A faith system, which has given succour to millions in the last 1400 years, is today held hostage by a set of cartoons. In the wake of beheadings and murders in the name of Islam, several Muslim opinions, both in the social media and in the form of popular articles, have raised more questions than they have answered. Some of these opinions are clearly conservative voices, but others see themselves as moderates and liberals, and yet there is a disturbing similarity in their articulation. It is high time that we, as Muslims, ask some questions about our religion. This article, in teasing out certain common refrains across Muslim articulations, is a small attempt in that direction.
This is not about Islam: One of the common refrains is that the beheadings and murders have nothing to do with Islam. The onus, in this narrative, shifts to the individual transgressor who is said to have committed an act of violence due to his own ‘motivations’ and a failure to ‘correctly’ understand Islam. We tell ourselves that Islam is essentially a religion of peace and hence it does not sanction or endorse such killings. This nonsense has been repeated so many times that it has really lost any value whatsoever. And despite the routinisation of this nonsense, our ‘religion of peace’ has failed to stop such killings in its name. The trouble is our refusal to see that no religion, including Islam, is about peace or war; they are fundamentally a set of commands.
All religions have peace and conflict inherent in them. It really depends on the followers of the religion to interpret it in such a way that it becomes a vehicle of permanent peace. So far, there has been no effort in this direction in Islam. As regards Islam being inherently peaceful, it flies in the face of its own history. Islam (like many other religious ideologies) is implicated in the killing and maiming of millions. Most of such killings have even been glorified. We need to ask ourselves whether we can absolve Islam of such crimes. Why should we shy away from the fact that Islam can motivate people to kill? There is no other way of looking at the recent killings other than to link them to an understanding of Islam which teaches its followers to avenge any perceived insult to the Prophet.
It is not permitted in Islam to draw cartoons and ridicule the Prophet: Largely this is true. Although in its early history, Muslims did use drawings of Muhammad as an aid to ritual remembrance. But those drawings, which are still permitted in Shia Islam, were not deemed offensive. So the question is not really about drawing of cartoons but what is deemed offensive in the eyes of Muslims. The real question is whether Islam would allow the satirizing and lampooning of its Prophet. The unequivocal answer is no, it would not. However, we as Muslims are making a mistake because these caricatures were not made in Muslim countries or by Muslims. They were made in France which is certainly not a Muslim country.
We need to ask ourselves why a secular country will abide by the legal and moral expectations of Islam. Do Muslim countries show any tolerance to secular points of view? If that was the case, then why did the Saudis punish Raif Badawi and why did the lovers of the Prophet kill secular bloggers in Bangladesh? We must remember that France is a country with a deep history of anti-clerical movement. Satire and the freedom to express a point of view without any inhibition, including the critique of established religions, is so important that it is almost the founding myth of the French republic. Giving up on religious critique is for the French what for Muslims would be akin to giving up their love for the Prophet. Why is it so hard for us to understand that there are cultures in this world whose assumptions about humanity can be different from theirs?
This is nothing but Islamophobia: Nonsense. Anything that is even mildly critical of Islam and its practices is being dubbed Islamophobia. When the Runnymede Trust would have used the terminology, it would never have thought that it would be used to silence all criticisms of a way of thinking, parts of which do not gel with contemporary times. We, as Muslims, will do well to remember that anyone critical of Islam is not an Islamophobe and any criticism of Islam does not qualify as Islamophobia.
Certainly there is an issue of racism in Europe but then it is also an issue in much of the Arab world. Even those who went to join the ISIS recalled that they were deemed fit only to clean the toilets just because they were Indian Muslims. However, one hardly comes across any criticism of Arab racism within much of Muslim writing. Why such singular focus on Europe when these issues are rife within the community itself?
Nemesis of French colonialism: Really? And beheading someone is the way in which we demand that the French confront its colonial past? Is beheading the way to tell them that they oppressed Muslim countries like Algeria and Mali? But we have been mostly silent over what the French recently did in Libya. We have not made any demands that the French apologise for their excesses in Algeria.
We have not said anything against the skewed monetary policy which the French have with former North African colonies, designed to keep them in perpetual debt? Where is our angst, why are there no Muslim protests over these issues? It appears that we are really not concerned about issues which define the asymmetry of power between the west and the Muslim world. Rather our reason for recalling the French colonial past is just another excuse to justify such killings in the name of Islam.
