Qur’anic literacy skills

On Facebook earlier today, I encountered the following post:

When reading rumors in the media regarding accusations made against any person, especially if the accuser is an ideological and social opponent of the accused and declares open hostility to divine legislative sovereignty, it is crucial that Muslims employ Qur’anic media literacy skills. The Qur’an emphatically states:

“O You, Who have made a firm commitment to Allah! If a degenerate person comes to you with some news, verify it lest you unwittingly cause harm to a people and later become remorseful over what you have done.” (Al-Qur’an: Surah 49, Ayat 6).

The same post linked to an article published by Crescent International, entitled Socio-political factors behind accusations against Dr. Tariq Ramadan.

I do not in any way dispute the importance of verifying information when it reaches us. In fact I frequently return to precisely the verse mentioned, where verify it has become my common refrain.

It is important to note, however, that the verse does not say, “when an evil person brings you news, dismiss it out of hand”. Rather it says: investigate, evaluate it, look into it carefully, ascertain the truth, verify its correctness, as the various translations below indicate.

“O ye who believe! If an evil-liver bring you tidings, verify it, lest ye smite some folk in ignorance and afterward repent of what ye did.” — Pickthall

“O you who have believed, in case an immoral (person) comes to you with a tiding, then (ascertain) the evidence, for that you may afflict a people in ignorance, (and) then you become remorseful for what you have performed.” — Ghali

“O you who believe! If a rebellious evil person comes to you with a news, verify it, lest you harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful to what you have done.” — Muhsin Khan

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” — Sahih International

“O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people in ignorance, then be sorry for what you have done.” — Shakir

“O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done.” — Yusuf Ali

“Believers, when an ungodly person brings to you a piece of news, carefully ascertain its truth, lest you should hurt a people unwittingly and thereafter repent at what you did.” — Maududi

“O you who believe, if a sinful person brings you a report, verify its correctness, lest you should harm a people out of ignorance, and then become remorseful on what you did.” — Taqi Usmani

“Believers, if a troublemaker brings you news, check it first, in case you wrong others unwittingly and later regret what you have done.” — Abdul Haleem

“O believers, if an evildoer brings you any news, verify it so you do not harm people unknowingly, becoming regretful for what you have done.” — Mustafa Khattab

What is emphasised here is that when we receive information, we should attempt to verify it before acting upon it. The verse does not definitively state that sinful or disobedient people are liars; naturally, an evil person could be telling the truth, just as they could be spinning a yarn. The important point is to check the information to the best of your ability.

In essence this Facebook post is correct then, although I fundamentally disagree with the assumptions of the article it links to, which states with absolute certainty that accusations of wrongdoing are part of a long-term attempt to discredit and demonise the accused.

Irregardless, without dismissing the sentiments of the post at all, I left the following comment underneath:

The Qur’an also emphatically states: “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” https://quran.com/4/135

Of course there is nothing controversial about this verse. It does not stand in opposition to what they had written; if anything, it is supplementary. It is another weapon in our armoury: another tool in our toolkit for navigating the world around us. Verify the information that comes to you, yes, but stand firm in justice too.

Surely these are sentiments with which we can all agree. Alas, sadly not it seems, for my comment was inexplicably removed from the post, vanishing into the ether, obliterated without a trace. How exceedingly disappointing it is that a verse concerning just testimonies has been removed from a page itself devoted to testimonials.

All of us wish to think the best of the accused and to dismiss the claims as the malicious machinations of sworn enemies or the enraged jealousies of former wives. Such possibilities are not implausible. Yet at the same time, it has to be pointed out that if Muslims were supposedly unable to participate in awful crimes, our religion would not legislate punishments for them; it would presumably exonerate us as a purified people instead, never to be held to account.

If the accused is innocent of the crimes he has been accused of, as we hope he is, then the verse I quoted stands in his favour: regardless of our personal inclinations or prejudices, we care called to be just: we will be held to account whether we distort our testimony or refuse to give it, and our Lord is well aware of where we stand. Rather than deleting my comment, it should have been given centre stage. To say to all parties involved: be just, no matter your own inclinations. Stand out firmly for justice, whether for friend or foe.

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