On the night of August 11, 2020, violent clashes took place between a mob and the police on the streets of Bengaluru. As per media reports, the mob vandalised the house of a Member of the Legislative Assembly and pelted stones at police stations on two streets along with torching several vehicles and teller machines (ATMs) in the area. Several policemen were injured, newspapers reported, and police opened fire at the crowd. Three people were killed in the police firing and many were injured.
This incidence of violence, which was a result of a post on social media about Prophet Muhammad brings to fore the oft-debated topic of blasphemy. This is not the first time that such a reaction has transpired and not just in India but worldwide. For centuries the worldview has been divided over whether blasphemy deserves retribution or is it a case of misuse of freedom. But the real question is what course does Islam expect its adherents to take in such circumstances? Is the perpetration of violence and destruction the answer?
Islam has a very clear view in this regard. According to its teachings, the Creator has granted freedom to every individual. With this freedom comes the choice to use or misuse freedom. Those who wish to curb this choice or freedom of man are acting against the teachings of Islam.
In Islam, blasphemy is a case of misuse of freedom. It is not a cognisable offence. If a believer comes across an act of blasphemy, the only course of action for him is to make peaceful efforts to share the information with the blasphemer and remove the misunderstanding. It is not for the believer to judge the actions of another person. There are ample narrations in Seerah (biography of Prophet Muhammad) when Prophet of Islam was met with adverse and negative comments from his opponents but he never reacted to it.
Whilst the Prophet Muhammad was at Mecca, the opposition to him and his followers had reached extreme proportions. Despite all sorts of physical afflictions, the Prophet and his companions did not engage in any retaliation or reaction. Rather, after 13 years when the conditions became unbearable, the Prophet and his companions migrated from Mecca to Medina to continue their peaceful mission.
Let me recount an example from the life of the Prophet. A lady, Arwâ b. Harb would follow the Prophet of Islam and humiliate him by calling him, ‘Mudhammam’. The word ‘Mudhammam’ is the opposite in meaning to the word ‘Muhammad’. While ‘Muhammad’ means ‘praiseworthy’, the word ‘Mudhammam’ means ‘a condemned person’. Instead of responding to her, the Prophet of Islam would simply say to his Companions, “They insult ‘Mudhammam’, and they curse ‘Mudhammam’, while I am Muhammad (the Praised One)” (al-Bukhari, 334). In this way, the Prophet of Islam simply calmed a seemingly provocative situation. This is the example established by the Prophet of Islam.
The Quran says, “You have indeed in the Prophet of God, a good example” (33:21). This means that adherents of Islam must embody the peaceful, non-reactionary approach that was taught by the Prophet of Islam. The question to ask is: are those perpetrating violence and claiming themselves to be Muslims, even following the teachings of the Prophet of Islam?
Violence can never be a means to achieve anything in life. The Quran asks believers to follow the path of peace and non-confrontation under all circumstances. And it is impossible for a peaceful society to thrive in an environment of malice and instigation.
The present-day Muslims must realise that when the Prophet of Islam never adopted the policy of retaliation, under any provocation, it is incumbent on the adherents of Islam to do the same. Meeting expression of views with violent retaliation is completely contrary to the teachings of Islam. In case someone feels very deeply about an issue, he or she may respond in writing to clarify the misunderstanding. Instead of equipping oneself with weapons and hatred, one should get equipped with logic and reasons to explain the correct perspective.
Arabia during the time of the Prophet of Islam was a harsh place – not just geographically but also given the kind of opposition that Prophet and his companions faced. But none of this deterred the Prophet of Islam from practising forgiveness and compassion. He never followed the policy of reaction or resentment against any form of opposition.
The present-day Muslims must imbibe this trait of patience and foster a non-reactionary temperament, for nothing should be allowed to disrupt peace and harmony in the society. There is no cause greater than maintaining peace and this is what is expected of a true believer of any religion, including Islam.
(Raamish Siddiqui is an Islamic thinker and writer. His published works include ‘The True Face of Islam’ and ‘Timeless Wisdom’. Raamish has been actively engaged with many inter-faith initiatives across the globe. Views expressed are personal.)