It appears that we are not even concerned about the plight of fellow Muslims. How do we explain ourselves that while our so-called leaders have spoken about ‘French madness’, they have chosen to remain silent on what the Chinese are doing to Muslims? There is now ample documentation to prove that China is waging a war not just on Muslims but on Islam itself. Mosques have been bulldozed, shrines destroyed and Islam itself has been called a disease. Certainly, one can understand why Pakistan and Imran Khan cannot utter a single condemnation of China, dependent, as it is, on Chinese economic and strategic support. But why are our Ulama, the real fiery red-eyed ones, silent about it? How much influence and leverage does China have in the Muslim world that it has managed to buy the silence of Muslim religious leaders the world over?
Large numbers of Muslims do not support such violence in the name of Islam: We know that the opposite is true. Granted that large numbers of Muslims are too busy worrying about daily issues of survival. However, when we see the same large numbers of Muslims rallying in Bangladesh and demanding that Shias be declared as Kafirs in Pakistan, then how do we understand it? Till the time we do not face the truth, we can never discuss such events dispassionately. And the truth is that such acts have widespread support within Muslims. Even enlightened ‘modernists’ like Muhammad Iqbal supported such killings.
If we recall the Rangila Rasool controversy in colonial India, Iqbal showered praises on Ilmuddin, the killer of Rajpal, who had published a disparaging pamphlet on the Prophet. During his funeral, Iqbal eulogised the murderer, arguing that his whole corpus of work is nothing when compared to the love of Prophet displayed by the carpenter Ilmuddin. If our intellectuals, who are supposed to chart new courses for the community, take us back to medieval morality, then what can be expected from the common folk? The average Muslims believe what the religious leaders tell them. In all such demonstrations, the prime slogan is to kill those who dishonour the Prophet. We only delude ourselves when we say that Muslims do not support such acts.
The Prophet would have responded differently. May be. May be not. Our own theology tells us that on certain occasions, the Prophet did in fact sanction the killings of those who had insulted him. It is important to reiterate that most of those killed were poets, the intellectuals of their time. On other occasions, he is said to have looked the other way. The way our Islamic theology has developed, we have justified such killings in our religious texts. Stating otherwise would simply be deceiving the wider world and ourselves that such commands are not part of our theology. Till the time we do not question these texts and state unequivocally that they should no longer be applicable, nothing good is going to come by guessing what the Prophet would have done. Unfortunately, we have created such an intolerant system for ourselves that anyone who asks for such revision is either killed or forced to go on exile.
As Muslims, we must take some responsibility for the toxic system that we have created. Blaming the Jews, the French, the British, Islamophobia or colonialism is not going to help. Let us grant some agency to ourselves to accept that we have brought this upon ourselves, and now it has started affecting others too. It is only this recognition of our own complicity that will impel us to change the system.
Tomasz Borysiuk | During a far-right demonstration in Warsaw, on 11 November 2017.
The killing of a French Christian history teacher by a Chechen Muslim youth for showing blasphemous cartoons to his class has re-ignited the debate over growing militant Islamism and Islamophobia and has provided the French government with the justification to impose curbs and crack down on immigrant Muslims and their religious organisations.
To make matters worse, Al Qaida supporters gave a call to Muslims to attack French interests and the next day attacks in Nice and on the French Consulate in Saudi Arabia were carried out in which three persons were killed. This will only aggravate the situation and the immigrant Muslims in France will face greater discrimination and harassment by the Islamophobic section of French society, the government and the media.
The statement of Malaysia's senior leader Mahathir Mohammad that 'Muslims have the right to kill millions of French people' blurs the line between terrorist idelogy and the mainstream Islamic thought.
Therefore, the incident has only provided the ISIS and Al Qaida with a golden opportunity to win sympathy and support of the common Muslims.
The Muslim diaspora in Europe consists mainly of immigrants from Pakistan, Chechnya, Middle East and African countries. There is a large population of Muslims who had to leave their countries in the wake of strife and civil wars. The European countries provided them with shelter and social and economic security.
The educated well-to do Muslims settled in the European countries because of greater personal and religious freedom and also because of better job opportunities.
