Islam’s Teaching on Response to Abuse and Mockery

Show Patience under Provocation, disregard Abuse and Politely turn away from Abusers — Violence not Allowed

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

The Light (UK), March 2006 Issue (pp. 1–4)

According to the religion of Islam, Muslims can only respond to verbal abuse, mockery and lampooning of their faith and its sacred figures in the following forms.

  • Any criticism of Islam, or allegations against it, which underlie the abuse must be refuted and answered by means of words and speech.
  • Apart from answering specific criticism, all possible efforts must be made to present the true and accurate picture of Islam in general. With more enlightenment and less ignorance prevailing about Islam and its Holy Prophet Muhammad, the instances of abuse, vituperation and mockery will decrease.
  • As regards the offence or hurt that Muslims naturally feel as a result of such abuse, they are taught to respond by:
    • bearing the provocation with resolute patience,
    • ignoring the abuse,
    • separating themselves temporarily from the company of the abusers while the abuse continues,
    • exercising forgiveness in view of the ignorance of the abusers.

All this is stated plainly and categorically in the Holy Quran and is evident from the actions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. It is not allowed by Islam to respond intemperately with fury and rage, call for physical retribution and punishment, or threaten or attack anyone with physical violence.

It is entirely false and totally unfounded to allege that Islam teaches Muslims to attack or seek to murder anyone who verbally abuses their religion, mocks it, or offends their feelings towards their faith.

Below we give arguments from the Holy Quran and incidents from the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad to prove the above points. We are confident that no one can cite any text from the Holy Quran which contradicts the position set out below.

We may preface our discussion with the following saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad:

“The Muslim who mixes with the people and bears patiently their hurtful words, is better than one who does not mix with people and does not show patience under their abuse.”1

What a noble and wonderful piece of guidance, which is so applicable in the modern world in which people of widely differing faiths and opposing views have to mix and come into contact so much!

Teachings of the Holy Quran:

As a general point, it may first be noted that the Holy Quran itself records the many accusations made against, and the insults heaped upon, the Holy Prophet Muhammad by his opponents during his life (for example, that he was insane, or that he fabricated his revelation), and it answers these charges, but nowhere does it require Muslims to inflict any kind of punishment on the accusers. If such abuse or criticism requires to be silenced by force, then why should the Quran itself have quoted so much of it from its opponents’ mouths and thus preserved it forever?

The Holy Quran tells Muslims:

لَتُبۡلَوُنَّ فِیۡۤ اَمۡوَالِکُمۡ وَ اَنۡفُسِکُمۡ ۟ وَ لَتَسۡمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ اُوۡتُوا الۡکِتٰبَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ وَ مِنَ الَّذِیۡنَ اَشۡرَکُوۡۤا اَذًی کَثِیۡرًا ؕ وَ اِنۡ تَصۡبِرُوۡا وَ تَتَّقُوۡا فَاِنَّ ذٰلِکَ مِنۡ عَزۡمِ الۡاُمُوۡرِ ﴿۱۸۶﴾

“You will certainly hear much abuse from the followers of previous books and from the idol-worshipping people. And if you are patient and keep your duty — this is surely a matter of great resolution.” (The Holy Quran, 3:185)

وَدَّ کَثِیۡرٌ مِّنۡ اَہۡلِ الۡکِتٰبِ لَوۡ یَرُدُّوۡنَکُمۡ مِّنۡۢ بَعۡدِ اِیۡمَانِکُمۡ کُفَّارًا ۚۖ حَسَدًا مِّنۡ عِنۡدِ اَنۡفُسِہِمۡ مِّنۡۢ بَعۡدِ مَا تَبَیَّنَ لَہُمُ الۡحَقُّ ۚ فَاعۡفُوۡا وَ اصۡفَحُوۡا

“Many of the followers of previous books wish that they could turn you back into disbelievers after you have believed, but you should pardon and forgive.” (The Holy Quran, 2:109)

In connection with these verses, it is recorded in the Hadith collection Bukhari:

“The Messenger of Allah and his Companions used to forgive the idolators and the followers of previous books, as Allah had commanded them, and they used to show patience on hearing hurtful words.”2

Addressing the Holy Prophet, God says in the Quran:

فَاصۡبِرۡ عَلٰی مَا یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ

“Bear patiently what they say.” (The Holy Quran, 20:130 and 50:39)

وَ اصۡبِرۡ عَلٰی مَا یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ وَ اہۡجُرۡہُمۡ ہَجۡرًا جَمِیۡلًا ﴿۱۰﴾

“And bear patiently what they say and forsake them with a becoming withdrawal.” (The Holy Quran, 73:10)

وَ لَا تُطِعِ الۡکٰفِرِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُنٰفِقِیۡنَ وَ دَعۡ اَذٰىہُمۡ

“Obey not the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and disregard their hurtful talk.” (The Holy Quran, 33:48)

In the verses quoted above, Muslims are taught to bear their feelings of hurt and anger with patience, and to ignore the abuse.

