Sunday, June 19, 2011

"News" as a tactic: lessons from "a gay girl in Damascus' blog

" O believers! When a "Faasiq" [an immoral person who breaks the normal rules of behavior] comes with any information, investigate it, lest you bring harm to a people unknowingly and become regretful afterwards." [Al-Qur'an 49:6]

By now, we have all heard the story of Aminah 'Abdullah 'Arraf. Publisher of the "a gay girl in Damascus' blog, which was said to have been run by a Syrian-American [Muslim] Lesbian living in the Syrian capital, recording "her" plight as a lesbian within a Muslim society going through its own political crisis, with condemnations of the Assad regime, even thoughts on Israel.

A sensational account published on the blog stated that the author was arrested by Syrian intelligence [Mukhabaraat], prompting an international campaign for the author's release. The story quickly unfolded when the pictures of the alleged author turned out to be someone else, but even in that, there was still, at least in the minds of Syrian opposition figures and their supporters worldwide, not enough evidence to dismiss the writer all together. See the following BBC link, which also has an interview with a Syrian opposition spokesman as well as with Jelena Lecic, whose pictures were co-opted unknowingly in this deception.

Later investigations revealed that- in fact- the author of the 'a gay girl in Damascus' blog was neither Syrian, Arab, Muslim, or even a Homosexual! Further details on this can be seen at NPR which also has a picture of the author with his wife.

The same source states the author defended his actions, claiming that his accounts reflect the realities on the ground in Syria.

False stories: oldest trick in the books

Using invented tales and false arguments to justify certain positions are noting new. Indeed, as a result of misleading tales out there, many people still believe that the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11. To go back further, the Vietnam war was started after North Vietnam forces allegedly attacked US vessels in the Tonkin gulf region in August 1964, but as it turns out, this incident never even took place!

Perhaps it's a bit unfair to cite these above examples as comparisons to what Tom MacMaster [author of the blog in question] did. Yet, the point seems valid nonetheless, that such a course of action is nothing new, and represents a tactic to put pressure on the Assad regime, not in the name of democratic rights, but because- in their view- Muslims and Muslim lands are fair game for anything that outsiders may want to impose.

Media is indeed a powerful weapon, and with the advent of the internet, where there does exist almost completely equal access to abilities to publish one's news/views, it can be an even heavier sword in the hands of writers. Indeed, the Qur'anic verse cited at the beginning of this post becomes even more relevant.

Islam and critical thinking

As Muslims, we have to take the commands of the Qur'an and Prophetic model seriously. The Qur'an demands investigation in any claim, especially when such claims can affect the safety and dignity of people.

Within Muslim history, the verse in question has served as a basis upon which the Muhadditheen [scholars, compilers of Prophetic Sunnah] looked at the narrators of reports they [i.e. the Muhadditheen] collected concerning the Prophet. One famous story which is attributed to Imam Al-Bukhari{ft.1} states that he did not even bother meeting with a man who was to share some Prophetic narrations when he saw the man treating a horse in a cruel manner.

We can agree that such character-based judgement of narrators [be it hadeeth narrators or those telling us any story] is imperfect. After all, our judgement may be wrong, based on incomplete information, and even if our decision is correct, there does exist a chance that the narrator may be telling the truth, and it's also possible that those we deem trustworthy have narrated an incomplete, biased, or even false account.

One account which the scholars have generally rejected is the "satanic verses" story. This account alleged that the Prophet received "satanic inspiration" to actually order his followers to prostrate before the pagan deities [al lat, Manat and Al'Uzza] (ft.2}. Such a claim insults the Prophet, the Qur'an, and contradicts known history and common sense. The Prophet, upon whom be peace and blessings, sacrificed much in his mission. Battles, death, enmity of tribes, and yet he never deviated from his mission. to assert that he would- in a moment of weakness or in the name of political expediency- allow his principles to be violated by such an order to his followers is ridiculous!

Fortunately, the Muslims have, in terms of both theological ['Aqeedah] issues and Prophetic history, a source that is reliable and free from error, and that source is the Glorious Qur'an!

A lay man unaware of the complexities of recorded histories, unable to determine on their own what is authentic and what is spurious, can look at the Qur'anic contents and understand what the Prophet was really about. He or she can get a clear picture of the Prophet's actions, intentions, inspiration, and motivation by having a look at the Qur'an. Critics say he was a man obsessed with sex.But how can this be, when the Qur'an tells us that he would spend his nights, half or even a third of it, dedicated to prayer and contemplation? [see Qur'an 73:20].

He was a man who had very little concern for material things, he was a statesman, a religious teacher, when would he have the time for the sort of accusations made against him?

This is just one example, but our over-riding point is that we must be careful. Claims are circulating that both Syrian and Libyan soldiers are using rape against their opponents. Maybe this is true, but we must investigate first. Wecan't assume and then act upon assumptions. This religion has been sent forth for spiritual guidance, and that guidance is to translate practically in daily, political, business and social life!

It should be noted that this post does not seek to defend the governments in Libya, Syria or anywhere else. Nor are we blind to the realities of troubles in Muslim lands. But those problems should be resolved internally, and not made worse by lies and propaganda. The ends do not justify the means!

Here, we only appeal to the use of critical thinking, of investigation and of caution. These appeals are useful in any place or time in life, but are especially important in issues that affect the safety of peoples and societies.

May Allah guide us, forgive us, and allow us to see truth, whereever it is. As his Prophet, Sall Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam, used to pray, we pray that Allah's light illuminate us, in front and back of us, to our right as well as our left. Ameen![Ft.3]


[1] Imam Al-Bukhari's collection, known as Saheeh Al-Bukhari, is the most popular and trustworthy of sources of information about the Prophet. Indeed, one expression that describes its value is As Sahh al Kutub Ba'da Kitaab Allah, the most authentic of books after the Book of God. It should be noted that Hadeeth is not equal to the Qur'an, and although we give the most attention to Bukhari's collection, he [Bukhari] never saw it as error-free.

[2] The famed historian and Qur'an commentator, Imam Muhammad Jarir At-Tabari [hence referred to as Tabari] is the only commentator who records this story, but even he stated that he only records what was told to him. An examination of his writings show that he, most likely, did not believe this story either, but nonetheless shared what he was told. In any case, even if he[Tabari] did believe it, it makes no difference, for our opinions or understanding of Prophetic teaching and action cannot contradict the position or the teaching given in the Qur'an.

[3] This supplication of the Prophet, as reported in hadeeth sources, can be found in the useful booklet Hisnul Muslim, compiled by Sa'eed ibn 'Ali Wahf Al-Qahtaani, pg 44, Dar al Khair, Jeddah.]