But at the same time, extremist Muslim organisations and preachers associated with these ideologies settled in European countries with the objective of 'doing dawah work'. But the problem with these organisations was that their ideology was based on an extremist and supremacist interpretation of the Quran and hadith.
One of the organisations that played a greater part in the spread of extremist ideology among the Muslims of Europe was the Muslim Brotherhood. It formed the Muslim American Society which aimed to bring reformation in the American society through the propagation of Islam and ultimately turn the US into an Islamic caliphate.
That's why the French President had mentioned MB in his address and had expressed his resolve to liberate Islam from the 'foreign influences'.
After the rise of Al Qaida during the first decade of 21st century, this extremist ideolgy grew in Europe because the source of Al Qaida's ideology and of the Islamists was the same. Muhammad Qutub was the mentor of Osama bin Laden and is seen as a great scholar and exponent of Islam in the Muslim world. There are other similar exegetes and scholars of Islam who promoted an intolerant, supremacist and exclusivist interpretation of Islam in Europe.
The main problem with this ideolgy was that it promoted a ghetto mentality among the Muslims and projected the non-Muslims and the governments of their adopted countries as enemies and instilled in the Muslim psyche a sense of perennial victimhood.
The fact is that Islam does not preach Muslims to live in a ghetto or in isolation considering all the others as untouchables. It has raised Muslims as the best community for the welfare of the whole world, not for the Muslims alone A Muslim will always remain in the mainstream of the society and work for the welfare of the larger society and spread the message of Islam with love, perseverance, endurance, patience and sacrifice. He will not consider the non-Muslims his enemies or enemies of Islam. If people react to his Dawah work violently, he will not confront them.
On the contrary, Muslims of the Europe have developed a mind-set that runs contrary to the principles of the Quran. They have formed a parallel society, isolated from the mainstream society. They insist that they don't have to follow the law of the land because they have their own Sharia Law.
Muslims have abandoned the Dawah work because of this ideology of hate. They think that all the People of the Book are Kafirs (infidels) and so they should either be killed or subjugated by force. This way of thinking has created most of the problems they face today.
During the life of the prophet pbuh, he faced opposition and persecution from a section of Polytheists and Jews of Makkah but he did not consider all the polytheists and all the Jews the enemies of Islam. He still lived among them and preached the Deen. One of the Prophet's office secretaries was a Jew. Another Jew fought along with the Muslims in the Battle of Uhud and got martyrdom. The Prophet praised him and said that he was the best Jew. The Prophet pbuh maintained good relations with those Jews who honoured peace treaties with Muslims. The Quran also says that not all People of the Book are bad.
"A section of the People of the Book are on the right path"(Al-e-Imran:113)
The Quran also enjoins on Muslims to engage in interfaith dialogue and resolve their issues with dialogue and convey the message of Islam in peaceful manner. Here are the verses.
"Adopt forgiveness, and enjoin virtue and turn away from the ignorant."(Al Araf:199)
"Invite all to the way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice and only debate with them in the best manner."(Al Nahl:125)
"And when they hear idle talk they turn aside from it and say, 'we shall have our deeds and you shall your deeds, peace be on you and we do not desire the ignorant."(Al Qasas: 55)
All these verses make it clear that Islam preaches Dawah work with love, forgiveness and patience. When people turn violent and aggressive, the preacher turns away from them. He does not seek confrontation.
On the contrary, the Muslim organisations and preachers in Europe have an aggressive and violent approach to the 'non-Muslims' of Europe though in fact they are mostly People of the Book. Quran asks Muslims to engage in dialogue and interfaith debate with them to resolve all political and communal issues.
An aggressive and supremacist approach of Muslims to the People of the Book of Europe is at the root of the problem. The terrorist organisations active in the Europe have made the situation complicated. Because of this a lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding have spread about Muslims and Islam in Europe. Instead of working to project the right image of Islam and Muslims among the Europeans, our preachers and religious organisations have resorted to the path of isolation, ghettoisation and violence and overtly or covertly support the militant organisations.
Most of the preachers and imams of mosques and Islamic centres in Europe have Arabic or Egyptian names. Very few of them are natives. Most of the mosques in Sweden, the US and other European countries have been built with financial help from Saudi Arabia. These preachers have over the years promoted their own ectremist ideolgy and sectarian beliefs among the Muslims of Europe and the results are now showing.
