بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ
The world is talking about Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ). In an age dominated by instant online marketing, media strategies, public relations campaigns, and digital media publishing, the power of the printed or published world, audio podcasts, recorded videos and public opinion has increased manifold and quite frequently, spirals even out of our control, as the dynamic duo of electronic devices and social media achieve in seconds what massive printing presses took weeks or months to accomplish decades ago.
In the new age of media, “leaked” amateur videos, tweets, blogs and Facebook shares can garner a viewership that by far exceeds that of the first official press release. And so the test and trial of our faith enters hitherto new realms, as the keyboards on our devices allow us to vent our emotions to an audience of thousands within seconds, where ever we might be.
In the world of PR, there is a controversial adage that goes, “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” and what it basically and debatably implies is, that any scandal, rumor, or other form of public mud-slinging actually benefits the career of the “victim” or recipient in question, be they a celebrity, politician or any other public figure.
Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) has unfortunately become the latest recipient of vile slander and false accusations of an extremely disturbing nature by a small group of filmmakers who are as yet unidentified. The question I want to ask is: even though this derision of his name and honor is undoubtedly repulsive and offensive in the short-term, is it possible that it might just be good for his name in the long run?
But before you get me wrong, let me start by saying that I condemn in the strongest terms possible, stopping short of exceeding the Islamic bounds of decency and conduct, the repulsive contents of the alleged “Sam Bacile” (himself perhaps a fictitious character) film that derides our dear Prophet صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ.
Now, as to what the response of a Muslim should be when such provocative incitements are carried out by those who wish to demean Islam and its Prophet, perhaps we should recall a few things:
- What the Quran says we should do when faced with blatant mockery of Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ).
- What the Prophet’s own response used to be towards such behavior by his antagonists
- What his companions used to do to defend his honor in his presence; actions which he approved of tacitly, by remaining silent.
Allah’s Command in the Quran
Allah commands believers in the Quran to leave the setting, company of people, or location where His signs or His Deen is being mocked:
وَقَدْ نَزَّلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ أَنْ إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ آيَاتِ اللّهِ يُكَفَرُ بِهَا وَيُسْتَهْزَأُ بِهَا فَلاَ تَقْعُدُواْ مَعَهُمْ حَتَّى يَخُوضُواْ فِي حَدِيثٍ غَيْرِهِ إِنَّكُمْ إِذًا مِّثْلُهُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ جَامِعُ الْمُنَافِقِينَ وَالْكَافِرِينَ فِي جَهَنَّمَ جَمِيعًا
“Already has He sent you Word in the Book, that when you hear the signs of Allah held in defiance and ridicule, you are not to sit with them unless they turn to a different theme: if you did, you would be like them. For Allah will collect the hypocrites and those who defy faith – all in Hell:-” [4:140]
In the digital world, this refusal to “sit with” those who demean or dishonor Allah, His Prophet, the Quran, His Deen of Islam, or any of its commands or symbols in any way, would amount to a non-confrontational but firm boycott of the website or other platform where the mockery is taking place.
As modern day users of digital devices and social media, we should be careful about sharing links to videos, images or articles that can add fuel to the fire, but more importantly, we should remember and realize that by doing this we are becoming unwittingly voluntary PR agents and marketers for those who blaspheme about our religion and Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ).
Instead, we should use our social media status updates and tweets, in a world that is now closely interconnected in real time, to condemn the vile actions of these deliberate troublemakers, who seek to ruffle feathers and give another blow to a boat already rocking precariously on rough waters, and to denounce the evil oratorically and openly.
However, in our zest to defend our Prophet’s honor, we should beware of becoming the means of spreading the evil slander itself. This is because provocateurs in the modern digital world value nothing more than the number of hits on their article, video, or link, seeking increasing fame and attention, even if it is of a negative nature, because this usually translates to money and future opportunities.
Allah says in the Quran:
وَلاَ تَقْتُلُواْ أَنفُسَكُمْ
“Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves..” [4:29]
The Prophet’s own reaction to provocative attacks
It was reported that Anas Bin Malik (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُ) said: “The Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) was not a person who insulted people or used obscene language, and he did not curse people. If he wanted to rebuke anyone, he would say, “What is wrong with him? – may his forehead be rubbed with dust.””
