- The Emergence of Fake News
- Fake News and the Motives Behind Its Creation
- Measures Taken So Far to Combat Fake News
- Fake News and Fabrication of Stories in Islam
- Fake News Versus Fabricated Ḥadīth
- Common Attitudes of Adopters of Fake News and Fabricated Hadith
- Social Media and Its Role in Spreading Fake News and Fabricated Ḥadīth
- What Can We Do?
Alhamdulillah… All perfect thanks and praises are due to the Almighty Allah. I send peace and blessings upon Sayyindinā Muhammad, his household, his companions and all those who follow his guided path till the end of time.
This article discusses the recent emergence of fake news and the attention it has gained across the world. No doubt, the spread of fake news affects us in negative ways whether we realize it or not. Prior to fake news, the spread of fabricated ḥadīth has been doing Muslims even more harm both at the community level and the ummah at large.
Let’s begin with the emergence of fake news.
In one sense, fake news is as old as humanity itself and is thus not a new thing. For example, the elder brothers of Sayyidunā Yūsuf ‘alayhi al-salām conspired to get rid of him, so they could gain their father’s attention and, possibly, his ultimate love. They ended up dumping Sayyidunā Yusuf in a well. To cover up their crime, they created fake story to cover up their crime. They falsely told their father, Sayyidunā Ya‘qūb, that their younger brother was attacked and consumed by a wolf!
Centuries later, fake news was used to falsely accuse Sayyidatunā ‘Āishah raḍiya Allāhu ‘anhā of committing adultery. The objective was to invite calumny against one of the purest and the most modest women to have walked on earth. Thank God; revelation came down to expose the conspiracy!
I400 years later, on February 5, 2003, Colin Powell, the then US Secretary of State, presented fake news in his Iraq presentation at the United Nations which implied that Saddam Hussein (Iraq) had weapons of mass destruction in his possession. This fake news led the US to invade Iraq, an act that has subsequently led to the misery of the Iraqi people and the utter destruction of the country.
In the wake of the 2016 US elections, and the unexpected victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, experts concluded that the secret power behind Trump’s victory could be the “power of fake news.” They believed that some of the news websites that had significantly influenced American voters’ decision were in fact fake news websites made up of fabricated stories.
The modern definition of fake news refers to news that is not initiated by the recognized media sources. In other words, once a so called reliable media source makes a headline, it becomes the only truth. But the truth is, fake news consists of any story that spreads misinformation, is misleading, blasphemous or blatantly discriminatory.
Thus, whether a given news story comes from Aljazeera, BBC, CAN, CNN, DW, Fox News, France 24, or RT, or whether it comes from a website run by a lonely teenager in Ukraine, or a bunch of websites in Veles, Macedonia, if the information is twisted, or misleading, it’s fake news.
Whether the headline for the misinforming material is catchy, dull or sexy, as long as it’s fabricated or even manipulated, it’s fake news. At the end of the day, someone, somewhere, somehow is targeted, attacked, ridiculed, mocked, blasphemed, or victimized. In return, someone, somewhere, somehow is benefitting from that. The gain could be financial, political and it could also be simply personal, such as a feelings of vindictiveness or simply the exhilaration of power.
Governments have realized the dangers that fake news websites poses. To combat fake news, Facebook, Twitter and Google have vowed to ban and delete accounts belonging to fake news websites. Google also announced measures to disallow AdSense applications by fake news websites. Thus, these social media platforms have agreed that fake news only comes from designated websites which, as we have indicated above, is not always the case.
It is agreed that fake news must be stopped as it constitutes a danger on many levels. But the measures taken by Facebook, Twitter and Google will only curtail fake news from small players, while . giant news websites will still have access to these social media platforms, even though they sometimes post fake news items.
So, what is Islam’s stance on fake news?