Muslims of the Europe should reshape their approach towards the People of the Book and follow the guidelines of the Quran and emulate the Prophet pbuh while dealing with the issues of Muslims in the European countries.
An Islamic scholar Sheikh Ali al Yousuf, a member of International Union of Muslim scholars has realised the need to adopt peaceful means to resolve all the issues of European Muslims and projecting the right image of Islam there. Speaking to Channel 9 of Turkey he said:
"I think first of all, Muslims in France and in the West must be wise, and they must evaluate the outcome of matters, and the interest of Muslims in those lands. They should not react in ways that might cause a great amount of harm to Muslims in their countries. They have to make the use of all legal possibilities that they have in the West.."
To another question he further said:
"They have to integrate into French society more and more, so that the French society comprehends the nature of Islam and the Muslims. I am entirely convinced that if the French become familiar with Islam they will not be hostile towards it. Even that historian, Samuel, who spoke about Prophet Muhammad, if he had only known about the good qualities and moral values of Prophet Muhammad, he would not have done what he did. Therefore, Muslims must introduce the French and (other) westerners to our religion. Then no one will attack Islam and the Muslims. I must say that there is neglect in this respect. Presenting Islam in its right form is neglected."
This is the right approach that Muslims of Europe should adopt if they are really serious about the welfare of the immigrant Muslim community of Europe and about saving the image of Islam as a religion of peace.
Last week the world witnessed an attack on Islam and denigration of its Prophet in France, under the pretext of “freedom of speech.” This is despite the fact there is no absolute freedom of speech protected by law anywhere in the world. In France, there might be some things that cannot be said in the public space without getting into trouble with the law. However, vilification of the Prophet of Islam is not something new in the European elites’ mind-set. There is a long history of hostility toward Muslims and their faith, and indeed, much of that hostility has always been directed at their Prophet.
It shocked the Muslims more this time because it is seemingly State-sponsored. Whether from the mouth of Voltaire, Pope Benedict or Macron, the European discourse about Islam, as symbolized always by the distorted narratives about Prophet Muhammad’s life and teachings, tend to be an indirect discourse about the self.
It may be said it is an attempt to define the elusive European identity by incorporating the abuse of Islam and denigration of the Prophet as an integral part. At first, the attacks on the Prophet were seen as an easy defensive strategy in order to preserve European exclusive Christian identity against what was seen as an existential threat from Islam. With modernity, the strategy has become denial of religion and protection of secular liberalism. Considering Islam’s long presence in Europe, its positive contribution to the European cultural identity cannot be denied.
Discrediting the Prophet may seem freeing oneself from engaging his followers in serious theological or rational discourses. What is stunning is that these medieval hostile distortions and stereotypes of Islam, Muslims and their Prophet seem to have survived all the intellectual transformations of the last three centuries.
European elites have always found it difficult to see Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a more objective light. Thus, the current attack is not an outlier; it’s merely a continuation of the eternal tradition of hostility toward this Prophet, whom the Almighty God honored as the “Seal of the Prophets” (Qur’an 33:40) and He describes him in the Qur’an as the “mercy to the worlds” (Qur’an 21:107), an “illuminating lamp” (Qur’an 33:46), and an “exalted standard of moral character” (Qur’an 68:4). Indeed, he was the best of all human beings who ever walked on this earth. Today, with nearly two billion Muslims across the globe, of which over 50 million are living in Europe, our contemporary view of the world will not be complete without a fair and balanced understanding of Islam and Muslims. Therefore, to know Muhammad (pbuh) is 2 critical. The one man who changed the course of history, and still continues to inspire billions of lives across the world. One very important lesson from Karen Armstrong, is “If we are to avoid catastrophe, the Muslims and the Western World must learn to appreciate one another. A good place to start is with the figure of Muhammad” (Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, 2007). As a Muslim, I will attempt to articulate in this article how the perception of Muslims towards the Prophet from a very broad perspective.
