Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fake Post Okay if it has a "Good Message"?

1606. * If a person observing fast wishes to quote something about which he has no authority or he does not know whether it is true or false, he should, as an obligatory precaution, give a reference of the person who reported it, or of the book in which it is written. 

(Fasting Rules/Fiqh,

Surat Al-Hujurat [verse 6] - O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.

This story is going around Facebook:

Imam Yahya Davis transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member mosque that he was to be introduced as the head Imam at that morning. He walked around his soon to be mosque for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for jummah....only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the mosque gave him change. He went into the musallah to sit down in the front of the mosque and was asked if he would please sit in the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.

As he sat in the back of the mosque, he listened to the mosque announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new Imam of the mosque to the congregation........"We would like to introduce to you Imam Yahya Davis"....The jammat looked around filled with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down.....the happiness stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the memba and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment....then he recited

"Verily, Allah will say to his slave when He will be taking account of him on the Day of Judgement, 'O' son of Adam, I was hungry and you did not feed me.' He will answer: 'How could I feed you? You are the Lord of the worlds!' He will say: 'Did you not know that my slave so and so who is the son of so and so felt hunger, and you'did not feed him. Alas, had you fed him you would have found that (i.e. reward) with Me.' 'O' son of Adam, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink.' He will reply: 'How could I give You drink? You are the Lord of the worlds!' He will say: 'Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so felt thirsty and you did not give him drink. Alas, if you had given him, you would have found that (i.e. reward) with me.' 'O' son of Adam, I became sick and you did not visit Me.' He will answer: 'How can I visit You? You are the Lord of the worlds!' He will say: 'Did you not know that my slave so and so, the son of so and so became sick and you did not visit him. Alas, had you visited him, you would have found Me with him."

After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning...many began to cry.... he then said....Today I see a gathering of people......not a community of Allah. The world has enough people, but not enough true Muslims...when will YOU decide to become Muslims? He then asked the Muadhan to call the iqamaat for salat...

But this story is completely made up.  I also saw two nearly identical posts this week, but they weren't about Imam Yahya Davis, but rather Pastor Jeremiah Steepak.    From the blog Patrick's Place:


If you’re on Facebook, you’ve surely seen a widely circulated photo of a homeless man with a scraggly gray beard billed as a pastor who went “undercover” in his own church. But despite evidence the homeless pastor photo is a fake, no one seems interested in fact-checking.

When you work in the media, you hear constant complaints from news consumers who insist that the media spends too much time racing to be first and too little time checking their facts before they put information out there.
You then see postings on Facebook like the story of Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.
It’s a nice little story at first, but it has an aftertaste stronger than saccharin. That’s because the moral of the story is quite convicting when it comes to Christian compassion, or, in this case, the complete lack thereof.
But then I suppose that’s the whole point.
The story goes like this:
A new pastor about to take the pulpit of a 10,000-member church for the first time decides to make an unusual entrance. He dresses down as a homeless guy and slips into the church before the service is set to begin just to see what happens. For a half-hour, he walked around and noted that only three people out of the thousands assembling even spoke to him. None of the people he asked for change to buy food gave him a cent. To add insult to injury, ushers asked him to move to the back of the sanctuary after he settled in a seat down front.
When it came time to introduce the new pastor — a man apparently few of them had actually seen before — the elders, who were in on the joke, called out for their new preacher and this homeless man rose and walked up front.
He then recites this:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
As he then told the congregation what he had experienced at their hands, the church members dutifully bowed their heads in shame. Some even cried.
Then, just before dismissing the service, he says, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will youdecide to become disciples?”
It’s a great little story. It’s the kind of story that all of us, deep down, recognize could easily happen in virtually any church we’ve ever set foot in. There’s a sense of believability inherent in it because within us there’s a sense of guilt about whether we’re truly doing enough to help others in need.
Essentially, we walk around at times wondering if we’re really doing enough to love our neighbors as ourselves. And for those of us who worry that we might be falling short, and for those of us who are certain that we are, such a story strikes a personal chord.
Even so, when I see a story like this, I immediately want to know where this church is. (Because I find it curious that we are given a pastor’s name, but not his location.)
So I Google it. And a funny thing happens.
Here in this Information Age of ours, in which I can find too much information about nearly everyone these days, I can find no information on “Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.”
None. Zip. Nada. The only results that came up earlier this week were four entries and all four were retellings of this same little story. No mention of a real Jeremiah Steepek. No mention of a church at which he serves as lead pastor.
And let’s use a little common sense here, folks: what are the odds that a pastor of a church with more than 10,000 members wouldn’t have some presence on the internet in 2013?
One in I-don’t-know-how-many-million.
Just for fun, I Googled the name of my pastor. My church does not have anywhere near 10,000 members. Yet I immediately found multiple search results for my guy: the church’s website, his Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, and his blog, among others.
But for Rev. Steepek, there’s nothing.
At least, there was nothing until a couple of days ago. Now, search result after search result shows that within the past week, a great deal has been written about this alleged clergyman., the site at which every social media fact check should begin, offers a few possible explanations of this urban legend. One of them is that it is based on a Princeton University social psychology class study for seminary students in 1970. Another is that it may have been adapted from a Clarksville, Tennessee pastor who spent four days posing as a homeless man. This pastor, Willie Lyle, was the newly-appointed pastor of a Methodist Church, where 20 people not only spoke to him but offered him some kind of assistance. When he eventually took the pulpit, his daughters gave him a haircut and a shave and he removed his dirty trench coat to reveal “Sunday clothes” underneath.
And then there’s the book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, a 1897 book with an opening that is somewhat similar to this tale.
But most damaging to the Jeremiah Steepek story is the fact that a London photographer has claimed the photo as being of an unidentified homeless man and not, apparently, a pastor lurking around his new church."

