A Journey from Fiction to Fact
The reaction of pockets of angry Muslims across the world to the crude film Innocence of Muslims has raised several doubts in the minds of Westerners concerning the teachings of Islam. While some sympathise with the anguish felt by Muslims, many are at a loss as to how a so called peaceful people, belonging to ”the religion of peace,” could seek justice through violence. Even more mesmerising to the Western mind is the devastating ”Eastern” reaction which has resulted in the loss of life and destruction of property. It may not, however, have occurred to the Western mind that these are the very same questions that the majority of Muslims are desperately asking themselves.
It is ironic that whenever these types of controversies arise, interested parties, both in the East and West, forget to ask the most important question of all. What do the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Qur’an say about all of this? It is this question that the remainder of this article seeks to answer.
Muslims believe the Qur’an to be the literal word of God which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) through the Angel Gabriel. Such a tall claim may be treated with great scepticism in the West, but nevertheless forms a central part of the Muslim belief system. As a famous tradition of the Prophet’s wife ‘A’ishah informs us, the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) characteristics were themselves a physical manifestation of the Qur’an. For practising Muslims, therefore, the Qur’an and Prophetic example provide the principal ethico-legal foundations upon which they choose to construct their lives, societies and legal systems. They thus provide the yardstick by which today’s practising Muslims hold themselves, and should be held, accountable by.
When offering guidance as to what the reaction of a Muslim in the face of ridicule and other verbal attacks should be, the Qur’an and Prophetic example, in unison and consistently, direct Muslims towards responding peacefully. For example, the Qur’an instructs the believers in one place: And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’ (25:64) And in another verse it is similarly stated: And when they hear vain talk, they turn away from it and say, ”Unto us our works and unto you your works. Peace be to you. We seek not the ignorant.”’ (28:56)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was equally robust when advising his followers. Contrast, for example, the Muslim rage recently witnessed with the statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him): ”The strong man is not the good wrestler; but the strong man is he who controls himself when he is angry.” And on another occasion the Prophet was asked by a man for advice as to how he could become a goodly person to which the Prophet replied several times: ”Do not get angry.”
Words alone will no doubt appear unconvincing to the neutral reader. This is completely understandable given that their perception might be that the assumed actions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his subsequent followers do not live up to the lofty moral standards expounded in the above verses and sayings. A further investigation of the actual Prophetic example is thus called for. A few telling incidents widely reported in the biographies of the Prophet (sira literature) and the foremost of the Canonical collections of the Prophetic example (the collections of al-Bukhari and Muslim) will help to clarify our thoughts.
At an early stage in his Prophetic mission, the Prophet (peace be upon him) traveled to Ta’if – a city about 100km south-east of Mecca. For ten days the Prophet and a young Companion of his were made to endure much ridicule and verbal abuse. This culminated in them being chased out of the city by an angry mob which pelted stones at them. Muslim traditions state that as the Prophet made his way back to Mecca, drenched in blood resulting from wounds inflicted by the angry mob, he was addressed by the Angel Gabriel who stated: ”God has sent me to you, that if you so command, I may bring the two mountains of this valley together upon these people, and destroy them.” The Prophet was quick to respond, stating: ”Nay! Nay! I trust that Allah the Exalted shall give birth to such people from them who shall worship the one true God.” Even more telling is the fact that the Prophet sought no revenge when he later became the most dominant ruler in the region.
Even prior to his claim of Prophethood, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was inclined towards peace. Known by the epithet ”the trustworthy” (al-Amin) throughout Mecca, it is reported that he was present at the famous pre-Islamic ”Pact of the Virtuous” (hilf al-fudul). The Pact saw the ruling elite of Mecca agree to protect the interests of any oppressed party, regardless of their tribe or social status. Commenting on the Pact after the advent of Islam, the Prophet (peace be upon him) stated: ‘‘Certainly, I witnessed at the house of ‘Abd Allah ibn Jud’an over a [meritorious] pact which was dearer to me that a herd of red camels; and if I were to be invited to [enter] it in Islam I would [happily] respond.’’
Other incidents occurred in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) demonstrated great patience and humility in the face of acts that were extraordinary in their vulgarity and repugnance. As the reader will no doubt be aware, the Mosque is the most sacred space for a Muslim. Whether grand or modest, Mosques are not considered the property of man, but rather the houses of God wherein man enters to worship his Lord. For this reason, the Prophet (peace be upon him) considered no place dearer to him than a House of God. During early Islam, and even today in some countries, Mosques were not only considered places of worship, but also served as guest houses for travelers and the destitute. On one occasion a man was staying overnight at the Prophet’s Mosque – one of three holiest sites in Islam. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) and some of his Companions passed by the lodger, they noticed that he was urinating on the floor of the Mosque. The Companions present rushed to take hold of the man, but the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked them not to disturb him until he had completed the act. After he had finished, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked for a bucket and water and then washed the soiled area with his own hands. He then addressed his Companions stating: “You were not raised by God to cause difficulties for people. Always remember that you were raised to bring relief to mankind.”
Such incidents are by no means isolated. They are in fact so numerous that they gave birth to voluminous genres of Islamic literature discussing the nobility and virtuous example of the Prophet and his closest Companions (i.e., manaqib, fada’il and dala’il literature).
The Muslim world is today filled with living examples of people who live their lives trying to imbibe the noble teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in their actions – if only the world desired to seek out such people. Nobility, sadly, is not a newsworthy quality these days and the Western media reserves its right to report on Islam almost exclusively to where it finds controversy.
Once sincerely prays and hopes that more people realise that there is a lesson for all in the noble example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslim or non-Muslim is of no consequence here as goodness and wisdom should always be benefited from. First and foremost, however, it seems evident that there is a pressing need for the prevalent groups of violent Muslims to revisit the Qur’an and Prophetic example.
Islam, literally meaning ”Peace,” leaves no room for hypocrisy and so a believer really must practice what his or her religion preaches. That is the living example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who remains a complete embodiment of his religion.