Muhammad (pbuh) was born in Mecca in the Arabian Peninsula, a town known as a hub of trade and pilgrimage; it was visited by people from Yemen in the south and the Levant in the north. Arabs are descendants of Prophet Abraham (pbuh) through his firstborn child Ishmael (pbuh). Prophet Abraham (pbuh) made a supplication for the Arab guardianship of the sacred house of Ka’bah, and for a Prophet to be sent to guide them and the worlds. Arabs had solid characteristics of bravery, generosity, altruism, trustworthiness, and sharp memory to receive, preserve and propagate God’s last message. Arabia was an isolated piece of land from the rest of the world, but at the same time laying between two rival powers of its time, the Byzantines in the west and Sassanids in the east. Due to geographic location of the Arabian Peninsula and being isolated from the rest of the world Arabs, were not influenced or assimilated by either culture or civilization – a perfect condition for maintaining the last message in its pristine form.
The political culture of Arabia consisted of tribal laws where clans formed alliances to defend each other and their territories, resources and land. Tribal rulings and customs were the only laws, and were enforced with no mercy, and in accordance with the whims and caprices of the rulers. Verbalized history, poetry and verbal literature of tribal story telling helped tribes to protect their identity. The majority of Arabs were unlettered, and for that reason verbal tradition was common. Poets from different tribes would attempt to outshine one another at public poetry forums. Poetry was something that could trigger conflicts and violence; but it could also be the cause of peace. For this reason, the highly sophisticated eloquence of the Qur’an with its rich meaning in its verses, beauty in its expressions, and greatness in its style posed a big challenge to the Arab pagans. They knew that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was unlettered and was not a poet, yet they could not explain why suddenly he became eloquent in literature. The Qur’an itself poses a challenge to anyone who thinks that it did not come from the Almighty God to produce something similar, and because Meccan pagans could not fulfil the challenge, they resorted in discrediting the Prophet – a pattern that has since been repeated throughout history.
In pre-Islamic Arabia, the concept of human rights was non-existent. The strong would crush the weak, and tyrants were celebrated. It was an extreme patriarchal society where women had no rights, and new-born baby girls were buried alive. Idolatry was the dominant faith and people worshipped all kind of idols. There were few Arabs that called themselves “Hanifs,” who worshipped one God and could be traced back to Prophet Abraham (pbuh). While in general Arabs of that time had some good qualities, they were also characterized by extremely unpleasant morals and values that had become norms within their society – in particular with regard to women, orphans, slaves, the poor and the vulnerable, and in relation to their religion. The Qur’an refers to this pre-Islam period as Jahiliyyah, or “the age of ignorance.” But Jahiliyyah is a state of mind that breeds injustice, corruption, violence and terror, not an historical era. Therefore, the events of 7th century Arabia that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had to grapple with have much to teach us about the events of our time, in any geographical context.
Muhammad (pbuh) challenged three core matters that upset the status quo in Mecca. First, the irrational idea that material things are worthy of worship; and instead, he invited people to worship one true God who created and sustains the universe and everything in it. Second, the social hierarchy that maintained the superiority of certain tribes and families at the expense of others; and instead, he proclaimed that no human being is superior to another because of race, gender, or any physical quality. He rejected all forms of racism and he argued that the only superiority among people is that of moral excellence or piety. Third, he demolished the system of injustice, corruption and harmful practices of society; and instead, he built a society that was based on social justice, charity, respect for others, and with a strong spiritual and moral foundation.
The Prophet propagated his message in Mecca for 13 years, but as Islam began to make impacts in the society, he and his followers were perceived by the Meccan elites as a direct threat to their social, economic and political privileges that came with their control of Ka’bah. The Prophet was met with strong opposition, hostility, anger, intense hatred and slander, as well as violence, torture and boycott. The Meccan elites began with the strategy of physical violence and torture on Muslims of the lower social status, who could not be defended by their clans. For the nobles, they would reproach and ridicule them, oppose their views, and treat them with contempt. When this strategy did not deter the Prophet and his followers, they widened their campaign of terror and maximum pressure to cover all individuals. Throughout the Meccan period, the Prophet forbade Muslims to respond in kind. Instead, he nurtured them away from hatred, violence and extremism. The Prophet established Dar al-Arqam as a center of learning, to educate and develop his followers both intellectually and spiritually, and to keep them away from the conflict zones. The Prophet knew he was sent as a mercy to all humanity, and he asked Muslims to be patient and persistent in their suffering to overcome the short-term challenges so that the last message of God could reach all people. When the pressure became unbearable and some Muslims complained to the Prophet, he reminded them of previous believers who suffered more, but did not turn back from faith and reassured them that the Lord will accomplish His purpose.
