As yet another wave of mindless killings spreads across parts of the Muslim world, this time in protest of a movie which very few, initially, had actually seen, another extreme of intolerance is added to the ever expanding list.
Insulting Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, is nothing new. Where dialogue and communication were once delivered by the town orator, and in Arab culture, the poet, the modern era provides us with additional media: radio, photos and tv-movies.
Indeed during the Prophet’s own time, many talented orators spoke negatively of him, including one of his cousins, Abu Sufyan bin Harith. While others such as Yaleel Thaqfi were the driving force behind the children throwing stones at the Prophet until he bled at Taif. Other examples include Umm Jamil who would throw thorns in his path, Umayya bin Khalaf who would verbally insult him and Hind bint Utbah who performed perhaps the worst offense – cutting out and chewing the liver of his deceased uncle on the battlefield.
Despite these verbal and physical attacks, the Prophet learned an important lesson early on when God Almighty reprimanded him for cursing the idols the pagan Arabs worshiped. Abu Jahl, one of the leading pagans said, ‘By God, Muhammad, you will either stop cursing our gods or we will curse the God you serve.’ In response to this dialogue, God Almighty revealed: “Do not curse those to whom they pray to other than God, in case they curse God wrongfully out of ignorance” (6: 108). The lesson? While he has ‘freedom of speech’ dialogues and disagreements must always be respectful: a high standard must be the corner stone for any public engagement.
Insulting someone for the sake of it, or for provocation, is simply bad manners and given that prophet Muhammad said that the best of people are those with the best of manners, protesting Muslims ought to pause and contemplate.
The Prophet also said,’The one who hurts his neighbour does not believe in Allah and the last day.’ Classically there have been numerous definitions for a neighbour, from those living by either side of a home, to the residents of a town. Today, given the ease and flow of information, the internet has made everyone everyone’s ‘neighbour.’
Whether it’s mobs protesting a video they have not seen, movie directors producing films designed to inflame passions, authors commanding the power of a pen to injure, publications printing naked photographs without permission or even nations utilising the latest military technologies that result in collateral damage, something has been forgotten. Standing up for things you believe in, defending yourself from an enemy, even insisting on freedom of speech, none of these can truly be achieved when the by-product of any action results in harm.
It is neither America nor this one American who made a movie no one had heard of before that has dishonoured the Prophet. Rather, it is these protesting Muslims who as well as murdering innocents have remained silent on issues that actually matter, such as the murder of Muslims by Muslims in Syria; everyday corruption which is rampant throughout the Muslim world, the perpetual and continued abuse of women in Muslim society (by Muslim men), etc. It is always so much easier to blame someone else (in this case America) for your own faults, shortcomings and frustrations. Which is why these protesters are also guilty of being ignorant and the only response to them is, as the Quran states, peace.
Prophet Muhammad learned this lesson early on, he adopted higher standards of engagement in his life which while not always a rosy affair, led to winning some – not all – hearts and minds. From the accounts above we know that Abu Sufyan, Yaleel and Hind all later accepted Islam. So my message to these mobs, who believe they are protesting in defense of the Prophet’s honour is to look at how the Prophet himself dealt with people who physically and verbally insulted him, and like the Prophet, respond with something better. Indeed the Prophet said, ‘The strong is not the one with physical strength, the strong is the one able to control himself when angry.’