Sheikh Jaffer Ladad
03 May 2017
In Part 1 of this series, which was our
introduction to the challenges of fake and propagandist news (read it here), we
demonstrated how the media may shape the thinking of people generally and
Muslims specifically. This is because receiving the news is subject to a form
and narrative based upon that which the organisation or the author wishes to
present to the consumer.
In the modern world of click-baiting,
absolute free speech, alternative facts, fear-mongering and the “war of ideas”
(read: soft conversion of a mass group of people from one set of views to
another), news is often less about informing people so they may be equipped
with knowledge and insight, but more for the purpose of four things:
Maintaining A Status Quo
To Make People Acquiesce To A Particular Political
To Help Commoditise Something For Financial Gain
This of course, is not a new phenomenon.
Arguably every regime or organisation aims to establish its ideals and argue
for its own cause. But there is a
difference between presenting information, in this case the news, through the
lens of facts, accurate historical context and analysis, and news with the
driven agenda of manipulating the consumer into a conforming with a particular
In this article we shall look at how the
Qur’an and Hadith literature have warned about the sources of propaganda and
manipulative information. We will also look at a particular historical event in
Islamic history and demonstrate how the early Muslims were convinced by their
government’s propaganda into believing almost anything. The purpose of this is
to show how Islamic source material has left guidance on this so that we can
apply its logic in our own contexts.
and Corporate Propaganda from The Qur’an
Qur’an Acts As A Guide for All Times and Places
The Qur’an, “A divine writ, which makes
clear everything” (16:89), has addressed the issue of media outlets as a tool
of mass manipulation. It has primarily warned of propagandist news from three
sources: First, at the hands of a corrupt system, second from a government that
legislates (legitimises) the corruption and third an elite class of people, all
of whom have vested interests in shaping the thinking of its audience to their
The most-oft related story in the Qur’an is
that of Prophet Moses (a) and The Children of Israel. Amongst the reasons for
this, is that the story serves as an archetype or typology for the Muslim
community; whatever occurred to them has or will occur relative to the Muslim
community. In fact the Prophet Muhammad (s) is narrated to have said, “You have
been snuck up on by the same plague as the previous communities.” 
There are those who disregard divine
stories as the Qur’an itself mentions, “When Our verses are recited to him, he
says, ‘(These are just) stories of the ancients!’” (83:13-14). For others of insight however, there are “in
their stories, deep lessons for people of understanding” (12:111).
Haamaan, Qaaroon and Their Armies
The central verse warning of propagandist
and manipulative media is “Verily Fir’oan, Hãmãn and the two of them, their
armies indeed were sinners” (28:8).
The verses seek to define types of ruling
forces and their methods of control, collusion and exploitation. How does the
Qur’an do this? First, though the verses refer to historical individuals, they
intend to unmask what they essentially represent. Second, the verses describe
media as one of the “armies” in the hands of three sets of powers, the
oppressive system, its enforcers and the elite.
Here we will explain the relationship
between the individuals mentioned and what the Qur’an seeks to unmask, and
their relationship to their “army”, wielding a propagandist media.
Fir’oan was the Pharaoh over the Egyptian
people and the tyrant opposed by Prophet Moses (a). How do we understand
Fir’oan and this verse today? Fir’oan depicts any oppressive leader as the
individual, but more so is the symbol of any corruption system. Wherever you
see a tyrannical system and its leadership today, this is no less a Pharaoh or
Pharaonic system than the one mentioned in the Qur’an.
Hãmãn was the senior minister of his
society, a high-ranking government official who obeyed and implemented the
policies of the Pharaonic system. His formal position endows him with a sense
of legitimacy and authority among the people; they may even feel a false sense
of sympathy for his having to ‘tow the line’. In our era, Hãmãn represents
corrupt and lackey elected officials placed into power by others but work for a
The verse then states, “And the two of
them, their armies.” What are these armies that the Qur’an so importantly
refers to? The word Junûd is an unqualified word, meaning it is not restricted
to a particular meaning. Junûd primarily means armies in the conventional
sense; soldiers, regiments and in today’s sense missiles and fighter jets.
However, the armies of a tyrannical system
and a government that must work for this system go beyond the conventional
military to any and all means of control; today they might include the spy,
hacking and data mining technologies. And certainly, the greatest tool of the
Pharaonic armies is its propagandist media. Leading contemporary commentator
Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modarresi explains this verse saying, “Oppression is
wrong. Its effect is not limited to the disadvantaged ones who are punished by
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf in his commentary
explains, “The Qur’an sets up a dialectic in the world between a Pharaonic
impulse to control and a prophetic impulse to liberate from control models.
Allah says all of them are wrongdoers so being a solider for this system is
also participating for the crime of the system.” Nouman Ali Khan refers to this saying
Pharaoh, “had the propaganda of an entire nation at his disposal. He could
control and unify the messages. What everybody is taking about across the land
is in his control.”
How do these components work together to
form their propagandist narratives?
The relationship between the Pharaonic
system and Hãmãn the lackey statesman is a direct and mutual one. They use each
others’ resources and powers to assist one another in their aspirations of
control. The Qur’an provides an example, “And Fir’oan said, ‘Kindle a fire for
me, Oh Hãmãn, to make bricks, then prepare for me a lofty building so that I
may look at Moses’s God’” (28:38).
Hãmãn held the governments military, its
wealth, its contracts, its slaves and experience to build this fire and giant
building. What would the people think of this coordinated response? Pharaoh and
Hãmãn’s aggressive response would give the impression to the people that
Pharaoh was capable of fighting the ‘God of Moses’ and that they should
continue to fear him. This collusion and the very sight of a building being
constructed to fight ‘Moses God’ would ultimately be a form of propaganda
effecting the people’s understanding, edifying Pharaoh’s position.