After 13 years of persistent suffering, the Prophet and his followers received an invitation to migrate to Medina. The Arabs of Medina pledged to take the Prophet as their leader and to defend him and his message. The migration or hijrah took place in 622 CE when close to 200 Muslim families from Mecca migrated to Medina with the Prophet. This marked a shift for Muslims from persecution to nation building. Moving away from tribalism, the Prophet established the first civil society in Medina. A civil treaty was signed by all community members of Medina that laid out the framework for a political constitution that had never been seen before in Arabia, and for that matter, in the world, until the publishing of the Magna Carta in 1215 CE. The document is referred as the “Constitution of Medina” and it defined the reality of a city nation-state with a common citizenship, consisting of Meccan Muslims migrants, Medinan Muslims hosts, Medinan Jews, and Medinan polytheists. These groups made a unified community (Ummah), having equal rights and responsibilities, as distinct from other peoples. The treaty provided a federal structure with a centralized authority on matters of public finance, security and national defence, while at the same time, the distinct tribes in various districts enjoyed autonomy in certain matters of a social, cultural and spiritual character. The Prophet as the leader and arbiter of the community based his actions on the common law, negotiated in this legally binding civil treaty. Medina became a paradigm of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, pluralistic society, with a rule of law, and where each member of the community was guaranteed protection and religious freedom – a forerunner of a contemporary nation-state.
In Medina, the Prophet introduced many other political, social and economic reforms. Medina, as a city nation-state, was modelled on Islamic values of human rights, women’s rights, the rights of minorities and peaceful co-existence. It was governed by a civil constitution and a system of consultation (Shura), with full respect, tolerance and acceptance of other religions and cultures. This level of pluralism and tolerance would be the hallmark of Muslim governance – something that was scarce in Europe at that time. Medinan society moved away from tribalism, and into a centralized political system abiding by the rule of law, diplomacy and international relations, as well as a national army for maintaining peace and security. The diplomacy of the Prophet was exceptional, especially his effort to reach out to the Christian communities.
He negotiated and signed treaties of peace and friendship with the Christians of Najran, the Monks of Sinai, the Christians of Persia, the Christians of the world, the Assyrian Christians, and the Armenian Christians of Jerusalem. The Prophet established public treasury or Baytul al-Mal and introduced reforms on commercial ownership, contracts, social security, distribution of wealth through institutions of charity and endowments. He also redefined economic activities and factors of production free from usury and moral hazards. In the social sphere, reforms were introduced on rules related to marriage, inheritance laws, and child support. There was also a lot of emphasis on education and learning.
For the 13 years of struggle in Mecca to eradicate idolatry and corruption, the Muslims were violently persecuted. On more than one occasion, Muslims had asked for permission to fight back, but the Prophet replied that the Almighty God had not given him permission to fight back. The Prophet knew that aggression breeds further aggression, and the holy city would have turned into a nightmare of violence. He was trying to teach them forgiveness, tolerance, and mercy.
The Meccan elites did not leave the Prophet alone in Medina. They waged many consecutive aggressive battles against the Prophet for about six years until they signed the peace treaty of Hudaybiyyah, before the opening of Mecca. In Medina, the Almighty God granted permission to fight back for those who had been attacked or wronged or driven out of their homes, on the condition not to commit aggression and to always opt for peace. All the battles fought during the Prophet’s lifetime adhered to those divine commands, and he set the standard and rules of engagement for those who followed him. They were defensive battles, not aggressive battles, which is contrary to frequent European misrepresentation and distortion of these battles. During these defensive battles the Prophet ordered moral rules of engagement that are unknown in any civilizations, east or west, ancient or contemporary. For example, he ordered to fight only those who started fighting you; not to fight or kill women, children, older people, or people who are engaged in worshipping from any faith; not to cause collateral damage; not to destroy places of worship; not to kill animals or to cut trees; not to mutilate and disrespect dead bodies; and not to torture or harm of prisoners of war.
