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How would Prophet Muhammad respond to the anti-Muhammad “film”?

In the wake of the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” trailer that depicts Muhammad as a sex-offender, a womanizer, a child-abuser, a violent fake prophet, and worse, we have heard from many different people.

We have of course heard from the con-artist, porn-producing, Islamophobic producers of the “film” who hold that “Islam is a cancer”; we have heard from Muslims who have demonstrated peacefully; and we have heard from the far, far fewer number of Muslims who have reacted in a violent manner. We have heard from American Coptic authorities, and we have heard from President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Everyone has had an opinion about what this film says about Muhammad, and how people should response.   

So… What would Prophet Muhammad have said about this "film" himself?

This question is not as far-fetched as it would seem at first glance.  Granted, Muhammad himself does not live in our age.  However, for the majority of his 23 years as a prophet, he confronted almost constant assault, insult, persecution, exile, defamation, attempts at his life, and even stoning.   He was called a madman, demon-possessed, a threat to the social order, and many other hateful and offensive names.     Those insults, and Muhammad’s responses to them, are a matter of readily available historical record.    As such, it is not much of a stretch to ask:   How might Muhammad have responded to the “Innocence of Muslims” so-called “film”?  And what is the relevance of his response for Muslims who are so offended by this “film” today?

I spent a few years of my life researching Muhammad’s life, teaching, and legacy. The following is a selection from the resulting book, titled Memories of Muhammad:  Why The Prophet Matters Today.     I hold that looking back over how Muhammad handled insults and persecution in his lifetime holds a particular relevance for us today.

It’s good to keep in mind the context of the episode below.   Muhammad and his community had been a beleaguered, persecuted community for some 13 years in the city of his birth, Mecca.   They had been exiled from their homeland.   The weakest of Muhammad’s community had been beaten and tortured—some even killed.     After 10 years in another city (Yathrib, renamed Madina), Muhammad had the opportunity to return triumphantly to the city of his birth, Mecca.   Mecca, where the temple devoted to the One God built by Abraham was located, was about to be redeemed.    

It was Muhammad’s choice whether to exact revenge on those who had persecuted him, or seek another path.

Muhammad chose mercy. 
Muhammad decided that the redemption of Mecca, and the citizens of Mecca, had to be one bathed in mercy. 

The mercy of the return home would be shown in ways large and small.   On the way toward Mecca, Muhammad saw a female dog that had given birth to a new litter of pups.   Concerned that the commotion of an army of ten thousand might disturb them, Muhammad bid one of his own followers to stand guard over them, sheltering them. After all, the Qur’an states that Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all the cosmos, all the creatures, and all the universes [Qur’an 21:107]?   These creatures too followed God’s will, and Muhammad was sent as a mercy to them as well.

The mercy that Muhammad showed the dogs of the desert—typically the most despised of all animals in Arabia—he also showed the Meccans who had persecuted him and his followers for a generation.   By both Arab and Biblical tradition he reserved the right to march into Mecca and slaughter all the men and take their women as slaves.   Yet Muhammad declared general amnesty for all, establishing a paradigm for forgiveness in the moment of his utmost political power.  

It is one thing to preach nonviolence and forgiveness when one is politically inferior, entirely another to mercifully forgive when one has the power to demolish.  

On the way to Mecca, one of Muhammad’s companions named Sa‘d who had been chosen as a standard-bearer began rejoicing that this was “a day of war, and sanctuary no more.”   Muhammad ordered Ali to take the flag from Sa‘d to make a point about the merciful nature of this day.

His old nemesis Abu Sufyan who had risen up against Muhammad so many times in war feared for his safety, and yet Muhammad specifically declared Abu Sufyan’s house a sanctuary.   There is a time to win people over in war, and there is a time to win people over by the charm of one’s personality.   This was a time for mercy.

The law of revenge and retribution was laid aside, for as Muhammad said: “This is the day of mercy, the day on which God has exalted Quraysh.” On this day, Muhammad even forgave an ex-follower who had apostatized and return to paganism.

