Sūrat al-Hujurāt | Verse by Verse
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ
6You who have faith! If a deviator brings you a report, scrutinise it carefully in case you attack people unwittingly and later deplore what you have done.
“You who have faith!” having believed in Allāh and His Messenger “If a deviator” someone who has stepped outside the bounds of the Sharīʿah, “brings you a report, scrutinise it” investigate and establish the truth “carefully” rather than accepting it unthinkingly and hastily believing it without careful forethought and investigation “in case you attack people” treating them coarsely and harshly: the consequences of ignorance (jahl) “unwittingly” without knowledge (ʿilm), patience and discernment (ḥilm) “and later deplore what you have done,” after seeing the damage you have wrought.
Due propriety with the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is not enough to establish a strong society, Muslims must act with propriety amongst themselves as well, this is the only way that brotherhood in faith and love can be engendered. Hence, the narrative now moves to correct some of the most harmful traits present in people when dealing with each other in general. Reports should be verified, the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) should be referred to and his judgment should be followed, even where it does not accord to one’s own desires. False reports bring about animosity and can upheave society itself.
This is the third time in this Sūrah that Allāh address the Muslims with the term of faith, yet again highlighting that what follows the vocative is something we should pay attention to and implement in our lives.
The word fāsiq used in this āyah is the opposite of ʿādil (just). It signifies deviation from the straight path and someone who has left the boundaries of the Sharīʿah. Ibn Zayd said that fāsiq refers to a habitual liar (kadhdhāb). Abū’l-Ḥasan al-Warrāq said it was someone who openly sins. Ibn Ṭāhir said it refers to someone who has no shame of Allāh. These are all case examples of the essential meaning of the word.
There are two recitations of this āyah: one which uses the word tabayyanū and the other which uses the word tathabbatū in its place. The meaning of the first would be an order to clarify the issue and the meaning of the second would be a command to establish the truth. Both readings have the same meaning.
There was a reason that this āyah was revealed. Al-Walīd b. ʿUqbah b. Abū Muʿayṭ was sent by Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to Banū Muṣṭaliq to collect their zakāt payments. In their excitement and eagerness to receive an envoy of Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), they came out in their crowds, and some rode out to meet him. But when Walīd saw them from afar Shayṭān planted a suspicion in his heart that they had come out to kill him. There was enmity between the two previously and so he turned and beat a retreat. Returning to Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) he told him, based on his own assumptions, that the tribe had apostated and refused to give the zakāt. This angered Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and the Muslims; but while he was deciding if he should launch a military expedition against them, a delegation from the tribe arrived at Ẓuhr time and prayed behind him. They then approached him and said, ‘We take refuge with Allāh from His anger and the anger of His Messenger.’ They explained that they had gone out to receive the envoy happily and then saw him at a distance turning back and, fearing that something may have happened to cause Allāh’s displeasure, they themselves came to investigate what had happened. They remained in discussion until ʿAṣr time and then Allāh revealed this verse excusing them.
Walīd was therefore referred to as a fāsiq, i.e. a liar (kādhib) in this case, but by way of warning and stressing the possible outcome of such an act. This is because he was a Companion and therefore a man of justice and integrity. So what is emphasised here is the danger of rushing to a conclusion in this way and then passing it on.
Spreading rumours and gossip is incredibly dangerous. It destroys reputations, breaks down relationships and can upheave society itself. We are living in times where such acts have become very common, where people are losing basic decency and chivalry, and where the tabloid press thrives on such news. Therefore, the believer should receive such gossip carefully, first verifying the truth of it before deciding if there is any benefit in passing it on; and in most cases there is not. In the Qurʾān we find that Allāh harshly critiques those who spread rumours without verification.
وَإِذَا جَاءَهُمْ أَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْأَمْنِ أَوِ الْخَوْفِ أَذَاعُوا بِهِ ۖ وَلَوْ رَدُّوهُ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ وَإِلَىٰ أُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَنبِطُونَهُ مِنْهُمْ
Whenever news of any matter comes to them, whether concerning peace or war, they spread it about; if they had referred it to the Messenger and those in authority among them, those seeking its meaning would have found it out from them.
And there is severe warning for those who agitate the community by spreading false news
لَّئِن لَّمْ يَنتَهِ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ وَالْمُرْجِفُونَ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ لَنُغْرِيَنَّكَ بِهِمْ ثُمَّ لَا يُجَاوِرُونَكَ فِيهَا إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
If the hypocrites, the sick at heart, and those who spread lies in the city do not desist, We shall rouse you against and then they will be your neighbours in this city for a short while.
