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Insulting Islam: What Should Our Response Be?

arabian_mujahid_by_jihadprincess-d30zlt3The latest provocation against Islam takes the form of a crude film personifying and vilifying the Prophet, peace be upon him.

A trailer of this otherwise unknown movie was posted on YouTube in July, attracting very little attention until last week when a version dubbed into Arabic was posted on the same YouTube channel, after which it was copied and viewed tens of thousands of times over. The film has sparked outrage among many Muslims who, over the last few days, have taken to the streets in angry and violent protests in places like Egypt, Libya and Australia.

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Islam and its Prophet, peace be upon him, have been denigrated and insulted; nor is it likely to be the last time. The way certain Muslims have responded to such provocations tends only to reinforce the very same negative stereotypes of Islam and the Prophet such protests were meant to counter! So rather than being guided by unrestrained religious zeal, rage, frenzy, the desire for vengeance or, in some cases, political shenanigans, let us recall some of the Quranic wisdoms and prophetic counsels as to how we should best respond in such matters. For it has rightly been said, we cannot defend the Prophet by offending his teachings. Here are ten points on how to help us best respond – and God alone is the granter of grace:

1. The Qur’an forewarns the believers that they will be subjected to much vilification, taunt and mockery from those who do not share their faith: You will surely hear much that is offensive from those who were given scripture before you, and from idolaters. But if you persevere patiently and fear God, such are weighty factors in all affairs. [3:186] As faith takes root in the surroundings soil of unbelief, there will always be stiff opposition to it; particularly in the form of verbal abuse and false propaganda. The key, however, is to bear such hurts with patience, restraint and continued fear of God, and conviction that all is unfolding according to the Divine plan.

2. The best way to deal with any attacks against the faith and its revealed truths is by actualising the following command: Repel evil with what is better; you will see that one between you and whom there was enmity shall become as a friend. [41:34] Thus, let evil be repelled by what is best; let bigotry and abuse be repelled by patience; ignorance by tolerance; hardened attitudes with persuasion; and evil with forgiveness and caution.

3. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘None of you truly believes until he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.13; Muslim, no.45] No less than Imam al-Nawawi wrote: ‘It is preferred to understand this in terms of universal brotherhood, so that it includes the non-Muslim and Muslim. Hence he wants for his non-Muslim brother what he wants for himself, that is his converting to Islam; just as he wants for his Muslim brother to remain in Islam. This is why it is recommended to supplicate for guidance on behalf of the non-Muslim.’1 So rather than curse the non-Muslims or desire their destruction, one should earnestly pray for them to be guided aright.

4. Praying for their guidance and welfare not only applies to friendly non-Muslims; it applies to those who are hostile and belligerent too. Once, in the thick of battle when the non-Muslims army was seeking to kill the Prophet, peace be upon him, and with blood gushing from a wound inflicted on him by the enemy, he uttered the prayer: ‘O God! Forgive my people, for they know not.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3477; Muslim, no.1752]

5. Not to act unjustly, even in the midst of hostility and ill-will: Let not hatred of any people make you swerve from justice. Be just; that is closer to piety. [5:8] As demanding as this duty may be, the sublime standard of conduct expected of believers asks of them nothing less. So where do deplorable acts of violence or vengeance fit into all of this? How does the killing of police and diplomats, or the burning of foreign embassies tally with Islam’s teachings? Such acts are, no doubt, categorically forbidden by the shari‘ah. One hadith declares: ‘I swear by God that were it not that ambassadors are not killed, I would have cut off your heads.’ [Abu Dawud, no.2761] Furthermore, those killed were in no way responsible for the making of this vile film.

6. Protesting against evil is mandated in Islam: ‘Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; if he is unable to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.’ [Muslim, no.49]. But such protest must be carried out within the bounds of the law, ensuring no greater harm or evil arises as a result and that no greater benefit is forfeited. Since large, angry crowds can often descend into behaving like the reckless herd, our learned urge caution and restraint, and to never loose sight of the greater goal.