Now this made-up story may seem harmless enough. It may actually seem like a good thing, because it promotes a good message or tries to make a good point.  But it is a lie.  And those images used are real homeless people - and one could argue they are being exploited by their images being used under false pretenses.  

Yesterday, I saw another story on Facebook that was a lie.  There are several versions of this one going around.  This particular one has been going around for at least four years, even on websites looking like news pages such as the Asian Tribune.  The headline is something like "Rape of Iraqi Women by US Forces as Weapon of War: Photos and Data Emerge", but the story is completely fake and the images are faked too - graphic, horrifying pictures stolen from pornography films or worse yet, pornography staged specifically for the making of that version of this tale.  This lie claims to have a "good message" too:  getting the truth out about horrible crimes committed by American soldiers in Iraq - a cry for truth and justice. Surely, something like what is claimed in the article may have really happened. Some people will claim it is justified because it is enough like some truth out there and it is necessary to drive people to some kind of 'action' or 'solidarity'. But this story, being spread by well-meaning people or people with an axe to grind against America or its military or its government, is just a different twist of evil.  It is spreading pornography and spreading fitna, lies, and hate.


Spreading rumors on the Internet is a common tactic of those seeking to demonize or guilt others.  In 2010 I wrote the following article for an online magazine:

Shortly after the devastating Haiti quake, a conspiracy theory was born. An article appeared on the web, dated January 14, 2010, titled "'US Quake Test Goes "Horribly Wrong", Leaves 500,000 Dead In Haiti' By: Sorcha Faal, and as reported to her Western Subscribers". The opening paragraph sets the stage: "A grim report prepared by the Russian Northern Fleet for Prime Minister Putin is stating today that the catastrophic earthquake that has devastated the Island of Haiti was the 'clear result' of a United States Navy test of one of its 'earthquake weapons' planned to be used by the Americans upon the Persian Nation of Iran but had gone 'horribly wrong'."

It didn't take long for this story to spread far and wide, becoming a popular e-mail forward, forum post, and topic of various blogs and articles. It was even taken up by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's mouthpiece on the Venezuelan government website, and then covered by Fox News due to this Venezuelan report. However, it was shortly removed from the government site, although a Google cache of the report remains intact.

A closer scrutiny of this story perhaps reveals the reason it was quickly removed from the Venezuelan government's site. Sorcha Faal, Russian Academy of Science member, the author of the story, does not exist. She wrote no thesis and has published no research ever, despite her purported doctorate degree. Although a biography of her can be found on the Internet, it is entirely fabricated. Yet, the non-existent lady is a prolific author of stories of the decline of civilization that often spread all over the web. A few other titles authored by "Sorcha Faal" include:

    • US President Orders Military To Begin Jailing All Civilian Protestors To War
    • Putin Orders Russian Military Forces To Attack US Forces During Iran Invasion????
    • Russia, China Order Forces To Highest Alert As US Forces Mass On Iranian Border
    • Pravda: Imus Fired After He Threatened to Reveal 9/11 secrets
    • Massive ULF 'Blast' Detected In US Bridge Collapse Catastrophe
    • US 'Shoot on Site' Order Issued For Escaping Americans
    • Australia To Imprison All Muslims In Concentration Camps
    • American Spy Satellite Downed In Peru
    • 'Ship of Giants' Said Attacked By Israel in Strike on Syria

