The following verses describe a real event that involved the slander of the Prophet’s (PBUH) wife A’isha (RA), “Those who brought forward the lie are a gang among you. Do not think it to be an evil thing for you; on the contrary it is good for you. To every man among them (will come the punishment) of the sin that he earned, and to him who took on himself the lead among them, will be a grievous punishment. Why did not the believers – men and women – when you heard of the affair, think good of their own people, and say, ‘It is an evident falsehood?’ Why did they not produce four witnesses? Since they did not produce any witnesses, they verily are liars in the sight of God. Had it not been for the grace of God and His mercy on you in the world and the Hereafter a grievous torment would have certainly touched you on account of the discourse which you entered into. When you welcomed it with your tongues, and uttered with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you thought it was a trifle but it is very great in the sight of God. And why you did not, when you heard it, say, ‘It is not right of us to speak of this. Glory to God, this is a most serious slander?’ God admonishes you, that you may never repeat such (conduct), if you are (true) believers. And God makes the verses plain to you; for God is Omniscient, Wise.” (24: 11- 18)
The incident of the slander of A’isha (RA) was a very painful experience for the Prophet (PBUH), his wife, and the whole community. Doubts destroyed the serenity of the hearts of the Prophet (PBUH), his close friend and father in law, and the companion of the Prophet (PBUH) Safwan bin Al Mu’atal (RA) for a whole month. Let us listen to the description of the incident as it was narrated by A’isha (RA).
“Each time the Prophet (PBUH) wanted to go on a trip he used to choose one of his wives to accompany him. The process he followed was to draw a toss between his wives whoever wins the toss would accompany him. On one of these trips, after Hijab has been mandated, it was my turn to accompany the Prophet (PBUH). My camel had a tent for me to sit in. While I was visiting the toilet, the Prophet (PBUH) commanded his army to prepare for the return trip to Medina. On my way back to the place where I left my camel, I found out that I lost my rosary so I went back to fetch it. In the meantime, the driver of my camel came and drove the camel never realizing that I was not inside my tent on top of the camel. When I came back to the place of the camp I found that the army had left. I decided to stay where I was thinking that soon they will realise that I am not in my tent on top of the camel and they will come back for me. I was tired so I was overcome by sleep. While I was sleeping Safwan (RA) happened to be passing by and saw me. Safwan (RA) knew who I was. So he took me on his camel until we caught up with the army. When I reached Medina I became sick and continued to be sick for about a month. In the meantime, Abdu Allah ibn Salool made up the story slandering me and he circulated the slander among people. People were talking about the slander and all the time I was unaware of what was going on. I was a bit suspicious of the Prophet’s (PBUH) behaviour. The Prophet (PBUH) was always warm towards me, but during this month I sensed a change in his attitude, but he never mentioned anything. One day, after my recovery I was going to the toilet outside the house with Um Mustah (RA). While we were walking I heard Um Mustah (RA) cursing her son Mustah. I was deeply concerned that a man who participated in the battle of Badr would be cursed by his mother. I asked her why she was doing this. She said, ‘Did you not know about the rumour being circulated?’ I said, ‘No, what rumour.’ She told me about the rumour accusing me of a relationship with Safwan (RA). This was extremely painful, I became ill again and I went home crying. I spent the whole night crying. The Prophet (PBUH) asked Ali ibn Taleb (RA) and Usama ibn Zaid (RA) for advice. Usama (RA) defended me and attested to my innocence. Ali (RA) on the other hand said to the Prophet (PBUH) that he can always marry another one if he wanted, but he also asked him to ask my servant of my behaviour. My servant attested to my innocence.
The Prophet (PBUH) came to enquire about my health, so I asked him to let me go visit my mother, I wanted to ask my mother about the rumour. She confirmed what I heard from Um Mustah (RA). The next day my parents were with me and the Prophet (PBUH) came to see me. He sat on the bed and told me about what was going on, he said, ‘If you are innocent, God will announce your innocence, but if you were guilty then you should repent. God forgives all sins.’ I did not know how to answer back. I asked my mother to respond but she did not say anything. I said, ‘By God, I know that you heard the rumour and believed it. If I say I am innocent, you will not believe me but if I confess my guilt, while God knows my innocence, you would believe me. I can only say what the father of Joseph said, “Beautiful patience is most befitting, I seek God’s help regarding what you say.” (12: 18)’. I was certain of my innocence but I could not fathom the idea that God would send a revelation to declare my innocence. My best hope was that the Prophet (PBUH) would see in his dream that I am innocent. Suddenly, I realised that the Prophet (PBUH) was in the state of receiving a revelation. When he came around, he was smiling and he said, ‘A’isha, praise your Lord. He declared you innocent.’ The Prophet (PBUH) then recited the ten verses in Surat Al-Nur which talked about the slander.”
