Islam portrays itself as a faith that is not only for the benefit of all humanity, but as a logical, practical and healthy way of life. The more life experiences emerge, the more this portrayal is found to be true.
Ultimately, what Islam seeks for its adherents is a foundation for moral and spiritual development, tools to accomplish this. This is a life-long process for most of us, and it is our belief that this is precisely why the Qur'an contains stories, be it in detailed or truncated form. One chapter which illustrates this is is the twenty-forth Soorah, called simply An Noor or "The Light".
Positive conjecture is the healthy, default position to be held by people of faith
The Soorah makes allusions to a particular incident in the time of revelation. In brief, the Prophet Muhammad (Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and a number of others went on an expedition. Among the party was his wife 'Aa'ishaa. There was a point when the Muslim party had left, accidentally leaving her behind. She was discovered by a man (Safwan), the latter, with respect and intelligence, places her on his camel, walks it back to Madinah.
This caused gossip to emerge, a scandal, voiced in whispers, alleging an affair between the wife of the Prophet (referred to traditionally as "Mother of the believers") and Safwan. This Soorah speaks on this in the following words:
لَوۡ لَاۤ اِذۡ سَمِعۡتُمُوۡہُ ظَنَّ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ وَ الۡمُؤۡمِنٰتُ بِاَنۡفُسِہِمۡ خَیۡرًا ۙ وَّ قَالُوۡا ہٰذَاۤ اِفۡکٌ مُّبِیۡنٌ
"Why didn't the people of Imaan (faith), men and women (alike), when they heard it, not have a good thought of their own selves, and assert; "this is clearly false." (Q 24:12).
One of the principles we should learn from this is a principal called Husnudh dhann, or positive conjecture. Essentially, it means to assume the best before assuming the worst. When positive thinking is not present, it is an unstable foundation. Negative assumptions (soo'adh-dhann) as default is a dangerous foundation for a community as well as a family.
Sooratun Noor has interwoven much spirituality in the discussion about an accusation of that nature, as well as laws and social etiquette. It goes on to say:
یَعِظُکُمُ اللّٰہُ اَنۡ تَعُوۡدُوۡا لِمِثۡلِہٖۤ اَبَدًا اِنۡ کُنۡتُمۡ مُّؤۡمِنِیۡنَ
وَ یُبَیِّنُ اللّٰہُ لَکُمُ الۡاٰیٰتِ ؕ وَ اللّٰہُ عَلِیۡمٌ حَکِیۡمٌ
" Allah gives you admonition never to return to this (type of scandalizing), if you have faith, and Allah makes clear for you the signs, Allah is the One who knows, the wise." ( Q 24:17-18)
Prejudice as a reason behind negative assumptions
Muhammad Husayn Haykal's book The Life of Muhammad ( 1995, Indianapolis, pp.334-335) has pointed out two basic reasons behind the spread of the rumor regarding the Prophet's wife and Safwan. The first involves internal family dynamics, whereas the second was political. Haykal points out the details, in which old tribal conflicts were once again agitated as a result of this, some taking on a sort of cause in order to solve old rivalries.
The Qur'an focuses upon the political motivations wherein it states " Indeed, those who spread about the lie, are a powerful element ('Usbah) from your midst." (Q 24:11).اِنَّ الَّذِیۡنَ جَآءُوۡ بِالۡاِفۡکِ عُصۡبَۃٌ مِّنۡکُمۡ
Prejudice entered into the picture, and this is something we can learn from today! Prejudices ( to "prejudge") are not only based on skin color, ethnicity or language. Indeed, most countries have communities therein which has biases towards others in the same country, sharing the same items listed above.
Prejudices can come in the same community. The Non-Hijabi sees the Hijabi as fanatical, the latter seeing the former as immoral, the clean shaven views the bearded man as a zealot, the bearded Muslim looks at his clean-shaven counterpart as lacking religious commitment. The Salafi judges the Shiite, etc.
We are quick to judge those who have even the slightest difference, even in the same community, to make negative assumptions.
We have to learn to judge on merits and evidence, and avoid jumping to conclusions based on our prejudices. Essentially, Islam asks us to remove prejudices.
More benefits of the Soorah
The Soorah gives guidance on a number of issues.
(1) In terms of accusations of adultery, an entire legal process is placed. Four witnesses (vv.4-8)(ft.1) are required before even an accusation can be made in a legal setting. Otherwise, a person bringing that to the court without this evidence is deemed unreliable and actually to face punishment (v.4).
(2) It gives us some guidance as to marriage.(vv.32-34)
(3) It gives us some social etiquette, dress code.(vv.27-32)
(4) It gives us the beautiful "Verse of light" (Q 24:35). (ft.2)
Perhaps this is why , when the incident is spoken of, Allah says "Do not think of it as evil for you, nay, it benefits you." (Q 24:11)
لَا تَحۡسَبُوۡہُ شَرًّا لَّکُمۡ ؕ بَلۡ ہُوَ خَیۡرٌ لَّکُمۡ
May we learn from our sacred history. That is why it is there.
(1) The scholars have added, based upon Prophetic narrations, that Zinaa (adultery) must be proven via four people witnessing penetration (and no other act). This is a nearly impossible condition. This is necessary to both protect the privacy of people as well as public morals.
(2) Ayatun Noor has fascinated readers since the Quranic revelation. I have shared some reflections on it at the following link. http://shamsuddinwaheed.blogspot.com/2008/01/divine-illumination-examination-of-ayah.html