Misrepresentation can incite hatred and violence, making sincere interfaith dialogue and mutual respect between communities almost an impossible task. This is evident from the recent expression of outrage and wounded sentiments following the web posting of an anti-Islam American-made film.
Negative portrayal of Islam has resulted in a lack of appreciation of its history and culture, particularly in the love, passion and veneration Muslims have for Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). For Muslims, he is the most perfect of creation and an exemplar for mankind as the Quran testifies. Muslims model their entire life around the life of their beloved Prophet. Mercy, peace and compassion are the foundations of the Prophetic Message. Muhammad famously said, ‘The best of Islam is to feed the hungry, and offer (salaams) blessings of peace to those who you know and those who you do not know’. He reminded people that, ‘All of mankind belongs to God’s family’
The Holy Book records how through centuries, most prophets of God including Muhammad have been insulted, mocked and rejected. Before all of Mecca embraced Islam, many desert Arabs were rude to him, but he returned their rudeness with kindness. They called him a magician, impostor and hurled abuses at him. The famous poets among the pagan Arabs wrote poetry that ridiculed him and God’s message. When his faithful companions got agitated and wanted to take revenge, Muhammad told them to exercise patience and God consciousness. It was amidst great opposition and difficulties that Muhammad furthered God’s message, sacrificing his wealth, family, health and personal comfort.
When Muhammad invited the people of Taif to Islam, they not only rejected his message, but hurled stones at him and he had to take shelter in an orchard outside Taif, covered in his own blood. He prayed for forgiveness of the transgressors saying, ‘Forgive them O lord, for they know not what they do’.
Uncompromising in the pursuit for social justice, Muhammad remained a passionate defender of the oppressed, the poor, slaves, women and children. He warned of extremism, a recognized discourse even during his time. He said,’ Moderation! Moderation! For only with moderation will you succeed.’ He retained strong ties with members of different clans and his kin who had not accepted Islam, He continued social and financial interactions with non Muslims based on trust and mutual respect.
Prophet Muhammad said a strong person is one who controls his anger. A hot headed Arab came to him for advice on how to apply Islam to his life and the Prophet just said ‘don’t get angry’. To another seeker all that the Prophet advised was ‘never tell a lie’, He stressed on the necessity of being kind to one’s neighbour. He said the best way to judge character was to ask the neighbours of what they thought of the man or woman. His revered companions were known not to eat their meals before making sure that all the people in the neighbourhood had enough to eat.
The Medina Document was written during the life of the Prophet after he established the first Islamic state. The Jews, Christians, pagans and Muslims were all signatories to this Charter that declared them equal citizens of Medina without being assimilated into one religion, language and culture. There was never to be any compulsion in religion. Muhammad created a community that was not based on tribes or blood but ideology, but he never imposed ideological conformity. With the rise in prejudices and the rhetoric of hate, it is time to overcome religious bigotry and revisit the true legacy of Prophet Muhammad.