Day of Judgement.
Dear brothers and sisters, fake news and misinformation about coronavirus has mushroomed in various forms as follows:
1. Numerous conspiracy theories.
2. Concocted health advice.
3. Unofficial figures of the death toll and the number of infected people.
4. Controversial and conflicting video clips of religious speakers.
My beloved people, these serve no other purpose except to create panic and anxiety. In the old days, one needed to look for a partner to gossip with. But now, with the advent of the internet and social media, you can easily do it alone from your own cell phone.
This is why it is crucial to remember Islamic guidance on identifying fake news, and how to avoid spreading it.
• Do not spread news without first verifying it
Verification of news has been given due importance by Allah Almighty and in Islamic law. Allah says the following in the Qur’an:
“O you who believe! If a person of bad character brings you any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterward you become regretful for what you have done.” [Qur’an, 49:6]
The Qur’an says emphatically that we must verify reports and not rush to pass on news until we are sure that it is true, even if the news is good news. This is because if it becomes apparent that the one who passed it on is mistaken, she/he will lose credibility before the people, and anyone who bears a grudge towards him/her will use it against them.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him), in a number of narrations, warned against those who spread misinformation. Here are some examples:
“It is enough for a man to be considered a liar for him to repeat/spread everything that he hears.” [Recorded by Muslim]
“It is enough sin for a man to speak of everything that he hears.” [Al-Silsilah al-Sahihah of Imam Al-Albani]
“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.” [Recorded by Bukhari]
• Our righteous predecessors were keen to establish proof, and they watched out for rumours.
Khalifah Umar Ibn Al-Khattab said:
“Beware of Fitnah (tribulations), for a word at the time of Fitnah could be as detrimental as the sword.”
• Spreading rumours and fake news is destructive for the Muslim community.
In Islamic history, Muslims incurred colossal losses only because some individuals decided to spread rumours and fake news. Here are a few examples:
1. When the Companions of the Prophet took refuge in Abyssinia, they were safe. However, someone spread a rumour that the disbelievers of the Quraish in Makkah had become Muslim. As a result, some of the Companions returned to Makkah, where they found that the report was not true. As a result, they were persecuted by the pagan Quraish. All of that happened because of rumours and fake news.
2. During the defense of Madinah at Uhud, a rumour was spread that the Prophet had been killed. As a result, the Muslim faced chaos. Some fled to Madinah, and others stopped defending.
3. One of the most well-known incidents that shows the harm caused by rumours is known as the incident of Al-Ifk, in which Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was falsely accused of immoral conduct. This caused great distress to her, the Prophet, and the entire Muslim community. She was later cleared of the charge by Allah Himself [Qur’an, 24:11-20]. All of that was because of rumours.
• What is the proper Islamic way of dealing with news?
1. Don’t rush to share. Do careful consideration before a decision. The Prophet said:
“Deliberation is from Allah and haste is from the devil.” [Tirmidhi]
2. Verify the news.
When the tribe of the Bani al-Mustaliq embraced Islam, the Prophet sent Walid to collect Zakah from them. When he arrived in their territory, he became fearful due to some reason, and without visiting the tribe returned to Madinah and complained to the Prophet that they had refused to pay the Zakah and had even wanted to kill him. On hearing this, the Prophet became upset. According to some traditions he had dispatched a contingent to punish the tribe, and according to others, he was about to dispatch it. In any case, all agree that in the meantime, the chief of the Bani al-Mustaliq, Harith Bin Dirar, arrived as the head of a deputation, and said, “By Allah, we did not at all see Walid; therefore, there could be no question of refusing to pay the Zakah and wanting to kill him. We are steadfast to the faith and have no intention to withhold the Zakah.”
Verifying here implies making an effort to find out the truth in the story to establish the credibility of the report.
Imam Hasan al-Basri said:
“The believer reserves judgment until the matter is proven.”
Our noble predecessors among researchers in Hadith sciences travelled extensively to verify Hadith. For example, Companions like Abu Ayyub Ansari traveled from Madinah to Egypt, a distance of more than 800 miles, only to confirm one Hadith from another Companion, Uqbah Bin Amir, because he was the only one alive at that time who had heard that Hadith from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) directly.