The rest of the conquest of Mecca, the Opening of Mecca was also a tale of forgiveness and amnesty.  Muhammad recited to them this merciful passage in the Qur’an:  

God forgives you, and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.
[Qur’an 12:92]

It is one thing to forgive a faceless enemy, another to have to reconcile with those who have persecuted us and our loved ones.   Muhammad came face to face with Hind, who had devoured the liver of Muhammad’s uncle Hamza.   When she declared her intention to embrace Islam, Muhammad simply said to her:  “Welcome.”  When the son of his former nemesis Abu Jahl entered the area, Muhammad bid his companions to not speak ill of Abu Jahl, for “reviling of the dead gives offence to the living, and reaches not the dead.”
                        [Omid Safi, Memories of Muhammad:  Why the Prophet Matters, pages 149-151 ]

This example of Muhammad’s forbearance in the face of insults has been well remembered in the Islamic devotional tradition.  One particularly touching example is the story of an old woman who encountered an unknown young man on a path.   The old woman was carrying a heavy load, and the young man offered to carry it for her. As they walk down together, she unloads another burden on him:  she is distraught by the impact that a new prophet, a certain Muhammad, has had on her town.  She is concerned that this Muhammad is attracting young people to him with his message of the Oneness of God, instead of the worship of the traditional polytheistic gods.  She implores upon her young co-traveler time and again to “Don’t talk to me about Muhammad, and we’ll get along just fine.”   As they reach their destination and the young man returns the heavy load that he has been carrying all along on her behalf, the woman goes to thank the polite and silent young man about his identity.  It is only then that he reveals himself to be the very Muhammad that she has insulted during their whole journey.   Overcome by his example of forbearance, she has a changing of heart, and this time she asks the young man to “talk to me about Muhammad.”   This story is recapitulated in a touching Islamic devotional song (“Nasheed”) that you can listen to here.

So where does that leave us today?  

For the moment I wish to direct my remarks primarily to Muslims, particularly to those of us whose spiritual paths bear the fragrance of the very being of the Prophet.    No, I will not be one of those frankly silly and out of touch Muslims who will argue that Muslims should just “chill” or “stop being so sensitive.”   Far from it.   I get it.   I get it that as the Qur’an says, the Prophet is closer to us than our own selves.  I get it that for us as Muslims, our relationship to the Prophet is through a love, a devotion, a preciousness, and an honor that is worthy of the one that we acknowledge to be God’s Beloved and the last Messenger of God’s guidance for humanity.    Rather, my message is simple: 

A handful of hateful zealots have produced a few minutes of rubbish insulting and mocking a person that they say to be our blessed Prophet. Yet we know our Prophet, and we know that what they mock is a figure of their own imagination.    Simply put, these producers of hate don’t know Muhammad like we know Muhammad.

These extremists want to lay a trap before Muslims, beginning another cycle of violence that will end with blood on all sides. Let us not fall into this trap.

The Prophet is beloved to us, as the Qur’an says, closer to the faithful than our own selves. He is the very mercy sent to this world, and to all the worlds. [Qur’an 21:107]
Naturally, each and every Muslim in the world has the right to be outraged at this deliberate provocation.

Yet we know that our Prophet himself was the target of repeated assaults and mockery, and even in his moment of triumph when he had the power to punish, he chose to forgive his enemies and set a higher moral example.

We invite Muslims from every country to raise their voice and be heard, and yet to do so in a way that honors the very example of the manners, the ethics, the path, and the being of the Prophet that we so adore.

Let us live out the true meaning of our creed. 
Let us be worthy followers of the Prophet, the real Muhammad, not the figment of the hateful zealots’ imagination.   
And let us keep the possibility that by exemplifying the beautiful model of Muhammad, we will have more than a few of our neighbors asking us, as the old woman in the song did, “talk to me about Muhammad.”

It’s not just what Muhammad would do.
It’s what he already did, over and over again.

Tags: anti-muhammad, coptic church, innocence of muslims, islam, muhammad, muslims, obama, prophet muhammad