The 2016 American Presidentials election in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, highlights the power and influence of fake news and its ability to sway public opinion. Had Hillary Clinton won, fake news may not have been seen as a major problem, but the fact is she lost due to the influence of fake news websites.
What not many know is that, Islam addressed the harm of fake news poses more than 1400 years ago. It has put measures in place to restrict and possibly stop fake news altogether. Clearly, it can be observed that fake news is always associated with lies, personal agendas, enmity, rivalry, and in the best scenario, boredom.
Obviously, telling lies and spreading false are sinful acts in Islam. Even if it’s for fun or entertainment. Imām Abū Dāwūd reports from the narration of Mu’āwiyah ibn Jaydah al-Qushayrī raḍiya Allāhu ‘anhu that he heard the Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam saying:
وَيْلٌ لِلَّذِي يُحَدِّثُ فَيَكْذِبُ لِيُضْحِكَ بِهِ الْقَوْمَ… وَيْلٌ لَهُ… وَيْلٌ لَه
“Woe to the one, who lies when he speaks, to make others laugh…Woe to him …Woe to him.”
This is because, a Muslim should always utter that, which is good to the best his knowledge or he should remain silent. The Prophet says in a ḥadīth reported by Imām al-Bukhārī and Muslim from the narration of Sayyidunā Abū Hurayrah raḍiya Allāhu ‘anhu:
مَنْ كَانَ يُؤْمِنُ بِاللَّهِ وَاليَوْمِ الآخِرِ، فَلْيَقُلْ خَيْراً أَوْ لِيَصْمُتْ
“Whoever believes in Allah and in the Hereafter, he should say good, or let him remain silent.”
Uttering good is not only telling the truth, but saying that which does not create grudges, or break relations, let alone victimizing others. Uttering that which is good also includes abstaining from saying some truth, if it will create fitnah, i.e. break ties, and bring about social instability. But if one deliberately spreads fake news or fabricated ḥadīth to cause harm to others, then he’s doing himself a great injustice even before doing it to others.
وَالَّذينَ يُؤذونَ المُؤمِنينَ وَالمُؤمِنـٰتِ بِغَيرِ مَا اكتَسَبوا فَقَدِ احتَمَلوا بُهتـٰنًا وَإِثمًا مُبينًا
“Those who affront believing men and believing women without their having deserved it [done any wrong] shall bear the weight of slander and flagrant sin” (Sūrah al-Aḥzāb, 33:58).
Although it can relate to our religious issues, fake news is generally related to worldly affairs. And although it has a negative impact, when it relates to our religious affairs, the implications of faking or fabricating news becomes even greater. For it has to have everything to do with the revelation. To that effect, the Prophet says in a ḥadīth authenticated by Imām al-Bukhārī and Muslim:
إِنَّ كَذِباً عَلَيَّ لَيْسَ كَكَذِبٍ عَلَى أَحَدٍ. مَنْ كَذَبَ عَلَيَّ مُتَعَمِّدًا فَلْيَتَبَوَّأْ مَقْعَدَهُ مِنَ النَّارِ
“Telling lies about me is not like telling lies about anyone else. Whoever tells lies about me deliberately, let him take his place in Hell.”
He, ṣalla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam also says in another ḥadīth reported by Imām Muslim:
مَنْ حَدَّثَ عَنِّي بِحَدِيثٍ يَرَى أَنَّهُ كَذِبٌ فَهُوَ أَحَدُ الكَاذِبِينَ
“Whoever narrates a ḥadīth from me that he thinks is false is one of the liars.”