7. We must keep in mind the Rule of Consequences. The Qur’an says: Revile not those to whom they pray besides God, lest they wrongfully revile God through ignorance. [6:108] The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘It is one of the greatest sins that a man should curse his parents.’ It was asked how does a man curse his parents? The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘A man abuses the father of another man, so the latter abuses the former’s father; or abuses his mother, so he abuses his mother.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5973] And although in this case it is others insulting Islam and the Prophet, peace be upon him, we are still accountable for the consequences of our actions and the harms they may lead to. Attacking embassies, or flag burning, or insulting the objects of devotion venerated by others tends only to harden the attitudes of those with whom dialogue is needed, or further fuels the flames of vilification.

8. We must not play into the hands of the media or Islam’s enemies. Responding with blind rage, curses or violence only serve to justify negative media portrayals of Islam and the blessed Prophet. Such demonstrations then become self-defeating. Islam has many shrewd enemies who are only too adept at manipulating political events. What we need, then, are cool heads, courageous hearts, long term vision and goals, and a proactiveness that rises above immediate knee-jerk reactions. Must we react to every provocation? Did we have drum up so much attention to an otherwise obscure film? These are questions we need to seriously ask ourselves.

9. In the discourse concerning the limits of free speech (and even liberal nations must accept some restrictions on free speech), we should insist on responsibility in speech. Criticism is one thing, but speech to simply offend or outrage another is damaging to social cohesion and human harmony.

10. The best way to defend the Prophet’s honour, peace be upon him, is to revive our connection to him, his Sunnah and his sirah; to live out his teachings, character, ethics and spiritual conduct in our daily lives; acquainting others with such noble teachings. To plough through hours of political discourse or activism without raising our hands to God in sincere and earnest supplication would, in all likelihood, be an affront to such teachings. Only when we are prepared to put aside our egos’ pretensions, can we expect the divine hand to be responsive with His help and protection.

Allahumma’hfaz ‘alayna’l-din ya rabba’l-‘alamin
wa hayyi lana min asbabi’l-nasr.

1. Sharh al-Arba‘in al-Nawawiyyah (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 59.

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27 thoughts on “Insulting Islam: What Should Our Response Be?

  1. Rizwana Usman on said:

    As salaam o alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. Indeed this is the way forward. This otherwise unpopular film should never have been given all the undue attention it has recieved. As your article says ‘this is not the first time & certainly will not be the last that our beloved Prophet pbuh & our religion,Islam has been the subject of insult & mockery.We need to learn NOT to respond…Very apt mash’Allah!

  2. May Allah reward you for your comment and support. You are right, sometimes non-action for Allah’s sake is better than action. It’s deciding when to do what that is often the difficulty. But the belief of some Muslims that they are required to react to every prod and poke is certainly a misguided one.

  3. Lubna Ul-Hasan on said:

    Unfortunately rage like this is misguided and portrays the wrong message of Islam. It only confirms for the West what it has always considered Islam to be – a religion of intolerance and violence – the complete opposite of what Islam really is. Inshallah may Allah soften all our hearts and instill in us himmat and sabr. At the end of the day He will be the one who serves Justice.

  4. Hamayoun on said:

    Assalam Alailkum Surkheel

    My name is Hamayoun, don’t know if you remember me from back in the day… anyway, Jazak Allah for this. Now when these kinds of things happen, be it Salman Rusdie, Danish cartoons, or anything else, you always have a certain mindset of muslims who point to the story of Kab bin Ashraf when he mocked the Prophet(SAW). How do you respond to this?

    • Muhammad Saleem Anwar on said:

      A sheikh responded to this by saying: Ka`b b. al-Ashraf was actively plotting and recruiting against the Prophet  upon him blessings and peace. He had connections and influence. His beauty and eloquence were renowned among the Arabs and he only had to address a group to persuade them. He was an anti-Prophet who even incited violence against Muslim women. In such a context it is very debatable that his assassination was anything other than defensive.

    • Barakallahu fikum, I do indeed remember you (and your older brother). With regards to your query, there are three issues here:

      Firstly, to affirm that reviling the Prophet, peace be upon him, warrants state execution by juristic agreement (as discussed at length in Qadi ‘Iyad’s al-Shifa and Ibn Taymiyyah’s al-Sarim al-Maslul; and as per classical fiqh manuals in their discussion on capital punishment and apostacy), is to understand the issue at its simplest level.

