Verify it!

This evening I received an email from a Muslim friend warning me about a new computer virus called “The Olympic Torch”. The email said it was crucial I let everyone know about this, to prevent anything untoward happening. I didn’t forward it however; ever the cynic, I went straight to website of Symantec Coporation, the anti-virus specialists, and typed the word “Hoax” into the search field. What was the first thing that came up? Yes, you guessed it: The Olympic Torch Hoax.

Symantec Security Response encourages you to ignore any messages regarding this hoax. It is harmless and is intended only to cause unwarranted concern.

The Olympic Torch Hoax is being spread through email. It has been reported that the following text of the hoax may differ slightly in the various messages going around. The email warns of a virus that burns the whole hard disk drive a computer. This virus does not exist.

I find it incredible that Muslims, of all people, are so easily led. We belong to the ummah which gave the world the science of isnad, after all. The preservation of our religion has relied on the solid foundations of verification. And yet today we are so easily enraged by unverified reports in emails from people we don’t even know. What has become of us? It happens all the time – right the way from the pig’s head cartoon circulating in Palestine alleged to be one of the Danish cartoons to the more mundane virus alerts we receive weekly – and it makes me sad.

Perhaps we need to reflect on our heritage more. Here M.A. Anees and A.N. Athar* give us an idea of how far short we are falling today compared to those who passed before us:

Looking at the elaborate methodology that evolved through Ulum al-Hadith, including rules for transmission, textual criticism, chronological authenticity, papyri, and similar criteria for validation, Ulum al-Hadith offers a unique example of information management. It is the only branch of knowledge that requires personal ethical responsibility on the part of individuals who involve themselves in this endeavour. In its quest for exactitude, it held accountable those who transmitted information. It offered a methodological balance by not invoking wholesale rejection of transmitted matrial but designating it in a graded fashion depending on the external and internal validation. Judged from this criterion, Ulum al-Hadith presents a pioneering example in critical historiography.

* Anees, M.A. and Athar, A.N. (1986) Guide to Sira and Hadith Literature in Western Languages (London: Mansell Publishing Limited)

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