It is both noble and commendable that Muslims would object to those who try to lower and tarnish the elevated status of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). These insults implicate nations and people by deriding their prophet, religion and culture. Defamation is not an honorable act, whomever its subject may be, and it becomes more so when it is aimed at the noble prophet who is perceived as such even by those who do not believe in him, and by those who belong to mankind although they display little humanity.
Defending the Prophet (pbuh) and his message is a duty; there is no question about that. However, the question is; how can one go about defending his legacy and name? Trying to persuade others that there is a huge chasm between the Islamic religion and what is being practiced and exploited by a minority who are affiliated to it does not suffice so long as these forbidden acts persist, and hatred and the glorification of death dominate the hearts and minds of some. Huge demonstrations, vengeful acts of retaliation, demanding public apologies and expressing remorse are to no avail, and perhaps even incite more hatred, which is exactly what’s happening. In the aftermath of these demonstrations or acts of violence, it becomes clear that there are those who’s minds become entrenched with the idea that there is no hope for Muslims or their religion and culture. Others see Muslims as backward and fanatical, resenting any change and rejecting anything that is not Muslim, caught in a cycle of self-loathing. Can’t you see how they kill one another regardless of time and place? As for Islam, it is a religion of violence and swords that offers no room for freedom or choice within its foundation and teachings. It is either the sole dominating religion in this world, or else it’s at war with anything else that defies or disagrees with it. This is the worldwide prevalent image of Islam and Muslims in the minds of the masses today and they have nothing to judge with except what they see and unfortunately, what is happening is neither good nor a source of pride for Muslims.
Indeed, the demonstrations and acts of violence might compel some to apologize, or call on people to not provoke the already inflamed feelings of Muslims which require no further provocation – but will any of this change what has been set as hatred and fear in the hearts of many? This is the real question to which the answer is the most effective way to defend the Prophet of Islam (pbuh). The Pope apologized for the quote he cited about Islam and the Prophet (pbuh) despite declaring that it did not reflect his personal view, and the Danes apologized for the cartoons – but have these apologies obliterated what has been fixed in the minds of many about Islam and Muslims? It’s all well and good that the Pope, or this entity, or that state apologized for the libel and slander, but has that made Islam more acceptable or has it decreased the repulsion against Muslims in the hearts of the public? What seems to be happening is that this repugnance is increasing and the word ‘Muslim’ has come to evoke terror and trepidation notwithstanding defense attempts that distance the true religion and its teachings from what is being done by those who call themselves Muslims and act out under a banner of defending the religion and its honorable prophet (pbuh).
In the eyes of the world today, Muslims have become the physical incarnation of all things venomous; they are the embodiment of terrorism, violence, intolerance and the rejection of all others who do not share their beliefs. Similarly, Islam has come to be viewed as the very antithesis of civilization, civic life and even life in general as it embraces the notion of glorifying death and bears it like the plague in Medieval Europe everywhere Muslim communities settle. This is the predominant image of Islam and its followers in most parts of the world, and if we try to say otherwise, people will only believe what they see, which is violence, death and bloodshed despite the fact that those who execute them are but a minority. And as the saying goes, a rotten apple spoils the rest in the box.
As long as people believe only what they can empirically see, then this situation will never change except with tangible evidence that is stronger and more effective. If violence and bloodshed represent the other face of Islam for some, then the religion’s true and hidden side must be found and revealed through behavior not words. By hidden aspect I mean to highlight Islam’s moral side, and its value and conduct systems. Mention of Islam among adherents or non-adherents is often summarized as doctrine and law. The ethical dimension of the religion is often neglected or marginalized, both as words and system of conduct. Upon returning from Europe, Sheikh Mohammad Abdo commented that in Europe he found Islamic values without Muslims, while in Muslim countries, there were Muslims who lacked Islamic values. This is all notwithstanding the fact that the Meccan verses of the Quran [the suras revealed in Mecca emphasize the spiritual dimension of the religion, whereas the Medina revealed suras focus on community life, legislation and the formation of the Ummah] are almost entirely focused on ethics and conduct and how to deal with the others over and above all else. Still, we find those who summarize the divine Quran in a few selected verses of the Medina period, which had their specific context and reasons to arise. Some disregard this background and apply the verses out of context, which results in the distortion of the whole divine message.
Although Islam calls for diligent and productive work, for example, we find that Muslims are among the majority of people who do not fulfill their work efficiently even though they read the Quran five times a day. Moreover, Islam encourages seeking knowledge, “even if it is as far as China” and yet we find that Muslims are the most fearful of science and its advancements in today’s world. And although Islam promotes freedom of choice, such as in the verse that reads, “The right path is clearly distinct from the wrong”, we still find many Muslims nowadays are intolerant while rejecting, fearing and mistrusting others. The Prophet (pbuh) endured all kinds of opposition and harm in Mecca but he was patient in the face of adversity and pain and moreover forgave this unfair treatment in the end. This had no effect on his morals and conduct; in fact, he was always renowned for his “exemplary manners”, as described by God. When he prayed for his people he said, “God forgive my people, for they do not know”. And of the Prophet (pbuh) the Quran says, “If you were a hardhearted, they would have dispersed away from you.” The Prophet (pbuh) gained the love and respect of the people with his excellent manners long before he ever led a conquest on any country, and this is the secret behind the survival of his message. Jesus Christ fought against the Israelites armed with nothing but morality alone, “turning the other cheek” was his method of retaliation – he was the one to remain immortal in the end. Gandhi fought against colonialism with his morals and values, and thus India was liberated and history immortalized the Mahatma in the hearts of the people before it made it to the pages of the history books. The Prophet (pbuh) announced, “I was sent to propagate good manners”, which expresses the essence of his message which many have misconstrued and warped to become one of swords and blood and gore.
Good conduct alone can change the image of the contemporary Muslim world, not just to win over others, but to revive the marginalized ethical and moral message of Islam. Let he who wants to believe or disbelieve do as they so wish, only God can judge in the end. In the meantime, we are all brothers and sisters in this world and we must do all we can to strengthen the relationships between us.