“You [O Muhammad] were gentle with them, and if you were rude and hard-hearted, they would have run away from you.” As I watch protests around the world go awry and become violent, it’s this verse that rings in my ears, a stinging reminder of how far Muslims have strayed from the example of the man whose honour they claim to be defending.When one reads the narrations of the life of Muhammad, we see a man who was gentle with people, even those who insulted him. Muslims are well aware of the story of the man who came in to the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah and urinated, not knowing that it was a holy place. It was Muhammad’s disciples who wanted to go up and “defend the honour of the Prophet” (as one recent protest-instigating text sent out recently states), but it was Muhammad who told his disciples to sit down. He went to the man and said gently that this was not the place for this, that this was a holy place, and instructed his disciples to clean up the mess. He told his disciples, “You were sent to make matters easy, not to make matters tough.”
Insults to Muhammad are nothing new — he was insulted repeatedly by the people of Makkah for more than two decades, yet when Makkah was bloodlessly conquered, he simply said to the people, hearkening back to the story of Joseph, “No blame will there be upon you today. Allah will forgive you; and He is the most merciful of the merciful.” He didn’t waste time defending himself from the insults, instead he simply worked on his mission and let his character and manners speak for themselves. At no time did he ever encourage people, as one recent protest sign did, to “behead all those who insult the Prophet”, but rather, he prayed to God to guide them and thought that — perhaps — from amongst their children, there would be one that would be guided to Islam.
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good guidance, and argue with them in a way that is best.” This is one of the commands of the Qur’an, the book revealed to Muhammad. And yet many Muslims are showing neither wisdom, good guidance, nor solid arguments.
They have shown a lack of wisdom in unwittingly becoming the best possible advertising campaign for a video that otherwise would have sunk into oblivion, languishing amongst the other 100,000 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube every day.
They have failed to offer an alternative narrative of Muhammad’s life, to show him as a man of mercy, wisdom and patience — even with his enemies — and to call people to appreciate the sakeenah (tranquility) that comes with being Muslim.
They have failed to understand the nature of a pluralistic Western society, that the same laws that give their Muslim brothers and sisters in Western countries the right to pray, dress and worship as consistent with Islam’s teaching are the same laws that allow people to make abhorrent videos of these kinds.
Instead, what they’ve done is reinforce every stereotype of Muslims as being violent, unthinking hordes. I am left with the unfortunate conclusion that through some Muslims’ unwise, reactive and ill-considered actions, they are not defending Muhammad’s memory, but desecrating it.
It is understandable that Muslims (myself included) are upset and angered by the video. But Muhammad also taught that anger should be controlled, even in these cases. He said: “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”
The energy that comes from anger should be directed and controlled in exactly the way the Qur’an instructs: “Not equal are the good deed and the bad deed. Repel an evil act by the one that is best; and then the one whom between you and him is enmity will become as though he was a devoted friend.”
There are many alternative courses of action to repel this video, such as doing more to promote Muhammad’s good character; but insulting other religions, burning and destroying people’s property, and calling for beheadings are not by any stretch acceptable. As Muslims react to these videos, they should ask themselves, are they truly repelling evil acts with better ones? Are they defending the Prophet, or desecrating his legacy?