By Ibrahim Hooper- Dec 1, 2007
TEL: Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726 (c)
During last year’s protests over publication of the Danish cartoons designed to insult the Prophet Muhammad, I wrote a commentary called “What Would Muhammad Do?”
Given the ongoing controversy over the jailing of British teacher Gillian Gibbons in the Sudan for “insulting Islam,” perhaps it is time to remind us all how the Prophet himself reacted to insults, both real and perceived.
Even if Ms. Gibbons had the intent to cause insult, which does not seem to be the case, Islamic traditions include a number of instances in which the Prophet had the opportunity to retaliate against those who abused him, but refrained from doing so.
“You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
That description of the Prophet Muhammad is a summary of how he reacted to personal attacks and abuse.
Muslims are taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.
In another tradition, the prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Mecca who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse.
A companion of the prophet noted his forgiving disposition. He said: “I served the prophet for ten years, and he never said ‘uf’ (a word indicating impatience) to me and never blamed me by saying, ‘Why did you do so or why didn’t you do so?’” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
Even when the prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation.
When he returned to Mecca after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.
In the Quran, Islam’s revealed text, God states: “When (the righteous) hear vain talk, they withdraw from it saying: ‘Our deeds are for us and yours for you; peace be on to you. We do not desire the way of the ignorant’. . .O Prophet (Muhammad), you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is God Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided.” (28:55-56)
The Quran also says: “Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance.” (16:125)
Another verse tells the prophet to “show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.” (7:199)
These are the examples that Muslims should follow as they express concern at the publication of insulting cartoons or at misperceived actions of a well-meaning teacher.
After the Danish cartoon controversy and allegations of Quran desecration at Guantanamo Bay, CAIR initiated educational campaigns as a peaceful, constructive response. This is an approach that people of all faiths can appreciate, as it helps us move toward respect and religious tolerance.
This most recent episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who wish to promote mutual understanding. It can also be viewed as a “teaching moment” for Muslims who want to emulate the Prophet through the example of their good character and dignified behavior.
As the Quran states: “It may well be that God will bring about love (and friendship) between you and those with whom you are now at odds.” (60:7)
This week’s unfortunate incident in the Sudan points to the need for an increased level of dialogue between ordinary people in the Muslim world and the West.
The complaint brought against Gillian Gibbons was an inappropriate use of Sudan’s legal system to deal with what was in essence a disagreement between parents and a teacher. Ms. Gibbons should never have been charged. She should be released immediately.
[Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be contacted at: