Event of Ifk
The Event of Ifk (Arabic: حادثة الإفك) refers to an event in the history of early Islam to which the verses 11-26 of Sura al-Nur refer. This event took place in 5/626, when a group of people accused a Muslim of adultery, who was, as famously narrated, Aisha, the Prophet's (s) wife. In the mentioned verses, God blames people for slandering and spreading rumors. According to another narration which is mentioned in Shi'a sources, the person who was the subject of slander was Mariya al-Qibtiyya, another wife of the Prophet (s), mother of Ibrahim, son of the Prophet (s). The historical authenticity of both contexts of revelation or their relations with the mentioned verses have been questioned and doubted by some researchers.
Study of the Name
"Ifk" refers to something which goes out of its original and natural form. Accusation and lying which are deviation from the truth are called "Ifk".
Verses of Ifk
From verse 11 of Sura al-Nur, the Qur'an mentions the story of accusation of a Muslim and criticizes the accusers. What can be understood from the verses regardless of commentaries and contexts of revelation mentioned for them is that the subject of accusation was a famous member of the Prophet's (a) family and the accusers were a group of people.
In these verses, in addition to threatening the accusers to suffer a great punishment, believers are also prohibited from believing rumors without reason and investigation. In the last verses of this part, God has seriously prohibited people of accusing chaste women of adultery and has cleared them of such accusations.
First Story: Accusing Aisha
According to most exegetes and historians, the mentioned verses refer to events taken place in 5/626, when a group of the Prophet's (a) companions whom, according to Islamic sources, were hypocrites accused Aisha, the Prophet's (a) wife of adultery until the glorious Qur'an, in the mentioned verses, considered accusing chaste women a great sin. Sunnis consider revelation of these verses about Aisha a great merit for her.
The story is famously narrated from Aisha and in most sources of Islamic history is mentioned in a similar way as the following: upon returning from the Battle of Banu l-Mustaliq, when the caravan was resting in a place, Aisha went away from the resting place for her need of toilet, but she lost her necklace and began searching for it. Meanwhile, the army who were not aware of her absence, moved on and took her howdah with them thinking that she is inside it. When Aisha returned, found the place empty and stayed there until a person called Safwan b. Mu'attal arrived and let her got on his camel and took her to the army. According to this report, after the caravan arrived in Medina, Aisha became sick and when she was in her bed noticed the prophet's (a) change of manner toward herself and found that some rumors had been spread about her and Safwan. After a while, the verses of the Qur'an criticizing the accusers were revealed and the Prophet (a) recited them for people.
As it can be inferred from the verses, the accusers were a group of people, the names of some of whom have been mentioned in historical sources; including 'Abd Allah b. Ubayy who was known as the chief of hypocrites in Medina and the sources have referred to his important role in this story. Hassan b. Thabit, Hamna bt. Jahsh and Mistah b. Athatha are some others whose names have been mentioned among accusers in the sources and were punished by the order of the Prophet (a). Some sources have mentioned 'Abd Allah b. Ubayy among the punished ones, but some other sources have not mentioned his name.
Criticisms about this Report
About this famous report which has been mentioned in many historical and exegetical sources, some criticisms are mentioned by Shi'a sources. These sources, with emphasis on clearance of the Prophet's (a) wives of indecency, have doubted about the actual happening of this story and have considered the verses of Ifk related with another story. They have mentioned problems regarding the narration and chain of transmission of the reports about this story, including disagreements on details, ending all chains of transmission in Aisha herself and also weakness of the chains of transmission of reports. So, they have considered it forged to make up merits for Aisha. For example, in one of the reports supporting the story, it is said that the Prophet (a) consulted with Ali b. Abi Talib (a) and Usama b. Zayd, and Usama defended Aisha and Imam Ali (a) spoke against her, while Usama was a child at the time of the event.
Another problem mentioned about this story is that according to it, the Prophet (a) was influenced by the rumors, while accepting that the Prophet (a) would have any bad conjecture toward an innocent person is not acceptable with regards to his infallibility.
Second point is that the ruling of Qadhf, according to which a person who accuses a Muslim of adultery and cannot bring four witnesses for his claim will be punished, was previously revealed and in the verses of Surah al-Nur, Muslims are criticized because they did not ask the accusers to bring any witnesses. Thus, critics of the story ask why the Prophet (a) in the period of about one month the rumors are said to had been spread, did not act according to the mentioned ruling, did not ask the accusers to bring their witnesses and did not punish them? However, there are some evidences that the ruling of Qadhf was not revealed until then or was revealed at the same time with the event of Ifk.
Another Story: Accusing Mariya al-Qibtiyya
According to another report mentioned in Shi'a sources, verses of Ifk were revealed when Aisha accused Mariya al-Qibtiyya of having illegitimate relationship with a person called Jurayh al-Qibti. According to this report, Aisha told the Prophet (a) who was sad because of losing his son Ibrahim, "why are you sad for the death of Ibrahim while he was not your son and was son of Jurayh?" So, the Prophet (a) sent Imam Ali (a) to kill Jurayh, but when Imam (a) found that he did not have the male organ, withdraw from killing him and thus the accusation of Mariya al-Qibtiyya for having illegitimate relationship was refuted.
This report is mentioned in Tafsir Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qummi for the first time and relies on a hadith attributed to Imam al-Baqir (a). However, many Shi'a exegetes have not mentioned this report and have considered the verses of Ifk about Aisha as Sunni sources.
Contemporary Shi'a researchers and writers have disagreements about the context of revelation for these verses. Some contemporary researchers have considered the verses about accusation of Mariya. 'Allama Ja'far Murtada al-'Amili was among these researchers who mentioned some evidences for this opinion including the support of some historical hadiths for this supposed context of revelation.
Criticisms about this Interpretation
However, some contemporary Shi'a researchers have rejected the relation of verses of Ifk with the story of accusation of Mariya. They consider the most important problem for this interpretation, its disagreement with the content of verses which consider the accusers one group while according to this story, Aisha was the only accuser. On the other hand, according to this report, the Prophet (a), only based on the testimony of Aisha and without making further researches, ordered the killing of an innocent person which is unacceptable from the Prophet (a).
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- See: Ḥusaynīyān Muqaddam, "Barrasī-yi tārīkhī tafsīrī-yi ḥāditha-yi Ifk", p. 166-167.
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