Contrary to common belief, Islam does not teach its adherents to react against issues such as that of Rushdie and the cartoon issue. Islam teaches patience in the fullest sense of the word.
On the publication of the Satanic verses by Salman Rushdie, the Muslim reaction was to have him killed forthwith; he had committed an unpardonable offense against Islam and the Prophet. All over the world, Muslims demanded his head. They were not prepared to settle for anything less than that. In a similar incident, when the Denmark cartoon was published, the Muslims reacted in much the same manner.
In the modern age, all campaigns are spread like wildfire. Reactions such these give the impression that Muslims are vengeful and violent people. Consequently, in certain Western countries notice boards are put saying, “Beware of Muslims”. This shows the extreme fear engendered by the Muslim fundamentalist threat worldwide.
In all fairness one can ask, 'Is this Islam?' Never! God has been represented in Islam as an All Merciful, and the Prophet has been proclaimed the Prophet of Mercy. It is ironical that in the name of such a magnanimous religion, a certain section of the fundamentalists could not appreciate such sentiments far less promote them. Islam can never incite people to committing murder in the name of religion, simply because someone had written a book or published a cartoon which ruffled their emotions.
In the days of the Prophet a large number of Rushdies, Taslima Nasreens and cartoon publishers existed, but none of them were beheaded or protested against for having insulted Islam and its prophet. On the contrary, in the times of the Prophet, the principle of countering words with words was followed. That is why those who spoke out against Islam no matter to what lengths they went were not penalised in any way. All that happened was that the Prophet appointed a poet called Hassan to give a befitting answer in verse to the offenders, poetry being the main mode of public expression and sentiments. This is the example we should follow for the resolution of all such problems in true Islamic spirit and earlier traditions.
The Prophet’s name was Muhammad, meaning the praised one or the praiseworthy. But when the Meccans became his most dire opponents, they themselves coined a name for the Prophet, ‘Muzammam,’ on the pattern of ‘Muhammad,’ Muzammam meaning condemned. They used to heap abuses on him calling him by this epithet of Muzammam. But the Prophet was never enraged at this distorted version of his name. All he said in return was: “Aren’t you surprised that God has turned away the abuses of the Quraysh from me. They abuse a person by the name of Muzammam. Whereas I am Muhammad (Ibn Hisham, 1/379).
This meant that abuses were being heaped on a person whose name was Muzammam. Since the Prophet’s name was Muhammad, not Muzammam, their abuses did not apply to him. This shows that Islam does not teach one to be easily provoked, even in cases of extreme provocation.
On another occasion the Prophet of Islam was in the Masjid al-Nabwi in Madinah, the second most sacred mosque in Islam, when a Bedouin, that is, a desert Arab, entered the mosque and urinated inside it. It was obviously a very provocative matter. But the Prophet was not at all provoked. After the nomad had urinated, the Prophet simply asked his companions to bring a bucket of water and wash the place clean (Fathul Bari, 1/386).
A western commentator, William Patron, has observed: One of the fruits of Islam has been that stubborn durable patience which comes out of the submission to the absolute will of God.
This observation is indeed very apt. Islam attaches great importance to patience. Most of the verses of the Qur’an have a bearing, directly or indirectly, upon this virtue. In truth, patience is an attribute without which the very thought of Islam is unimaginable.
The present world is designed in such a way that here one has repeatedly to face unpleasant experiences, inside as well as outside the home. Now if people were to fall to wrangling on all such occasions, they would fail to advance along the path of human progress. That is why Islam has placed great emphasis on patience, so that by avoiding all unpleasantness, man may continue his onward journey towards the higher goal — God-realization.
The Qur’an repeatedly stresses the need for patience. In chapter 31, we are enjoined to remain patient in these words, “Endure with fortitude whatever befalls you.” (17) In chapter 8, we are told to “have patience. God is with those that are patient.” (46) Chapter 103 says, “Perdition shall be the lot of man except for those who believe and do good works and exhort one another to justice and to fortitude.
Similarly, the traditions have laid great emphasis on the importance of patience. The Prophet once said, ‘Listen and obey and be patient.’ On another occasion he observed: ‘God has commanded man to be patient and forgiving.’ A companion of the Prophet said: ‘The Prophet and his companions always remained patient in the face of persecution at the hands of enemies.’ It is true that patience provides the basic quality for Islamic activism. In this world no one can adhere to the path of Islamic virtue without remaining patient.
Patience is the exercise of restraint in trying situations. It is a virtue, which enables the individual to proceed towards worthy goals, undeflected by adverse circumstances or repeated provocations. If he allows himself to become upset by opposition, taunts or other kinds of unpleasantness, he will never reach his goals. He will simply become enmeshed in irrelevancies.
The only way to deal with the irksome side of daily living is to exercise patience. Patience will ensure that whenever one has some bitter experience, he will opt for the way of tolerance rather than that of reaction to provocation. It will enable one to absorb shocks and to continue, undeterred, on one’s onward journey.
Patience, as well as being a practical solution to the problems faced in the outside world, is also a means of positive character building. One who fails to exercise patience, gives free rein to negative thoughts and feelings, develops a personality which is likewise negative while one who remains patient is so morally bolstered by his own positive thoughts and feelings that he develops a positive personality.
Sabr is no retreat. Sabr only amounts to taking the initiative along the path of wisdom and reason as opposed to the path of the emotions. Sabr gives one the strength to restrain one’s emotions in delicate situations and rather to use one’s brains to find a course of action along result-oriented lines.
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