This is so because anything relating to the Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam is religion and it has both worldly and eternal implications. In other words, the Prophet’s utterances are part of revelation from Allah. Therefore, the moment you relate something from the Prophet ṣallā Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam, whether you know it or not, you’ve related it to Allah subḥānahū wa ta‘ālā. Allah says in Sūrah al-Baqarah, 2:79:
فَوَيلٌ لِلَّذينَ يَكتُبونَ الكِتـٰبَ بِأَيديهِم ثُمَّ يَقولونَ هـٰذا مِن عِندِ اللَّـهِ لِيَشتَروا بِهِ ثَمَنًا قَليلًا ۖ فَوَيلٌ لَهُم مِمّا كَتَبَت أَيديهِم وَوَيلٌ لَهُم مِمّا يَكسِبونَ
“Woe to those who write the scripture with their own hands, and then declare, “This is from God,” in order to sell it for a paltry price. Woe to them because of what their own hands have written, and woe to them for what they have earned.”
It’s known that both phenomena, fake news and fabricated ḥadīth, are resorted to with a view to spreading lies, misinformation and creating confusion to fulfil some political or financial gains or serve some other hidden agendas. No doubt the spreaders of both phenomena are passionate and very deliberate about their respective causes.
One of the commonalities between the spreaders of fake news and embracers of fabricated aḥadīth is that both camps accept wholeheartedly the faked materials, because they say what they want to hear and believe. These fake stories and aḥadīth offer what they can conveniently digest.
Another commonality between them is that adopters of fake news are likely to stick to it, even when they find out it’s actually fake or a hoax, simply because it satisfies their personal desires. Similarly, adopters of fabricated aḥādīth are likely to find it difficult to give up on fabricated aḥadīth even when they are shown to be false. This is so because these aḥadīth serves their desires and not necessarily the teachings of the religion. Moreover, it ridicules their past judgement and intelligence when they have to admit their error. Who wants to admit they were wrong?
One can argue that the world was a safer place without social media. On the other hand, the world was in darkness about a lot of things without social media. In other words, there is a good and a bad side to social media. In the end, social media is a tool. However you use it, it still remains social media. It is as what you use it for.
Spreaders of fake news, of course, existed before the existence of social media. And fabricators of ḥadīth and its spreaders existed before the emergence of social media. But both found social media a productive tool to spread their disinformation more effectively and widely
Whatever good or bad you see in the material forwarded to you via WhatsApp or Facebook, it has been practised longer before the emergence of these social media tools. Perhaps, you never saw it or heard of it because wasn’t previously exposed to that.
Now, it’s up to you and me, to make use of social media, to fight fake news, as well as to stop the spread of fabricated aḥadīth. Here are what we can do to fight fake news and stop the spread of fabricated aḥadīth.
- Don’t share news or religious material if you are not sure about its origin
- Don’t share news or religious material if you are uncertain about its authenticity.
- Don’t share immoral materials. Just because it’s funny doesn’t mean it’s worth sharing. By sharing, you are part of spreading immoralities
- Unfollow/Unfriend anyone who deliberately posts or shares fake news, fabricated ḥadīth or immoral contents. Don’t pretend you are immuned from the effects of these things.
- When you are not sure about a ḥadīth shared by somebody, seek to know its status and understand what it means from your local religious teacher
Imagine a decisive decision you made a decade ago, only to come to the realization later on that your decision was influenced by fake news. Also imagine a religious practice you’ve participated in since you were young, only to realize that it was based on a baseless and fabricated aḥadīth. The likelihood is that you will feel cheated, betrayed and lose faith in your ‘teachers.’
For the sake of the stability of our communities, societies and countries, fake news must be taken seriously. In fact, fake news, I believe, must be stopped.
Similarly, for the sake of our religion, fabricated aḥadīth must be taken very seriously. You could be participating in inncorrect religious practices founded on baseless or fabricated aḥadīth. We can’t expect the Muslim world to stand firmly against fabricated aḥadīth as they do against fake news, but individually, every literate Muslim has the responsibility of ensuring the authenticity and reliability of the source of his / her knowledge.
Whether it’s related to fake news or fabricated aḥadīth, you will feel good and satisfied when your decisions are based on solid and correct information. Likewise, when your practices are based on authenticity and evidence you will be more at peace.
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Allah knows best.
Allahu Hafiz 🙂