Another verse having some bearing on this subject is as follows:

وَ اِنۡ تَدۡعُوۡہُمۡ اِلَی الۡہُدٰی لَا یَسۡمَعُوۡا ؕ وَ تَرٰىہُمۡ یَنۡظُرُوۡنَ اِلَیۡکَ وَ ہُمۡ لَا یُبۡصِرُوۡنَ ﴿۱۹۸﴾ خُذِ الۡعَفۡوَ وَ اۡمُرۡ بِالۡعُرۡفِ وَ اَعۡرِضۡ عَنِ الۡجٰہِلِیۡنَ ﴿۱۹۹﴾

“And if you invite them to guidance, they hear not; and you see them looking towards you, yet they see not. Hold fast to forgiveness and enjoin goodness and turn away from the ignorant.” (The Holy Quran, 7:198–199)

This directs us that when we have to deal with people who are blindly prejudiced and ignorant, and therefore fail to understand the guidance, we must not give vent to anger, fury and violence against them. We should treat them with forgiveness, do our duty of enjoining simple acts of goodness that everyone recognises as good, and then turn away from them, leaving the matter in the hands of Allah.

Withdrawing from Company:

Muslims are told:

اَنۡ اِذَا سَمِعۡتُمۡ اٰیٰتِ اللّٰہِ یُکۡفَرُ بِہَا وَ یُسۡتَہۡزَاُ بِہَا فَلَا تَقۡعُدُوۡا مَعَہُمۡ حَتّٰی یَخُوۡضُوۡا فِیۡ حَدِیۡثٍ غَیۡرِہٖۤ ۫ۖ

“When you hear Allah’s messages disbelieved in and mocked at, sit not with them until they enter into some other discourse.” (The Holy Quran, 4:140; see also 6:68)

These passages deal with the case when the religion is being mocked and derided (as distinct from being criticised). A Muslim is required to do no more than to withdraw from such a company, and even that only while the mocking continues, and actually to rejoin the same company when they have changed the subject! How far from ordering Muslims to kill such people! Muslims are instructed to part company with them for the duration of their gratuitous abuse but still maintain other aspects of their relationship with those very offenders. Can any teaching be nobler and more uplifting?

Any criticism underlying the abuse must, of course, be answered. But the response to any sheer abuse, ridicule or mockery is withdrawal of oneself from the company of the abusers. The following verse, addressed to the Prophet Muhammad, has already been quoted above:

وَ اصۡبِرۡ عَلٰی مَا یَقُوۡلُوۡنَ وَ اہۡجُرۡہُمۡ ہَجۡرًا جَمِیۡلًا ﴿۱۰﴾

“And bear patiently what they say and forsake them with a becoming withdrawal.” (The Holy Quran, 73:10)

The word for ‘becoming’ here means literally ‘beautiful’. The ‘withdrawal’ therefore is to be done in a dignified, well-mannered way, not by descending to their level of misbehaviour and abuse.

Some Incidents from the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s Life:

1. A man called Suhail ibn Amar had a voice suited to oratory, and he used to employ this talent in making speeches against the Holy Prophet. He was captured by the Muslims at the battle of Badr and brought before the Holy Prophet. A Muslim suggested that some of Suhail’s teeth should be knocked out to disable him from making speeches. The Holy Prophet replied:

“If I disfigure any of his limbs, God will disfigure mine in retribution.”

2. Once when the Holy Prophet divided some wealth among his followers, a man accused him to his face of being unfair and insulted him by telling him:

“Fear God, O Muhammad”.

After the man had left, a Muslim asked the Holy Prophet’s permission to go and kill him. The Holy Prophet refused to allow it and actually tried to find some good in the man by saying:

“Perhaps he says his prayers”.

That Muslim replied: Even if he does, there are many people who pray, but are hypocrites and what they say is not what is in their hearts. The Holy Prophet replied: God has not told me to look inside people to see what is in their hearts. (Bukhari, Book: Maghazi, ch. 63.)

3. Some Jews, when addressing Muslims, would sarcastically distort the greeting as-salamu alaikum (“peace be upon you”) and say it as as-samu alaikum, which means “death be upon you”. When they once addressed the Holy Prophet in this manner, his wife Aisha retorted back in the same words. The Holy Prophet disapproved of this reply and said that God did not like harsh words.