Mustah who spread the rumor about A’isha (RA) was Abu Bakr’s (RA) cousin. Abu Bakr (RA) used to help Mustah (RA) financially as a form of charity. Abu Bakr (RA) decided that he will stop helping Mustah (RA) as he used to before the incident. But then a verse was revealed which made Abu Bakr (RA) change his mind, “And let not those who possess dignity and abundance among you swear not to give to the near of kin and to the needy, and to those who have fled in God’s way. Let them forgive and show indulgence. Do you not yearn that God forgive you? God is All-Forgiving, Giver of Mercy.” (24:22)
For a whole month the Prophet (PBUH) and A’isha, Abu Bakr (RA) and his wife, Safwan (RA), and indeed the whole Muslim community suffered through this horrible experience. The young, pure, and innocent A’isha (RA) was slandered and her reputation had been tarnished. Not only did she feel the pain of being falsely accused, but she was horrified at the thought that the Prophet (PBUH) had doubts about her innocence. Her parents suffered with her. Safwan (RA) a companion of the Prophet (PBUH) was deeply pained by the accusations launched against him. The whole episode continued for a month before the decisive verses declaring A’isha’s (RA) innocence were revealed. The slander was not only meant to harm A’isha (RA); it was also meant to hurt the Prophet (PBUH). The rumours were meant to undermine the Prophet (PBUH), his message, and his leadership. It was planned and executed by a group of people, “Those who brought forward the lie are a gang among you. Do not think it to be an evil thing to you; on the contrary it is good for you.” It was a gang of people led by Abd Allah ibn Saloul the leader of a group of hypocrites. The gang included a few Muslims who were deceived by the hypocrites, e.g. Hamna bint Jahsh, Hassan ibn Thabet, and Mustah ibn Athatha. This verse indicates the enormity of the conspiracy and reassures the believers that it this incident, although stressful and divisive for a time, also contained some positive elements. The good that could be drawn from this scenario is that it exposed those who were scheming against Islam and bent on hurting the Prophet (PBUH) and his wives. It was also good because it alerted the believers to the dire consequences of slander. Slandering people has a grievous impact not only on the falsely accused but also on the whole community. This incident provided the opportunity to address the standards for the proper Islamic behaviour during times of trials. The pains that the Prophet (PBUH), A’isha (RA), and indeed the whole Muslim community suffered were the price that had to be paid to pass safely through this trial. Those who fabricated and propagated the lie will face their punishment, each according to his/her share in the crime. Abd Allah ibn Saloul who twisted the facts, fabricated the lie, and worked hard to propagate it will have the greatest share of the punishment.
“Why did not the believers – men and women – when you heard of the affair, think good of their own people, and say, ‘It is an evident falsehood?’” This verse describes the proper Islamic behaviour when faced with such trials. The believers should have consulted their hearts and listened to their gut feelings, then they would have naturally reached the conclusion that it was a lie. They should have known that A’isha (RA), would not have committed such an indecency. There are stories that indicate that this was exactly the reaction of some Muslims e.g. Abu Ayoub Al-Ansari (RA).
This verse and the following one describe the proper process to handle rumours that slander people. The process consists of two steps. The first step requires the believer to reflect on the accusation and to give the accused the benefit of the doubt. The second step is to assume the innocence of the accused until proven guilty on the basis of hard and concrete evidence. A rigorous methodology in investigating the evidence should be followed, “Why did they not produce four witnesses? Since they did not produce any witnesses, they verily are liars in the sight of God.” A heinous accusation such as this should be proven beyond a shred of a doubt before a verdict can be reached; four eyewitnesses should come forward to substantiate the accusation. If the person who has launched the accusation is unable to produce four eyewitness accounts to substantiate his/her claim, then he/she is considered a liar. The believers did not follow this process when the accusation was launched against A’isha (RA). The verses warn the believers not to commit such a mistake again, “Had it not been for the grace of God and His mercy on you in the world and the Hereafter a grievous torment would have certainly touched you on account of the discourse which you entered into.”
The verses go on to describe the details of the believers’ disgraceful reaction to the accusations, “When you welcomed it with your tongues, and uttered with your mouths that whereof you had no knowledge, you thought it was a trifle but it is very great in the sight of God.” The verse describes how rumours can take on a life of their own when people repeat what they hear without verifying the facts. . People repeat false accusations not realising the damage that they are causing. Their reaction should have been to shun those who were spreading the rumours, “And why you did not, when you heard it, say, ‘It is not right of us to speak of this. Glory to God, this is a most serious slander?’” The verses end with an admonition and a warning, “God admonishes you, that you may never repeat such (conduct), if you are (true) believers. And God makes the verses plain to you; for God is Omniscient, Wise.”
- This story shows how strong and independent A’isha (RA) was. She refused to cower to the rumour mill. She had a strong head on her shoulders, a strong sense of self and a strong connection with her Lord. Her deep trust in God carried her through this trial. From her account, one can sense that she was certain that God will probe her innocence.
- The story also shows the human nature of the Prophet (PBUH) and how he suffered and endured. His trust in God gave him the strength to act in a rational and fair way. He sought the advice of his companions but acted wisely and in a way that was in the best interest of the Muslim community.