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What Would Muhammad Do?

Muslim Response to Cartoon Controversy

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Updated February 04, 2006
"You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

That description of Islam's Prophet Muhammad is a summary of how he reacted to personal attacks and abuse.

Islamic traditions include a number of instances of the prophet having the opportunity to strike back at those who attacked him, but refraining from doing so.

These traditions are particularly important as we witness outrage in the Islamic world over cartoons, initially published in a Danish newspaper, that were viewed as intentional attacks on the prophet.

Peaceful and not-so-peaceful protests have occurred from Gaza to Indonesia. Boycotts have targeted companies based in Denmark and in other nations that reprinted the offensive caricatures.

We all, Muslims and people of other faiths, seem to be locked into a downward spiral of mutual mistrust and hostility based on self-perpetuating stereotypes.

As Muslims, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves, "What would the Prophet Muhammad do?"

Muslims are taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman's abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.

In another tradition, the prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Mecca who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse.

A companion of the prophet noted his forgiving disposition. He said: "I served the prophet for ten years, and he never said 'uf' (a word indicating impatience) to me and never blamed me by saying, 'Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?'" (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Even when the prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation.

When he returned to Mecca after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.

In the Quran, Islam's revealed text, God states: "When (the righteous) hear vain talk, they withdraw from it saying: 'Our deeds are for us and yours for you; peace be on to you. We do not desire the way of the ignorant'. . .O Prophet (Muhammad), you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is God Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided." (28:55-56)

The Quran also says: "Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance." (16:125)

Another verse tells the prophet to "show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant." (7:199)

These are the examples that Muslims should follow as they express justifiable concern at the publication of the cartoons.

This unfortunate episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who sincerely wish to know more about Islam and Muslims. It can also be viewed as a "teaching moment" for Muslims who want to exemplify the prophet's teachings through the example of their good character and dignified behavior in the face of provocation and abuse.

As the Quran states: "It may well be that God will bring about love (and friendship) between you and those with whom you are now at odds." (60:7)

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