[Sahih Al-Bukhari 6031]
The Prophet was famous for forgiving his personal enemies, even those who had openly sought to kill him in the past. He was not hot-tempered nor volatile in face of instigation and provocations, especially by vile mischief mongers and antagonists among the disbelievers.
Anas Bin Malik (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُ) reported, “I was walking with the Messenger of Allah (رَضِىَ اللهُ عَنْهُ) and he had put on a mantle of Najran with a thick border. A bedouin met him and pulled the mantle so violently that I saw this violent pulling leaving marks of the border of the mantle on the skin of the neck of the Messenger of Allah. And he (the bedouin) said: “Muhammad, issue a command that I should be given out of the wealth of Allah which is at your disposal.” The Messenger of Allah turned his attention to him and smiled, and then ordered for him a gift (provision).”
Smiling at a person who has, in his impatience and lack of manners, just inflicted a physical injury upon you?
As his followers, we should try to emulate his conduct both, in our personal as well as our communal lives, by striving to remain patient and calm whenever any “agent provocateur” with evil intentions creates a “finah” that openly attempts to disunite and provoke us into emotionally retaliative actions which, though they completely spare the instigators damage, inflict greater harm upon our own security, lives and properties – as the criminals stand by and watch us act like vandals, probably with amused smirks on their faces!
Defending the Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ)
The Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) himself never returned the insults and derision meted out against him by his opponents, critics, slanderers and archenemies. However, even though his stance was always one of patience and non-retaliation, there were times when his companions stood up for him, defended his honor and his physical person, and even returned the antagonism of some of his opponents either verbally or by brandishing a weapon, and the Prophet did not stop them, nor did he disapprove of their actions, nor reprimanded them for doing so.
Therefore, I would like to exhort that while it is imperative to emulate the Prophet’s patience and forbearance when it comes to reacting to provocative instigations that clearly aim to deride him, a few points should be borne in mind whilst doing this:
- You “should” feel angry! Only anger that is for the sake of one’s own self is considered a destructive emotion that leads to sins. There is actually a praiseworthy anger as well; an anger or rage that gains the pleasure of Allah. This anger is inspired by, and is indicative of, true, sincere uncontaminated faith, loyalty and sincerity towards Allah and His Prophet.
As Muslims, our faith is not complete if we do not hold the Prophet dearer to ourselves than our own selves, our parents, or anyone else. And when such a person who is so close to our hearts is insulted, it will naturally give rise to anger. Would we not feel angry if someone abused our mother in front of us, or tried to harm our child in our presence? If we felt no defensive “gheerah” or anger in such a situation, our sanity and love towards our close kin would be undoubtedly questioned!
Therefore, the anger we feel when our Prophet is insulted or derided in any way is actually praiseworthy, so much so that any Muslim who does not feel this anger well up inside him or her when the Prophet is mocked, needs to check his faith and his loyalty to Allah’s Deen.
Therefore, I would just like to make something very clear: vile insults towards Prophet Muhammad should result in a Muslim getting angry for the sake of Allah.
However, this anger should not cause him or her to commit foolish, irrational, reactive, sinful, vandalistic and destructive actions.
- Muslims should openly, verbally and publicly condemn the vile actions meted out in bad taste against their Deen and their Prophet, but the manner of this condemnation should be well-worded, civilized, non-violent, non-provocative, non-accusatory and carefully planned out in advance.
Being tolerant and patient and abstaining from retaliatory violence does not imply remaining silent as if nothing happened or as if Muslims were not hurt or offended; it does not imply “ignoring” the evil as if it does not exist, or as if it is justified in the name of “freedom of expression”.
- Muslims should peacefully and via proper legal procedures, attempt to contact those in authority to reprimand and bring the perpetrators of this gross disrespect to the Prophet to justice, because deliberately dishonoring any respectable person is a sinful action which should be repudiated.