The opening of Mecca was the greatest conquest in the history of mankind, through which the Almighty God honoured His religion, His Prophet and believers in general. The opening of Mecca was preceded by the peace treaty of Hudaybiyyah that was signed between the Prophet and Meccan elites two years earlier such that there would be no aggression and fighting from both sides for 10 years.
The treaty proved to be the turning point in the Islamic history by giving the Prophet the needed breathing space to propagate the message of Islam freely. Due to the Meccan elites’ tough negotiations, the terms of the agreement were perceived not favourable to the Muslims by his Companions, yet the Prophet opted for peace and was farsighted enough to see it as a great victory, as the Qur’an describes it. The Meccan elites broke the treaty two years after its enforcement, and the Prophet responded by marching to Mecca with a large army which entered the city peacefully, without any resistance or bloodshed.
It was here also where the Prophet exhibited great acts of graciousness, benevolence, and peace. As he entered the gates of Mecca, his head looked down with humility. He then proclaimed a general amnesty to all the people of Mecca. He also gave a special privilege to his archenemy, Abu Sufiyan, the Meccan leader, by declaring that whosoever took refuge in Abu Sufiyan’s house was safe, whosoever confined himself to his house was safe, and whosever entered the Ka’bah was safe.
Muhammad’s Prophethood took place in the “daylight of history” where almost everything about him is known: the place he was born; the places where he lived, died and buried. His lineage and his descendants are fully known. The names of his friends, companions and adversaries are also known. What he liked, what he ate, how he dressed or even how he grew his hair and beard is known. There are details of what he looked like, without images, and what were his mannerisms.
The chronicles of his practice and his sayings (Hadith collections) have been extensively documented, separate from the revelation he received (the Qur’an). These chronicles are supported and authenticated by documented unbroken chains of communication handed down and leading up to a source among the Prophet’s companions and contemporaries. Hundreds of Prophet Muhammad’s biographies have been written, both in classical periods and contemporary. Many of these biographies have been translated and are available in different languages.
More recently, there are Western scholars who are more sympathetic to the figure of Muhammad, who have also written biographies that are more objective than the traditional Western distorted view of the Prophet. To name a few: Karen Armstrong, Craig Considine, Lesley Hazleton, Juan Cole amongst others. There is no reason for anyone to remain ignorant about this great Prophet of Islam and open oneself to manipulations of polemics and propaganda that have coloured all discourses of Islam.
A prophet is a unique person - a human being, yet he speaks for the Almighty God. The difficult task has always been that of dealing with the human being as a prophet. It is easy to go to one extreme of making him a divine (as the Christians did to Jesus) or to make him an ordinary person as we saw last week’s event in France. One must contrast the delicate balance offered by Islam. Muhammad (pbuh) is presented as a servant, messenger, and “perfect example” of a human being, but he is not a divine or ordinary person. He speaks for God, but he is not God. He is the object of our gratitude, ardent love, devotion, and unswerving allegiance, but he is not the object of our worship. The testimony of faith, “There is no god, but God; Muhammad is God’s servant and messenger,” prevents Muslims from making him divine. Muslims are also asked in the Qur’an to invoke God’s blessings and peace on Muhammad, which also protects the Muslims from treating him like an ordinary person. It is not possible for those who invoke God’s blessings and peace to the Prophet to degrade him to the level of just an ordinary person.
Muslims, thus, find in Muhammad (pbuh) the perfect example to follow and a mighty servant of God and messenger to love and respect. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) left behind a rich human legacy, and to love him and to follow him is tantamount to love God and obey Him as per the Qur’anic injunctions (Qur’an 4:80). It is also to set upon a lifelong journey of aligning oneself to the divine will. He was an orphan and a father; a husband and a widower; a shepherd and a trader; a commander and a spiritualist; a ruler of his people and among the poorest of them; a father who suffered the heartbreak of burying his children, and a grandfather who relished the delightful time with his grandchildren. He embodied and exemplified truthfulness, justice, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance, restraint, perseverance, thankfulness, gratitude, cleanliness, modesty, and many more characters and etiquette of beauty.
Hafiz Saif Al-Rawahy is the head of Dawah centre in the Sultan Qaboos Mosque, Muscat, Oman.