One of the most bewildering things for non-Muslims, especially in the West, is the utter less than zero tolerance of Muslims for anything that could be deemed as disrespectful towards the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. What makes it more puzzling is the generally somber reaction a non-Muslim would receive if they made fun of a Muslim’s background or heritage when it is taken in relation to the reaction received when it is about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. In a culture where nothing is sacred, and everything is open game to be ridiculed, the permissibility of all of which falls under the banner of freedom of expression, the “extreme” Muslim reaction to any derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is difficult to comprehend.
This Muslim reaction is typically attributed to either their supposed intolerant religious teachings towards the other, towards freedom, or towards the West. Their seriousness is considered to be unwarranted, and furthermore they are told they just have to accept that what they hold sacred will be ridiculed just like anything else. After all, if Jesus Christ can be made fun of in a Saturday Night Live skit, and if Moses can be shown foolishly in Family Guy, then Muslims should not be given any special treatment and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ should be made fun of on South Park without having the Muslims get up in arms over it.
Rather than adopting the idiotic Bill Maher attitude of “let’s just not hold back and do it till these Muslims get used to it”, it would serve non-Muslims better to understand what is the big deal about the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ for Muslims. Moreover, for the non-Muslims to understand this, it is the duty of the Muslims to explain it to them. I am appealing to people’s good sense here and hoping that a respectful dialogue and a peaceful co-existence, not just tolerance, will come out of it.
Much has been written about rights, and freedom of expression, and defamation, etc. This short article is not about addressing any of these issues. You can easily find hundreds and may be thousands of articles dealing with these matters. What I want to share with you here is why many of us Muslims can handle just about anything, except talking about our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
It is all about love! As strange as this may sound to a non-Muslim, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, also referred to as the Beloved, is loved, not in the sense that love is viewed in the West, but in a much deeper way than you can imagine. In fact, every time I speak or write about the Beloved ﷺ I get goose bumps all over my body and my heart races and my eyes fill up with tears out of yearning to see him.
For most non-Muslims, and Muslims who are new converts, as well as those who are not devout or not practicing at all, this is very difficult to comprehend. This is not surprising. How can I expect anyone to comprehend a love towards someone they know nothing about? Worse yet, whatever they heard about him was inaccurate and defamatory. And to add insult to injury, many Muslims do not reflect his teachings and the Message he ﷺ was entrusted to bring to mankind. So I cannot place blame on those who do not get it.
The sad reality about us in the West is that we think we know what love is. Many of us have confused chemicals firing in our brains for a virtuous feeling of strong affection and attachment. If we just reflect upon everything around our culture, it quickly becomes obvious how everything is telling each one of us to be as narcissistic as possible. We are bombarded with messages everywhere that ourselves are the most important thing. Everything is about customizing what we want to get, so we can have it how we want it, exactly in the color we want it, the size we want it to be, in the amount we want, and at the time we want. The simplest example is just in ordering coffee. It used to be a Starbucks thing, but now it is everywhere: “can I get a large double foam part skim part regular 65 degrees Celsius single shot espresso cappuccino with a bit of cinnamon on top?”. If that is how we have become about something is insignificant as coffee, what does that say about our attitude towards things that really matter?
Love in our culture has gone from virtuous selfless and devoted love for the other into a perverse love of the self. We now live in what sociologists call a “Me culture”.
Even when we “fall in love” with a significant other, it turns out to not have been the type of love where each one completes the other. This is evidenced by the amazingly high divorce rates, which historically were never this way. As Erich Fromm puts it in his book “The Art of Loving“, getting married and divorced has become no different than getting a car and selling it to upgrade to a new model. I realize that not everyone is like that. But I am speaking about our society as a whole, while keeping in mind that there are exceptions.