The experts in Hadith sciences have worked very hard to introduce various methods to judging if a particular Hadith is authentic or not. Islamic discipline of Jarh wat-ta’adil and knowledge of Rijal al-Hadith were essentially introduced as tools to differentiate between an authentic narrations with an inauthentic one.
• Lessons for Muslims in the world of social media today
Any reporter who shares, forwards, or copies a clip, video, or a post should be truthful and honest, keeping in mind that she/he is accountable before Allah for each of his/her actions.
If she/he generated a piece of true and beneficial information, this will undoubtedly reward him or her here and at the day of judgment. Conversely, she/he will be a sinner in the sight of Allah and punishable for spreading lies or misinformation. A reporter should practice concentration, patience, passion, curiosity, critical thinking, dedication, and consciousness of Allah whilst creating a story for public use.
2. Don’t spread negativity, terror, and panic
This is the undeniable right of our society to enjoy peace and security. Anything disrupting societal peace should be removed immediately. Muslims must stop rumours from spreading, as the rumours affect peace and security, and promote fear. The Qur’an describes it as the policy of hypocrites to broadcast such rumours which generate frustration and Fitnah among the people. Only share information which comes from the authentic source you are able to verify. So “forwarding as received” does not liberate you from your responsibility. In the Qur’an, Allah has condemned the hypocrites saying:
“When they have any alarming news, they broadcast it.” [Qur’an, 4:83]
3. Stand for clarity
Islam enjoins upon us to avoid doubtful things so that we don’t do anything unlawful. We must fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice.” [Qur’an, 33:71]
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Give up what is doubtful to you to that which is clear.” [Tirmidhi]
4. Do not spread immorality and vulgarity
Our religion strictly forbids us to stay away from anything that is immoral and evil. It is as sin to share or forward any material which is vulgar, obscene, or indecent. If it is haram (prohibited) to do, it is haram (prohibited) to watch and haram (prohibited) to share.
Here are some suggestions to check the authenticity of forwarded posts:
1. Check before sharing.
2. Take the extra time to examine the source of the content.
3. Check that the site is reputable.
4. If the forward mentions a news source, check the news source yourself. Use the search engine on their site or Google the headline. If you don’t get a hit, it is likely fake.
5. If the forward contains wild or miraculous claims, it is very likely fake, so don’t forward it unless it contains a link to a legitimate news site.
6. If a religious reference, ruling, or a set of Du’as (supplications) is given, then check the Imam or scholar’s Facebook page or website to see if they have posted it there.
7. With religious references, you can get them verified by a knowledgeable Imam. Usually, some Imams don’t respond quickly, but you can expect his reply in a few days, in the meantime, send him a friendly reminder about your question.
Dear brothers and sisters, concerning the dangers and Consequences of following the clerics blindly Allah the exalted says:
“They have taken as lords beside Allah their rabbis and their monks and the Isa (Jesus) son of Mary, when they were bidden to worship only one Allah. There is no Allah save Him. Be He Glorified from all that they ascribe as partner (unto Him)!” [Surah Taubah, 31]
In this Qur’anic verse, Allah declares that the Jews and Christians had taken the following people as their lords (Rabb) besides Allah:
1. Their rabbis and monks.
2. Isa (Jesus) son of Maryam (Alaihis-Salam).
Their worship of Messiah is well known, but how did they take their rabbis and monks as their lords? This is explained in the following Hadith:
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said:
“They didn’t worship them but (the worship was in the sense) whatever they made halal for them, they considered it halal, whatever they made haram for them, they considered it haram.” [At-Tirmidhi]
Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) explained that they have taken them as their lords by following their religious rulings blindly and disregarded the true Shari’ah.
From the above it is evident that to accept anyone’s religious verdicts blindly is a form of shirk (polytheism).
After reading this Hadith, it is obligatory for us to ask proof from Qur’an and Sunnah for any religious verdict and take the time to examine it in order to save ourselves from the position described in the previously quoted Hadith, we simply can’t take any scholars or Imam’s words as evidence in matters of Shari’ah.
From the above proofs from the Qur’an and Hadith it is evident that there is no room for Taqlid Shakhsi in Islam. As Taqlid shakhsi invites towards following any particular Imam or scholar blindly without inquiring about the proof.
