Prophet Muhammad’s milad (birth anniversary) is falling at a time when Islamophobia seems to be on its peak. Usually this is the time around the word, when Muslims celebrate the life of the Prophet of Islam by highlighting his teachings and remembering him in many distinct hues.
Born on 22 April 571 (12 Rabiul Awwal), Muhammad has enormous influence not just on Muslims, but on the entire human race. From a Bedouin community of Quraish in Mecca, where he was born, his influence soon spread across the globe. Muslims are the second largest religious community in the world, inhabiting almost every part of the globe.
Prophet Muhammad is the single, most respected figure in Islam. Muslims revere him like no one else and his influence on the mankind has been enormous. Michael Hart, in his 'The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History' not just ranks Muhammad above everyone else but also gives solid reasons for putting him at the top.
While writing in his path breaking book, Hart has this to say about Muhammad, “The Koran therefore, closely represents Muhammad's ideas and teachings and to a considerable extent his exact words. No such detailed compilation of the teachings of Christ has survived. Since the Koran is at least as important to Moslems as the Bible is to Christians, the influence of Muhammad through the medium of the Koran has been enormous. It is probable that the relative influence of Muhammad on Islam has been larger than the combined influence of Jesus Christ and St. Paul on Christianity. On the purely religious level, then, it seems likely that Muhammad has been as influential in human history as Jesus”.
Muhammad, even during jahiliyah (the age of darkness) presented very high standard of character. He was known as Sadiq (Truthful) and Amin (Honest). When he was forced to leave behind his city Mecca, where he was born, despite trying to somehow leave to safety, he still left behind Ali, to return the precious items and money that people, many of them his sworn enemies had kept with him as trust.
He was merciful beyond any human imagination. When he returned triumphantly to Mecca after 10 years of exile to Medina and numerous wars imposed upon him by his enemies, he didn’t unleash terror on them as they expected. Instead, he forgave all of them, no matter how enormous was their oppression of him, his people and disciples. The mercy of the Prophet even extended to those who brutally killed and then mutilated the body of his uncle Hamzah, one of the most beloved of people to him.
Born as an orphan, his persona holds attraction for everyone, from philosophers to laymen and from researchers to primary students. Karen Armstrong, while writing in her ‘Muhammad: Prophet for Our Times’ says, “As a paradigmatic personality, Muhammad has important lesson, not only for Muslims, but also for Western people. Hs life was a jihad…“struggle”. Muhammad literally sweated with the effort to bring peace to war torn Arabia, and we need people who are prepared to do it today. His life was tireless campaign against greed, injustice, and arrogance. He realized that Arabia was at a turning point and that the only way of thinking would no longer suffice, so he wore himself out in the creative effort to evolve an entirely new solution”
However this year, the milad has come in the midst of a raging controversy following the killing of a French teacher by a teenaged Muslim student. It is said that the 47-year old French teacher, Samuel Paty, was attacked and killed for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to his students. His killer, 18-year-old Chechen immigrant Abdullakh Anzorov, was shot dead by police shortly after the attack on October 16. Several people, including two students and a parent of one the French teacher’s students have also been detained by the French authorities.
The death of the perpetrator behind the killing and the arrest of other people who might be behind the killing of the teacher should have brought the issue to an end. However, this has snowballed into a major controversy pitting the Muslim world against West and Western values. While there is an effort to use the issue to target Islam and frame it as a medieval religion, irate Muslims throughout the world are baying for the blood of French president and ban on everything French.
Muslims have always taken exception against wrong portrayal of the Prophet either in words or in images. Blasphemy has been a very debatable and controversial thing among experts of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) over the last more than a thousand years. There is no denying that Blasphemy is as old as the history of Islam and Prophet’s enemies tried their best to put him down by using poetry, the most used form of expression in Arabia of that time. However, there is not a single instance, despite many assertions to the contrary by fundamentalists, that proves that Prophet ever harmed or punished anyone merely for insulting him.
Ebrahim Moosa, Mirza Family Professor of Islamic Thought & Muslim Societies University of Notre Dame tells me that there is an urgent need for innovative thinking among Muslims to revisit the issue of blasphemy. “The question of blasphemy requires innovative thinking, ijtihad, on the part of Muslim scholars and thought leaders. Death for insulting the Prophet was a product of a past Muslim theology of empire. Those conditions no longer prevail and Muslim scholars need to revisit and educate the public. Vigilante killings for alleged blasphemy offenses in colonial India, later in Pakistan and Bangladesh, and in Europe by lone actors bring the collective and global reputation of Muslims in disrepute” says Prof Moosa.
He further tells me that “It is neither in the best interests of Muslims or the Muslim nationals of a particular country. At the same time provocations by a schoolteacher or a satirical magazine heightens the anger and hurt of Muslim populations around the world. Utterances by the French President, Macron recently if claiming that Islam is in crisis was in itself ill-informed and a cover for his failed policies with respect to the poor in France, including working class Muslims. These issues require the attention of the leadership of Muslims around the world urgently”.
Right now, Muslims, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey and Pakistan to Indonesia are not just protesting against the wrong portrayal of Islam in France and Blasphemy but are showing extreme xenophobia against France and French products. They willfully forget that 60 Million Muslims live peacefully across France. Prof. Moosa in one of his well received papers says, “What frequently gets ignored in debates about blasphemy is how all the players across the board instrumentalize Islam and its teachings, ranging from Muslim political and religious figures to representatives of the international order, foreign governments, and their political leaders. In Muslim communities, both political and religious players compete with one another to defend what they view as normative teachings of Islam in order to sustain their legitimacy among their respective audiences. In combustible political environments, these become risky and deadly wagers”.
Dr Mudassir Siddiqui, a Virginia, USA based scholar of Shariah tells me that “in not a single instance of Blasphemy in his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad ever ordered the killing of anyone”. “He even pardoned Hind who had got his uncle Hamzah killed. She had mutilated his body by cutting his chest and tearing his liver and heart into pieces” Siddiqui tells me.
The issue of blasphemy is a rather recurring issue. After a lull of a couple of years it raises its ugly head with a regular interval. There is no denying the fact that no one can justify the killing in the name of the Prophet, whatever be the level of provocation. However, at the same time, the actions of a few extremists cannot be made the basis of tarring an entire community the way it is happening in France following the unfortunate murder of the French teacher.
There is an urgent need for concerted efforts to overcome divisions and to lay the ground for a peaceful coexistence that is so necessary in a multicultural milieu.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Despite muted denials, NRC will target Muslims
Bhagwat, Madani meet: End of the maddening divide
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Muslim women's entry in mosques: What is the truth?
Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October