Interestingly, there are cases where people fall head over heals in love with someone due to some effect they had on their lives, which is when taken into consideration many find ridiculous. A quick example is someone like Michael Jackson. It is not that hard to pull up YouTube videos of fans collapsing, crying, and going crazy over Michael. The sole influence he had on these fans was through his music. Those who were down, found that he brought their moods up. Some talk about how one of his songs “spoke to them”. This is obviously combined with an obsession that drove these fans to know everything there is to know about Michael, and without having any direct interactions with him they feel like he is in their lives. They bought the jacket and the gloves and they would try and dance like he did and attempt the moonwalk everywhere they had slippery floors. They loved Michael.
I am not using Michael Jackson as a basis for comparison, because there is nothing in the Creation that compares to the Beloved ﷺ as far as a Muslim is concerned. There are really no words to properly describe the influence I as a Muslim feel on a daily basis as a result of the Beloved ﷺ. And I am not alone in this feeling. This was a man whose companions would jump up in battle exposing their chests to take arrows that were being shot at him. They did that without any of the training modern day Secret Service personnel receive to subvert their instincts for self-preservation. Their instinct was to sacrifice themselves in order to keep the Beloved ﷺ safe.
When it is used in reference to the Beloved ﷺ, the name Muhammad alone is enough to send a quiver through a devout Muslim’s soul. The lines of poetry written to praise him are countless. There were people that are known in history to have literally died from their yearning for the Beloved ﷺ. One of his companions received the news of his passing just outside of Medina, and this was after he had just seen him, and he immediately made a prayer to go blind so that the last person he would have ever seen would have been the Beloved ﷺ. His prayer was answered! The most powerful of the companions around him was Omar Ibn Al Khattab. To give you an idea of his size, think of someone like Shaquille O’Neal. Omar used to get on a horse and his feet would drag on the ground because he was so tall. Upon hearing the news of the passing of the Beloved ﷺ, this giant powerful man collapsed onto his knees and cried with heavy tears.
To most people, their parents and children are the dearest and most beloved to them. If anyone was to try and harm any of them, it is expected, and justifiably so, that they would get extremely upset and immediately jump to the defense of their honor. For us Muslims, the Beloved ﷺ is more dear than our parents, our spouses, our children, and even ourselves. In fact, there are people nowadays that would trade everything just to see him visit them in their dreams. He is the one who we believe was sent as a Mercy. He is the one who we are indebted to for the Message of love and peace that he came with. He is the one who brought the teaching that resulted in the whole Muslim civilization of the past, which the current Western civilization is indebted to for all their scientific discoveries and preservation and dissemination of the Greek literary works.
More is known about the Beloved ﷺ than anyone else in history. We know his genealogy. We know all the events that took place right before his birth. We know how he was born and even the manner of how he landed onto the ground as a newborn during his delivery. We know about his younger days. We know about his travels. We know about his mannerisms. We know about his growing up. We know about his marriage. We know about his children. We know about his family. We know about what people used to say about him. We know about his interactions. We know his exact Arabic accent. We know about his companions. We can describe his way of speech and how he sat, stood, and walked. We know his skin tone and we know his physique to the most intricate of details. We even know how many gray hairs he had and how his eyebrows were and even his eyes to the details of his eyelashes. We know his favorite food and how he ate it. Many of us try to emulate him in our daily actions, to the point of how to enter the bathroom and how to exit it. We all conduct our acts of worship in exactly the same manner that he did. We can sit down for hours, days, and even months talking about the Beloved ﷺ and we would not be done.
This level of love is quite uncommon in modern times and comes across as odd. But it is real, and it is what Muslims feel towards the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. However, for this love to be authentic, it must manifest in the form of mercy to the world. Anyone who claims to be upholding the honour of the Beloved ﷺ through acts of violent nihilism and senseless violence is in fact dishonouring the very teachings of the Beloved ﷺ. What we Muslims have recently failed to do is to relay this message of love to non-Muslims. It is something that should be done in action and not simply in words. But I hope that at least at the theoretical level it can be comprehended why when it comes to our Beloved ﷺ, Muslims are in too deep of love to accept anything viewed as disrespect towards our most dearly Beloved of all Creation.