Contemporary and Social Issues

Caricatures, Violence & Freedom of Speech – How Did the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) Teach Us to React?

How Did the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) Teach Us to React?

Sarmad Naveed, Canada

As if the world wasn’t already dealing with enough.

In recent days, France has been made to deal with atrocities which no individual, community or country should ever have to deal with. First, there was the horrendous beheading of a school teacher, Samuel Paty, on 16 October 2020. Then on October 29 2020, the ghastly stabbing of three people in Nice. According to accounts, one of the victims was practically beheaded. 

Such inhumanity has no place in our world.

The Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) categorically condemned these attacks when he said:

‘The murder and beheading of Samuel Paty and the attack in Nice earlier today must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Such grievous attacks are completely against the teachings of Islam. Our religion does not permit terrorism or extremism under any circumstances and anyone who claims otherwise acts against the teachings of the Holy Quran and contrary to the noble character of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). 

As the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of the victims and to the French nation. Let it be clear that our condemnation and hatred of such attacks is not something new but has always been our position and stance. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (peace be upon him) and his Successors have always categorically rejected all forms of violence or bloodshed in the name of religion.’

Yet another unfortunate byproduct of these events is the ensuing conversation surrounding Islam. At the outset, it must be clear that in the case of abhorrent acts such as the ones which have taken place in France, the only thing which they can be attributed to is sheer barbarity and inhumanity. 

But to the dismay of the overwhelming majority of peace-loving Muslims around the world, the perpetrators attribute themselves to a religion which considers them outside its pale, for there is not even the slightest allowance for such crimes in the religion of Islam. 

In their deluded sense of valour and ‘service’ to faith, such people only counter the true teachings of Islam and play their role in tarnishing the image of a pristine religion in the view of others. As His Holiness (aba) further stated:

‘The fallout from this heinous act has further exacerbated the tensions between the Islamic world and the West and between Muslims living in France and the rest of society. We consider this to be a source of deep regret and a means of further undermining the peace and stability of the world. We must all join together to root out all forms of extremism and to encourage mutual understanding and tolerance. From our perspective, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community will spare no effort in our mission to foster a better understanding of the true and peaceful teachings of Islam in the world.’

These events have stemmed from what has now become a long-standing debate of freedom of speech and expression, in lieu of the original printing of caricatures depicting the holy founder and Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (sa) in 2015, and then their reprinting in recent days. Muslims are taught from a young age to love the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) more than anyone else in the world. For Muslims, these are not just words but an actual reality.

Thus, seeing their most beloved master depicted in such a heinous manner truly does injure the sentiments of Muslims to a degree beyond words. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) serves as a guide, as the perfect model who embodied the true, peaceful, beautiful teachings of Islam and established examples of how to live life in every facet and every situation. 

If this is the case, and he truly was the perfect model, then surely he must have set examples of what one should do when he himself was ridiculed, attacked and abused. This begs the question; in this instance; what would Muhammad (sa) do?

The Holy Prophet (sa) embodied the teachings of the Holy Qur’an to perfection. God Almighty states in the Holy Qur’an:

‘And let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice.’ [1]

Thus, no matter the enmity, hatred, vile and abuse which the Holy Prophet (sa) faced – indeed he faced more than any prophet in history – he always reacted in the kindest and benevolent way. 

Take for example an incident of a man who wished to test the limits of the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) tolerance and forbearance. He went in the presence of the Holy Prophet (sa) to retrieve a loan, three days before it was due. This man approached the Prophet Muhammad (sa) while he was accompanying a funeral possession, and pulled the covering of the Holy Prophet (sa) with such force that it fell from his shoulders. Then he began screaming at the Holy Prophet (sa) demanding his loan be repaid. He verbally abused not only the Holy Prophet (sa) but his family as well, saying, ‘I know you, the sons of Bani Muttalib delay in repayments.’One of the Prophet’s (sa) most loyal and devoted companions, Hazrat Umar (ra) was standing beside his master as this took place. He was enraged and infuriated, upon seeing his beloved master being abused in such a manner and said, ‘O enemy of God, how dare you treat the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) with such rudeness.’ He was just about ready to attack this person, but he saw the reaction of the Holy Prophet (sa) – a lesson for all to this day.

Had it been permissible to resort to violence as retaliation for the Holy Prophet (sa) being abused, then surely he would have allowed Hazrat Umar (ra) to do so. Instead, the most Noble Prophet (sa) stood there and smiled. He very calmly and gently said to Hazrat Umar (ra), 

‘You should have advised me to repay the loan in a goodly manner and taught him the decent manner of demanding the return of the loan. O ‘Umar, now you go and repay his loan and give him some measure of dates in addition to the loan.’ 

Upon seeing this kind, gentle and benevolent response to his unwarranted and harsh attack against him, this man accepted the Holy Prophet (sa) as being the true Prophet of God and became a Muslim. [2]

Upon being abused, the Holy Prophet (sa) could have allowed violent measures to be taken. Instead, he used this opportunity to exemplify and exhibit the true teachings of Islam. 