The Muslim is intelligent and deliberate in what he does. He does not rush headlong thoughtlessly into something without due consideration,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا ضَرَبْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ فَتَبَيَّنُوا وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَنْ أَلْقَىٰ إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَامَ لَسْتَ مُؤْمِنًا تَبْتَغُونَ عَرَضَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فَعِندَ اللَّـهِ مَغَانِمُ كَثِيرَةٌ ۚ كَذَٰلِكَ كُنتُم مِّن قَبْلُ فَمَنَّ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْكُمْ فَتَبَيَّنُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
You who have faith, be careful when you go to fight in Allāh’s Way, and do not say to someone who offers the salām, ‘You are not a believer,’ out of desire for the chance gains of this life. – Allāh has plenty of gains for you. You yourself were in the same position but Allāh was gracious to you. So be careful: Allāh is fully aware of what you do.
Allāh’s Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Deliberation and forethought should go in everything except for deeds pertaining to the Hereafter.” “Deliberation is from Allāh and haste is from Shayṭān.”
Both the words fāsiq and nabaʾ in this āyah are indefinite nouns and therefore treated as unconditional (muṭlaq), i.e. any fāsiq who comes with any news should be verified.
It is interesting to note that Allāh does not tell us to reject their narration without condition, no matter what; rather He asks us to investigate, because there is the possibility that it be true. Indeed, Ibn al-Qayyim points that it is possible that a fāsiq be truthful and take pride in telling the truth, and his deviation lie in another area. We should be nuanced in our analysis of people and not fall for stereotype and prejudice.
We also learn that the report of a trustworthy individual is accepted, in general, since Allāh ordered the investigation of the reports of an open sinner. Conveying something accurately and honestly is a trust, and openly sinning is a sign strongly suggesting that such a person cannot be trusted.
However, even if the person is trustworthy, his report can be rejected in certain circumstances. If there are indications that something is odd such as the reports contradicting established fact, or contradicting the reports of other trustworthy individuals, the report in question can be rejected. Even truthful people can make mistakes. One time the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) prayed Ẓuhr as two rakʿahs and then completed it with the salām. One of the Companions, nicknames Dhū’l-Yadāin, asked, ‘Messenger of Allāh, has the prayer been shortened or have you forgotten?’ The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) first asked the others if what Dhū’l-Yadain said was correct, and after ascertaining the truth of what he said, he completed the prayer. The point being that here, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) did not unconditionally accept the report of a trustworthy individual due to the existence of external factors that gave rise to the need to investigate further.
“In case you attack people unwittingly and later deplore what you have done”
An tuṣībū: for fear that or in case you.
Jahālah: the opposite of ʿilm (knowledge) and ḥilm (discernment and patience), both are meant. The first in that knowledge is the direct opposite of ignorance; the second in that treating people with the opposite of ḥilm, i.e. with coarseness and harshness is a consequence of ignorance.
The āyah shows us that we should avoid things that lead us to regret later on, such as the regret for sin.
Also, what is prohibited in this āyah is acting on ignorance and unverified reports, it does not condemn building on ghalaba al-ẓann such as accepting the testimony of two witnesses or the opinion of a mujtahid scholar.
Points of Benefit
- The Muslim acts with due propriety with other Muslims
- The obligation to verify and establish the truth of reports conveyed by a fāsiq
- The danger of rushing to conclusions
- Conjecture and surmising could lead a person to be regarded as a liar
- The danger of spreading gossip and rumour
- The Muslim is intelligent and deliberate
- The report of a fāsiq could be true
- The report of a trustworthy individual is accepted in general
- A truthful person can make mistakes
- Rumours and gossip can lead people to attack others without knowing
- Rumours can engender hatred and enmity amongst each other
- Rumours can lead to treating each other harshly
- We should avoid things that lead us to regret later on
 Ibn ʿĀshūr
 Ṭabarī, Ṭabarānī 23:401, Bayhaqī 9:54, Ibn Hishām 2:296
 al-Nisāʾ 4:183
 al-Aḥzāb 33:60
 al-Nisāʾ 4:94
 Abū Dāwūd #4810
 Bayhaqī 10:104, cf. Tirmidhī #212
 Abū Ḥayyān
 Ibn al-Qayyim, ʿAdawī
 Abū Hayyān
 Ibn ʿĀshūr
 Ibn ʿĀshūr