4. Once there were four men who spread an accusation of immoral conduct against the Holy Prophet’s wife Aisha. Their allegation was ultimately proved to be false. One of them, called Mistah, who was poor, used to receive financial assistance from Aisha’s father, Abu Bakr (the foremost follower of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and later the first Caliph of Islam). After this incident, Abu Bakr swore never again to help Mistah. The following verse was revealed to the Holy Prophet on this occasion:

وَ لَا یَاۡتَلِ اُولُوا الۡفَضۡلِ مِنۡکُمۡ وَ السَّعَۃِ اَنۡ یُّؤۡتُوۡۤا اُولِی الۡقُرۡبٰی وَ الۡمَسٰکِیۡنَ وَ الۡمُہٰجِرِیۡنَ فِیۡ سَبِیۡلِ اللّٰہِ ۪ۖ وَ لۡیَعۡفُوۡا وَ لۡیَصۡفَحُوۡا ؕ اَلَا تُحِبُّوۡنَ اَنۡ یَّغۡفِرَ اللّٰہُ لَکُمۡ ؕ

“Let not the possessors of grace and means among you swear against giving to the near relatives and the poor and those who had to flee in God’s way. Pardon and overlook. Do you not love that God should forgive you?” (The Holy Quran, 24:22)

Hearing this, Abu Bakr exclaimed:

“Indeed, I certainly love that God should forgive me.”

He then resumed providing assistance to Mistah, as before (Bukhari, Book: ‘Testimony’, ch. 15).

Note that this allegation was not made against just an ordinary Muslim woman, but the wife of the Holy Prophet, and therefore it struck at the holy household at the centre of the religion of Islam, which was required to be a model of purity for all Muslims. In view of this, the forgiveness taught in the above verse, and put into practice by Abu Bakr, the greatest of Muslims after the Holy Prophet, becomes all the more generous and magnanimous.

In incidents number (1) and (2) above, the Holy Prophet Muhammad protected from any harm those who had insulted and abused him. In number (2), he did not even want to think ill of his slanderer. In incident number (4), the Holy Prophet Muhammad received revelation from God asking Muslims not only to pardon a man who had slandered his wife with an accusation of immoral conduct but also to continue providing financial help to him. Obeying this, Hazrat Abu Bakr continued to financially assist a man who had stigmatised his daughter. One cannot imagine that anyone, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, faced with the same situation whether in those days or now, would ever forgive such a man.

Comments on Current Events:

I sent a copy of this article up to this point to my M.P. who has agreed to forward it to the relevant government ministers. I also sent a copy to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr David Cameron. Now I add further comment below.

The material given above was first compiled by me several years ago as an article in response to the ‘Satanic Verses’ controversy, and it is now reproduced here with some amendments. The same kind of controversy has arisen again, and will continue to surface from time to time unless the general Muslim religious leadership devise some proper response in line with Islamic teachings. It is ironic that while we always find some over-zealous elements among Muslims announcing that anyone insulting the Holy Prophet Muhammad should be killed, but in fact the people who unfortunately are killed every time are Muslims themselves, in Muslim countries, while demonstrating against the publication of such scurrilous literature.

Muslims generally are unaware that Western publications defaming the Holy Prophet of Islam as “imposter”, “liar”, etc., either through ignorance or mischief and malice, are quite common and have been widely published in the past 150 years in particular. If holding demonstrations of this kind was the proper response in each such case, then Muslims would be in a permanent state of protest and uproar. As it is, the news of only some outrageous publication now and then reaches the Muslim world or communities by chance, and this reaction flares up. What was achieved by demonstrations and protests in the ‘Satanic Verses’ affair? One result was that this fringe, little-known publication of no interest became a world-wide phenomenon far beyond the expectations of the author [Salman Rushdie] and the publishers, and even translations were produced in other languages. The book continues to exist to this day and the author holds the same views about Islam, 17 years after those events. Another result, both then and now, is that the focus of public attention shifts away from the vilification in these publications to the reaction of the Muslims. From being the aggrieved party, Muslims make themselves look like the guilty ones. Muslim spokespersons have argued that these insulting publications should be stopped out of respect for Muslims and consideration for their feelings. It would be better to try to build in people’s hearts respect for Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammad on the basis of the value and worth of their teachings, so that society in general comes to see these insults as vile distortions of the truth, and feels aggrieved by them as Muslims do.

Footnotes:

  1. Mishkat, Book: Ethics, chapter: ‘Gentleness, modesty and good behaviour’. ↩︎
  2. Book: ‘Commentary on the Quran’, ch. 16 under Sura 3. ↩︎

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