In the following article Javeed Akhter reviews the life of Prophet Muhammad in light of many of the recent incidents that have promoted violence as a response to real or perceived denigration of the Prophet .
Respond to hate with love.
A reading of Prophet Muhammad’s life, and the life of his companions, teaches us how to react to real and perceived insults. Whenever the Prophet was insulted he responded with stoic calm, answered hate with love and hostility with graciousness. He was called names, trash and even thorns were thrown in his path. Enemies would surround him and talk loud to drown him out when he spoke in public. It is reported that the fellow who negotiated the Hudaybia treaty with him would touch his beard in an unwelcome show of familiarity infuriating the Prophet’s companions. But for all of the real and perceived insults his response was to remain calm and ask his companions not to get angry. His logic was simple; even the worst offenders could turn around and become friends and even followers. An angry response would be counterproductive.
The way to show love for a person you admire is to emulate his behavior and not get emotional and angry to the point of killing someone or getting killed. Those who promote this type of angry response need to go back and read and reflect on the Seerah (Biography) of the Prophet. The strongest among people, he taught, is one who can overcome anger.
The near deification of Prophet Muhammad
The visceral reaction some Muslims have to denigration of the Prophet may have to do with how his persona is looked upon by many Muslims. As seen in the yearly Milad-un-Nabi celebrations amongst South Asians, the veneration of the Prophet reaches the level of near deification. He is the perfect man (insane-e-Kamil), sinless and flawless. The sinless part is true but there were minor errors that the Qur’an alludes to as in the Chapter “He Frowned” (Abasa). I have met intelligent, educated folks who with a straight face have stated that Prophet Muhammad is alive and also present (Hazir wa Nazir) and listening to the supplications of his followers. This cult like veneration of Prophet Muhammad that includes periodic viewing of his hair, is exactly the opposite of how he wanted to be remembered. That is why he was so against any depiction of him in art or sculpture. He was fearful of being turned in to a deity. There are no renderings of him but the veneration that is behind the blasphemy laws in several Muslim countries belies his hope to be viewed and followed as a human.
Prophet Muhammad human.
One can almost hear the Prophet’s protestation as recorded in the Qur’an; “Say: I am only a mortal like you (Qul innama ana basharun mithlukum). My Lord inspireth in me that your God is only One God. And whoever hopeth for the meeting with his Lord, let him do righteous work, and make none share of the worship due unto his Lord.” (Qur’an 18:110)
The Qur’an repeatedly stresses his mortality; “Muhammad is no more than an Apostle. Apostles before him have passed away. If he dies or is slain, will ye then turn on your heels? And he who turneth on his heels shall not in the least injure Allah. And Allah will soon reward the grateful.” (Qur’an 3:144)
Abu Bakr in his wise and poignant speech at the Prophet’s death made this point clear; “O men, If you have been worshipping Muhammad , then know that Muhammad is dead. But if you have been worshipping Allah, then know that Allah is living and never dies.”
The Qur’an points out that not just Prophet Muhammad but all of the messengers were human; “And We sent none before thee, but men to whom We made revelation — question the People of the Remembrance, if you do not know — nor did We fashion them as bodies that ate not food, neither were they immortal.” (Qur’an 21:7-8)
The Qur’an makes it clear that he is not an angel, or an incarnation of God but a human being who would live and die like other humans ; “What kept men back from Belief when Guidance came to them, was nothing but this: they said “Has Allah sent a man (like us) to be (His) Messenger? Say “If there were settled, on earth angels walking about in peace and quiet, We should certainly have sent them down from the heavens an angel for an messenger.” (Qur’an 17:94-95)
A thoroughly modern argument.
In the same vain Allah avoids giving him the type of supernatural miracles that were given to earlier messengers. “They say: “We shall not believe in thee, until thou cause spring to gush forth for us from the earth. Or (until) thou have a garden of date trees and vines, and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst, carrying abundant water. Or thou cause the sky to fall in pieces, as thou sayest (will happen), against us; or thou bring Allah and the angels before (us) face to face. Or thou have a house adorned with gold, or thou mount a ladder right into the skies. No, we shall not even believe in thy mounting until thou send down to us a book that we could read. Say: “Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a man, a messenger?” (Qur’an 17:90-93)
When people asked the Prophet to show “signs” to support his claim to messenger hood, the Qur’an uses thoroughly modern arguments to support the presence of a purposeful and divine design for human existence. It repeatedly draws our attention to the balance in nature and the marvel of our own creation; when nature itself is so miraculous, the argument goes, why do we need supernatural miracles?
Much to emulate in the Prophet’s life.
The excessive veneration of the Prophet Muhammad and the violence as a way of showing devotion to the Prophet shreds these Qura’nic teachings and Seerah lessons. Muslims need to love and respect him, analyze his acts, learn from his words and emulate him the best they can. Muslims are particularly fortunate to have the example of Prophet Muhammad to emulate. The various phases his life went through make it easier for us to understand the teachings of the Qur’an and give us a model to emulate. In Qur’an’s own words; “Indeed there is for you in the Messenger of Allah an excellent pattern.” (Qur’an 33:21) Two such lessons are to remember he was a human and that overcoming anger is a high virtue.
Muhammad never took personal revenge and forgave easily and quickly. He forgave even his worst enemies. His forgiveness and grace toward Hind, on whose urging Hamzah was murdered and mutilated, stands as a witness to his extraordinary compassion. He was always courteous to his enemies and those who pretended to be allies. He knew that some of the pseudo allies would participate in congregational prayer. He was fully aware of their hypocrisy, but never confronted them.
Any faith with more than a billion adherents, over 1400 years of history, varied cultural heritage and experiential diversity is bound to have differences in how it is understood and practiced. This diversity and even heterodoxy is understandable and completely predictable. It is when some of these heterodoxic ways of thinking that seem to become main stream then it is time to worry. Unfortunately this appears to be true with the blasphemy laws in countries like Pakistan.
So if someone maliciously insults the Prophet react with calm, try and befriend them, have them volunteer time with a Muslim charitable group, or NGO, or live in a Muslim household that is following his precepts and educate them on his Seerah. Let common sense prevail.