Comments

  1. Just a question, did the Prophet order Meccan poets killed after the reconquest of Mecca?

  2. Were the poets in Mecca executed after the reconquest?

  3. The concept of ‘redemption’ is particularly relevant to explain moral values of Christianity, not even of Judaism, let alone the Islamic morals exemplified by the persona of Prophet Muhammad, if you understand what I mean. The bottom line is, a Muslim must not act out of emotion and violently, especially to harm an innocent for the wrong actions of a criminal. Quran has furnished Muslim’s life with absolute guidelines in terms of justice and retaliation to the effect that a Muslim must not transgress and that God does not like the transgressors (2:19;5:87;7:55), even if he has the right to retaliate and fight back the bigotry - no one bear the burden of another (6:164;17:15; 35:18; 39:7;53:38). Prophet Muhammad would not say or act or react to anything on his own whims or intellect. Instead, he would respond to any situation, past and/or present, according to the Wahi from God (53:3-5). As such, Prophet Muhammad dealt with each incidence according to its merits, with fairness and justice guided by the Quran, hence the use of the term ‘redemption’ does not explain, in my view, the actual values of Qurano-prophetic teachings for justice and fairness, hence it is a misrepresentation of Islamic and prophetic values. God knows best.
    Haider

  4. I really appreciate the voice of peace which you raise i think if all muslim ummah think in this way i think no negative forces can turn us in hatred with all the environment and making our own loss by protesting in our countries citys and local streets we are giving loss to our own economy. This act of Muslim to protect the Image of Prophet turns this act to destroy the image of our beloved prophet. by giving loss to our brothers properties and assets which sort of image we are giving to them the universal mercy turns to no mean just because of our own deeds so i request all Muslim ummah to unite and control our emotions and create the positive image which our prophet did to his opponents. Inshallah allah will send his blessings on us and we will see one day a bright sun which will change all the negative forces into the positive energies…

  5. Very well said, Jazakallah. We muslims should think with mind and not with emotions in order to spread the true essence of Islam to others

  6. Hello Farhan, which specific portion of the discussion do you “really appreciate” as the voice of peace? Can you be a bit specific ?

  7. While I agree with what is said about the Prophet (S), this is still overlooking the bigger issue which is American/Western economic and military incursions into Muslim countries. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, I would point out that the Prophet (S) was not in the position of being an institutionalized minority - although he was an orphan, he came from one of the most powerful and high status tribes in the region; his culture and the hegemony of his people were not under assault by people trying to ‘civilize’ them and siphon off their resources by imposing their culture, power, and guns; etc. Those who insulted the Prophet in that era were not supplying mass quantities of weapons to a small sattelite state nearby and terrorizing them, fencing in their population, and making most of their population refugees (as in the Palestinian case). They were at most just attacking the Prophet and his followers.

    Yes the Arabian Peninsula was violent but at least it was theirs.

    Of course I am not suggesting that the Prophet (S) would have responded cruelly even if he were part of a marginalized group, but I think this dynamic shouldn’t be ignored, particularly by Muslims who should be more aware of this than ayone else.

  8. Hello Anima, things are getting mixed up, as there are so many issues and objectionable treatment of Muslims, Islam, Prophet (s) and the Quran by the West, America in particular. However, here in this context the actual issue to talk about and explain is the killing of innocent people for the crime of other criminals, eg. the movie that triggered violence and killings in the Muslim world, in particular Libya. The producers of this movie are definitely the criminals and they must be prosecuted, but nobody else, and the innocents do not have to suffer, especially not in the hands of Muslims, as Muslims are supposed to fear God and be absolutely just and fair. This Islamic position of those violent Muslims are at stake, for which they need help, but in reference to the Quran and Sunnah, not in apologetic way like the approach of this article. In that sense, this article of Omit may have some problem being apologetic and desperate to please the powerful offenders, rather the enemies of innocents and of God.

  9. Salam. Called Muhammad (pbuh)where most mercyfull’s raising for all. Muhammad (pbuh) is understandable a little here.

  10. I do like this view point and in my opinion if we keep on reacting the way most of us are doing,will only confirm the label of religious extremist or terrorist,this is what they want,and more over The prophet Muhammad ‘s personality is far greater than these cheep and hatred efforts.so we should stay calm as they say carnivals keep on moving without giving the damn about barking chasing dogs.

  11. our responsibility is far more which is to educate people who were born Muslims and have no first hand knowledge about Islam and are led by people who too don’t have any knowledge about Islam and are the hypocrites that we have been warned about in the Quran who just use Islam to control people, we are meant to lead them out of this darkness as even if we are able to educate one it would start the journey that many can embark upon inshAllah.

  12. Can you please elaborate on the Banu Qurayza.
    You said that you have compiled a selection, that’s true its quite selective!

