Friday, September 14, 2012

The Prophet, the Movie, and the Violence

One of the lines in the prayer that Prophet Muhammad made in Taif after being beaten, humiliated and ridiculed in the tenth year of his prophet-hood reads, " O Allah, as long as you are not angry with me, I do not care about their attitude." A Coptic Christian made a disgusting movie about the life of the Prophet. Some of his financial backers were influential Christian evangelical leaders and some of his promoters were usual Islamophobes. But who cares. Why should one take notice of this nonsense? The purpose of this movie as explained by one of its consultant was to make Muslims hate their religion and renounce it. Did any Muslim really feel disgusted with the character of the Prophet or the sanctity of his religion? Far from that, Muslim masses came out in the streets showing their solidarity with their religion and their love to their prophet. However, what followed and was done in the name of Islam and the Prophet was uncalled forth and un-Islamic. 

Many Muslims intellectuals and leaders have outlines different courses of action against such sort of Islamophobe campaigns. But let us turn to the Prophet himself to see how he would have guided us how we should have responded in this situation.
Amid all accusations and hatred against him, did our prophet incite his followers to come out on the streets of Makkah and shout slurs at the Quraysh leadership?  What did he do? Condemned those people. No, Criticized those people, No. Demonstrated against those people, No, incited his companions to commit violence. No. Boycotted those people, No. So what did he do? The Quran records his response. "Tell, I have spend my entire life amongst you, don't you realize who I am what my character is." Is he worth emulating or should we rely only on our sentiments and intellect. Can Muslims offer their lives as a proof of their commitment to the Prophet?
Those who are claiming to die for the honor of the Prophet, must prove first that they are willing to live by his teachings.
The demonstrations outside the US embassies, the attack on Americans and the denunciation of America and Israel and Jews were not actions that one can call fair or Islamic. Based on his response to the aggression of the people of Taif, the Prophet would have forgiven the Coptic Christians for making such a movie and would have prayed for their generation to see the light of the divine guidance. After all he forgave the people of Taif and sought mercy for them. From the tribe of Bani Thaqif of Taif came Muhammad bin Qasim who was instrumental in introducing Islam to the people of Sindh.
But: Most definitely, many eminent scholars of Islam would have disagreed with the Prophet for adopting this merciful attitude. Imam Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, Ibn al-Mundhir, al-Qadi ‘Iyaad, al-Khattabi, Syed Maududi, and others have already given the verdict that a Muslim who insults the Prophet becomes a kafir and an apostate and deserves to be executed. Many scholars apply the same ruling on non-Muslims too.

