Asif Munir, Missionary, New Zealand
The Israel-Palestine conflict extends beyond the physical realm, where innocent lives are being lost, into the digital sphere where misinformation and unfounded rumours are being disseminated far and wide without any verification.
It’s unfortunate and extremely disheartening to witness masses of people blindly accepting unverified claims, causing a dangerous influx of fake news and disinformation being circulated widely. At times, this can even result in victims of a situation being portrayed as the perpetrators.
This has led to much confusion amongst the public – in a survey conducted in 2016, it was found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. (www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/)
Social media and mainstream media play a significant role in displaying the dynamics of this conflict. Countless images and videos flood these platforms every single day, where consumers often accept the content to be truthful at face value, creating a challenging environment to distinguish truth from falsehood.
Images are being shared all over the internet to illustrate the severity of the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, it has come to light that many times the identity of the people in the picture has been wrong; for example, pictures of Palestinian children have been captioned as Israeli children, and so on.
Addressing this issue, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa stated the following in the last Friday Sermon:
“Now, all the major powers, or Western powers, have put justice aside and are uniting to inflict cruelty upon Palestinians and there is talk of armies being sent from all directions.
“Images of the oppressed are shown to depict the injustices being perpetrated, and false reports are shown in the media. One day, there will be news about the condition of Israeli women and children and their dire circumstances. The next day, it turns out that they were not Israelis but, in fact, Palestinians. Yet the media does not take any accountability for this, and there is sympathy expressed for them.
“These people simply follow whoever has power. They will succumb to anyone who has worldly means.” (Friday Sermon, 13 October 2023)
Such dissemination of false information and propaganda has been the cause of animosity and rancour brewing in the hearts of some. In America, a 6-year-old Palestinian child was stabbed to death by an Islamophobe as a direct result of media consumption of the Israel-Palestine conflict. (www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/10/15/palestinian-american-boy-stabbed-to-death-in-gaza-war-related-killing-in-us)
This is the reason why Islam offers a profound teaching to dispel falsehood altogether. God Almighty states in the Holy Quran:
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡۤا اِنۡ جَآءَکُمۡ فَاسِقٌۢ بِنَبَاٍ فَتَبَیَّنُوۡۤا اَنۡ تُصِیۡبُوۡا قَوۡمًۢا بِجَہَالَۃٍ فَتُصۡبِحُوۡا عَلٰی مَا فَعَلۡتُمۡ نٰدِمِیۡنَ
“O ye who believe! If an unrighteous person brings you any news, ascertain the correctness of the report fully, lest you harm a people in ignorance, and then become repentant for what you have done.” (Surah al-Hujurat, Ch.49:V. 7)
God Almighty lays importance on verifying information before accepting it. Also, extra caution should be exercised when receiving information from an unrighteous or untrustworthy source. In this context, an ‘unrighteous person’ could refer to someone with a questionable character or someone known for spreading rumours. The verse serves as a reminder that unverified information can lead to harm.
An unverified report claiming that 40 Israeli babies were beheaded began circulating on social media to highlight the horrors of the ongoing conflict. However, it’s crucial to emphasise that, as of today (18 October), this report remains unconfirmed (www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet/unverified-allegations-beheaded-babies-israel-hamas-war-inflame-social-rcna119902)
The journalist who initially reported this story later retracted her claim on the social media platform X, but unfortunately, the damage was done. Her initial account managed to sway mainstream news outlets, including the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and the Daily Express. (https://x.com/beltrew/status/1712023042560291083?s=48&t=12mMkK7etDbOPWj7wsbKGw)
In a similar manner, the BBC hastily labelled all those who participated in a pro-Palestine march as Hamas supporters without substantial evidence. Subsequently, the BBC retracted their statements, revealing a lapse in professionalism when reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
This type of unverified information only adds fuel to the fire. Many social media users, driven by emotions and often lacking proper verification, may be affected by such news. This, in turn, contributes to an atmosphere of increased hatred and animosity. Innocent people may become targets, just like the tragic incident of a 6-year-old boy in America.
The Holy Prophetsa taught us:
كَفَى بِالْمَرْءِ كَذِبًا أَنْ يُحَدِّثَ بِكُلِّ مَا سَمِعَ
“It is enough of a lie for a man to narrate everything he hears.” (Sahih Muslim, Hadith 6)
This serves as a reminder that speaking without sound knowledge of a situation can also lead to the spread of falsehoods, gossip and rumours. The Holy Prophetsa encouraged mindfulness in speech and the importance of verifying any piece of information before sharing it.
We find a powerful incident from the life of the Holy Prophetsa which really highlights the dangers of rumours and hearsay. The companions who had migrated to Abyssinia made the decision to leave the country and return to Mecca after hearing a false rumour that the Quraysh had embraced Islam. Upon their return, they faced severe persecution.
Hazrat Abu Masoodra was once asked, “What did you hear the Messenger of Allahsa state about saying the phrase ‘they say…’?” He said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘How bad it is for a man to keep saying, ‘they say…’” (Al-Silsilah al-Saheeha, Hadith 866)
The hadith teaches us to be vigilant in passing news that we hear from others. Without thorough verification, it can be the cause of confusion, division, and consequences. In the sensitive context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is imperative to exercise the utmost care when sharing news lacking substantial evidence and to avoid relying solely on hearsay.
The Holy Prophetsa wisely reminded us in hadith 5975 of Sahih al-Bukhari that God Almighty does not like gossiping or idle talk, and this advice is extremely vital in the situation we find ourselves in today, where the loss of thousands of innocent lives is a tragic reality. Therefore, it is essential to approach this matter with empathy and sympathy for all those affected, and also with critical fact-checking.