This is an example of how the Qur’an
clearly warns of state and system led propaganda.
Manipulation and Propaganda As Mentioned In the Hadith Literature
The Hadith literature has expressly warned
about those who use knowledge to manipulate people, such as might a government
and a particular class of people who use media outlets as its means of
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a) is narrated to
have said, “There are three kinds of seekers of knowledge. They can be
recognised by their characteristics. The first are those who seeks knowledge
for the sake of ignorance and quarrelling. The second are those who seek
knowledge to dominate and cheat people. The third are those seek for proper
The characteristics of the second group,
which we are concerned with here, are described in the narration as, “The group
that seeks domination and cheating is a deceitful and flattering group. Such
people try to dominate people of their kind and flatter the wealthy ones who
know less than they do. Such people consume the sweet meat of the rich people
but end up destroying of their own religion.” 
The narration attests to a particular group
of people who specifically engage with knowledge for with the intention of
dominating others through deception or what we referred to earlier as “means of
control” or “manipulation”.
What is interesting is that the narration
specifically states such people consume the sweet meat of the rich people,
which may be understood today as the media consuming vast sums of advertising
and sponsorship money from the donor class to peddle a narrative, but end up
destroying their own religion, or in this sense their own industry of
journalism. This is also something we
shall detail in the next instalment, God-willing.
Example Of Media Deception Upon The Early Muslims And Its Effects
Just as the Qur’an and Ahadith warn,
exploitative systems, their governments and benefactors will disseminate
information to its people in order to form a narrative. Nouman Ali Khan
explains that this message engulfs the nation and becomes imbibed, regurgitated
and believed to be their own thoughts. This is a weapon from its “armies” used
to dominate and cheat its people, without them even realising it.
Islamic history has countless examples from
the way the Quraysh would label the Prophet Muhammad (s) a madman, liar, poet,
plagiarist, soothsayer, mischief-maker, corrupter of their faith and so on (we
seek refuge in Allah from these), all mentioned in the Qur’an.
Why so? Why not just call him (s) only a
plagiarist, for example? Because the more they could propagate, the more it
established as the narrative and the more people it could delude. It meant the
more varied accusations the Quraysh could levy, the more that people might come
to accept one if not all of them. As we know many thousands were beguiled to
the extent that they warred with the Prophet (s) based on this propaganda to
destroy the Prophetic message.
In the era of the Caliphate of Imam Ali ibn
Ali Talib (a), arguably his greatest antagonist was Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan.
Mu’awiyah had control of the area of Shãm, what is modern day Syria, Jordan,
Palestine and Lebanon. History testifies to the anti-Ali narrative peddled by
Mu’awiyah to the extent that millions in dinars were paid to fabricate stories
and change commentary of the Qur’an in favour of Mu’awiyah and abusing Ali ibn
Abi Talib (a).
This happened to such an extent that
Muslims didn’t even know who Imam Ali Ibn Talib (a) was, the man that the
Friday prayer leaders would curse weekly. 
Just think about that… how did the early
Muslims, not even know who Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a) was – the only man in
history to have been born inside the holy Ka’ba and the person whom the Prophet
Muhammad (s) said in a Mutawatir narration, “The strike of ‘Ali on the day of
the battle of Khandaq is superior to the worship of all men and jinn”.
Propaganda. Still think you’re Safe From It?
The Qur’an, Hadith literature and Islamic
history have provided important examples of how media is used to control and
Reflecting upon the examples of how
Pharaoh, the Quraysh and Mu’awiyah used their media outlets raises a simple yet
imperative point: We instinctively say to ourselves, ‘Had I been in that era, I
would never have been manipulated like that! I would have seen past the
propaganda and known the truth.’
But how can we know for sure? How can I
objectively know whether I would have fallen for the Pharaonic or Qurayshan
propaganda in that time? The answer is simple.
If I fall for the propaganda today, I would have fallen for it then. And
if I know how to navigate it today, I would have known how to navigate then.
Thus, in the next two articles we will,
God-willing, define ‘fake news’ and demonstrate clearly the methods used by
mainstream media to deceive, control and manipulate its viewers.
 At-Tusi, Al-Amali, pg 117, Hadith no.
182; Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Hadith no. 2434
 Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, Vol. 1, Book
2 The Book on the Excellence of Knowledge, Hadith no. 128, pg 34
 قال المسعودي: و ذكر بعض الاخبارين انه قال لجل من اهل الشام من زعمائهم و اهل الرأي و العقل منهم: من ابو تراب هذا الذي يلعنه الامام (اي امام الجماعة) على المنبر؟
قال: أراه لصا من لصوص الفتن
Muruj ad-Dhahab, Abu al-Hasan al-Mas’udi,
Vol. 3, pg, 32
Sheikh Jaffer was born and
raised in Milton Keynes, UK. After two years in medical recruitment, he opened
his own agency in 2005 and subsequently appointed director of the DRC Group,
the second largest agency supplying locum doctors to the NHS in the UK, leaving
in 2011. After returning from Hajj in 2005, he began his Islamic studies,
speaking in centres around the world, leading Ziyaarat and Hajj groups. He has
studied at Jaami'a Imam as-Sadiq (a) of Ayatollah al-Qazwini, Hawza Imam
al-Jawad (a) of Grand Ayatollah Syed Taqi al-Modarresi in holy Kerbala and Al
Mahdi Institute, Birmingham. He has authored two books, The Hidden Treasure
(2011) and The Ways of The Righteous (2015) with various other written works in
the pipeline. He is currently the Resident 'Alim of Hyderi Islamic Centre,
London and completing his Masters Degree in Islamic Law at the Islamic College,