Dr. Akram Nadwi Updated Letter: The Sin of Feasting on the Misfortune of a Fellow-Believer

Dr. Akram Nadwi wrote this open letter to the general public as advice. It is not a defense of any personality or judgment of other scholars who are meditating. His letter is not against any scholars. He did not intend for this letter to be used as a campaign.

Disclaimer: MuslimMatters Inc. does not have an official position on this matter – we have published the open letter with clarification from Dr. Nadwi himself and with the comments section closed.

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إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُحِبُّونَ أَن تَشِيعَ الْفَاحِشَةُ فِي الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۚ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ وَأَنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ 19 وَلَوْلَا فَضْلُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُهُ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ رَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ 20

Every Muslim knows what God has said about slander. He has said that, if invited to join in backbiting other people, we should feel the same disgust that we would feel if we were invited to join in eating their dead flesh. Backbiting should be as horrid to us as cannibalism. Why then do so many Muslims not resist the invitation to join in backbiting, slander and gossip, when the opportunity for it is presented? What is the attraction of it?Every Muslim also knows that if you see someone in misfortune, your first impulse should be to help them, not to rejoice in their misfortune. There is the famous saying– ‘if you see a man fallen

Every Muslim also knows that if you see someone in misfortune, your first impulse should be to help them, not to rejoice in their misfortune. There is the famous saying– ‘if you see a man fallen in a ditch, reflect on how hard he must have tried to keep his balance before he lost it and fell’. Such reflection is dignifying; it helps you to try and help him up, rather than keep him down. Every Muslim knows this, and yet so many prefer to take part in circulating news that someone has been brought down. The more famous the person, the higher his reputation, the greater the delight some people show in his fall. What is the point of this behavior, given that those who indulge in it gain nothing by it? When a reputation is being ruined, the majority of those who take part in the ruining will say, ‘Oh, I always knew he would end this way. I always thought he was too good to be true. I always had my doubts, you know, but I did not like to say.’ The minority will pretend to be surprised and aggrieved at the man’s fall; we may hear them say: ‘I would never have believed such a thing about him, but it must be true. You know what they say –“no smoke without fire”. What a shame!’. If the grief were sincere they would not say this. Rather, they would say: ‘I have no reliable, detailed, first-hand information about this. So, no, I will not believe it on hearsay, and I will not report it’. And they would continue to hold the man in the same respect as before, encourage others to do so also, and comfort him as best they can. But, since their grief is not real, that is not what they do. They prefer to be disappointed in him, to lose trust in him. Since this distrust is indeed a loss for them, why do they choose it?

When a reputation is being ruined, the majority of those who take part in the ruining will say, ‘Oh, I always knew he would end this way. I always thought he was too good to be true. I always had my doubts, you know, but I did not like to say.’ The minority will pretend to be surprised and aggrieved at the man’s fall; we may hear them say: ‘I would never have believed such a thing about him, but it must be true. You know what they say –“no smoke without fire”. What a shame!’. If the grief were sincere they would not say this. Rather, they would say: ‘I have no reliable, detailed, first-hand information about this. So, no, I will not believe it on hearsay, and I will not report it’. And they would continue to hold the man in the same respect as before, encourage others to do so also, and comfort him as best they can. But, since their grief is not real, that is not what they do. They prefer to be disappointed in him, to lose trust in him. Since this distrust is indeed a loss for them, why do they choose it? For sure, if a man is alleged to have done some wrong, there is a collective duty to test the allegation.There are procedures for doing so, procedures entrusted to particular individuals empowered to investigate and make a determination that the people are supposed to accept.

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For sure, if a man is alleged to have done some wrong, there is a collective duty to test the allegation.There are procedures for doing so, procedures entrusted to particular individuals empowered to investigate and make a determination that the people are supposed to accept. Meanwhile, those people must remain silent, must withhold judgment. The procedures include a fair hearing for the plaintiff (who alleges the wrong-doing) as well as for the defendant (the alleged wrong-doer). The procedures do NOT include trial by print or electronic media; rather, if such media get involved in an improper or excessive manner, there is a danger of invalidating the procedures. In this event, neither plaintiff nor defendant can be vindicated, so the trouble lingers like slow poison in the bloodstream, killing any hope the concerned parties had of mending any damage capable of being mended, and then moving forward with their lives. Slander based on the idea that there is no smoke without fire undermines the procedures through which personal conflicts can be resolved. What is the attraction of behavior that leads only to loss for all concerned? What leads people to take part in public destruction of someone’s reputation, even when this neither clarifies nor in any other way helps the situation?It is not that hard to produce a lot of smoke with next to nothing of

It is not that hard to produce a lot of smoke with next to nothing of actual flame. Every breath of slander, backbiting and gossip darkens, thickens and spreads the smoke, until we can hardly draw a breath of clean air or think, speak and act with the decency expected of believers. Decency is more than ‘expected’ since God has condemned slander and gossip in the most vivid terms. Why then do people not take the recommended option of being silent when they do not know? In fact, even when tempted to think we ‘know’ (i.e., when we elect to go along with the hearsay) silence is still the better course, because it is the way of least harm. Why then do so many prefer not to discipline their tongue? What were all the prayers and fasts and dhikr for, if we cannot do even this much? All Muslims know that if they intend a good outcome, the means they use must be good, as well as the desired end. Why do they not resist indulging in slander, when God has likened it to feeding on a brother’s corpse? Do they honestly believe that some good can come of it?

