Although it all started with a simple statement, the rumors quickly spread like wildfire.
After Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) emigrated to the city of Madinah and established the new Muslim community there, the emigrants became known as the "Muhajireen" and the Muslims who had received them in Madinah as the "Ansar."
"Help me, O Muhajireen!"
"Help me, O Ansar!"
Those were the cries from two Muslims who had a dispute with each other at a well during one of Prophet Muhammad's expeditions. A number of other companions responded, and a fight was about to ensue. The Prophet, upon learning of this dispute, came running to quell this fight. He told them to abandon these tribal calls, and he calmed the situation between them, reminding them of their Islamic brotherhood. The matter would have ended, had it not been for Abdullah ibn Ubay, the leader of the hypocrites, who resented what had happened between them. He said to his people sitting with him, "They (the Muslims) have outnumbered and shared us our land. If you fatten your dog, it will eat you." He then swore that when they return to Madinah, "the most honorable among you will expel the lowest out of Madinah." By this, he meant the Muslims.
The son of Abdullah ibn Ubay, after learning of this, became very angry. When the Muslims returned to Madinah, he stood at its gate, sword unsheathed. When his father attempted to enter Madinah, he put his sword to his chest and said, "By God! The Prophet is the honorable one, and you are abased! By God! You will not enter Madinah until the Prophet gives you his permission!" Word was sent to the Prophet, and he gave permission to Abdullah ibn Ubay to enter. This further enraged him; the once King of Madinah had to be given permission to enter his own city. He was looking for something with which to attack the Prophet, and that thing came not too much later.
Back when the army was encamped, Lady Aishah, wife of the Prophet, lost her necklace, and after she went to retrieve it unnoticed, the army had left her behind. Deciding to stay put until they discover her absence, she fell asleep. Safwan ibn al-Muattil, a trusted companion of the Prophet, who had started the trip after the army had left,discovered Aishah all alone, he expressed surprise, but did not carry on conversation with her. He lowered his camel so that she could ride on it, and he guided it back to Madinah. Now was the chance for Abdullah ibn Ubay to get back with the Prophet.
"Safwan and Aishah? By God, neither was safe from the other."
That was all he said. The rumor mill, however, did not cease thereafter, and soon, people accused Aishah of adultery. Some of these people were righteous upright Companions, including Hamnah bint Jahsh, the Prophet's cousin, and Hassan ibn Thabit, the Prophet's poet. For her part, Aishah did not know of the things being said about her, as she fell ill as soon as they returned to Madinah. The Prophet, however, did hear what was being said, and it disturbed him so much so that, according to Lady Aishah, "I was hurt by the fact that I did not see the tenderness I used to see from the Prophet while I was sick. He would enter upon us and ask all of us, 'How are all of you doing?' then he would leave."
As the rumors spread, more disputes sprung up among the tribes of Aws and Khazraj, the two main tribes of Madinah, and it almost led to them fighting one another. Throughout this entire time, no revelation from God had come to the Prophet to clarify the matter. One day, Aishah felt a little better, and she was going out to the open desert to relieve herself with Umm Mistah, the Prophet's first cousin. Umm Mistah tripped, and she then cursed her son, Mistah. Lady Aishah was shocked and said, "What an evil thing you have said. How can you curse a person who has witnessed the Battle of Badr?"
Umm Mistah was shocked, "My dear child, did you not hear what he is saying about you?"
Aishah replied in the negative, and when she was told about the slander against her, she became even more ill than before, with some narrations stating that she fainted. She sought permission to go to her parents' house, and the Prophet granted her permission. At her parents' house, Aishah said that she "cried and cried until the morning came. My tears could not stop nor could I taste the sweetness of sleep."
|All I can say to you is what the father of Yusuf said. 'Patience is beautiful.'|
More time had passed with no answer from God, and so the Prophet went to Aishah and said, "I have heard about you such and such. So, if you are innocent, then Allah [God] will clear you of this charge, and if you have slipped into a sin then seek Allah's forgiveness and repent to Him, for whenever a servant of God commits a sin, admits to it, and repents, Allah accepts his repentance from him."
Aishah was so shocked that her tears ceased flowing. She then said to her father, Abu Bakr, "Respond to the Prophet on my behalf. Answer him! Say something!"
With pain in his voice, he replied, "I cannot speak right now."
Her mother also could not respond. Therefore, she took it upon herself and said:
I know by Allah that you have heard these rumors, and that these rumors have settled in your heart and soul, and you have believed it already. So, if I were to tell you that I'm not guilty, you wouldn’t believe me. And, if I were to admit to a crime that I did not commit, then you will believe me and think that I did it. So, all I can say to you is what the father of Yusuf said, [Patience is beautiful, and from God alone I seek help to bear what you are saying.] (Yusuf 12:18)
At that moment, the revelation came to the Prophet declaring Aishah's innocence, and the Prophet laughed in elation. He then said to her, "Aishah, verily Allah has declared your innocence!"