On another occasion, a Bedouin ran up to the Prophet (sa) and pulled his cloak with such force that it bruised his neck. Then he vehemently demanded to be given money. In this moment, the Holy Prophet (sa) did not instruct for this person, who had acted in such an unbecoming manner to the most beloved Prophet of God to be attacked; instead, the Holy Prophet (sa) remained calm, smiled, and instructed that the Bedouin should be given some money. [3]

Hazrat Aisha (ra), wife of the Holy Prophet (sa) relates that there were people who would approach him and say ‘curse and destruction be upon you.’ One day, Hazrat Aisha (ra) replied in kind to these people, using the same words against them. Upon hearing this, the Prophet Muhammad (sa) advised her to speak gently and refrain from using harsh words, despite the fact that the same words were used against him. [4] Then he went on to advise her, ‘O Aisha, gentleness, in whatever thing it is found, adds beauty to it. And whichever affair lacks leniency develops flaw and ugliness.’ [5]

Perhaps one of the most painful incidents for any Muslim to hear from the life of the Holy Prophet (sa) is that which took place in Taif. The Holy Prophet (sa) had gone merely to promote the message of peace, love and harmony, and in return was pelted with stones to the extent that his shoes became filled with blood. Afterwards, as he sat in sorrow, an angel came to him, offering to crush the people who had abused him in such a ghastly manner between the two mountains.  This was yet another opportunity for the Holy Prophet (sa) to respond in a violent manner. But instead, he set the most pristine example. He replied saying he did not want them to be crushed; instead, he prayed for their progenies to be able to realize the true, beautiful teachings of Islam. [6]

To those who erroneously claim to uphold the honour of the Holy Prophet (sa); which one of these examples support their heinous actions? If they were true defenders of the Holy Prophet’s (sa) honour, then they would react in such a peaceful benevolent manner, as the Holy Prophet (sa) did. If they truly defended his honour, then they would use such opportunities to display the true teachings of Islam, just as the Holy Prophet (sa) did, rather than turning people away by committing atrocities and then falsely ascribing them to the faith which they claim to follow. 

Thus, it becomes absolutely clear; no matter how injured the sentiments of Muslims may be, no matter how much Muslims may love the Holy Prophet (sa), Islam, nor the example of the Holy Prophet (sa) allow for any sort of violence. 

In light of these events, another point of conversation which has resurged pertains the philosophies of freedom of speech and expression. These are principles which Islam absolutely supports. In fact, early Muslims sacrificed their lives to uphold the principles of individual liberty, freedom on conscience and religion.

One of the fundamental teachings of Islam is ‘There is no compulsion in religion.‘ [7]

In the words of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), ‘What a clear and unequivocal statement in defense of freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.’

However, Islam also teaches that there must be a framework in order to ensure that whilst these freedoms remain intact, everyone can live harmoniously within society.

For example, God Almighty states:

‘And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance.’ [8]

Islam teaches that no matter how much one’s religious sentiments may be injured, one should not respond in a like manner, otherwise the result would be what we see happening today; the sentiments – even the lives – of others being harmed, all in the name of free speech and expression. 

In order to maintain a harmonious society, though differing opinions may exist, the sentiments of others must be taken into account. 

There is no example more perfect of this, than that of the Holy Prophet (sa). A Muslims was quarrelling with a Jewish person who declared Moses (as) to be of higher rank than the Holy Prophet (sa). They both presented the matter before the Holy Prophet (sa), who beautifully replied,

‘Do not give me superiority over Moses (as) and thus disrupt the peaceful atmosphere of Medina.’ [9]

Simply put, what use is there of expressing freedom of speech, if people use its guise to hinder and eliminate the peace and harmony of societies? Thus, through his profound humility and most esteemed example, the Holy Prophet (sa) established this example of what true freedom of speech and expression are. 

If the world can (or at least should) unite on one thing, it’s that incidents such as those which have taken place in France have no place in this world. 

And if Muslims’ sentiments have been injured, then the blueprint of how to react is right before them. Let not a divergent few hinder or blemish the true teachings of Islam. Let them not blaspheme the pure teachings and the pristine example of the Holy Prophet (sa) by claiming to defend them, but acting in a manner which completely contradicts them. Instead, let them use such occasions to show the world what the true teachings of Islam are, as His Holiness (aba) states,

‘It is up to Muslims to stand up and reject all forms of extremism and terrorism. Wherever and whenever such attacks take place they must be condemned in the strongest possible terms… It is the task of Ahmadi Muslims to show the true teachings of Islam which are of peace love, mercy and compassion.’ [10]

Sarmad Naveed is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who graduated from the Ahmadiyya Institute for Languages and Theology in Canada. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and coordinates the newly launched Facts from Fiction section. He has also appeared as a panelist and host of programmes on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) such as ‘Ahmadiyyat: Roots to Branches.’


[1] The Holy Qur’an 5:9

[2] Mustadrak Hakim Kitab Ma‘rifatus Sahabah Dhikr Islam Zaid bin Sa‘nah, vol.3, p.605. Tabaqatul Kubra by Ibn Sa‘d, vol.1, p.88 

[3] BukhariKitabul Nafaqat wa Kitabul Libas, Bab Al-Bard.

[4] BukhariKitabul Adab, Bab Lam yakunin Nabi Fahsha.

[5] BukhariKitabul Adab, Bab Lam yakunin Nabi Fahsha.

[6] Bukhari Kitab Bad’ul Khalq

[7] The Holy Qur’an 2:257

[8] The Holy Qur’an 6:109

[9] BukhariKitabut Tafsir, Suratul A‘raf, Bab wa lammaJa’ Musa. 

[10] Friday Sermon March 24th 2017