Reports

There is a clear difference between “it is reported that such and such happened” and “such and such happened”, let alone, “I believe it happened”.

We are familiar with this concept in the science of hadith, where we learn, “It is reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said…” The learned draw this distinction for good reason: to attribute words to him, while allowing for the possibility that he did not in fact say them.

We did not hear those words from him directly and verbatim — they are a report — so it is entirely possible that it is not what he said. It could be part of what he said; something somebody else said attributed to him in error; his words paraphrased or misinterpreted; or even an outright fabrication. If there was no possibility of error or ill-intent, the science of hadith would never have developed.

Mindful of our heritage of verification then, it is both surprising and depressing that in our daily lives and dealings with others we jettison these principles almost entirely.

Just watch what happens when a totally unverified claim is published on Facebook. How many pause to ask where the information came from, who reported it, how it was communicated? Instead it is treated as certain fact and immediately shared far and wide as “the truth”, even if it contradicts all other reports.

Ask those questions at your peril, and prepare to be lambasted as an uncaring oaf, who must be browbeaten into submission under the weight of emotional arguments nobody in fact deny. Circular reason will be employed to obfuscate what you were saying.

Truth, in short, is of no concern here.

Partial truths, contingent truths, half-truths: all are acceptable if they help enforce the wider point and achieve the ultimate end. Although, of course, the Qur’an begs to differ:

“And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know it.”

We are called upon to witness to truth, even against ourselves (as painful and difficult as that is). To verify information when it comes to us. To be patient in the face of uncertainty and adversity. To act on the basis of information that is certain and true.

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