Response To Blasphemy

Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) own blessed life should have been of some guidance for Muslim societies in responding to slights and insults to his holy name. But the so-called Islamic world is torn by convenient dichotomies where the substance of Prophetic teaching is wholly supplanted by mere matters of form having little or no relevance to its true content. Every scholar of the religion will testify to the indignities and atrocities inflicted on the Prophet (pbuh) by adversaries in his own lifetime. But there is no instance of the Prophet or his followers having reacted in rage or violence. It is incomprehensible that the Muslim world, which today sheds rivers of blood within itself over the issue of the sunnah, should have totally forgotten the noble precedents the Holy Prophet set when faced with abuse and ill-treatment himself.
Why have Muslims forgotten the very early lesson in primary school texts about the old woman who used to throw trash whenever the Prophet passed below her window? Surely, entire philosophies of ethical values and conduct are embedded in this small Mecca episode where the Prophet’s reaction wrought a fundamental transformation in the woman’s nature. If the wisdom of the Muslims of today were the yardstick, victorious Muhammad (pbuh) should have sacked Taif whose inhabitants had chased him away with sticks and stones in the early days of his mission, and exacted revenge on persecuting Meccans when he entered the city in triumph. But in both cases, the Prophet acted with unmatched magnanimity and forgiveness in true reflection of the attributes of the one God he preached. Both examples figure vividly in highly eloquent and vigorous sermons of today to establish Islam’s credentials as a religion of peace, but nothing of their spirit and implicit lessons informs the actual conduct of Islam’s followers in framing responses to what has come to be known as ‘blasphemy.’

But why, of late, has there been such a spate of slights on the Prophet’s exalted name? True, detractors and traducers have always been there, but base invective has assumed stridency afresh in recent years. It may come as a surprise to many, but the Holy Prophet had prophesied such phenomena in no uncertain terms. “Be extremely careful in what you do in the name of religion,” the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have admonished. “For, whatever you do (in the name of religion) will be attributed to me.” Does this leave any room for wonder at the explosion of cartoons, caricatures, warped portrayals and hate deeds targeted at the Prophet and the Quran in the wake of events like the 9/11 attacks and the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas?
There is an episode in the Holy Prophet’s life in Medina that could serve as an inspiration for those keen to defend and uphold the dignity and honour of his beloved name: People caught hold of a poet who used to revile the Prophet in Mecca with his verse, and brought him before Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) for punishment. The Prophet ordered his cousin Ali to cut off the poet’s tongue. A large crowd followed Ali as he took the offender outside the city to carry out the punishment, but to its surprise, Ali mounted the poet on a horse and gave him money, bidding him to ride off. City-dwellers rushed back to the Prophet complaining that his cousin had disobeyed his orders and set the culprit free, but the Prophet merely smiled. The next morning, the city could not believe its eyes on finding the condemned poet back, and performing ablutions in the square for dawn prayers. Taking him again to the Prophet’s (pbuh) presence, the crowds were stunned to see the traducer of yesterday produce from his robes a lovely poem he had written since in the Prophet’s praise.

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