The Edge, 28 March, 2006
The recent derogatory cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad by a Danish newspaper that was followed by other print and electronic media is simply unworthy by any means. The cartoon brought nothing but more tensions between the West and the Muslim world, not to mention the unwarranted destruction of property, life, and business losses due to boycotts.
Some say the ‘attack’ on the Prophet’s personality on the pretext of freedom of expression was intended to test the global Muslim unity, while others say it is to further provoke the Muslim world following such issues like the Abu Ghraib tortures, mistreatment at the Guantanamo Bay camp, and the trampling of the Holy Qur’an, among others. Whatever the reason is, nothing could be farther than truth than depicting the Prophet as a ‘terrorist.’ Such attacks on the Prophet are, nonetheless, not new. Even during his time, the Prophet has been ridiculed by those who disliked him and who called him names, such as majnun, or the one possessed by jinn.
Despite all these accusations, the Prophet still found a place so dear in the hearts of millions of people from his time until today. The influence of his personality and teachings on humanity is simply incredible. That he could move masses in strong protest over mere cartoon depictions of himself even after more than one thousand three hundred years is a testimony in itself. The reasons why the Prophet is so revered even after all these centuries is the key to understanding the reaction of the Muslims today to such acts like the insensitive cartoon depiction of him in derogatory ways.
Born into the tribal society of Mecca in the 6th century CE, he was already known as al-Amin, or the ‘Trustworthy One’ among the Arabs of his time even before he became a Prophet. His Prophethood was not to signal the advent of a totally new religion but to confirm the truth of earlier messengers of God that include Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and the truth of earlier holy books like the Torah (sent to Moses) and the Injil (sent to Jesus). These personalities are all held high in the Qur’an.
At the time of the Prophet’s birth, the Arabs were living a very lowly downtrodden civilization immersed in moral bankruptcy. Also, this downtrodden civilization was surrounded by the high civilizations of the Roman Byzantium and the Persian.
It is said that during his conquests, Alexander the Great decided to spare the Arabs and instead go for India (which he called the land of milk and honey), for in his judgment, the Arabs would merely be a liability to his kingdom. But nonetheless, history is a testimony to the change and advancement the Prophet brought to the Arabs and humanity through his teaching of Islam. He brought forth great spiritual and moral upliftment, preached self-control, love and compassion, instilled the desire for learning and teaching, and a tremendous economic development that would eventually stretch from Morocco in the West to India in the East.
Had the Prophet not emerged in the midst of mankind, Europe would have remained in its Dark Ages as it was the once downtrodden Arabs who passed to them the legacy of a high culture through their transformation into a highly civilized people with the advent of Islam. Even today, the current growth of the Islamic banking and finance industry that is Shariah-compliant, and which is dominated by Western financial giants like Citigroup and HSBC, is actually a response to the Prophet’s teaching on commercial ethics.
The Prophet also preached universal brotherhood and equality of mankind. No person is considered greater or superior to another. Only piety to God differentiates one person from another. He preached neither priesthood nor any other intermediary between man and God. These principles can be observed, for example, in the congregational prayer where the king and the laborer, the poor and the rich, all lined side by side in a row to worship God without giving any preference or priority to ranks. The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, or Hajj, is another example where Muslims throughout the world, of all ranks, colours, race and nationality gather, displaying a magnificent spectacle of universal brotherhood and equality, all clad in two simple pieces of white unsown cloth.
In order to establish peace and justice, Islam permitted war in self-defense. For Good to prevail, Evil must be fought. The Prophet forbade the killing of children, women, the old and invalid, and the cutting of fruiting trees. Once victorious, he showed unmatched mercy. He preached the humane treatment of war captives. The Qur’an places war captives together with the poor and the orphans.
And they feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan and the war captive, (saying), “We feed you for the sake of God alone: no reward do we desire from you, nor thanks.” (Qur’an 76: 8-9).
During the Bosnian war, there were stories that journalists were surprised to see the Muslim army feeding the captives with the same food they cooked for themselves. In some instances they allowed mothers to visit their captive sons. And when they saw tears in the mothers’ eyes they said “Here, take back your son!” Such is the true Muslim.
During his peaceful conquest and final entry into Mecca, the Prophet pardoned even his worst enemies including, for example, a woman named Hindon, who ripped open the chest of his beloved uncle, Hamza, who was felled in a battle, and chewed a piece of his liver!
The Prophet also elevated the position of women. Being created from the same essence and soul, she possesses equal capabilities for intellectual and spiritual attainments. For the first time she was also entitled to inherit wealth from her parents and others. In contrast, it is interesting to note that, in England this right was given to women only in the 19th century, i.e. about 1,200 years later! He also preached the kind treatment of wives by husbands and mothers by her children. With regard to women, the Prophet, for example, said, ‘The best among you is one who is kindest to his wife and Paradise lies at the feet of one’s mother.’ In doing good to one’s parents, the Prophet mentioned the mother as most deserving three times before mentioning the father. The Qur’an says:
Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honour. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood” (Qur’an, Al-Isra’ 17:23-24)
George Bernard Shaw had this to say of the Prophet: “I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving the problems in a way that would bring the much needed peace and happiness. Europe is beginning to be enamored of the creed of Muhammad. In the next century it may go further in recognizing the utility of that creed in solving its problems.”
Such being the true character and personality of the Prophet, such degrading caricatures as the Danish cartoon is what one westerner, Thomas Carlyle, put it succinctly: “The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man (Muhammad) are disgraceful to ourselves only.”