A film depicting the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) in an offensive manner and which has been described as “a bigoted piece of poison calculated to inflame the Muslim world” has been circulated and its worldwide response has been in the form of protests and contempt across Muslim societies. Some of these protests have turned violent and outsiders to the faith are asking questions as to why a mere film can cause violence and resentment?
An assumption underlying this appraisal is that whilst responding violently, those who label themselves as Muslims are acting on the tenets of their faith. That what you see on the TV screens and read about in the newspapers is a practice of the Qur’an to the last letter. Many are deliberately led to believe as if whatever the world’s Muslims do and believe in, is a result of the religious guidance found in their Book and the authentic teaching of their faith.
This actually, is not the case.
Behaviour that you witness as “Islamic” behaviour is not necessarily Quranic behaviour. Upon studying the Qur’an you will realise that the fringe in the Muslim world that partakes in violent protests is neither representative of Qur’anic teachings nor of the vast number of peaceful believers.
In fact it is not religion that motivates such violence but politics. Almost all violent protests will see the involvement, not of ordinary Muslims who go about their normal daily routines, but by hardcore activists of religio-political groups, in whom along with a faithful zeal is also cultivated a deep rooted resentment of all things American. It is not the love of the Prophet, but a hatred of the United States that is instrumental in rousing such sentiments, for Prophetic teachings never command believers to act in a violent and disorderly manner.
It should also be borne in mind that elections are close by in many Muslim societies and political groups see situation created by the release of the film as an opportunity to test their street power. What better opportunity do they have by which under the cover of religion they can appear heroic? How else can they gain anti-American credentials that are so much needed to safeguard their vote bank?
Thus it is not religion, and to be specific religious teaching in the Qur’an, that is motivating people to act violent and disorderly, but it is largely politics and social deprivation that is orchestrating the violence. To be taken into account is the fact that due to corrupt and inept governments in Muslim societies there already exists much frustration and anger among the masses. When unemployment is high, there is deprivation, inflation is sky rocketing and you have a large and angry young population, then it is no rocket science to fathom that a protest of this category is bound to snowball into violence. People are frustrated and need an outlet, and politics has provided them a target and a means to vent that anger. The fuel is already there and all it needs is a match!
Here it is also important to bring on record what exactly is the Islamic ruling on such a matter as that which has come about as a result of the inflammatory film?
The Qur’an is not silent about situations when the Prophet (peace be upon him) was insulted and abused by rejecters of his message. It very well does show his behaviour, as to what his response was in such instances. It also gives clear and unambiguous instructions to Muslims as to what their conduct should be when people mock, ridicule or scoff their faith.
(1) God is sufficient against those who mock the Prophet
إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ
“For sufficient are We unto thee against those who scoff.” 15:95
It follows from this verse that if God is indeed sufficient against the scoffers, then there is no room left for believers to respond.
(2) The Prophet never commanded anyone to respond violently in face of insults
The Prophet was commanded by Allah:
وَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَدَعْ أَذَاهُمْ وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ وَكَفَىٰ بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا
“And obey not [the behests] of the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and heed not their annoyances, but put thy Trust in Allah. For enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs. ” 33:48
As Allah commanded the Prophet “and heed not their annoyances..” therefore the Prophet and his true followers did not pay any heed to insults and abuses they received from the rejecters.
(3) True believers in Allah bear the hurts of rejecters with patience, not violence
A statement that believers in Allah gave to rejecters is recorded in the Qur’an as:
وَمَا لَنَا أَلَّا نَتَوَكَّلَ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَقَدْ هَدَانَا سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَلَنَصْبِرَنَّ عَلَىٰ مَا آذَيْتُمُونَا ۚ وَعَلَى اللَّهِ فَلْيَتَوَكَّلِ الْمُتَوَكِّلُونَ
“No reason have we why we should not put our trust on Allah. Indeed He Has guided us to the Ways we [follow]. We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us. For those who put their trust should put their trust on Allah.” 14:12
The words “..We shall certainly bear with patience all the hurt you may cause us…” make it absolutely clear that true believers do not respond violently to the hurtful things they hear from rejecters but tolerate them with patience.
(4) Believers commanded to be patient in the face of insults
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ
“Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly Hear much that will hurt you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil,-then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. ” 3:186
The divine command given to believers as to what to do in the face of abuse as “..if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil…” leaves no room for doubt that true believers do not respond violently when faced with insults and abuse but remain calm and patient.
(5) Believers are forbidden to insult other religions, hence responding violently is ruled out.
وَلَا تَسُبُّوا الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ فَيَسُبُّوا اللَّهَ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّهِم مَّرْجِعُهُمْ فَيُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ
“Revile not those unto whom they pray beside Allah lest they wrongfully
revile Allah through ignorance. Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return, and He will tell them what they used to do.” 6:108
If believers are commanded by Allah not to even verbally insult deities, then how can they turn physically violent?
A question that immediately comes to the mind is that if indeed the Qur’an calls for calm and restraint in the face of insults and abuse, then why do so many people who identify themselves as staunch believers in Islam behave otherwise? Why do people resort to violence, damage property and attempt to riot? The answer to this is also given in the Qur’an. The reality is that the Qur’an categorises two types of believers. Those who are believers in deed, and those who are believers only by name. It is the latter who resort to violence and destruction in the name of religious reform:
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَمَا هُم بِمُؤْمِنِينَ
“Of the people there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day;” but they do not [really] believe. ” 2:8
Whilst refuting the claim of such, the Qur’an also exposes them by virtue of their conduct and behaviour in the world:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
“When it is said to them: “Make not Fasaad (disorder) on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to reform!” 2:11
Pinpointing the people who go about flaunting their Imaan (belief) to be in fact fake, the above verses also identify their modus operandi to do Fasad (disorder), assuming it to be a means to Islah (reform from sin). When we come across individuals who make it their mission to “destroy evil and vice”, we see the truthfulness of the above description. These are the type of people who bomb establishments that appear sinful to them and display violent rage in the name of religion. They style themselves as believers, do Fasaad fil Ard (disorder and mischief in the land), without realising that far from acting on Allah’s laws, they are in fact grossly violating them.
Hence there are two types of people in the world who would claim to be within the fold of Imaan. Those whose characters are trained on Quranic guidance, who in the face of insults, invectives and abuse act patiently and do not resort to a tit-for-tat or violent response.
While others are those who, while claiming to be believers, actually defy the divine injunctions. These are the people who resort to violence and destruction and justify their conduct in the name of religion.
The fundamental mistake we would make is to accept people by the labels they carry or the claims they make, instead of identifying them by the behaviours they display. Behaviours that go against the teachings of the Qur’an are never a part of Islam and their actors are never its true representatives.
Indeed the film is contemptuous, and vulgar but we must not forget that the best defence to any attempted character assassination of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is the one contained in the Qur’an. Instead of losing control, we must hold fast to Qur’anic guidance in such matters. The Qur’an is Allah’s word and is not silent. Allah is fully aware of what situations come in the life of a believer and He has given remedies in His word. The only response that a true Muslim is to give is the one which the Prophet gave and which is to abide by the teaching contained in the Qur’an.