By Ziaur Rahman, New Age Islam
01 February, 2015
The final prophet Muhammad (saw) came in the world when there were already followers of other religions. The followers of Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, polytheism, Hinduism and so on inhabited every part of the world. In Makkah where the prophet (saw) was born, mainly Jews and polytheists were in majority. There were also Christians in some parts of Arab and Africa. When Prophet Muhammad (saw) preached his new religion Islam, he faced stiff opposition from the Jews and the polytheists for various political, religious, social and economic reasons. They controlled the economy and had monopoly on businesses. They thrived on interests in monetary transactions, on trusts (Imanat, mortgages, the business of wine and also ran flesh trade using their woman slaves for prostitution. Islam opposed all this which antagonized them to Islam and the prophet (saw). Though polytheists of Makkah were largely illiterate, the Jews were literate and economically strong. In Arab culture people would vent their bias and grudge against their enemies and opponents through a kind of poetry called Hijwa. The Hijwa was the worst kind of derogatory and insulting form of poetry which was used by them to degrade and humiliate their opponents and for character assassination. They would go to the extent of using the real names of the family members particularly the female members of the opponents like the mother, sister, wife etc and said derogatory things about them in their poems. Apart from it, they would also air rumours and falsehoods about their opponents to malign them. In such a cultural and social background, the prophet Muhammad (saw) started preaching Islam, a new religion in the region.
The poetic genre of Na’at originated to counter the poetic genre of Hijwa. This was the best example of countering poetry with poetry and fighting argument with argument. The genre was encouraged and promoted by the prophet (saw) himself. The prophet (saw) would encourage his holy companions to recite Na’at in his honour in reply to the Hijwa of the opponents. Hassan bin Saabit is one of the prominent Na’at reciters during the prophet’s age and is called the poet of the prophet (saw) (Shair-e-Rasul).
The polytheists and Jews of Makkah waged multi pronged war against the prophet using all the means of physical and verbal war. They tried to persuade the prophet (saw) to stop preaching his religion by luring him with wealth, woman and political power. They threatened him and later conspired to kill him. They fought battles with him. And also they unleashed the verbal war against him spreading rumours about his family members and also by composing Hijwa targeting him and his family members. This verbal and poetic attack against the prophet and his family members was the most painful and most inflicting attack for not only the prophet and his family but also for the Muslims who revered and respected the prophet and loved him more than they did their own lives. The Quran says:
“The Prophet is more worthy of the believers than themselves, and his wives are [in the position of] their mothers.”(Al Ahzab: 6)
Not only that, even God loved his final prophet (saw) and asks the believers in the Quran to send Salam on him.
“Indeed, Allah confers blessing upon the Prophet, and His angels [ask Him to do so]. O you who have believed, ask [Allah to confer] blessing upon him and ask [Allah to grant him] peace.”(Al Ahzab: 56)
However, it was the moral character of the prophet (saw) that despite all the provocations and insinuations, the prophet (saw) would choose to swallow it and also advise his followers who would be ready to die to defend his honour to be patient. The prophet (saw) was physically attacked, stoned to bleed from head to toe, abused and even poisoned but he did not retaliate or reciprocate He demonstrated an unparalleled moral integrity in face of all kinds of provocations so much so that God said about him in the Quran:
“And indeed, you are of a great moral character.”(Al Qalam: 4)
God also calls him an illuminating lamp (sirajam munira) (Al Ahzab: 46)
And the holy prophet (saw) proved true to God’s expectations by demonstrating to be of great moral character and by being a true illuminating lamp and an example to be emulated by treating even his worst enemy with love and affection.
Since all the acts and words of the prophet (saw) was in accordance with the teachings of the Quran, the prophet’s reaction to all the insults and enmity by his enemies and opponents was also in consonance of the teachings of the Quran. As the Quran suggests clear punishments for major crimes like theft and financial corruption, adultery, creating mischief and spreading corruption on earth, for unjustified murder etc it also makes its stand clear on blasphemy as blasphemy was also one of the major crimes in the age in context of derogatory poetic form—hijwa.
Though God clearly says that the polytheists and the ahl-e-Kitab (the Jews and Christians) would foul mouth about God of Muslims and about the holy prophet (saw) and that a severe torment awaits those insulting his beloved prophet (saw), He does not prescribe any physical punishment for blasphemy in the Quran. Let’s go through the verse first to know what God says about blasphemy.
“Indeed, those who abuse Allah and His Messenger - Allah has cursed them in this world and the Hereafter and prepared for them a humiliating punishment.” (Al Ahzab: 57)
God makes it clear that He does not like blasphemous words or writings against Him and His prophet (saw) and for those saying or writing insulting things against Him and His prophet (saw), he has prepared a miserable and condemned life on earth and severe torment in the Hereafter.
In another verse, God also says:
“And among them are those who abuse the Prophet and say, "He is an ear." Say, "[It is] an ear of goodness for you that believes in Allah and believes the believers and [is] a mercy to those who believe among you." And those who abuse the Messenger of Allah - for them is a painful punishment.”
The verse makes it all the more clear that God does not like polytheists abusing the prophet and warns them of a painful punishment in the Hereafter.
In another verse, God predicts that there will be blasphemy against the prophet (saw), against Quran and Himself. Nonetheless, He advises Muslims to be patient and show restraint as it requires courage and moral strength to restrain yourself in face of provocation. God says:
“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient and fear Allah - indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.”(Al-i-Imran: 186)
God says that “you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse.” He is clearly hinting that He knew that at one point in future, people would use Facebook, twitter and other social media platforms, newspapers and books for insulting Him, prophet (saw), Quran and Muslims; they would make films like Innocence of Muslims, and newspapers like Jylland Posten and Charlie Hebdo would publish cartoons insulting the prophet (saw). Still God says that these will only be done to test the Muslims' moral character, their faith and their power of self restraint. And God who calls for the cutting off of the hands of the thief for committing theft, lashes for adulterers, hanging or cutting off of the hand and leg of the rioters and mischief makers does not prescribe any physical punishment for blasphemy though He says that he hates those abusing Him and the prophet (saw) the most as any abuse against the prophet (saw) hurts him the most and so he has prepared the severest punishment for them in the Hereafter and a cursed life in the world. He wants Muslims to show restraint, courage and piety in face of such provocation. Since the prophet (saw) was a living exponent of the Quran, he showed the same restraint, courage and piety in face of insults and humiliation targeted against him and his noble family.