In the last few days we have seen one front page story after another on the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stephens and on the riots in Libya and Egypt in response to a YouTube movie that disparages Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Anger. Shame. Sadness. The feelings are all too familiar; they were the same emotions elicited by The Satanic Verses, Infidel, and the Danish cartoon controversy. Much like the emotions, the reaction in each case follows the same pattern.
Something incendiary ignites the powder keg of socially and economically straitened groups, and riots—often politically orchestrated—break out. And each time, Muslims, and Muslim Americans in particular, find ourselves dusting off our speeches and frantically publishing articles, all in a scramble to explain yet again that while demeaning our faith is not to a matter to be taken lightly, violence is never the answer.
I think we as an Ummah (the global Muslim community) have reached a point of unsustainable tension. Our nerves are frayed. We are ready to spring, to leap down the throats of whoever disrespects our integrity as Muslims. So this is not just a battle to clarify that violent protests are unIslamic. In the process, we also have to contend with our baser, angry selves who are exhausted by the treatment of Muslims in Europe and America after 9/11, weary of the depiction of Muslims in the media and infuriated by the repeated mockery of Prophet Muhammad.
To understand how to calm this inflamed part of us that reacts in a knee-jerk, thoughtless way, let’s take a step back and reflect on not just the example of the Prophet Muhammad in how he dealt with ridicule, but the spirit behind his example. In one well-known incident, a group of non-Muslims slyly twisted the words of the Muslim greeting “As’salaam alaikum” to “curse” the Prophet rather than wish him peace. When his wife Aisha’s anger flared, the Prophet cautioned her to “Be calm! O `Aisha, for Allah loves that one should be kind and lenient in all matters.” So the Prophet not only quietly ignored the taunts of his detractors, but he doused their mean-spiritedness with his kindness. Another one of his oft-quoted sayings is “”The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but . . . the one who controls himself while in anger.”
There is no better example of the Prophet’s clemency than when the he returned to his home city of Mecca after having been expelled eight years earlier. At this point the Muslims were the most powerful group in Arabia and could have taken vengeance on the Meccans for 20 years of brutality—in fact the Muslim army was eager for and expected retribution. And yet the Prophet forgave the Meccans. To the shock of his past oppressors, he did not touch a single Meccan and instead declared general amnesty.
What strikes me is that there is no evidence of the Prophet becoming visibly angry, or making a noticeable attempt to control his anger when he was personally attacked. This peculiar brand of patience, I feel, had both earthly and spiritual realms. Temporally, it did not make practical sense to grieve over personal attacks when there was so much to teach to the Muslim Ummah, wives to support, a legacy to establish, relations to build and to mend. There is also a spiritual dimension to this patience. When you’re in awe of the universe, the glory that is God and all he has created, a mere pittance like a badly-made YouTube video is a non-issue. A person whose focus is God doesn’t give weight to what people think, whether it be good or bad. The Prophet Muhammad downplayed his adversaries’ insults to him just as he disliked special treatment from those who loved him.
As Hamza Yusuf aptly pointed out in a Friday sermon, the dogs can bark and bark all night, but that doesn’t take away the beauty of the moon. Who has time for nonsense like mockery from a hateful group when there is so much spiritual development to strive for?
There will never be an end to affronts and offenses to Muslim sensibilities. While it is our duty to speak out against offensive material and fight against false representations of Muslims, we must not be consumed by self-righteous anger. We should take our cue from the passages of the Qur’an that advised the Prophet—and by implication, all Muslims—how to react to those who mocked him. “Be tolerant, command what’s right, pay no attention to foolish people.” [7:199] “The Servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on Earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply ‘Peace.’” [25:63]
We must take a moment every now and then to look towards the moon, and remember that there is only so much we can do as humans. We must recount: “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” [2:156]
Sarah Farrukh completed her B.Sc. in Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and is currently a Masters of Information student at the University of Toronto. She writes about faith and books at A Muslimah Writes.
(Photo Credit: Sjoerd van Oosten)