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What Would Muhammad the Prophet Do?

by Omid Safi

Author, Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters

In the wake of the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” trailer that depicts Muhammad as a sex-offender, a womanizer, a child abuser, a violent fake prophet, and worse, we have heard from many different people.

We have of course heard from the con-artist and Islamophobic producers of the trailer. We have heard from Coptic authorities, and from President Obama and Secretary Clinton. We have heard from Muslims who have demonstrated peacefully; and we have heard from the far fewer Muslims who have reacted in a violent manner.

Virtually everyone has had an opinion about what this film says about Muhammad and how people should respond.

So . . . What would Muhammad have said about this trailer himself?

This question is not as far-fetched as it would seem at first glance.  Granted, Muhammad himself does not live in our age. However, for the majority of his twenty-three years as a prophet, he confronted almost constant assault, insult, persecution, exile, defamation, repeated attempts at his life, and even stoning. He was called a madman, demon-possessed, a threat to the social order, and many other hateful and offensive names. Those insults, and Muhammad’s responses to them, are a matter of readily available historical record. As such, it is not much of a stretch to ask:

How might Muhammad have responded to the “Innocence of Muslims”?

And what is the relevance of his response for Muslims who are so offended by this vitriol today?

Looking back over how Muhammad handled insults and persecution in his lifetime holds a particular relevance for us today.

I spent a few years of my life researching Muhammad’s life, teaching, and legacy.  I would like to share an excerpt from the resulting book, titled Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters that gives particular insight in this regard.

While reading the excerpt below, please keep in mind the following context:

Muhammad and his community had been a beleaguered, persecuted community for some 13 years in the city of his birth, Mecca. They had been exiled from their homeland. The weakest and most vulnerable of Muhammad’s community had been beaten and tortured—some even killed. After 10 years in another city (Yathrib, renamed Medina), Muhammad had the opportunity to return triumphantly to the city of his birth, Mecca. Mecca, where the temple devoted to the One God built by Abraham was located, was about to be redeemed. It was Muhammad’s choice whether to exact revenge on those who had persecuted him, or seek another path.

Muhammad chose mercy. Muhammad decided that the redemption of Mecca, and the citizens of Mecca, had to be one bathed in mercy.

What follows is a small sample from my book, Memories of Muhammad:

The mercy of the return home would be shown in ways large and small.   On the way toward Mecca, Muhammad saw a female dog that had given birth to a new litter of pups.   Concerned that the commotion of an army of ten thousand might disturb them, Muhammad bid one of his own followers to stand guard over them, sheltering them. After all, the Qur’an (21:107) states that Muhammad was sent as a mercy to all the cosmos, all the creatures, and all the universes. These creatures too followed God’s will, and Muhammad was sent as a mercy to them as well.

The mercy that Muhammad showed the dogs of the desert—typically the most despised of all animals in Arabia—he also showed the Meccans who had persecuted him and his followers for a generation. By both Arab and Biblical tradition he reserved the right to march into Mecca and slaughter all the men and take their women as slaves.   Yet Muhammad declared general amnesty for all, establishing a paradigm for forgiveness in the moment of his utmost political power. It is one thing to preach nonviolence and forgiveness when one is politically inferior, entirely another to mercifully forgive when one has the power to demolish. On the way to Mecca, one of Muhammad’s companions named Sa‘d, who had been chosen as a standard-bearer, began rejoicing that this was “a day of war, and sanctuary no more.” Muhammad ordered Ali to take the flag from Sa‘d to make a point about the merciful nature of this day. His old nemesis Abu Sufyan, who had risen up against Muhammad so many times in war, feared for his safety, and yet Muhammad specifically declared Abu Sufyan’s house a sanctuary. There is a time to win people over in war, and there is a time to win people over by the charm of one’s personality. This was a time for mercy.

The law of revenge and retribution was laid aside, for as Muhammad said: “This is the day of mercy, the day on which God has exalted Quraysh.” On this day, Muhammad even forgave an ex-follower who had apostatized and return to paganism.

…The rest of the conquest of Mecca, the Opening of Mecca was also a tale of forgiveness and amnesty. Muhammad recited to them this merciful passage in the Qur’an:

God forgives you, and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.

(Qur’an 12:92)

It is one thing to forgive a faceless enemy, another to have to reconcile with those who have persecuted us and our loved ones. Muhammad came face to face with Hind, who had devoured the liver of Muhammad’s uncle Hamza. When she declared her intention to embrace Islam, Muhammad simply said to her:  “Welcome.” When the son of his former nemesis Abu Jahl entered the area, Muhammad bid his companions to not speak ill of Abu Jahl, for “reviling of the dead gives offence to the living, and reaches not the dead.”

So where does that leave us today?

I wish to direct my remarks to people of good will, all of us who are committed to all of God’s children living together in peace and dignity.

No, I will not be one of those Muslims who will argue that Muslims should just “chill” or “stop being so sensitive.”

Far from it.

I get it. I get it that—as the Qur’an says—the Prophet is closer to us than our own selves.  I get it that for us as Muslims, our relationship to the Prophet is through a love, a devotion, a preciousness, and an honor that is worthy of the one that we acknowledge to be God’s Beloved and the last Messenger of God’s guidance for humanity. I get it that most of us are hurt, violated, upset, and even angry.

