Department: Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC)
Course (module): Modern Journalism Based on Principles of Classical Islamic Scholarship
Lesson (dars): Scientific thinking to rebut fake news
May 23rd, 2020
Every year, the Eid moon at the end of Ramadan is the subject of fake news.
This year has been no different.
The Saudi Arabian authorities announced on Friday May 22nd that there had been no sighting of the moon on Friday and that Eid would be celebrated on Sunday May 24th.
Almost at the same time, religious authorities in Miramshah, Waziristan, were announcing that the moon had been sighted there, on Friday 22nd:
The aim of this course, with the somewhat long-winded title of Modern Journalism Based on Principles of Classical Islamic Scholarship, of the JMC Department of MDI, is to teach students to think like the muhadditheen, the compilers of Hadith. The first thing that the muhadditheen would do, when confronted with some suspect news – such as the news of a sighting of the moon in Miramshah on Friday May 22nd – would be to act in accordance with this verse of the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَنْ تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ
Believers, if an evil-doer brings you news, ascertain the correctness of the report fully, lest you unwittingly harm others, and then regret what you have done.
The first thing to do, in order to ascertain the correctness of a report, is to cross check the report with reports from other sources. Do they tally? Clearly this report from Miramshah does not tally with the report from Saudi Arabia, which is from a more reputable source.
If we go further afield, then the first place where the new moon can generally be seen is on the west coast of North or South America. From California, on the west coast of the United States, from a well-known and reputable Mufti, there was this statement on the evening of Friday May 22nd:
Already, on the basis of reports from stronger and more reputable sources, the report from Waziristan is going out of the window. But just to be absolutely sure, one can always have recourse to scientific sources. Nowadays, the sighting of the moon can be verified on the basis of incontrovertible scientific evidence, such as that which is available from moonsighting.com:
As the map featured above shows, the new moon of Shawwal will be easily visible on Saturday, May 23rd, in the green area – North and South America – in the blue area, which includes some parts of Europe and Africa, only if there are perfect conditions, and in the grey red areas – Asia – only with the help of an optical aid.
So definitely no new moon in Waziristan on Friday May 22nd. According to the scientific evidence cited on www.moonsighting.com, there was no possibility of seeing the Shawwal new moon anywhere in the world on Friday May 22nd, not even in Waziristan.
What one is really doing, in this process of establishing the most authentic and reliable of several reports, consists of a process of finding common ground between two reports (التطبیق), or giving one report precedence over another, due to its greater authenticity (الترجیح). This was a practice commonly practiced by the muhadditheen.
Inshallah, we will look into this process, particularly in a journalistic context, further in our next dars.