MUSLIMS throughout the world profess their faith through verbal declaration of the unity of God and the prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). The message brought by the latter has become the living Quran, a book covering all aspects of human life that can prepare one for the Day of Judgement.
As much as the Quran is a guide of ethical principles, it has been questionably interpreted by some to be a book of laws. Only 80 of the 6,666 verses in the Quran are directly concerned with legal matters and even these are addressed through an ethical lens.
The Quran is mainly concerned with truth, kindness and justice: “Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion. …” (16:90). Justice can only be established through a careful search for truth and the doing of good and being kind must be ensured by mercy and compassion. Truth must be relentlessly pursued and demands made for proof. God further enjoins Muslims to always speak “the right” (33:70); and avoid falsehoods and allegations against others.
If one does need to cast blame, it should be against oneself. Saying bad things about someone behind their back is backbiting and is akin to eating the flesh of one’s brother; saying false things is an allegation and deserves the most severe punishment.
Vigilantism is a crime in Islam.
The world at large is facing the scourge of falsehoods, so often repeated and shared and so convincingly communicated that it dons the guise of truth. As a consequence, at the global level, wars are fought, millions are killed, countries face humanitarian crises and nations seethe with hatred for each other. At an individual level, homes are destroyed, relationships falter and suspicions abound.
A particularly cancerous form of the spread of falsehoods is accusing someone of a sin or crime without clear proof. Accusing others at a personal level is forbidden: “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” (49:6).
False allegations, often based on vested interests, have created uncontrolled vigilantism in societies, especially where the laws of the country are implemented poorly. God has decreed the worst punishment for all who accuse falsely. The Prophet is reported to have said: “He who, in order to find fault, says something about a person that was not there, Allah will throw such a person in hell till he tastes fully what he had fabricated” (Tibrani).
False allegations are often made on religious grounds. The perpetrators are aware that these will most likely give rise to angry sentiments of a by and large uneducated and unthinking populace and exploit this for their nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, such allegations are also readily believed by mobs and give rise to unbridled violence. Some of the most brutal cases of vigilantism in Pakistan were caused by mere accusations regarding a social media post.
Most countries have laws against libellous statements about religion and religious personalities. Except for four countries, all others use punishments such as fines and imprisonment after carefully conducted trials with clear proofs and evidence of the negative impacts.
Vigilantism is a crime in Islam. The Prophet forbade a man who asked what he should do if he witnessed adultery by his wife and wished to deliver punishment. His sense of ‘honour’ was no justification for such vigilantism (Sahih Muslim, 1498). Civilians meting out punishment for a perceived crime are themselves criminals in the eyes of Islam. In fact, not only must a stringent process be followed to establish evidence, judges must exercise restraint to keep their personal biases from creeping into their judgements and temper their decisions with due consideration to mitigating circumstances. As the Prophet said: “It is better for the ‘imam to err on the side of compassion than on the side of punishment” (Sunan Altirmidhi, Kitab al hudud, Vol 4, p 25).
The Quran is explicit in calling for mercy in all cases of crimes and states that the death sentence can only be given in cases of deliberate and wilful murder and when a state of anarchy (fasad) is being created.
The main problem with some Muslim societies is that we have closed our minds to rationality and fairness and to questioning our presuppositions and centuries-old beliefs. We have become hostage to anger and rage, ready to cast aspersions on others and assign moral and religious codes based on our narrow views. We are more concerned with how others behave than with our own attitudes. Our concepts of justice and truth have turned into caricatures as we occupy ourselves with ideas of how the world should change, rather than making an effort to introspect and change our own selves.
Correction: An earlier version of the article said 'man' instead of 'imam'. The error is regretted and has been corrected.
The writer is a freelance contributor.
Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2020