By Muhammad Bilal Khizar (4th Year ʿĀlim Student, DarusSalam Seminary)
Most scholars of tafsīr say that the verse:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَن تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ
“O believers! If a corrupt person comes to you with information, investigate it. Lest you harm people with ignorance and then become, because of what you did, regretful.”
refers to Walīd b. ʿUqbah. However, the verse refers to him as a “fāsiq” which presents a problem because he was one of the Prophet’s Companions.
Many scholars related the story behind this verse. al-Ḥārith b. Abī Ḍirār was the Tribe of Muṣṭaliq’s leader. He is Juwayrīyah’s father, and she is one of the Prophet’s wives. He came to the Prophet and the Prophet invited him to Islām and asked him to pay the zakāh. He said:
“I embraced Islām and pledged to pay it. Then, I said to the Prophet: ‘I will go to my people and call them to Islām. And I will ask them to pay it. Those who accept my invitation and pay, I will collect their alms. I request that on a designated date of a designated month, a collector be sent to me, so that the alms can be given to him.”
After Ḥārith collected the alms, the alms collector did not arrive on the date nor after it. He began to fear that maybe the Prophet (upon him be peace) was displeased with them for some reason or the other. Otherwise, it was unlikely for the Prophet (upon him be peace) not to keep a promise. Ḥārith expressed his apprehension to the other tribal leaders, and he wanted to go see the Prophet (upon him be peace).
The Prophet had in fact sent Walīd b. ʿUqbah to collect it. However, on his way, he began to think that the Tribe of Muṣṭaliq used to be his sworn enemies. He feared that they might kill him. Out of this fear, he returned to Madīnah and informed the Prophet (upon him be peace) that they refused to pay it and wanted to kill him. On hearing this, the Prophet (upon him be peace) became angry. Under the command of Khālid b. Walīd, he dispatched an army.
Ḥārith b. Abī Ḍirār was with his people on the way to meet the Prophet and the two groups met near Madīnah.
Ḥārith inquired: “To whom have you been sent?”
They replied: “To you.”
Ḥārith inquired: “For what purpose?”
They narrated what Walīd b. ʿUqbah reported to the Prophet (upon him be peace).
Ḥārith said: “I swear by Allāh who sent Muhammad as His Messenger, Walīd never came. And since no envoy came, I apprehended that the Prophet may be displeased with me due to some shortcoming on my part. Therefore, I came here.”
In other versions, Walīd b. ʿUqbah did go to them. And, as the tribe was expecting the Prophet’s envoy to arrive on a designated date, they went out as a mark of respect to welcome him. But Walīd suspected that they might be intending to kill him on account of the old hostility. Therefore, he fled and went to the Prophet (upon him be peace) to report to him, according to his suspicion, that they were not willing to pay the alms and wanted to kill him. This is found in many narrations.
In Fatāwā Dār al-ʿUlūm Zakariyyā, Muftī Raḍā al-Ḥaqq mentioned that all these narrations are weak. Most are mawqūf, being sourced only as far back as Mujāhid, Qatādah, and Ibn Abī Laylā. And those that are ascribed to the Prophet (upon him be peace) have weak narrators in their chains.
He also mentioned that Abū Dāwūd transmitted that when Makkah was conquered, Walīd b. ʿUqbah was a child. And the Prophet placed his blessed hand on all the children. However, he did not place his hand on Walīd because his mother put some fragrance on him that the Prophet did not like. The Prophet passed away two years after the conquest. Thus, it is unlikely that he was old enough to be sent as an envoy.
Even if we accept that he was sent, the context indicates that some mischievous members of the tribe came to him and told him that the people of Muṣṭaliq are going to ambush him. And he mentioned this to the Prophet. This was mentioned by Suyūṭī in al-Durr al-Manthūr.
In considering this, and the fact that ascribing fisq to a Companion goes against the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah, the verse would mean:
“O believers! (referring to Walīd b. ʿUqbah), If a corrupt person (referring to the mischievous people of the tribe who scared him) comes to you with information, investigate it…”
And Allāh knows best.