All of these stories appear to be figments of the imaginary Sorcha's imagination. Sorcha Faal, it turns out, is really a man with an agenda of making money. While some of Sorcha Faal's articles take on a life of their own and eventually end up being reported by well-known news sites after undergoing so many permutations that their origins have become obscured, they all seem to originate at websites owned by David Booth, American computer programmer, and author of numerous doomsday books. Apparently, spreading doomsday rumors on the Internet associated with an academic insider "author" on his website is a tactic to sell his books and the views they contain. David Booth uses Sorcha Faal as a false identity because his own credibility has been ruined by his lies, and because a Russian academic is relatively harder to track down.

Perhaps the larger and more pertinent story here, however, is the wildfire spread of the Haiti quake hoax that he created – particularly in Muslim circles. It seems that many Muslims love stories that depict Western governments as evil secret societies controlling everything, and are predisposed to believe them and eagerly pass them on to their forum buddies, e-mail group friends, blog readers, Facebook friends, and anyone else we can think of. Rarely do we ever think to check the veracity of the stories before passing them on. We enjoy disparaging a "bad guy" so much that we don't even question if the disparagement is warranted or true.

In truth, when a story takes on such a life of its own as this latest David Booth hoax did, sifting through its numerous manifestations to determine that it is really entirely made-up by someone trying to sell his books is not a trivial task. However, that does not pardon casual Internet users from checking various hoax websites such as before pressing "Forward" – that move alone would cut down on the number of misinformation bombs flooding our inboxes considerably.

Some will likely suggest, in true conspiracy theory fashion, that the Internet hoax verification sites cannot fully be trusted, and that they might be used by secret societies and governments in their own misinformation campaigns. However, the fact that the stories get out at all is only evidence that no one has full control of the Internet and what it contains. What readers see online, in print, and on television, even on some "reputable" news sites, is not necessarily true, because even reputable sites sometimes report unsubstantiated rumors with questionable sources, trying to be the "first" to break a new story. The media, especially the Internet, are not controlled for accuracy, and the quantity of proliferation does not always correlate with veracity.

Internet hoaxes and lies can do real damage when rumors upon rumors are taken by readers as fact – just look at effects of "coverage" of the Green movement in Iran in 2009, for example, or any of the numerous stories of bullied youths resorting to drastic measures like suicide in response to lies spread about them online.

The moral of this story is perhaps that people in general should be much more skeptical of what they read and should be much less quick to send on information that we do not personally know to be true. Wanting something to be true, believing it could be true, thinking that something like it, at least, must be true, and having actual knowledge of its truth are not equal. We have a moral responsibility regarding what we propagate with our tongues and use of the Internet. We also should have the intelligence and critical thinking skills to realize that not all is as it is represented to be on the Internet. The Internet is the modern gossip/propaganda mill, and gossip couched in official-looking titles and headers is still trash. Many wonderful and great things are on the Internet, but to paraphrase Shakespeare, not all that glitters is gold. The only way to cut down on Internet pollution is if each of us individually does his part to stop passing around trash. Think again before hitting Forward – when in doubt, throw it out.


So does it matter if what we share on the Internet is true or not?  Even if it gives a good message?  I think so.  One person's "good message" is another person's insult or worse.  We may unintentionally harm, even with a "good" lie.  If you have a good cause, you do not serve it well by using deceit to promote it.  The truth is pure and will stand up to scrutiny, while a lie, even an "innocent" or "well-intentioned" one, can ruin your reputation as well as your work for your cause.  The month of Ramadan is a time to be especially vigilant of our words and deeds, not only because they affect our fasts, but because we are supposed to be working on becoming better people, reformed characters, reaching the next level(s) particularly in this month.


  1. I agree. I've seen fake stories such as these pass around a lot. I personally wouldn't "share" something I don't know to be true.

  2. I knew something was wrong when it said the sheikh was asking people for money for food, I cannot imagine a sheikh being intentionally deceptive then leading prayer

  3. 786 – As-salamu alaikum. We all have been so happy with this story. But even it seems to be a fake, on another level of understanding it has its own truth. Following an Italian saying, "se non è vero è molto ben trovato", we can accept this story, as it has been so well invented. I cannot see a contradiction to "lâ yakdhib!" of our prophet, peace be upon him.