How the Companions Defended the Prophet’s Honor
There were times in the Prophet’s (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) life that some of his opponents tried to inflict emotional and physical harm upon him. At such times, his companions always rose to defend him selflessly. The Prophet never stopped them from raising their tongues or hands to defend him, except when they crossed limits.
Some of the enemies of the Prophet would compose and publicly recite offensive verses of poetry deriding and ridiculing him. In retaliation, the Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) allowed one of his companions to return the favor. Not just that, but he made dua for Allah to aid him in his efforts:
Narrated `Aishah, “Once Hassaan bin Thabit asked the permission of the Prophet to lampoon (i.e. compose satirical poetry defaming) the infidels. The Prophet said, “What about the fact that I have common descent with them?” Hassaan replied, “I shall take you out of them as a hair is taken out of dough.”
Narrated Sa`id Bin Al-Musaiyab: “Umar came to the Mosque while Hassaan was reciting a poem. (`Umar disapproved of that). On that, Hassaan said, “I used to recite poetry in this very masjid in the presence of one (i.e. the Prophet ) who was better than you.” Then he turned towards Abu Hurairah and said (to him), “I ask you by Allah, did you hear Allah’s Messenger saying (to me), “Retort on my behalf. O Allah! Support him (i.e. Hassan) with the Holy Spirit”?” Abu Hurairah said, “Yes.”
It was narrated from Anas that: “The Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) entered Makkah during the Umratul-Qada, and Abdullah bin Rawahah was walking in front of him and saying:
“Get out of his way, you unbelievers, make way.
Today we will fight about its revelation
With blows that will remove heads from shoulders
And make friend unmindful of friends.”
Umar said to him: “O Ibn Rawahah! In front of the Messenger of Allah and in the Sanctuary of Allah, the Might and Sublime, you recite poetry?”
The Prophet said: “Let him do so, for what he is saying is more effective than shooting arrows at them.”
At a turning point in the history of Islam, when the treaty of Hudaibiyah was about to be drawn up, and the Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) and his companions were coming to Makkah in the state of ihram, Urwah bin Masud came to talk to the Prophet.
During his conversation, he said to the Prophet that he had with him companions who would desert him and leave him alone. At that point, Abu Bakr, who was standing nearby, abused Urwa using a colloquial phrase common among the Arabs at that time (which is not decent enough to be translated). The Prophet did not reprimand him for doing so, even though they were all in the state of ihram.
During the same conversation, Urwa would sometimes extend his hand to grab the beard of the Prophet while talking to him. Each time, the companion Al Mughira bin Shu’ba, who was standing nearby, would hit Urwa’s hand with his sheathed sword and say to him, “Remove your hand from the beard of Allah’s messenger!”
The hadith goes on to quote how Urwa perceived the loyalty of the Prophet’s companions: “…`Urwa returned to his people and said, “O people! By Allah, I have been to the kings and to Caesar, Khosrau and Al Najashi, yet I have never seen any of them respected by his courtiers as much as Muhammad is respected by his companions. By Allah, if he spat, the spittle would fall in the hand of one of them, who would rub it on his face and skin; if he ordered them, they would carry out his order immediately; if he performed ablution, they would struggle to take the remaining water; and when they spoke, they would lower their voices and would not look at his face constantly out of respect.””
It is obvious from the above narrations that, whilst we as Muslims should definitely take the “higher road” when it comes to reacting to provocative incidents in which mud is slung upon our Prophet, we should nevertheless feel anger and defensiveness in our hearts that drives us to protect his honor, just the way his companions felt when they protected him from all sides from, and responded to, any kind of verbal or physical attack.
Staying within limits
Once the Prophet’s wife A’ishah, being young and passionate, overstepped bounds while returning the vile greeting of a group of Jews who pretended to greet the Prophet in her presence, but actually wished death upon him by using a twist of the tongue to distort the Arabic word “salam”:
Narrated Ibn Abi Mulaika, `Aishah said, “The Jews came to the Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) and said to him, “As-Saamu ‘Alaika (i.e. “death be upon you”).” He replied, “The same on you.”
`Aishah said to them, “Death be upon you, and may Allah curse you and shower His wrath upon you!”
