Should a Muslim believe everything he hears? Is there a spiritual responsibility if he does so?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Media, internet, rumors and similar resources of information and news spread both the truth and the wrong, fake news and slander. Therefore, it is necessary to search and investigate before believing the news given by them.

"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." (al-Hujurat, 49/6)

The meaning and decree of the verse about, "the inappropriateness of believing the news introduced by unreliable people without searching its trueness" is general and valid all the time and everywhere. This instruction, which is very important in terms of the regular continuation of social and legal life and prevention of injustice and discontent, was sent down upon the following exemplary incident: 

Walid b. Uqba was sent to the tribe of Sons of Mustaliq to collect zakah tax. When Walid was on the way, someone told him that an armed group from that tribe set off. Walid thought they had set off to fight and returned to the Prophet (pbuh) to tell him about it. The Prophet (pbuh) sent Khalid b. Walid to search whether the news was true or not and to act accordingly. Khalid stopped in a place near the tribe and searched the issue. He saw that they called adhan, performed prayers and continued to be loyal to Islam. Then, he returned to Madinah.  Finally, it was understood that they set off to find out why the zakah collector delayed or to deliver the zakah to the Prophet (pbuh) themselves. 

The word fasiq translated as "wicked" means "a person who does not obey the orders of the religion"; a person who reports fake news is included in this concept. The general decree deduced from the verse is to doubt the news given by the people who are not known, who are liars and who do not avoid committing sins and not to decree or not to step into action based on the news given by them.

Most people tend to believe in bad news and the news about danger. Many bad thoughts and deeds occurred because of it; regrets and sometimes irreparable harms occurred because of it.  

The Prophet (pbuh) and the people who follow his ethics and way act cautiously in the face of such news; they do not make decisions or step into action hurriedly. Qualified leaders act cautiously but ordinary people who are not as knowledgeable and as experienced as them panic and do not understand why their leaders act like that; they sometimes says, "Why do they not step into action at once?" They sometimes speak against their leaders. However, there are numerous examples showing that such news is fake, wrong or incomplete, or that there is a misunderstanding. The Companions had belief in the Prophet (pbuh); they relied on him and loved him; therefore, they accepted the decision of their leader; they did not hurry and they did not rebel. In that case, the people should choose leaders that have the ethics of the Prophet (pbuh) and rely on them.

Some fiqh scholars deduced the following decrees from the verse:

"Since it is not permissible to decree and step into action based on the news and information given by a person who acts contrarily to the orders of the religion and who does not avoid committing sins, it is not permissible to choose such people as leaders and to perform prayers by following them. However, if people have to perform prayers by following those people and if they may be oppressed when they do not perform prayers behind them, they can perform prayers behind those leaders in order to save themselves and to prevent mischief but they have to perform that prayer again later."

The exemplary universal aspect of those decrees, which fiqh scholars deduced under the hard circumstances they lived in, is that they emphasize the ugliness of despotism and the importance of freedom in religious, political and social life and that they attract attention to the fact that a virtuous community should be considered together with virtuous leaders. (for detailed information, see Kur'an Yolu, Heyet, the interpretation of al-Hujurat, 49/6)

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