I have become concerned with these questions because the reputation of someone I know, Nouman Ali Khan, is being targeted for ruin by a means expressly forbidden to Muslims. He is a famous, popular teacher, highly successful in that he has a gift for explaining the faith and religion in the idioms most familiar to young Muslims brought up under the influence of Western culture. Since that culture is tactically and strategically hostile to tradition generally, and to religion particularly, Muslims need someone who can think and talk in its terms. Nouman Ali Khan has worked steadily over many years to acquire expertise in the traditional Islamic sciences and traditional discourses on how to live an Islamic life. And then, as I say, he has the skill and freshness of mind and speech, to make those discourses relevant for Muslims living (like most everybody else) through the stresses of ‘modernity’ and ‘post-modernity’.I have met Nouman Ali Khan a number of times. He has visited me in my home in order to consult with me, over several days, on some difficult questions of Quran and hadith interpretation, and their application in the norms and rules of Muslim practice. I have found no harm in his curiosity, none. To the contrary, I have been enlightened by his

I have met Nouman Ali Khan a number of times. He has visited me in my home in order to consult with me, over several days, on some difficult questions of Quran and hadith interpretation, and their application in the norms and rules of Muslim practice. I have found no harm in his curiosity, none. To the contrary, I have been enlightened by his questions, and benefited from our conversations. I, therefore, will not entertain the slander now being circulated about him in social media. I will not discuss what is alleged except to say that it is flimsy and unspecific – we all know the trick of this kind of speech, ‘I don’t want to say anything but people are saying that x’, and to ‘x’ are soon added ‘y’ and ‘z’ and the rest of the alphabet. As the slander is spread, the alleged wrong is amplified from mouth to mouth; then elaborated with fabricated details to provide substance where there is none. Very soon, a single minor lapse comes to be represented as a habitual practice, a settled flaw of character; that grows further until the flaw is the man’s dominant, determining characteristic, the driving force, the ‘true hidden’ motive, of whatever good he may have done or intended. It can go still further and touch any and every argument the man ever put forward, however good it seemed before the slander broke; and it may even touch anyone associated with the man, as teacher or student, co-speaker, co-worker…

No, I have not exaggerated the evil of slander, backbiting and gossip. If anything, I have understated it. The description of this sin in the Quran is not as it is for rhetorical effect; it is a just measure of the harms that flow from it.

It so happens that a couple of years ago Nouman Ali Khan gave a sermon on just this topic. In it, he explained the evils of slander with careful attention to the teaching of the Quran, and how that teaching has been understood and implemented down the centuries. The sermon is available as a video: the most directly relevant part runs from minutes 19 to 27. I urge those who initiated, and those who are still spreading, this gossip about him, to give 8 minutes to watch and listen, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB0fPgytIWc&t=0s They will be deeply embarrassed by what they have said and done, but also informed and (if God has willed good for them in this business) inspired to correct their practice.

I can only guess at the present distress of Nouman Ali Khan and those near to him. Perhaps it may help him to recall the response of the great scholar and faqihah, Umm al-Darda, when her students reported that people criticised her unjustly, and wondered why she did not permit them to respond. She said that, well, people also praised her unjustly, and so it all balanced out. She was not in the least inhibited in her teaching. I hope that Nouman may be able/allowed to respond in the same way, that is, carry on his good work unperturbed. If his following is briefly diminished or deterred by his current misfortune, it should soon recover in sha’a Allah, because hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from his teaching, and they and others should not be deprived of his energy and talent as a teacher. My advice to him would be to prepare his lectures as normal and make them available online, with no allusion whatever to the gossip. What is substantial necessarily defeats what is flimsy, just as what is true and real does, eventually, defeat and displace what is false and virtual. God has given repeated assurance of this; His assurance suffices a believer.

I turn then to what prompts gossip, slander and backbiting. Why do people indulge in it when it is always pointless for them, when they gain nothing by it? I think the root motive is hasad, or envious spite, though this root must produce many branches. The supreme or arch-hasid is Iblis. Iblis is not in any way diminished by the creation of mankind. But he disobeys God, and then asks for (and is given) permission to be the enemy of mankind. It is by his own disobedience that Iblis is diminished. He thinks himself made of a stuff superior to what man is made of; he resents the notion of mankind having some degree of favor with God that he and his kind do not have, and by this resentment he questions the wisdom and the will of God. He gains nothing by bringing mankind down, yet he devotes the whole of his time into eternity trying to achieve this, and God has permitted him some measure of success. A part of that success is the plentiful evidence of spite in the intentions and behaviors of human beings. Backbiting and slander are surely the most common, though not the only, manifestations of this spite, this appetite to bring someone down, or to enjoy their being down, even though there is no advantage, no gain, from indulging this appetite. Among the monsters in the Western imagination are powerful, fire-breathing dragons that delight in burning down human settlements and stealing their gold and precious goods. The dragons do not eat these goods nor in any other way benefit from them; they simply heap them up, content that they have deprived the humans of the fruits of their toil. So it is with human beings who will not turn away from any opportunity to ruin a reputation. Now, it may well be that in some cases a reputation deserves to be ruined; but there are means that can be legitimately employed to prove that it is so. And along with seeking proof, we are counselled to pray for the wrong-doer, to help him or her to repentance and to whatever undoing of the wrong is possible. By contrast, to use the forbidden means of spreading rumours, of dropping hints and innuendoes, inciting the weakness of human beings to do the rest – that is an evil proceeding that can satisfy only the arch-hasid.

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