A Case of Framing

We know that the Prophet, along with many of the early Muslims, emigrated from Makkah to Madinah to escape persecution. The early phases of life in Madinah were difficult, due to the pressure of the large influx of émigrés on the city’s economy (not to mention the military aggression which the Makkan polytheists began against Madinah). Food was sometimes scarce, and typically comprised barley flour and dates. Wheat flour was a rare commodity, only occasionally being brought in, in small quantities, from the Levant. Rifa`ah, one of the Companions, once obtained a quantity of this wheat flour, and stashed it in a room of his house, with some weapons placed over it. A man – outwardly a Muslim, but actually a hypocrite – from the family of Banu Ubayriq (he was named Bashir, or Tu`mah, according to different narrations) came to know of this, and that night stole the flour as well as the weapons. The following day, Rifa`ah discovered that the items were gone, and publicized the unfortunate news. Some people told him that they had seen smoke emanating from the house of Banu Ubayriq the previous night, and that it was likely that they were the culprits and had been cooking their ill-gotten acquisition. When the thief from Banu Ubayriq came to know of these developments, he started rumors that Labid ibn Sahl was actually the thief. Labid, however, was a trustworthy man, and so these rumors did not gain currency, and hence – according to some of the narrations – it appears that the thief then implemented a more devious strategy of framing someone else. He craftily laid a trail of flour from the house of Rifa`ah to the house of a Jew, and also deposited the stolen weapons with the same unsuspecting man, under the pretext of asking him to hold onto them for safekeeping. Upon discovering the trail of flour, people became suspicious of the Jew, and when he was found to have the stolen weapons in his house, their suspicion against him increased, despite his earnest remonstrations that the weapons had been entrusted to him by Ibn Ubayriq.

Matters reached the point where it was thought the evidence against the Jew was so compelling that the Prophet would prosecute him for the crime. At the same time, Rifa`ah’s nephew Qatadah was convinced that the Jew was innocent of the theft, and that it had actually been perpetrated by Ibn Ubayriq. He expressed his feelings to the Prophet, who reprimanded him for accusing Ibn Ubayriq without any evidence. The framed man continued to protest his own innocence, but the circumstantial evidence against him was strong. Then, there was divine intervention. Allah revealed a passage of the Qur’an. Not one, but nine verses of the Qur’an deal with the issue, exonerating the falsely accused man and exposing the guile of Ibn Ubayriq.

The relevant verses are in Surah al-Nisa’ (Qur’an, 4:105-113).

[The incident is narrated, with some differences in the details, by Tirmidhi, Baghawi and Tabari, and included in most Qur’anic exegeses. The version presented here is from Ma`ariful-Qur’an, by erstwhile Grand Mufti of Pakistan, Muhammad Shafi`, and attempts to consolidate the differing versions. Imam Tabari’s choice from among the different versions, in his exegesis, was an account similar to that which we have quoted, except that in it Ibn Ubayriq entrusts a Jew with a coat of armor for safekeeping, but then secretly retrieves it, to go on to accuse the Jew of betrayal. Tirmidhi’s version mentions only the false accusation upon Labid ibn Sahl, and does not contain any mention of a second framing. Allah knows best.]

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Comments

2 Responses to “A Case of Framing”

  1. ishraq on October 26th, 2010 2:18 pm

    wow. shukran for sharing shaykh. hehehe and you know i have to ask about how slightly different narratives emerged amongst the early scholars, and what the scholars thought of it and how they chose to include one over the other…

  2. suheil on November 11th, 2010 12:04 am

    Ishraq, that’s quite a big topic itself. The basic reasons for variant narrations are: some of the narrators remembering better than others, some narrators making mistakes, and (in some situations) the narrators talking about related but separate incidents. If unscrupulous narrators are involved, they might deliberately have re-wroked the details for their own agenda (e.g. adding the mosque of his own city to the list of 3 Sacred Mosques). Hadith scholars looked at variant narrations with respect to the relative relaibility of the narrators in each chain, as well as by collating and comparing the variants to find irregular additions, insertions, etc. (See my recent post “On Hadith Authentication.”) Sometimes, the situation is clear-cut, but in other cases there is more than one opinion on which which variant is most reliable.

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