The advent of modern technology has provided an unprecedented platform for individuals and groups to manufacture and spread false information about Islam at a large scale. This phenomenon is carried out by both, people who are members of the faith and others who are open adversaries of Islam. Whilst the latter group is less successful in its attempts to penetrate and circulate false teachings among Muslims, the first group for a long time, has had almost total success with very little opposition.
Though there is a small but growing circle of Muslims ever cautious and vigilant, aware of the dangers of false teachings and always demanding verification and proof, the vast majority of Muslims are completely oblivious to this predicament. Throughout the years, I have personally witnessed Imāms of mosques, students at universities and the average Muslim at home or at work, all inadvertently and naively involved in tampering with the pristine teachings of Islam. Commentaries are given of the Qur’ān with the aid of strange and fictitious Israelite traditions, aḥādīth are quoted, unanimously agreed by the scholars as fabrications, irrational statements are dressed up and put into the mouth of early Muslim scholars to gain legitimacy, and ridiculous rumors are spread without anyone questioning its authenticity or asking for a reference. Emails in particular are used as a vehicle to spread false information from person to person with astonishing rapidity by encouraging recipients to forward messages, to everyone they know.
It is now quite normal to find our email boxes inundated with alleged miracles; like the “trees in the form of the shahādah in Germany”, or famous conversion stories like, Neil Armstrong becoming a Muslim after hearing the adhān on the moon, or warnings on the birth of dajjāl with the help of doctored photographs or worst still fabricated ahādīth on the merits of different actions.
Of course, this phenomenon is nothing new. Preachers, zealots, heretics, pamphleteers, story tellers and ignorant ascetics of every age give currency to legendary narratives and furnish it with a few of their own “pious inventions”. Conscious of this problem, in the early centuries of Islam, a group of Muslims scholars took on the challenge and dedicated their lives to preserve the authentic statements of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) and to purge out later additions. They travelled long arduous journeys, leaving their families and children and sacrificing the luxuries of food and comfort, deciphering hundreds of manuscripts, interrogating a multitude of men and writing volumes of books all with the intent of protecting and preserving this religion and eliminating fabrications.
Yet, the task is not over. Even today, the circulation of fables and fictitious legends continues via the pulpit, books, television and most recently the internet. If this trend continues unchecked it will lead to disastrous results.
It is only when we as Muslims work together, that we will be able to eradicate this problem. We must show a high level of caution and vigilance and avoid forwarding emails without verification. We must not quote or cite ahādīth whose authenticity is unknown or doubtful. We should not feel inhibited or shy to ask someone for a reference or source.
In conclusion I would like to leave you with a few sayings of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) and the early Muslim scholars on the dangers of falsely attributing a statement to the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) and the importance of verifying information before it is passed on to others.
The Seriousness of telling lies about the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam)
On the authority of ‘Alī (raḍīyallāhu anhu), the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) said: “Do not tell lies about me, for whoever tell lies about me will enter the Fire.” (Reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim)
It was narrated that Anas b. Mālik (raḍīyallāhu anhu) said: “What prevents me from narrating many aḥādīth to you is the fact that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) said: “Whoever tells a lie about me deliberately, let him take his seat in the Fire.” (Reported by al-Bukhārī and Muslim)
The prohibition of passing on any or every information that reaches you without verification.
It was narrated by Abū Hurayrah (raḍīyallāhu anhu) that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) said: “It is a sufficient lie for a man to speak of everything that he hears.” (Reported by Muslim in the Introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
Imām Mālik said: “You should know that no man who speaks of everything that he hears will be free of faults, and he will never be an Imām who speaks of everything that he hears.”
He further states “A person will not become an Imām in knowledge if he relates everything that he hears, and he will not be an Imām if he narrates from every single person and narrates odd (weak) reports.” (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) warning us of people fabricating stories and aḥadīth.
It was narrated by Abū Hurayrah (raḍīyallāhu anhu) that the Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) said: “During the end times of my ummah there will be imposters and liars who will narrate to you aḥādīth that neither you nor your forefathers ever heard. Beware of them and stay away from them, and do not let them mislead you or confuse you.” (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
The importance of isnād and taking knowledge only from recognized authorities.
Imām Muĥammad b. Sīrīn said: “This knowledge (ḥadīth) is the foundation of religion, so watch from whom you learn your religion.” (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
Ibn Abū Zinād narrated that his father said: “In al-Madīnah, I met one hundred men, all of whom were reliable, but no one accepted aḥādīth from them. It was said: “He is not one of its people.” (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
Imām ‘Abd Allāh b. Mubārak said: “The chain of narration (isnād) is part of religion, were it not for the chain, anyone could say whatever he wanted.” (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
Imām Sufyān ath-Thawrī said: “The isnād is the weapon of the Believer. So if he does not have a weapon with him, what will he fight with?” [Sharaf Ashābāl Hadīth (1/15)]
Even people who appear righteous could fabricate aḥādīth unintentionally.
Imām Yaḥyā b. Sa’īd al-Qattān narrated from his father: “You will not see in good people anything worse than in telling lies about aḥādīth.
Imam Muslim commented: “This means, lies would flow from their tongues but they do not lie deliberately. (Reported by Muslim in the introduction to his ṣaḥīḥ)
Some statements from the early salaf.
Imām ‘Abd’l-Rahmān b. Mahdī said: “it is not permissible for a man to be an Imam until he knows what is authentic (in ḥadīth) from what is not authentic.”
Imām Sufyān ath-Thawrī said: “Increase in (the knowledge of) ḥadīth as it is a weapon (for you).”
Imām Sufyān al-Thawri said: “The angels are guardians of the sky, and the scholars of ḥadīth are the guardians on Earth.”
Imām Yazīd b. Zarī’ said: “For every religion there are knights, and the knights of this religion are the scholars of ḥadīth.”
‘Imām Abd Allāh b. Mubārak said: “The example of the one who studies his Religion without an isnād is like the one who attempts to ascend a roof without a ladder.” [Sharaf Ashābul Hadīth (1/15)]
Abū Mansūr b. Sallām al-Faqīh said: “There is nothing heavier upon the people of heresy and more hated by them than listening to the ḥadīth and its narration with its isnād.” [Sharaf Ashābul Hadīth (2/36)]
Imām ash-Shawkānī describing the efforts of the early ĥadīth scholars writes:
“The scholars went to great extents to inform the people of fabricated aḥādīth, and they exposed the fairytales of liars, and removed from the aḥādīth of the Prophet (ṣallallāhu ‘alayhī wa-sallam) the false attributions of the fabricators, the distortions of the transgressors, and the erroneous explanations of the ignorant…” [al-Fawā'id al-Majmū'ah: 3]
May Allāh make us from the sincere Muslims in this life and raise us with the prophets, scholars and martyrs on the Day of Judgment. Amīn.