  13. To my brother MF Hussain and Sam…if you really want to learn about history and the incidents that lead to the executions of poets and banu qurayza then i would refer you to please read ‘No god but God’ by Aslan Reza…

    This issue has been brought up a lot of times but people when mentioning the execution of banu qunayza, fail to mention the parodn of much bigger banu nadir and banu qunayqa just before this incident…

  14. Thank You so much for writing this.  I pray Allah have mercy on you.

  15. This is a very fine piece. I respect and mostly agree with what you say. One thing I would like to point out. No Muslims look into their books of “SAHI” hadeeth which provide the material for this nastiness. These are fake Hadeeth that the likes of Mavia put in place. There should be open discourse an a trial of this conspiracy.

  16. Did it cross anybody’s mind that a believer of Islam was not actually involved with the killings in Libya? That perhaps the very people who made this movie with the intent of fomenting violent reactions from the Muslims were actually behind the killings to tarnish the image of Islam? Bin Laden was trained by USA and used to once work for them. Even Saddam used to kiss America’s ass once. These Americans and Israelis are very smart and manipulative.

  17. Yes Laura, they are extremely manipulative, but they are more than that, they can and will do anything in their power, because they neither believe in nor fear God, they are the enemies of God by being hypocritical, conspirators, and actively pursuing evil agenda and plotting against innocent people, eg. Balfour Declaration, subsequent occupation and all that follow to these days and to the future. This is their job being who they are, and our job is to resist their actions, but correctly, proportionately and without crossing the limit and without transgression so that we do not become like them, in the final analysis. We have to remember that Shaitan is working against us all the time to make fate like his associates ending up with Hell. So, we must always be conscious of Shaitan and follow the principles that God approves. We must not behave like those Jahils and transgressors in the name of Islam and defending the dignity of our faith and the honor of our Prophet, s. Yes, we must not be indifferent either about upholding the banner of the truth and justice, but in the right way, especially when the Jahils are viciously active. We need understanding, wisdom, patience, calculative and response in correct way, because in the eye of God end does not justify the means.

  18. Egypt should clean its own house first.

    Anti-Semitic propaganda flows like water through Egyptian curriculum from kindergarten through university as well as Egyptian media.

    Egypt printed the Arabic version based on the 1905 Russian forgery, “Protocols of The Elders of Zion” showing a world Jewish—not Zionist—conspiracy. This fabrication has been spread to every Arab country.

    They created a mini TV series of the old blood libel of using Jews using human blood for baking matzos showing in horrendous graphic detail the bloody murder of an Arab boy.

    This “show” appeared throughout the Arab world and did its job of creating hatred of Jews (not Zionists).

    Imagine distributing books or TV shows which denigrate African-Americans. Would the U.S. not deal with this before giving billions of dollars to this kind of country?

    Ceasing from this anti-Semitic propaganda and encouraging the Palestinians to do the same would be a good beginning for Egypt negotiating a lasting peace between Gaza and Israel.

    Before Egypt’s Moslem Brotherhood negotiates peace between Hamas (one of its divisions) and Israel let it renounce their “Three No’s”: “No peace with Israel, No recognition of Israel, No negotiations with Israel.”

    They should also confirm the peace agreement the previous Egyptian government made with Israel.

  19. I just love it when people post stuff under pseudonyms here.  “Thom McNann”, or should I say Michael Antebi, if people are going to post such things, it would be lovely if they had the courage to post it under their own names. 
    If you have been reading this blog, you would see that my commitment is to eradicate hatred and vile language from all of our communities. 
    As for the agreements with previous Egyptian regimes, you are surely aware that these agreements are the only reason that any financial aid goes to Egypt.    And before you go on repeating the “No Israel” recognition myth, kindly do review the long list of peace offers that Arab countries—including the very Palestinians whose homes are occupied—have made.  What no one is willing to do is to agree to recognize a “Jewish and democratic” Israel that acts neither democratically nor in accordance with Jewish teachings on how to treat the stranger, the neighbor…. What no one is willing to do is to recognize an Israel that refuses to announce what its borders would be, or what level of rights Palestinians would be entitled to vis-a-vis Jewish citizens.  There is no such thing as a second class citizen.  Either you are a citizen—with all the same equal rights and responsibilities—or you are not.   
    Those who want a lasting peace would do well to read the last part of this blog:  http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/omid-safi/why-america-is-losing-support-in-the-middle-eastand-how-to-get-it-back
    May God bless you.  Peace, shalom…..

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