Based on some anecdotes reported in Jami Nasai and Abu Dawood, two books of ahadith considered to be very authentic, many scholars have concluded that the Prophet encouraged the killing of whoever insulted him and spoke harshly to him, and that included both Muslims and non-Muslims. 
Some even take an extreme position arguing that it is not obligatory to accept the apology from those who indulge in this behavior, rather it is permissible to kill him even if he makes repentance. Ibn Taymiyah in his  al-Saarim al-Maslool ‘ala Shaatim al-Rasool wrote that the Prophet sometimes chose to forgive those who had insulted him, and sometimes he ordered that they should be executed, if that served a greater purpose. But now his forgiveness is impossible because he is dead, so the execution of the one who insults him remains the right of Allah, His Messenger and the believers, and the one who deserves to be executed cannot be let off, so the punishment must be carried out.  (Al-Saarim al-Maslool, 2/438)
In other words, insulting the Prophet is one of the worst of forbidden actions, and it constitutes kufr and apostasy from Islam, according to scholarly consensus, whether done seriously or in jest. The one who does that is to be executed even if he repents and whether he is a Muslim or a kafir. If he repents sincerely and regrets what he has done, this repentance will benefit him on the Day of Resurrection and Allah will forgive him, as is argued by scholars.
If this is the verdict, then it definitely goes against the actions of the Prophet and the spirit of the Quran. There is no ambiguity in the Quran or in the statement and behavior of the Prophet. Those reports that accuse the Prophet of ordering the killing of his opponents, no matter to whom they are attributed, are not correct as they do not confirm to the Quran and the character of the Prophet. The Prophet was described a mercy to the worlds and he acted with mercy towards others. He forgave his enemies; he did not take revenge from those who attempted to kill him; he even helped during a famine those who had previously fought wars against him. A large number of the companions were opposed to him before they accepted Islam. If the prophet had followed the advice of the later century Muslim scholars, none of these companions would be alive to accept Islam as all might have been beheaded for their insulting attitude toward the Prophet.
Addressing the issue of insults and humiliation the prophet was facing at the hands of his opponents, the Quran said:
"We know that your heart is distressed by what they say (6/33). You should, on your part, however, continue your efforts to make Allah’s program worthy of Hamd and along with your fellow beings, follow and obey the laws of your Lord steadfastly so that the result of your efforts manifests itself completely (15:97). At another place the divine books says: In short, adhere to your programme steadfastly. This will be possible only through the help which you receive from Allah. Do not grieve about the unbelievers and do not worry about their schemes. Surely, Allah is with those who are Muttaqeen and Mohsineen (16:127-128).
Obviously, these messages are not only for the Prophet, but they are applicable to the followers of the Prophet because the Quran reminds the believer that in the character of the Prophet is a great example for them.
Obviously, a great majority of Muslim scholars and organizations are refusing to acknowledge the relevance of the divine message and the practice of the Prophet in reality in matters like these. They are promoting a course of action that defies the Quran and the Prophet. Rather than educating the masses and channelizing their energy for positive actions, they often incite people to violence or revenge or anger or demonstration for every act of insults hurled at the Prophet.
The situation demands an action out of the routine and a new initiative different from what is being offered at present. The initiative can come from Muslim organization and leadership in the US because of their exposure to a pluralistic society. It is needed because anti- Prophet campaign is on the rise and would continue to grow in the near future.
1. Freedom of expression is an inalienable right of people. People have been given the right to reject, accept, ridicule or honor God and his messenger. No one can coerce them to any action. Even if it is hate speech, it cannot be stopped (of course in the United States, we never follow this principle.) This is an Islamic position and Muslims must never deviate from this position.
2. Let a Muslim organization call a meeting of other Muslim organizations and leaders and develop a detailed response to the issue of violence in the wake of offensive articles or movies or cartoons and take a strong and committed stand against the schools of thought influenced by Ibn Taymiyah and others who have promoted the idea of justifying violence against those who ridicule our prophet or religion. 

3. Let Muslim groups hold a high level meeting with Christians and Jews and together develop a code of ethics ensuring respect to each other's religion and dignity. Let us propose to all faiths that the practice of using religion as a tool to settle political differences and conflicts will not be tolerated any more.
4. Let Muslim groups and interfaith councils come together as well as other religious organizations to make it known to each other that they would always take a joint stand against every act of bigotry as one body. It is not Islam versus Christianity or Judaism. It is all religions against those who promote hatred and aggression towards fellow human beings.
5. Let a team of Muslim scholars from USA approach the Muslim world scholars to begin an exchange of ideas on issues such as Islam and America, Islam and the West, Islam and violence etc. Muslim Americans must not project them a shadow of the already existing schools of thoughts in the world, but a new voice rooted in the Quran and the authentic sayings of the Prophet.
6. Let Muslims develop a strategy to approach religious and secular leadership at the grassroots levels to address to their concerns and explain Islam's perspectives on human rights, the others, minorities and religious freedom.
7. Let us critically examine the literature in our books that projects our Prophet in a disrespecting manner and that casts doubt on the nobility of his character.
It is in such times, these initiatives are needed urgently. Otherwise, we would continue to be governed by opinions that many a times contradict the divine guidance and defy nobility of the character of our prophet.
The Prayer of the Prophet in Taif
"O Allah! I open to You my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me?
To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favor is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased.
There is no power and no might except by You."


  1. Well argued, but brief. The issue is much deeper than news reports suggest. It has historical aspect, theological implications, the peculiar nature of instantaneous mass media messaging, and then contemporary socio-political dimension, all of which have to be taken into account; just fire-fighting will not work. Your effort is commendable but we have along way to go.

  2. JAK, Br. Aslam for the illuminating article. It is timely, well-researched and fills the crtitical need of using our mind (aq'l) rather than emotion to frame our response (or initiate any action). The suggestions you've outlined are very pertinent and I hope Muslims all over would take it seriously.