      Secondly, to acknowledge that Islam does not advocate vigilante justice, nor extra judicial killings, as well as grasping other attendant factors such as the difference between fatwa and qada; substantive law and procedural law; maslahah and mafsadah; as well as other political considerations related to power, authority and change, is to understand the issue at some greater depth.

      Thirdly, The above two issues do not bear directly upon the ten points discussed in the blog, which continue to hold relevance in light of current (and possible future) events. A piece of wisdom is worth recalling here, taught to us by the great saintly scholar, al-Hasan al-Basri: himmat al-‘ulema al-ri‘ayah wa himmat al-sufaha al-riwayah – “The concern of the scholars is to shepherd; the concern of the foolish is merely to narrate.”

      Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

  5. All is good for what you have mentioned in regards to “what should the response be”, but by keeping this in mind that the majority of these people have been deprived for years and years of rights to live as just simple Muslim Beings. There is no doubt that these places were and still are high locations to achieve knowledge. Ironically this knowledge of the Deen and Duniya has been removed from the midst of these very Muslims. Vast majority of these Muslims have been without jobs too. A worse than hand to mouth situation. This oppression has lead to an inner anger. A ‘Anger’ that is collecting since a long time. It’s like a ‘Spring’, which can be compressed to it’s maximum but once the hand is removed it can jump up to it’s maximum height too.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, by no means am I saying that ‘burning of flags, cars, embassies etc etc…is justified or portrays a rightful Muslim. In fact it portrays ‘Islam’ negatively. BUT in full hindsight we all understand that this is a combination of Emotions + Anger + 0-Tolerance. It’s easy to sit in a comfort zone and give a comment and say, “this is right or this is wrong”. Living in their shoes is all together a different story. No doubt controlling Emotions, Anger and increasing our Tolerance level is a part of our Deen. BUT this is bound to be the state of a people who are deprived of Knowledge & Education.

    They have no one to look up to. They are aware that their Rulers and Leaders are their oppressors. It’s like when you don’t have ‘DAD FIGURE’, you tend to loose your confidence and take things in your hand. No one to take care of the citizens as a Rightful Muslim. A Ruler/Leader is to protect it’s citizens. That feeling gives the Nations a sense of Confidence. Do we see ‘Confidence’ on the faces of any of these people?

    My personal opinion would be that our Authorities, Scholars, Learned Men, Leaders & Governments should stand firm on one thing. “THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FREEDOM OF SPEECH & FREEDOM OF ABUSE. BOTH CANNOT BE MIXED. DEBATING IS PERMISSIBLE, FREEDOM OF SPEECH IS PERMISSIBLE, BUT FREEDOM OF VULGAR ABUSE TO ALLAH OR TO ISLAM OR TO ANY OF OUR PROPHETS IS NOT PERMISSIBLE”. They will have to prove it to these people that they are their protectors and rule with total Justice. If the Muslims see the strength from their ‘Dad’ like figures/authorites/superiors giving them what they deserve then only we will see their CONFIDENCE BUILD UP. For sure they will never march or run around like bewildered kids on the streets, reacting against the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW). They would surely then leave it in the hands of their ‘DAD’…..InshaAllah. Once again, the Muslims will be in control of their emotions, anger and tolerance level…..Again InshaAllah.

    • Though I agree that people living under oppression, injustice, or who have been disempowered sometimes take recourse to such unlawful means to express their frustrations and anger. But this counts only for an explanation of why such things are done, not a justification for it. Nor does it change the fact that one cannot take the life of another (Muslim or non-Muslim) unlawfully.

      Even if we were to concede that living here in the West could have desensitised us somewhat to the gravity of insulting and defaming the Prophet, peace be upon him, while in more traditional Muslim lands people are more sensitively “tuned” to the issue, this would still not change the issue. The above ten points would still apply.