The moral and spiritual challenge before us is simply this:

How do we respond in the face of such anger?

How do we act godly, acknowledging that we are hurt, but refusing to allow pain and hurt to determine our actions instead of our highest spiritual aspirations?

My response is simple:

We turn back to the known example of Muhammad.

A handful of hateful zealots have produced a few minutes of rubbish insulting and mocking a person that they say to be our blessed Prophet. Yet we know our Prophet, and we know that what they mock is a figure of their own imagination. These producers and propagators of hate don’t know Muhammad like we know Muhammad.

These extremists want to lay a trap before Muslims, beginning another cycle of violence that will end with blood on all sides. Let us not fall into this trap.

The Prophet is beloved to us, as the Qur’an says, closer to the faithful than our own selves. According to the Qur’an 21:107, he is the very mercy sent to this world, and to all the worlds. Naturally, each and every Muslim in the world has the right to be outraged at this deliberate provocation.

Yet we, as Muslims, know that our Prophet himself was the target of repeated assaults and mockery, and even in his moment of triumph when he had the power to punish, he chose to forgive his enemies and set a higher moral example.

Let us live out the true meaning of our creed.  Let us be worthy followers of the Prophet, the real Muhammad, not the figment of the hateful zealots’ imagination.  And let us keep the possibility that by exemplifying the beautiful model of Muhammad, we can be participants in the redemption of a world gone mad on hate and vitriol.

If we are hurt that the world doesn’t know Muhammad and calls him every offensive insult imaginable, let us not forget that we know Muhammad.

Let us not forget Muhammad.

In this age where everyone has Muhammad on their lips and on their mind, let us be Muhammad-like.

Let us chose forgiveness not because it is easy, but because it is Divine.

God forgives humanity for our sins, and the Prophet forgave his enemies so that they can live in friendship and fellowship.

Let us offer forgiveness not because it is easy or cheap, but because the alternative is the carrying on of rancor and hatred.

Hate is too big a price to pay.

Anger is too poisonous of a substance to carry in our hearts.

Let us choose love and forgiveness.

Real forgiveness is not a one-way bestowal.

It is not simply granted.

But it has to start somewhere.

Let it start with us, for it leaves the door of redemption open to others.

Let us begin with offering forgiveness so that the wells of our own heart do not become poisoned with the bitterness of anger and hatred.

To be sure, those who insult the Prophet have serious work to do on their own hearts. There is real and genuine racism and xenophobia in this country and other countries, and that poison has to be vomited out of our system.  There are also real and genuine issues in many Muslim societies, and God-willing we will be participants in addressing these issues as well. As people of faith, we aim to be participants in restoring nobility to all of these societies as well, but let us begin with our own hearts.

Muslims from every country should be welcome to raise their voice and be heard, but let us do so in a way that honors the very example of the manners, the ethics, the path, and the being of the Prophet that we so adore.

To do this, we turn to the Prophet.

To do this, we turn to God to ennoble our behaviors through the Prophet.

May God ennoble our heart and souls through the Prophet.

May God make us worthy of being among the people of the Prophet.

A short supplication to this end:

Oh God, as our sights were not graced in this world
by the sight of Prophet,

grace our sights in the Hereafter
by the sight of Muhammad.

Oh God,

Bless Muhammad as you blessed Abraham.

Bless Muhammad as you blessed Moses.
Bless Muhammad as you blessed Christ.

Oh God, bless the community of Muhammad
by having us embody the manners of Muhammad.

Bless us by the manners of Muhammad in the times of ease

And bless us by the manners of Muhammad in the times of difficulty.

If we, as Muslims, can respond to this hatred with grace, with compassion, with forgiveness, with strength, then God-willing we will prove ourselves worthy followers of the Prophet.

It’s not just about what Muhammad would do.

It’s what he already did, over and over again.

Now the challenge before us is what we are going to do, and whether we can do it in a way that is Muhammad-like.

*******

Omid Safi is a leading Muslim public intellectual in America. He is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the former Chair for the Study of Islam at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion.

Omid is an award-winning teacher and speaker, and was nominated six times at Colgate University for the “Professor of the Year” award, and before that twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award.  At the University of North Carolina, he received the award for mentoring minority students in 2009, and the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

He is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism. In this ground-breaking volume, he inaugurated a new understanding of Islam which is rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious/ethnic pluralism. His last book was published by HarperCollins, titled Memories of Muhammad, and deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.

He has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing frequently in the New York Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN, and international media. He has recently been designated as the lead Islam writer for the Huffington Post, and blogs at ReligionNews.com.

His website is www.omidsafi.com, and he can be reached at omid@email.unc.edu.

Nine FAQs About Ramadan

Photo Credit to Alamy

Peckham Mosque women praying Ramadan prayers.

from The Huffington Post

What is the history of Ramadan?

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Arabian calendar. The term Ramadan literally means scorching in Arabic. It was established as a Holy Month for Muslims after the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in 610 CE on the occasion known as Laylat al-Qadr, frequently translated as “the Night of Power.

What is the ‘goal’ of Ramadan?

In general, the practices of Ramadan are meant to purify oneself from thoughts and deeds which are counter to Islam. By removing material desires, one is able to focus fully on devotion and service to God. Many Muslims go beyond the physical ritual of fasting and attempt to purge themselves of impure thoughts and motivations such as anger, cursing, and greed.

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