In the Face of Religious Abuse

Islam teaches Restraint and Patience

The Muslim Thinker, October/November/December 1989 Issue (Issue 1, pp. 18–21)

The Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] is reported to have said:

“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.” (Mishkat, Book: Ethics, Chapter: Gentleness, modesty and good behaviour.)

The question we examine in this article is: What are the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad about how Muslims should respond to verbal abuse against their faith. There is not only definite guidance about this in the text of the Holy Quran and the Sayings of the Holy Prophet, but also there is the practical example of the Holy Prophet himself. We are not dealing here with how a Muslim should reply to criticism of his faith, but specifically with how, according to Islam, one should react when offended and hurt by painful words used against our cherished beliefs.

Firstly, the historical fact must be noted that, throughout his life, the Holy Prophet Muhammad faced verbal abuse on very many occasions. Never did he have anyone punished for merely abusing him or the religion of Islam. The Holy Quran actually records the accusations made against him by his opponents (e.g., that he was insane, or that he fabricated his revelation), and it answers these charges, but does not require any kind of punishment to be inflicted on the accusers. The Quran has itself, therefore, given permanence to these allegations and the replies thereto, obviously anticipating that similar charges would be made by critics at later times. If such abuse or criticism could weaken faith, why should the Quran itself have quoted so much of it from its opponents’ mouths?

Teachings of the Holy Quran:

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, 3:186).

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.” — Book: Commentary on the Quran, Chapter 16 under Sura 3.

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).

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

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 verses 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 to rejoin the same company afterwards.  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.

Some Incidents from the Holy Prophet’s Life:

1. A man called Suhail ibn Amar had a voice suited to oratory, and 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 speaking well. The Holy Prophet said:

“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, one man accused him to his face of being unfair and told him:

“Fear God, O Muhammad”.

After the man had left, the following conversation took place between Khalid ibn Walid and the Holy Prophet, as recorded in Bukhari:

  • Khalid: “Shall I strike off his neck?”
  • Holy Prophet: “No, perhaps he is a man who says prayers.”
  • Khalid: “There are many people who pray, but what they say is not what is in their hearts.”
  • Holy Prophet: “I have not been commanded by God to cut open people’s chests to see what is inside their hearts.”

(Book: Maghazi, chapter 63.)

Here a man insults the Holy Prophet to his face, and a Muslim asks permission to kill the man. The Holy Prophet advances the possibility of there being some good in the culprit, but Khalid argues that the man’s prayers are only for show. The Holy Prophet then makes it clear that we cannot know about people’s motives or sincerity, but have to accept that what they are doing is in good faith.

3. Some Jews, when addressing Muslims, would distort the greeting as-salamu alaikum 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 Aishah 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 immorality against the Holy Prophet’s wife Aishah. Their accusation was ultimately proved to be false because they failed to back it up with any witnesses.  One of the four men, Mistah, used to receive monetary support from Hazrat Abu Bakr, Aishah’s father.   After this incident, Hazrat 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, Hazrat Abu Bakr exclaimed:

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

He then resumed providing assistance to Mistah, as before. (Bukhari, Book: Testimony, chapter 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 becomes all the more generous and magnanimous.

If Muslims today were to follow and proclaim these teachings of Islam, they would earn respect and admiration for their faith, its Holy Founder and themselves in the eyes of all reasonable people in the world.