      I reiterate this, not because you condone such actions (you’ve clearly expressed your condemnation for them), but because we need to train ourselves to act with moral excellence; and if not, then at least with justice.

      Jazakallahu khayran for your comments and observations. May Allah bless you.

    • Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatahu,

      I am not a scholar, only a seeker who is trying her level best to get closer to Allah. I don’t know whether I am the right person to comment on this, but I will try to put down what I felt from within. Please forgive me for any mistake made by me. Don’t get me wrong, and do correct me if am wrong.

      I believe every individual is responsible for his own conduct, from whatever background he comes. On the Day of Judgement our plea that we were unaware or we weren’t rightly guided by our “dads” won’t work. We have got guidance in the form of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Every Muslim household has a copy of the Quran, it’s our duty to understand the book (whether with a teacher/scholar) and reflect its teachings in our daily life. Patience and mercy is such a dominant theme in the Quran, our background shouldn’t become a problem for us to grasp these themes. I have seen people in extreme adversities (poverty, living in war zones and under oppressive rulers, having lost family members) living their lives patiently, nobody to guide them or teach them except that their full faith in Allah helps them overcome every difficulty in life.
      I am always reminded of Prophet (peace be upon him)’s dua at Taif, during a time like this.
      And I completely agree with you with respect to freedom of speech and freedom of abuse, but when you have governments with excessive freedom in their countries and they believe that to be their right, we can’t do anything but (atleast in Muslim countries) put a ban on the agencies (like google, etc) promoting vulgarity.

      Forgive me if you feel I haven’t understood what you meant.

      JazakAllah Khair

  6. MashaAllah another insightful piece. JazakumAllahu khairan. “Let us not defend the Prophet sallAllahu alaihi wa sallam by offending him.” A principle we need to remember at all times.

  7. Mashallah, Abu Aliyah, well said and written. We muslims desperately need righteous leaders who know Islam the way it should be portrayed and practiced and who can guide the ignorant ummah. We are the biggest enemies of Islam because of our ignorance, unfortunately.

  8. qazi sufian javed on said:

    Beautiful article, JazakAllah Khair!

  9. Md. Muqeet Halim on said:

    Jazakallah Khair!

  10. Assalamu’alaikum Ustadh,

    Jazzaka Allahu khairan, as always a blessing to learning from you…
    بارك الله لك في علمك… ونفع به

    Just a little observation from Bilaad Al-Shinqit… In regards to the fact that not many people knew about this movie back in July, should we not see it as a blessing that this matter was not hidden?? We only look at what the media wants to show us…

    On that friday morning I read a report saying that there will be thousands that will be demonstrating by the U.S Embassy, after the friday prayers in Nouakchott Although they looked a lot less than that and they were a lot more peaceful-just a few trouble makers here and there!!)

    I had to get to the Market on that day (known as Capitale which is the main Market in Nouakchott)… The amazing thing that I noticed was that most shopkeepers were reciting poetry “praising the Prophet (ص)” ….one man kept saying “bi abbi wa ummi anta ya rassoul Allah” and then sending salawat.. over and over again…I kept looking for where the voice was coming from but couldn’t see him…there was a a def. change, although it’s not unusual for this place to hear people reciting Quran out loud or some poetry while at work…

  11. Rahim Jung on said:

    AA WR WB

    How lost we are dear Ummah, to be so far away from the very essence of what our beloved (PBUH) taught us.

    Did he (PBUH) not advise us that each matter is beautified by gentility and made ugly by harshness?

    Jzk for this gentle and beautiful advise, ameen.

  12. Salam alaykum,my porpose of writing this,is to know more about islam on this issue,if we are alive and someone is abusing our Holy Prophet are we going to be patience,calm and looking or fighting against it acording to Qur’an and sunnah what are we going to do?when Prophet was mocked in the presence of sahabah,what the sahabah did by then?

  13. Shebe on said:

    Beautiful Article. Whoever angers you, controls you. We shouldn’t fall for this anger. Let’s be logical and approach abuse with calmness, patience and moral excellence.

  14. Greetings,

    Thank you for this article.

    I admire the thoroughness with which you address this subject.

    All good wishes,


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