Dealing with Current Events: The Etiquette of Sharing News & How to Cope Spiritually

Part 1: The General Etiquette of Dealing with News

Verify information. The Quran teaches us that if any untrustworthy person [faasiq] comes to us with news, to verify and confirm it before sharing with others "lest you harm people in ignorance, then be sorry for what you have done."[1] The Arabs say that once a word is spoken it is like an arrow shot from its bow, impossible to take back; what then of news stories that may incorrectly discredit someone or inappropriately cause panic or outrage?

Deliberate on what is actually beneficial to share and discuss. Not all information, news and updates are of benefit. The Prophet (ﷺ - peace be upon him) would seek refuge in God from "`ilmin la yanfa`u" - knowledge or information that does not have any real benefit. Consider the probable consequences, benefits and harms in sharing a particular piece of news or information and to whom. Think: Does it really concern you, and the people you are sharing it with?

It is better to keep silent if one is unsure. We know how often news changes and how stories may be shaped to fit a certain narrative, only for the actual circumstances to come to light later on. It is for this reason that one should not rush into judgments or draw conclusions until the facts and proofs are known about a particular situation. Al-Hasan al-Basri said: “The believer reserves judgment until the matter is proven.”

Don't rush to share everything you hear. In this age of social media, it can feel like an exciting rush to be part of news when it is happening. However, we should be wary of sharing and repeating everything without the careful consideration discussed above. The Prophet ﷺ said, "It is enough lying for a person to talk about everything he hears."[2] This is especially true in times of crisis, when emotions are high and misinformation spreads quickly. The great companion and caliph Umar (may God be pleased with him) said: “A word at the time of tribulation [fitna] can be as devastating as the sword.”[3]

An important lesson to guide all of our dealings: The Prophet ﷺ said, “Calm deliberation is from Allah and hastiness is from Shaytan.”[4] In an age of fast-paced consumption of everything, including news and information, we should make it a point to embody the qualities of calmness, wisdom, deep consideration, analysis, and reflection in everything that we do.

Part 2: Spiritually Surviving the Barrage of Bad News

The constant stream of news about tragedies, injustices and bloodshed at home and abroad can leave us disoriented, anguished, frustrated, angry and in a state of despair. When it all just seems too much, here are a few steps to consider taking.

Put difficulties and challenges in context. Know that we are not the first to encounter soul-shaking trials, nor are we likely to be the last. Faith always comes hand in hand with struggle, and this is a sunnah of Allah in the life of this world.

Allah asks us in the Quran, “Do you think that you will enter Paradise without such [trials] as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, 'When will the help of Allah [come]?' Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near..."[5]

Putting tragedy in context also means seeing beauty and goodness even amidst times of trial. In the Prophet's life ﷺ, one that was replete with sadness, oppression and difficulty, there were resplendent moments of hope and happiness. So too in our lives will we find much to be immensely grateful for if we look with a discerning eye.

Connect with God. Call out to Allah Most High and ask for His help. Remember Him and find solace in Him, and know that through His remembrance hearts find rest and comfort. This is nourishment for the soul when everything in the world seems to be going wrong. Call on Allah as as-Salam (the Source of Peace), al-Wali (the Protector and Supporter), the Reliever of Distress and Difficulty...

Remember that this is a relationship that must be strengthened through constant and consistent acts of devotion, like the daily prayers and the morning and evening adhkar (supplications).

Allah says, “Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere; those who say, when afflicted with calamity: ‘Verily to Allah we belong and to Allah we return.’ They are those who will receive prayers from their Lord and mercy and it is those who are guided.”[6]

Limit your and your family's exposure to news. While we should not turn a blind eye to the wrongs happening in the world, we should consciously step back from an incessant barrage of news that leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, and in a state of 'spiritual paralysis', as one of my teachers describes it. This is especially the case with videos and images that clearly show blood being shed and innocent people being killed and harmed, from which any one with a soul and a beating heart would feel anguish and pain. To do right by those who are suffering, we should witness enough to be moved to positive action - not gorge ourselves on every gory detail, only to be rendered immobile in despair.

Commit to positive change and leave the outcome to God. Channel your passion, outrage and strong feelings about what is happening in the world towards working strategically towards meaningful change. Be aware that the hastiness that we described above can also come in our social activism - we may become impatient, or want to be part of an exciting, dramatic set of actions, that gratifies immediate emotions, rather than commit to long standing work that- while effectual- is quieter, slower and gradual. We must work diligently and consistently, and with courage, commitment and intense devotion and connection with God Most High. This is the Prophetic tradition of activism, more than a solely emotional response or near-sighted reactions.

We must realize also that the fruits of any of our efforts are not in our hands, but His; we strive to our utmost, and at the same time know that He controls all in His perfect wisdom and knowledge.

Lastly, we must seek good companionship and mentorship. Find individuals who are 'oceans of peace' in this world and stick with them. Take not only from their knowledge, but their spiritual state of calmness and confidence in Allah's plan, and hopefulness at days to come, by Allah's leave.

May Allah help us in these confusing and trying times. May He, the Source of Peace, bring peace to our hearts, give us clarity of vision, and help us become those who work for goodness. Ameen.

[1] Surat al-Hujuraat (49:6)
[2] Sahih Muslim
[3] Quoted by Sh. Munajjid in one of his fatawa.
[4] Tirmidhi and also Silsilah as-Saheeha
[5] Quran 2:214
[6] Quran 2:155