The story of the Slander is an extremely important incident in Islamic history, one that needs to be told to our congregations and gatherings time and time again. It has numerous lessons for us on how to behave and act properly. Something that many Muslims have forgotten is one of the primary missions of Prophet Muhammad. He said, "I have been sent to perfect good character" (Al-Bukhari). The uprightness of our moral character is foremost in Islam. In fact, Prophet Muhammad also said, "I have heard that by his good character a person can reach the degree of the one who stands in prayer at night, and the one who is thirsty from fasting in the heat of the day." (At-Tirmidhi)
The story of the Slander illustrates what can happen when our moral character lapses. First, notice how the Prophet forcefully quashed the old ways of tribalism after the two Companions disputed with each other and called out to their tribal brethren. He said, "How can you resort to the call of the Jahiliyah [pre-Islamic time of ignorance], and I am among you? Leave such things, for it is rotten" (Al-Bukhari). No matter how much we disagree with one another — and there is nothing wrong with disagreeing with our fellow Muslims — we must never resort to being disagreeable over a silly dispute.
Yet, what the story of the Slander really teaches us is about leaving aside rumors and idle talk, which is another important part of good character. The Prophet Muhammad said, "Part of the excellence of a person's Islam is that he leaves what does not concern him." (Malik)
God Himself taught us a number of lessons from this incident, such as the following verse of the Quran which means:
[When you heard the lie, why did believing men and women not think well of their own people and declare, "This is obviously a lie"?] (An-Nur 24:12)
|We think that talking about other people is "no big deal," as God says. But, it is a big deal: in the sight of God, it is an awful thing!|
Why did the believers quickly accept the possibility in their minds that, God forbid, Lady Aishah would commit such an evil act? Why didn't the believers give their sister the benefit of the doubt? Why didn't the believers take the Prophet's advice and "leave what does not concern [them]?" Also, notice how vague the initial attack against Lady Aishah's character was; "By God, neither was safe from the other." However, by continually talking and spreading rumors, it turned into an obvious slander and lie against the Prophet's own wife! We must learn this lesson.
God continues in the same chapter of the Quran what means:
[When you took it up with your tongues, and spoke with your mouths things you did not know [to be true], you thought it was trivial but to God it was very serious! When you heard the lie, why did you not say, "We should not repeat this — God forbid!- It is a monstrous slander"?] (An-Nur 24:15-16)
Again, this goes to showing good moral character towards our brothers and sisters, not to spread rumors about them. It is always tempting to hear "dirt" on other people, and it is fun to learn something about someone. Indeed, it is fun for the person "dishing" out the dirt to see the reaction on the face of the person being told the story. However, the challenge of our religion and way of life is to resist this and follow the better angels of nature. The challenge is to say, as God commands us, "We should not repeat this — God forbid!..." We think that talking about other people is "no big deal"; but, it is a big deal: in the sight of God, it is an awful thing!
God also says in another chapter of the Quran what means:
[Believers, no one group of men should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; no one group of women should jeer at another, who may after all be better than them; do not speak ill of one another; do not use offensive nicknames for one another. How bad it is to be called a mischief-maker after accepting faith! Those who do not repent of this behavior are evildoers.] (Al-Hujurat 49:11)
And He further emphasizes in the same chapter what means:
[...and do not spy on one another or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the ﬂesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it!] (Al-Hujurat 49:12)
Again, it is tempting to speak ill about other people, but we must resist this temptation.
The Prophet Muhammad said, "Do you know what backbiting is?" His Companions replied, "God and His Messenger know best." He then said, "It is to say something about your brother that he would dislike." Someone asked him, "But what if what I say is true?" The Messenger of God said, "If what you say about him is true, you are backbiting him, but if it is not true then you have slandered him." (Muslim)
We must be careful of what we say, for it can destroy us without even knowing. In fact, the Prophet once said, "Whoever can guarantee me the control of what is within his beard and what is between his legs, I will guarantee him paradise" (Al-Bukhari). It is a tough challenge, but one with an enormous payoff.
All of this can be gleaned from the story of the Slander, and it is a very important lesson for us. We must read and teach this story again and again, and we must remember God's words that mean: [God warns you never to do anything like this again, if you are true believers.] (An-Nur 24:17)
And let us also always remember that our Prophet said: "I was sent to perfect moral character" (Al-Bukhari). Let us not disgrace our Prophet by our lack of moral character.
Ibn Hisham, Abd al-Malik. Seerat Ibn Hisham. Vol. 1. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998.