“Believers! Avoid suspicion as much as possible, for, some such suspicion is a sin. And do not spy on one another, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Surely you would loathe it. And remain God-fearing. God is certainly the One who accepts repentance, and He is merciful.”
Surah Hujurat (49: 12)
This verse establishes certain rules to apply within an Islamic society, protecting the integrity and freedom of individuals, while at the same time teaching people how to cleanse their feelings and consciences, using a highly effective mode of expression.
Following the pattern of the Surah, it begins with the endearing address, “Believers!” It follows that by issuing an order to avoid most suspicion, so that they do not leave themselves to any thoughts of doubt about others, justifying this order by the fact that some suspicion is sinful. Since the prohibition applies to most suspicion and the rule is that some of it is sinful, then the verse implies that all negative suspicion should be avoided, because a person does not know which part of his or her doubts are sinful. Thus the Qur’an purges a Muslim’s inner conscience so that it may not be contaminated with evil suspicion and incur sin. It leaves it clean, free of doubt, entertaining only friendly and affectionate thoughts toward one’s brethren. In this way, it keeps suspicion away from society in order to enable the community to enjoy a feeling of reassurance unmarred by worry and apprehension. Life in a community where ill thoughts have no place is both serene and comfortable.
But Islam does not stop at this point in educating people’s hearts and souls. The verse we are looking at establishes a principle that applies to people’s dealings. It protects the rights of those who live in its pure society so that they may not be punished or tried on the basis of suspicion. Such suspicion is no basis for filing charges against people and putting them to trial. Indeed suspicion does not form a proper basis for interrogating people or investigating their affairs.
The Prophet is quoted as saying: “If you have doubts, do not investigate.” (Related by Al-Tabarani). What this means is that people remain innocent, enjoying all their rights, freedom and status until it is evidently clear that they have committed some offense. It is not sufficient that they are suspected of having committed something in order to pursue them with the aim of establishing whether they are guilty.
This verse shows us the limit to which Islam goes in protecting people’s freedom, integrity, rights and status. How does this compare with what even the best democratic countries boast of with regard to protecting human rights? This standard, which the Qur’an sets for the believers, is far superior indeed. Moreover, Islam achieves this in real life, after it establishes it in people’s hearts and consciences.
It clearly shows that one must not pursue suspicion, and that it is infinitely better that should there be some indications of a person’s guilt, one should try to find a good explanation for them, away from suspicion. This applies to a colleague, a friend or spouse. We should act only on clear evidence. In the absence of such evidence, we dismiss suspicion and think the better of our people. This is more conducive to strengthening relationships and making an Islamic society well-knit.