Warning: This article may take a while to read, so if you don’t have time, skip to the end: Act 6.
Act 1: The bar that wasn’t
The other day, I received an email about an alleged bar – being built in New York – which should offend Muslims. The building resembles the Holy Ka’bah (the holiest site in Islam) – in that it’s a big, black cube. The English text of the mail reads:
In the business area of MID TOWN MANHATTAN in New York a new BAR is opened in the name of APPLE MECCA which is familiar to KAABA MAKKA This bar will be used supply of WINE and Drinks. The Muslims of New York are pressurizing Govt of USA to not open this BAR.
The mail then goes on to show comparative pictures, side by side, of this ‘bar’ and the Ka’bah; along with one final message:
Please do Forward this mail to as many peoples as you can. we need 2 wake up and 2 stand for the dignity of our RELIGION ISLAM!!
Now, obviously, a story like this could be offensive: that someone would imitate the design of such a Holy place, in building a bar.
The problem is, it’s not a true story. Just one Google search revealed that this isn’t actually a bar. It’s supposedly an Apple store (i.e. iPods, Apple computers, etc) – as stated in this article.
Whether the building is still offensive, given that it’s probably just a computer store, is debatable. But the point it, the email contained misinformation – and instruction to spread that misinformation.
I’m glad I didn’t forward that mail.
Act 2: The shoe that insulted us
A few weeks back (some time around April 2009), I received an email about a Nike Air shoe. The way the word “Air” was written – in a calligraphy type script – supposedly looked like the Arabic script of Allah’s name.
This, obviously, was to be taken as an insult to Islam and Muslims: that God’s name was used on the sole and back of a shoe.
If I remember correctly, the email urged the reader to boycott Nike – because of their insult to our religion.
Of course, the email asked the reader to forward the mail to others; to ‘spread the word’ about what this show company had done – so that Muslims all over could take offence over it.
Now, this story did seem to have some substance – but another quick Google search revealed that this incident, and the surrounding protests and apology and PR make-up by Nike, happened about 10 years ago.
While this email contained valid information – albeit with a sensational tone – it was severely outdated. What a fool I would be, had I sent that to others.
I’m glad I didn’t forward that mail.
Act 3: It’s HARAAM!!!
In recent years, many mails have gone around claiming that certain foods we Muslims enjoy here, in South Africa, are actually haraam (forbidden to consume). For example:
- The cheese flavourants in Doritos and Cheetos (chips) are a derivative from pork and beef enzymes.
- Nando’s chicken is Haraam (I think there was a visit paid to the farm they get their chickens from)
- The following Kellogg’s products contain type gelatin derived from pork sources: Kellogg’s(R) Frosted Mini-Wheats(R) and Kellogg’s(R) Rice Krispies Treats(R) cereals, Krave(TM) Snack Bars.
- Coca Cola contains alcohol and is haraam.
At the end, the emails ask the reader to forward the mail to others – in the interest of spreading this important information about the products we so willingly consume.
Common sense, as well as further, very basic investigation, into these emails revealed the following:
- The emails in points 1, 2 and 3 are actually true. BUT, they emanate from other countries, where the ingredients/sources are actually Haraam. Here in SA, however, these products are certified Halaal by our Halaal bodies. (Note: The Nando’s one was from the UK – it’s nothing to do with the ongoing Majlis-SANHA chicken wars).
- Point 4 was a huge story a few years back, but the final result – after investigations by the Muslim Judicial Council – is that “all Coca-Cola contains alcohol, but not nearly enough for it to be declared haraam, or prohibited, in terms of Islamic belief.” The actual amount is “equivalent to five sugar granules in a pot of a million and not enough to intoxicate a consumer.”
Act 4: Shock of a lifetime!!!
A few years ago, I received a conspiracy theory mail about September the 11th. The mail listed various ‘coincidences’ about September the 11th, such as:
- New York City, Afghanistan, and George W Bush all consist of 11 letters each
- New York is the 11th state
- The first plane crashing against the Twin Towers was flight number 11
- Flight 11 was carrying 92 passengers. 9 + 2 = 11
You get the picture.
So after all of that, according to the mail:
“For it is written that a son of Arabia would awaken a fearsome Eagle. The wrath of the Eagle would be felt throughout the lands of Allah while some of the people trembled in despair still more rejoiced: for the wrath of the Eagle cleansed the lands of Allah and there was peace.”
That verse is number 9.11 of the Quran. unconvinced about all of this Still ..?!”
The mail then concludes by saying: “Send this to as many people as you know and in 11 minutes you will get a nice surprise, if you don’t you will get the shock of Your life in 11 min.”
Now, while the number correlations are interesting, I didn’t read too much into them. Whatever happened, happened. And, whoever was truly responsible will be held to account on the Day of Judgment. We never need to worry about the real truth being revealed, about true justice being served – because on that Day, which we’ll all face, no one will be able to hide what they did; and no one can escape true justice.
