Ibn Mas‘ud – an early convert to Islam, who went on to become one of the most learned scholars from the Prophet’s Companions – said of the Prophet ﷺ when the latter sustained an injury during the battle of Uhud: ‘I can see myself looking at the Prophet ﷺ as he said about one of the prophets of old who, when his people had beaten him, was wiping the blood from his face whilst praying: O God! Forgive my people, for they know not.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3477; Muslim, no.1752]
The above incident brings to the fore certain realities that Muslims of today now face, as well as certain reminders they ought to keep firmly in mind:
Of those realities is the alarming rise in Muslim hate crimes and a new wave of anti-Muslim intolerance. Recall Marwa El-Sherbini who was stabbed to death in a court of law in Dresden, Germany, in 2009. Her murderer went from verbally abusing her for her faith and for her Islamic attire, to declaring all Muslims to be ‘monsters’, to finally stabbing her to death over fifteen times.
There is also the incident, far less tragic, of a former soldier who tied a pig’s head with ‘Allah’ written on it to the gates of a mosque in Cheltenham, in 2010.
Then there are the ever-growing cases of Muslim women being insulted, intimidated or physically assaulted because of choosing to wear a headscarf (or face veil) in public or in their work environment.
From the reminders is that insults, scorn and contempt tend to be the common man’s weapon of choice in the defence against the inbreak of truth (since it does not involve the commitment inherent in physical violence). The criminals, says the Qur’an, used to laugh at the believers, and wink at one another as they passed them by. When they returned to their people, they would mock them; and when they saw them, they would say: ‘These are surely astray!’ Yet they were not sent as keepers over them. On this Day [of Judgement] the believers will laugh at the disbelievers. [83:29-34]
As Muslims seek to mold and live their lives in the light of Islam’s revealed truths – in a continent that has become largely religiously illiterate, on top of being plagued with acute economic downturn and growing social unrest – they will be looked upon more and more as being counter culture; odd; out of sync with society; an annoyance, even; a fifth column, perhaps! Are the insults or the demonisation of Islam likely to stop any time soon? Most Muslims, I suspect, will intuit not!
Sometimes, though, as in some of the above instances, the inbreak of truth can lead to the outbreak of violence. Of course, even believers can or should take recourse to the law-enforcing agencies in order to procure justice or to fend-off harm. But where the law is unable, or simply fails them, faith instructs us to be patient and steadfast, and to try and cleanse our hearts of rage, revenge or undue anger. The higher virtue would be to repel evil with what is better [41:34] and pray, not for the destruction of the aggressors, but for their guidance and salvation.
One of the most painful episodes in the career of the Prophet ﷺ is that of Ta’if. In the year that would be known as “The Year of Sorrow” (which saw the passing of his beloved wife of twenty-five years, the lady Khadijah; followed by that of his dear uncle and earthly protector, Abu Talib), Islam and the Muslims encountered renewed hostility and rejection. So the Prophet resolved to go to Ta’if, expecting that he and his message would be more welcome.
To his utter dismay he was met with contempt, rejection and physical abuse. For the townsfolk unleashed a crowd of their slaves and teenagers upon him, who pelted him with stones until his feet were bruised and bloodied; and until Zayd b. Harithah, who had tried to shield him, had suffered several head wounds. Scorned, shunned, chased out, and emotionally and physically wounded, the Prophet ﷺ was forced to return back to Makkah. On route, he was visited by an angel who said that if the Prophet so wished, the angel could bring the two mountains crushing down on the town. To this, the Prophet ﷺ simply responded: ‘Do not do so! For I hope that from their offspring shall come a people who will worship God alone, ascribing no partner unto Him.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.3231]
We are reminded here of the need to nurture in ourselves the prophetic concern for peoples’ guidance and welfare, and to never allow the call of Abrahamic monotheism to be eclipsed by whatever else we Muslims may say or do. Patience is greatly needed, not only to bear scorn and rejection, but also to partake – even if against all odds – in the healing of the Monoculture. Whether as British, European or American Muslims, we need to cultivate within our souls the prayer: ‘O God, forgive our people, for they know not!’