Allah’s messenger (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) said,
مَهْلاً يَا عَائِشَةُ، عَلَيْكِ بِالرِّفْقِ، وَإِيَّاكِ وَالْعُنْفَ وَالْفُحْشَ ”
“Be gentle, O `Aishah! Be gentle and beware of being harsh and of saying evil things.”
She said, “Didn’t you hear what they said?”
He said, “Didn’t you hear what I replied (to them)? I have returned their statement to them, and my invocation against them will be accepted, but theirs against me will not be accepted.”
The Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) clearly reprimanded A’ishah and urged her to adopt الرِّفْقِ (“al-rifq”), which when translated from Arabic, means, “gentle, soft, tender, gracious, courteous, and civil”. [Reference: Lane’s Lexicon]
However, he also pointed out to A’ishah that he had returned their evil greeting, even though he could have chosen to ignore it.
This hadith clearly indicates something about retaliation which the Quran also corroborates:
وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالأَنفَ بِالأَنفِ وَالأُذُنَ بِالأُذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ
“…. an eye for an eye, and a nose for a nose, and an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth,” [5:45]
That for us Muslims, even though forgiving and overlooking antagonism from the Prophet’s enemies is better, taking revenge is nevertheless allowed, but only within strict limits viz. not overstepping the level of vice that they have meted out.
The Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) emphasized to A’ishah that he returned their invocation back upon them i.e. the wish for death, but did not go one step ahead to wish “la’n” (curse) or “ghadab” (wrath) upon them, the way she did.
What should we do?
There are many things Muslims the world over can do to combat the current global wave of offense and outcry that has resulted as an aftermath of the incitations of a small group of mischief mongers.
First of all, we need to take a deep breath, and, despite the deep ache in our hearts, our raging emotions, and our desire to undertake brash defensiveness, we need to keep cool and collected and ponder about how to unify our efforts in order to react in a manner that will bring about a win-win situation for the entire world. Here are a few tips about what to do in this particular situation:
- Pray to Allah sincerely to enable us to stage a reaction to this provocation that is completely in accordance with His pleasure
- Write columns, blog posts, status updates on social media protesting peacefully against the contents of this film
- Share online links to articles penned by learned scholars and wisdom-preaching imams which elaborate and promote the correct way of reacting to thisfitnah.
- Get our complains heard by contacting the higher-ups and authority figures, such as righteous government leaders, unbiased politicians and truthful journalists.
- Peaceful online and in-person protests with banners and slogans to get the message of peace across globally.
- Not just individually emulate but also orate and write about the beautiful character of Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ), in particular about the numerous times he overlooked evil actions directed towards him, and how repeatedly forgave and pardoned his enemies.
- Abstain from engaging in arguments and debates with other Muslims about how to react
- Continue to denounce the destructive rallies, protests, and death- and injury-inflicting, property-damaging and conflict-deepening clashes, hooliganism, vandalism and violence that is being carried out by Muslims and others around the world. Condemn such behavior as NOT being in accordance with the way of Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ) and his noble companions.
When 9/11 happened, the world was outraged and shocked. In the short-term, the image of Muslims and Islam appeared to suffer a grave misrepresentation that went against their favor. However, over the years, the general interest in, and awareness about Islam grew and increased, as more and more people who had previously known nothing about this Deen, started purchasing copies of Quran, its translation, as well as other Islamic books and articles about Allah, Islam, Quran and Prophet Muhammad (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ).
It is not just my hope but also my earnest duaa that Allah converts this sad incident perpetrated by a tiny group of unknown troublemakers – who undoubtedly made this blasphemous film and deliberately dubbed it in Arabic just for cheap thrills, seeking to defame a perfect religion and its noble Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ), – into a massive, international ‘PR campaign’ for our Prophet (صَلَّى اللِّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ), which spreads the light of Islam, its actual message, and the knowledge of the beautiful conduct of its Prophet to every corner of the globe, entering as guidance towards the Truth every heart that wonders, “So who was this Muhammad? And what was he really like?”
That is when we will see who comes out as the real winner!