• Aslam Abdullah

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 an awful 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? As explained by one of its consultants, this movie's purpose was to make Muslims hate their religion and renounce it. Did any Muslim feel disgusted with the character of the Prophet or the sanctity of his faith? Far from that, Muslim masses came out in the streets showing their solidarity with their religion and Prophet's love. However, what followed and done in Islam's name, and the Prophet was uncalled forth and un-Islamic.

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 execution. Many scholars apply the same ruling to non-Muslims too.

Based on some anecdotes reported in Jami Nasai and Abu Dawood, two books of ahadith were considered very authentic. Many scholars have concluded that the Prophet encouraged the killing of whoever insulted him and spoke harshly to him, including 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; instead, 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; sometimes he ordered their killing, 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 execution should face it. (Al-Saarim al-Maslool, 2/438)

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 ultimately (15:97). In another place, the holy book says: In short, adhere to your program steadfastly. It 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. Indeed, Allah is with those who are Muttaqeen and Mohsineen (16:127-128).

These messages are not only for the Prophet, but they are also applicable to the Prophet's followers because the Quran reminds the believer that the Prophet's character is a great example for them.

Many Muslim scholars and organizations are refusing to acknowledge the relevance of the divine message and the Prophet's practice 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 our history tells us. It can come from Muslim organizations and leaders in the US because of their exposure to a pluralistic society. It is needed because the anti- Prophet campaign is on the rise and would continue to grow shortly.

These messages are not only for the Prophet, but they are also applicable to the Prophet's followers because the Quran reminds the believer that the Prophet's character is an excellent example for them.

Many Muslim scholars and organizations are refusing to acknowledge the relevance of the divine message and the Prophet's practice 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 historical precedence. It can come from Muslim organizations and leaders in the US because of their exposure to a pluralistic society. It is needed because the anti- Prophet campaign is on the rise and would continue to grow.

1. Freedom of expression is an inalienable right of people. People have 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 exists (of course, we never follow this principle in the United States.) It is an Islamic position, and Muslims must never deviate from this position.

2. Let a Muslim organization calls a meeting and develop a detailed response to violence in the wake of offensive articles or movies, or cartoons. Let them take a committed and robust 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.

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 disappear 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."

Many Muslim intellectuals and leaders have outlined different courses of action against such sort of Islamophobe campaign. 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? Did he condemned those people? No, Criticized those people, No. Demonstrated against those people, No, incited his companions to commit violence. No. Did he boycott those people? No. So what did he do? The Quran records his response. "Say, I have spent 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 proof of their commitment to the Prophet?

Those who are claiming to die for the Prophet's honor 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, the Prophet would pray 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.

Scholars, in general, argue that insulting the Prophet is one of the worst of forbidden actions. According to scholarly consensus, it constitutes kufr and apostasy from Islam, whether done incredibly or in jest. The criminal deserves execution 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, it goes against the Prophet's actions and the Quran's spirit. There is no ambiguity in the Quran or 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 conform to the Quran and the Prophet's character. The Prophet is a mercy to the worlds, and he acted with compassion 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 opposed 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.

3. Let Muslim groups hold a high-level meeting with Christians and Jews and 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 is unacceptable.

4. Let Muslim groups and interfaith councils come together and 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 the USA approach Muslim world scholars to exchange ideas on 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 thought globally, but a new voice rooted in the Quran and the Prophet's authentic sayings.

6. Let Muslims develop a strategy to approach religious and secular leadership at the grassroots levels to address 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 disrespectfully and casts doubt on his character's nobility.

We must take these actions urgently. Otherwise, we would continue to be governed by opinions that often contradict divine guidance and defy our Prophet's character's nobility.

Let us remember the Prayer of the Prophet in Taif.

"O Allah! I open to You my weakness, my scarcity of resources, and the humiliation people subjected me. Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me?

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© Aslam Abdullah