Everyone wants to defend the esteemed one from what they are certain is mere slander. In their eyes he is as Prophet Yusuf: innocent and wrongly accused, and a victim in his own right. Those of us who are unsure, certainly hope so.
But there is a fine line between believing in your friend and accusing your opponents of vile collusion. Such is the case today, following six hours of testimony from a forty year-old woman to police investigating claims of rape, sexual assault, violence and threats of death.
Reading the insults directed towards her in the comments under the news articles reporting on the hearing, it is no surprise that she has chosen to testify anonymously. For this alleged victim, our normally vocal brethren are silent on the presumption of innocence, which they otherwise champion as a divine right. There is no presumption that she could be telling the truth. There is no empathy or sympathy or compassion; no, she can only possibly be a liar, her medical records a sham.
I am not immune to wondering if the entire affair is some grand conspiracy perpetuated by Machiavellian elites intent on bringing a good man down. But nor do I discount the possibility that the opposite is true: that it is the conspiracy of one man, exploiting his reputation and networks of support, to get away with hideous abuse over many years. Certainly either case could possibly be true, though one strikes me as more plausible than the other. And so that retort: let justice run its course.
Yet what bothers me about this case are the double standards we permit ourselves to apply. The accused is perpetually likened to Prophet Yusuf — peace be upon him — when the beautiful and powerful Zulekha tried to seduce him, though none seem keen to reflect on that story too deeply. Again and again and again, we are reminded that the accused is the victim of a great slander, and that such slander is haram. And yet nobody exhibits any compunction whatsoever about slandering the alleged victims, as liars, fantasists, apostates, zionists and whores.
Where are the verses from the Qur’an for these women, about whom — like the accused — we can only say, at this stage, we are uncertain? Just as it has not been established as fact that the accused is guilty, nor has it been established that his alleged victims are lying. So where are the calls for calm and restraint? Where the beautiful words, reminding both parties to be patient and just?
The woman who was heard by police investigators yesterday at la police judiciaire de Paris is described as a convert to Islam. Might such a woman perhaps, potentially, possibly, be described as a chaste, believing woman? A woman who embraced an alien tradition in her pursuit of the truth, later seeking advice from a presumed scholar? Ah, of course we do not know. But even if we cannot say for certain, surely the very words we misappropriate for the accused should give us pause for thought:
Indeed, those who accuse chaste, unaware and believing women are cursed in this world and the Hereafter; and they will have a great punishment. — Qur’an 24:23
We are exceedingly vocal about condemning the presumed slanders directed at our hero, and yet absolutely silent and indifferent to the accusations levelled at a woman giving her testimony to a police investigation. But what if the woman is telling the truth? What if she is not a liar or a fraud? What if she is innocent of any wrong and herself has been the victim of atrocious transgressions? What then? How do we right our wrongs?
Those who can only believe it to be an evil Machiavellian plot perpetuated by conspiring enemies have an easy retort: the woman most likely does not even exist, is a crisis actor or paid plant. As such she is entirely fictitious, and therefore not a convert, and accordingly neither chaste nor a believer, ergo: anything goes. And anything does go: read the comments under the news reports and you will certainly see. It doesn’t add up; it is fake news; false testimony; a conspiracy; and, of course, an attack on Islam itself. For a nation which finds itself in a perpetual state of emergency, perhaps such cunning sedition is entirely persuasive.
But for those of us convinced that none of us is ever truly good, all too well aware that our souls perpetually call us to evil, such a retort is unconvincing. That story of Prophet Yusuf speaks to us once more:
“And I do not acquit myself. Indeed, the soul is a persistent enjoiner of evil, except those upon which my Lord has mercy. Indeed, my Lord is Forgiving and Merciful.” — Qur’an 12:53
In this hideous affair, the accused may be innocent or guilty, blameworthy or not. Similarly the accusers may be innocent or guilty of the crimes they are accused of: of slander, false testimony and fraud. Should we not give each side the benefit of the doubt as equally and equitably as we are able to? Should we not step back and try to be fair, withholding judgement as best we can, deigning not to take sides, or speak out of turns, or be unjust?
I cannot say who is telling the truth — or more of the truth — and who in this awful saga has been wronged. I pray that our Lord grants those who have been wronged true justice, and fully holds to account those who have done wrong. But as for us on the outside, looking in: can we agree to become impartial observers, devoted to the truth whether it be for us or against us? Can we agree to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold our enemies? If we have chosen to condemn slander, let us agree not to engage in slander either.
For, verily, we who accuse will certainly be held to account.