During last year’s protests over publication of the Danish cartoons designed to insult the Prophet Muhammad, I wrote a commentary called “What would Muhammad do?”
Given the recent controversy over the jailing (she has since been released and is back in Britain) of British teacher Gillian Gibbons in Sudan for “insulting Islam” when her class of young children named a teddy bear Muhammad perhaps it is time to remind us all how the Prophet himself reacted to insults, real and perceived.
Even if Ms. Gibbons had the intent to cause insult, which does not seem to be the case, Islamic traditions include a number of instances in which the Prophet had the opportunity to retaliate against those who abused him but refrained from doing so.
You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness is a summary of how the Prophet Muhammad reacted to personal attacks and abuse.
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 (Sahih al-Bukhari) noted his forgiving disposition. He said: “I served the Prophet for 10 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?’?”
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 Koran, 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’ .?.?. Oh 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 Koran 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 concern at the publication of insulting cartoons or at misperceived actions of a well-meaning teacher.
After the Danish cartoon controversy and allegations of Koran desecration at Guantánamo Bay, the Council on American-Islamic Relations initiated educational campaigns as a peaceful, constructive response. This is an approach that people of all faiths can appreciate, as it helps us move toward respect and religious tolerance.
This most recent episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who wish to promote mutual understanding. It can also be viewed as a “teaching moment” for Muslims who want to emulate the Prophet through the example of their good character and dignified behavior.
As the Koran 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).
The unfortunate incident in the Sudan points to the need for an increased level of dialogue between ordinary people in the Muslim world and the West.
The complaint brought against Gillian Gibbons was an inappropriate use of Sudan’s legal system to deal with what was in essence a disagreement between parents and a teacher. Ms. Gibbons should never have been charged.
Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.