Death for Criticizing Prophet Muhammad?

28 October, 2016
Q Is it imperative that the punishment for criticizing the Prophet or Islam should be death? This is based on the Prophet sentencing a poet who lived in Makkah to death because of the abuse he hurled on Islam and the Prophet.

Answer

This answer first appeared at www.arabnews.com. It is republished here with kind permission with slight editorial modifications. 

Salam Dear Questioner,

Thank you for your question.

When the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered Makkah, and it fell to the Muslims, its people were extremely perturbed. For twenty years they had been fighting Islam.

They persecuted its followers when they were among them; killed some of them; tried to assassinate the Prophet (peace be upon him) who had to leave the city at night when the assassins were at his doorstep. Then they raised armies and forged alliances trying to suppress Islam and annihilate its adherents.

God granted him victory and he marched into the city. Had he been anyone other than Muhammad, God’s messenger, he would have shown elation at his achievement. Conquerors at all times would ransack the capitals of their adversaries.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) entered the city showing great humility before God. The only thing he destroyed was the images and statues the unbelievers claimed to be deities. By doing so, he practically showed the people who worshipped these statues and images that they were inanimate objects that do nothing.

Before his entry, he gave a pledge to the people of Makkah, telling them that whoever went into the mosque, or stayed indoors, or went to their leader’s home were safe.

However, he named a group of people, totaling nineteen in number, sentencing them to death. These were the ones who spared no effort in trying to bring Islam down and harm its people and prophet. In practice only four of them were executed.

At the time, poetry was the most effective mode of propaganda, and a fine poet would be compared to a controller of a broadcasting service in our time. The poet you mention, Abdullah ibn Al-Zubari, was for many years the mouthpiece of idolatry, doing his utmost to present Islam and the Prophet (peace be upon him) in bad colors.

As the Muslim army approached Makkah, he fled to Najran in the south of Arabia. Hasan ibn Thabit, the Prophet’s companion who was a fine poet himself, attacked him with one line of poetry, and that was sufficient for Abdullah ibn Al-Zubari to reflect on his position much more deeply. He realized that he had to succumb to Islam, the word of truth. He came back and met the Prophet, declaring his repentance in four lines of his best poetry. The Prophet, as usual, pardoned him.

The same was true of Kaab ibn Zuhair, another fine poet who did his utmost to mar the image of Islam. His brother, Bujair, also a fine poet, was a Muslim. Their father, Zuhair ibn Abi Sulmah, is still studied in schools and universities all over the Arab world as one of the finest poets of the pre-Islamic era.

At the time of the fall of Makkah to Islam, Kaab went into hiding. Later, when the Prophet returned to Madinah, he went to see the Prophet after Fajr Prayers in the mosque, where he delivered a fine poem declaring himself a Muslim. This poem, starting with a few lines about love, is still studied and widely quoted. Both Abdullah ibn Al-Zubari and Kaab ibn Zuhair are considered among the Prophet’s companions, not opponents.

I suppose I need to say no more about the question, yet I want to ask: Why should anyone abuse the Prophet of Islam? No one asks them to believe in Islam. They have their own faith, but why abuse the man who brought us God’s guidance? Only malice and spite produce such an attitude.

Salman Rushdie thought that by abusing the Prophet he would rise to fame and earn a great amount of money in royalties for his Satanic Verses. Such an attitude is neither civilized nor respectable. Such an attitude spoils relations between nations and perpetuates hatred.

The cartoons published in European newspapers a few years ago do not advocate free speech; they claim a right to ridicule and abuse others. This is totally unacceptable, even by Western standards.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.