The email was outright sensationalist – obviously designed to fuel conspiracies and myths. And you know the red flag which 100% proves it’s source is not to be trusted?
The verse quoted from the Quran.
I have never, ever heard anything like that in the Quran. And anyone – Muslim or not – who takes 2 minutes to find and read a translation of Chapter 9, verse 11, would see that the quote they’ve got in this email is not in the Quran. It’s not even in Chapter 11, verse 9 (if some might claim the numbers are confused).
This kind of thing is just outrageous, and for Muslims to forward such obvious misinformation about the Quran – even if the email has lots of other possibly ‘attractive’ conspiracy qualities – is just a big, big mistake.
I’m glad I didn’t forward that mail.
Act 5: Bits and pieces
To add to the examples already listed, there’s a few others which warrant mentioning in this article.
a.) Microsoft is giving away $1, $3 or $5 to each person that forwards an email.
This kind of email can be about companies, or other ‘good’ causes – like a sick child who needs an operation. The common thread is that all these emails claim that, for every person you forward this email to, money will either come to you, or be donated to the good cause. For example:
“For each person you send this email to, you will be given $5. For every person they give it to, you will be given an additional $3. For every person they send it to you will receive $1.”
The email then asserts how authentic the message is (e.g. “I got a check in the mail for $800. It really works.”), then asks you to forward it.
Unfortunately, some people do believe it and send it on to others. You can see why it’s a scam in this article.
b.) Please help me transfer millions of dollars…I’ll give you 15%
These are called 419 Emails – or Advance-fee fraud. It’s a scam where the reader is persuaded to advance sums of money, in the hope of getting a lot of money in return. Among others, the angle could be related to Nigerian oil companies, Coups in war-torn countries, or just massive sums of inheritance that someone wants you to help them with – using your bank account.
It’s pretty easy to recognise this as a scam, but some have fallen for it, resulting in loss of money, violence, kidnapping, murder, and more. You can read more at Wikipedia.
c.) Beware: anti-Islamic Site
Then there’s warnings about websites which are spreading false information about Islam. These emails give the website address, and ask the reader to forward the email – so that we can spread the message about the misinformation being spread.
The problem is, forwarding these emails is actually counter-productive: it helps those lying websites to get more visitors, and a better listing on search engines.
As Khalid Baig explains in this article, it’s better NOT to forward these emails.
Act 6: Stop, think, think again, then act
As you can see, all of these emails either contain incorrect information, outright lies, or misdirected instructions. Further, most of the mails take on a tone of urgency, and ask the reader to forward it to their contacts.
And if the readers do, it just spreads the faulty message to more and more people.
If you’re still reading this, chances are you’ve received at least one of these kinds of mails before. But my question is: what did you do? Did you believe it? Did you check up on it? Did you forward it? Did you just delete it?
Were you suspicious? Did all the exclamation marks tip you off to the fact that something wasn’t quite right with this mail?
Surah Al-Hujarat (49), verse 6 clearly tells us to verify information when it’s from questionable sources. The verse is talking about an “evil” person who gives us news – but our family member or friend who sent us this email, are they “evil”? Probably not – but most of the time, they aren’t the one who started the email. We never know where these mails originate from – so we can never be sure that it comes from a trustworthy source.
When it comes to this kind of thing, there’s a simple, three step process to handle it:
- On the first read (or part thereof), if it strikes you as being sensationalist, suspicious, or outright false – either delete it, or do some research (step 2). Even if it’s not suspicious, go to step 2.
- Check the authenticity of the information. A quick Google (or other search engine) search usually brings up articles, forum posts, or other discussions about the email. The simple way to get information on the exact email you received is to copy a few words from the mail (maybe a full sentence), then paste that in the search engine (with quote marks – so it searches the exact phrase).If you don’t have time to do this, DON’T forward it. Do your research it later, when you have time.And, if you can’t find any matches on the Internet, ask someone who has knowledge about the issue.
- Now that you’ve done your research, you can respond:
- If the email is authentic, and worth being forwarded, then forward it to those you think would appreciate it. But, keep in mind that not everyone will like every email you want to pass on. So, use your discretion: look at the content, and be careful not to send it to people who would be offended or annoyed.
- If the email is misinformation, reply to the person who sent it, explaining what’s wrong with the message, and asking them to be careful about this kind of thing in future. Then delete the message – without sending it to anyone else.
Let’s remember that email – and other communication technology – does not take away our duty to be responsible about what we say to others.
Just as we should be careful of what our tongue says, we should also be careful what we say by email (or any other non-verbal form).
And this includes forwarded emails.
Emails contain information. If you can’t stand up for that information – saying you truly believe it and trust it – then don’t send it to others.
So, next time you get a forward, stop before you send it to others; think; think again; then take action.