“Those who have come up with the slander are a gang among you. Do not think it is negative for you; rather, it is good for you. Every one of them is liable for what he earned from the sin. And the one who played the major role in it, for him there is a mighty punishment.”

Qur’ān, 24:11

In an age where information and rumours spread like wildfire with little regard for verifying the truth, the ifk and its surrounding events have become even more relevant for us as Muslims to reflect on. The incident is described over the course of fifteen verses (11-26) in Surah al-Nūr as well as the narration of ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها herself reported in Bukhāri[1]. It is packed full of advice for those who are involved in spreading the rumours and those who are being spoken about as well as the importance that Islam places on the rights of our fellow Muslims. These are four key lessons that we can reflect on which should shape the way we deal with rumours and reports being spread in the community.

1) Don’t be disheartened when people are spreading slander about you. It can actually be good for you.

When introducing the incident of the ifk, Allāh ﷻ addresses ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها and the household of the Prophet ﷺ directly (and indirectly addresses us) through 24:11 quoted at the beginning of this article. The immediate question that comes to mind is how someone slandering you can actually turn out to be a good thing. When commenting on this verse, the scholars of tafsīr have provided two reasons why this could be the case. Firstly, for ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها this was an immense blessing in disguise because it meant that she has verses in the Qur’ān directly addressing her personal situation and which people will continue to read and reflect upon till the end of times. Revelation has ceased with the death of Rasūlullāh ﷺ and this wisdom won’t apply to anyone now, but from this, we learn that when afflicted by a calamity we should take a step back and look at the bigger picture and think good of Allāh ﷻ.

The second reason that they mention, which relates more to our situation, is that the temporary shame and hurt that we may feel is insignificant in comparison to the forgiveness and reward that we’ll receive in the ākhirah as compensation. This is a lesson that should be in the forefront of our minds at all times. Before speaking about the evils of slander and why we should run far away from it, Allāh ﷻ teaches us an incredibly powerful lesson that in all difficulties we face in our life we should have an ākhirah driven perspective to what’s a good and bad outcome.

2) You should treat your fellow Muslim like you would treat yourself

There is a well-known Ḥadīth of the Prophet ﷺ that encourages us to feel compassion for our fellow Muslim as we are all part of the same body.[2] In the same way as a pain we may feel in the eye isn’t isolated from the rest of our body, another Muslim being aggrieved isn’t something that we can turn a blind eye to as though it doesn’t affect us. Let alone when we’re the source of that harm. During the commotion of the ifk, an interaction between the companion of the Prophet ﷺ Abu Ayyub al-Ansari رضي الله عنه and his wife رضي الله عنها perfectly embodies this concept and is alluded to in the following verse of Surah Nur:

“Why – when you (O believers) heard of it – did the believing men and the believing women not think well about their own selves, and (why did they not) say, “This is a manifest lie”.”

Qur’ān, 24:12

There are three types of responses to the ifk narrated in the Qur’ān and they are all dealt with differently by Allāh ﷻ. The response of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari رضي الله عنه is held up as the model for all Muslims when hearing of slander or rumours being spread in the community. When the ifk was being spread and it came to the household of Abu Ayyub رضي الله عنه, his response is recorded as follows:

Abu Ayyub رضي الله عنه: Have you seen what’s being said?

His Wife رضي الله عنها: If you were in Safwan’s position, could you even fathom thinking of the wife of Rasul ﷺ in that way?

Abu Ayyub رضي الله عنه: Never!

His Wife رضي الله عنها: And if I was in ‘Ā’ishah’s رضي الله عنها position, I would not have betrayed the Rasūlullāh ﷺ, and ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها is far better than me.[3]

This incident teaches us that the compassion we feel for our fellow Muslim should drive us to think the best whenever anyone says something negative about them. This is why Allāh ﷻ asks the believers why they didn’t think well of their own selves because the Muslim should consider thinking of their fellow believer in a good way as they think similarly of themselves. We can’t take the worst possible interpretation of a situation or someone’s words and take that as being definitive knowledge, we have to think well of others until we can clarify the situation from the person themselves or those who know what happened. After all, it is much safer for our ākhirah to act based on good assumptions of someone rather than to condemn someone based on a false understanding.[4]

Ibn Ata’ illāh refers to this concept in his well-known aphorism wherein he says:

ما قادك شيء مثل الوهم
“Nothing leads you as much as suspicion”[5] 

3) As Muslims we shouldn’t fall into the trap of moral relativism by justifying an action because others are doing it

The verses of the ifk show us that Allāh ﷻ expects more of and holds the believers to a far higher standard than the disbelievers and hypocrites. Out of the 12 ifk verses, only 1 verse addresses the disbelievers, and 11 verses address the believers. We tend to compare ourselves with others when trying to justify our actions. Here, Allāh ﷻ is instructing us to hold ourselves to our own standards that He expects from us.

4) Even if something seems insignificant in our eyes, it’s not insignificant in the eyes of Allāh

“When you were welcoming it with your tongues and were saying with your mouths something of which you had no knowledge, and were taking it as a trivial matter, while in the sight of Allāh it was grave.”

Qur’ān, 24:15

Much like what happens nowadays, there were many companions who upon hearing the slander against ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها passed it on without meaning ill intent on the Messenger ﷺ or ‘Ā’ishah رضي الله عنها just because it was the common talk of the town. Allāh ﷻ doesn’t include them amongst those who were cursed by Allāh ﷻ because there was no malice intended, but that didn’t save them from being reprimanded by Allāh ﷻ in the verse above. Similarly, we often pass on news that we hear thinking lightly of it and not considering it to be backbiting/slander. But in the eyes of Allāh ﷻ it isn’t a light matter. The simple litmus test we should apply when thinking about whether to pass something on is whether the person we are speaking about would want us to share this about them[6]. If it would hurt them, then turn away from it.

[6] The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said, “Do you know what is backbiting?” The Companions said: “Allāh and His Messenger know better.” Thereupon he said, “Backbiting is talking about your (Muslim) brother in a manner which he dislikes.” It was said to him: “What if my (Muslim) brother is as I say.” He said, “If he is actually as you say, then that is backbiting; but if that is not in him, that is slandering.” (Muslim)

[5] Al-Hikam li ibn Ataa’ Illah, Aphorism #61

[4] Surah Hujurat Verse 46; Surah Hujurat Verse 12

[3] Madarik al-Tanzil – Surah Nur

[2] Nu’man b. Bashir reported that Muslims are like one body of a person; if the eye is sore, the whole body aches, and if the head aches, the whole body aches. (Muslim)

[1] Details of the incident of ifk can be found in the narration of Aishah (RA) reported in Sahih al-Bukhari 4750 (Sunnah.com)