Further more the most dangerous aspect of Taqlid shakhsi is, as Abul Hassan Ubaid Kharkhi writes that:
“All those Hadiths which go against our As-hab (fuqaha Hanafiyah) will be considered abrogated or it will be considered that any such Hadith is against another Hadith, then other evidence or recommendation on the basis on which our as-hab cited as evidence will be brought forward or will try to remove the contradiction.” [See Usul al-Kharkhi, page 29]
The above mentioned fabricated principle is not for Hadiths only but for Qur’an as well. Abul Hassan Ubaid Kharkhi also writes that:
“Any Qur’anic verse which goes against our fuqaha will be considered abrogated or will be considered recommended, first of all meaning of the verse will be changed so the contradiction is removed.” [Usul al-Kharkhi, page 28]
We are not saying that a person can’t use any scholar or his books for understanding Islam, we are merely trying to point out that don’t follow any scholar or Imam blindly, especially in what we are witnessing today, in this time of global coronavirus pandemic.
We encourage people to read the translation of Qur’an, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim, as these books are the easiest source of Islam for a person in this time of trials, tribulations and sectarianism.
And we are not against the famous Imams (Abu Hanifah, Malik, Shafi’i and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal) as the Imams themselves instructed the people to follow Qur’an and Sunnah only. For example:
Imam Abu Hanifah (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It is not permitted for anyone to accept our views if they do not know from where we got them.”
Imam Ahmad Bin Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“Do not follow my opinion; neither follow the opinion of Malik, nor Shafi’i nor Awza’i, nor Thauri, but take from where they took.”
Imam Shafi’i (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The Muslims are unanimously agreed that if a Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) is made clear to someone, it is not permitted for him to leave it for the saying of anyone else.
Imam Malik (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“Truly I am only a mortal: I make mistakes (sometimes) and I am correct (sometimes). Therefore, look into my opinions: all that agrees with the Book and the Sunnah accept it; and all that does not agree with the Book and the Sunnah, ignore it.”
Therefore we request everyone to ignore those rulings which have no evidence from Qur’an and Sunnah or that are contrary to them.
Dear servants of Allah, know that, blind following refers to following a person when the instructions are clearly not in accordance with Qur’an and Sunnah. To do so is a form of shirk, because at its core is a denial of a part of the Revelation, and to deny a single verse of Revelation is to deny it all.
Many Muslims today treat their Imams or the leaders of their Islamic organisations, sects or groups as though their words are protected from error. For some people, the words of an Imam are taken as “gospel” and followed exclusively (as if it were revelation). Even if a verse from the Qur’an or an authentic saying of the Messenger is brought as an argument against what their chosen Imam said, their followers forsake what Allah or the Messenger (Peace be upon him) said and follow their Imams. This dangerous position leads to blind following (Taqlid) of humans at the expense of revelation.
Some Muslims blindly follow their leaders or the highly deviating Imam at the local Mosque, even when the man calls the people to actions that are clearly opposing Qur’an and Sunnah. Once again, this is an act of elevating a person’s words over the Speech of Allah (i.e. the Qur’an), if at any time we reject the clear revelation and instead act upon or embrace the contrary teachings of a person.
Just like we are to obey our parents unless they call us to the haram (prohibited), we may follow the guidance of men unless they call us to error.
This condition of ignorance and blind following was given by Revelation from Allah to the Messenger, Muhammad (Peace be upon him), who said:
“Verily, Allah does not take away knowledge by snatching it from the people, but (this is done) by causing (the death) of the (true and sincere) scholars until none of them is left alive. People would then appoint ignorant leaders for themselves who would be consulted in matters of religion and they would give Fatawas without knowledge, falling into misguidance and misguiding others.” [Muslim]
Respected brothers and sister, religious leaders need to be held accountable for their harmful Fatwas and dangerous ideas. In this time of global Covid-19 pandemic, any Islamic scholar who give a harmful Fatwa that can jeopardise people’s life have to be arrested and persecuted. For example, in the state of Arizona, Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, recently authorised a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension; she made that decision after consultation with the mother’s family, her doctors and the local ethics committee. Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, “The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.” Ordinarily, a man who would callously let a woman die and orphan her children would be called a monster; this should not change just because he is a cleric.
Keeping religious clerics immune from criticism is both unwarranted and dangerous. Unless we are willing to expose religious irrationality whenever it arises, we will encourage irrational public policy and promote ignorance over education for our children.
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and the late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.