The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us. To a Muslim no other month is as meritorious as this particular month is when the reward of every good deed done is multiplied several times. It is not difficult to understand why the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that fasting is like a curtain against the Hellfire. It is also the month when the Qur’an was sent down as a guide to mankind – with clear signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong. As instructed in the Qur’an every able bodied Muslim who is not ill or on a journey is obligated to fast the entire month from dawn to dusk (2:185). In that practice, Muslims are also reminded that it is something that was also prescribed to people who came before them so that they may learn self-restraint (2:183). Thus, teaching self-restraint is the essence of fasting.
Probably at no other time in America is this message more relevant than this Ramadan. Truly, it has been a very difficult month for most Muslim Americans who are viciously attacked both verbally and physically by the anti-Muslim bigots and chauvinists. Last week a Bangladeshi-American taxi cab driver was stabbed severely by a young white Christian student who not too long ago was an embedded photo-journalist with the American forces in Afghanistan. The published reports also suggest that the attacker was affiliated with a group that had supported the construction of a Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan. If this report is true then it is perhaps not difficult to understand what religiously intolerant messages spewed out by bigots -- Christian ministers like Franklin Graham and John Hagee, and Republican politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani -- can do to anyone.
For the GOP, i.e., the Republicans Islamophobia is the new anti-communism. As a result of such onslaught on Islam, many Muslim houses of worship are vandalized and discrimination against Muslims is at an all time high. On August 28 equipment at the construction site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee was set on fire. In June, someone broke the sign at the future site of the center. Previously, the words "Not Welcome" were spray-painted on the sign. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, a Christian church wants to burn the Qur’an.
A recently published Pew Research Center poll reported that more Americans now have unfavorable than favorable views of Islam by 38 percent to 30 percent. In 2005, it was reversed: 41 percent had favorable views, 36 percent unfavorable. Republicans voiced negative views of Muslims by more than 2-1, with 54 voicing unfavorable views and 21 percent giving positive ones. Obviously, America is failing in its role as a nation that values religious tolerance.
In spite of such hateful barrages, Muslims should practice self-restraint and avoid any heated discussion that can be counterproductive. They have the noble examples of their beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) and his companions to follow.
The tenth year of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (S) was a sad one. He had lost his wife – Khadija (R) and uncle - Abi Talib who had tried to protect him for years against the pagans. To make things worse, Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet and an ardent enemy of Islam, had now become the chief of the clan; and the Prophet was ill-treated as never before. On one occasion a passer-by leaned over his gate and tossed a piece of putrefying offal into his cooking pot; and once when he was praying in the courtyard of his house, a man threw over him a sheep’s uterus filthy with blood and excrement. On another occasion, when the Prophet (S) was coming from the Ka’bah, a man took a handful of dirt and threw it in his face and head. When he returned home, one of his daughters washed him clean of it, weeping while the Prophet (S) reassured her, “Weep not, little daughter, Allah will protect your father.”
It was then that he decided to seek help from the Thaqif, the people of Ta’if – a decision that eloquently reflected the apparent gravity of his situation in Makkah. Accompanied by his disciple, Zaid ibn Haritha, Muhammad (S) came to Ta’if. On his arrival, he went straight to the house of three brothers who were the leaders of Thaqif at that time, the sons of ‘Amr ibn Umayyah. When the Prophet (S) invited them to Islam and asked them to help him against his opponents, they abused him verbally. So the Prophet rose to leave them, perhaps intending to try elsewhere in Ta’if; but when he had left them they stirred their slaves and retainers to insult him and shout at him, until a crowd of people were gathered together against him who started pelting stones at him. His feet started bleeding. Zaid himself was injured with a head injury. The Prophet could not walk any longer. But the unbelievers put him on his feet and again resumed throwing stones at him. Ultimately, the Prophet (S) was forced to take refuge in a private orchard. Once he had entered it the crowd began to disperse, and, tethering his camel to a palm tree, he made for the shelter of a vine and sat in its shade.
When he felt himself to be in safety and at peace, Muhammad (S) prayed: “O God, unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness before men. O Most Merciful of the merciful, You are the Lord of the weak. And You are my Lord, Unto whose hands will you entrust me, unto some far off stranger who will ill-treat me? Or unto a foe whom You have empowered against me? I care not, so You be not wroth with me. But Your favoring help – that were for me the broader way and the wider scope! I take refuge in the Light of Your Countenance whereby all darknesses are illumined and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest You make descend Your anger upon me, or lest Your wrath beset me. Yet is it Yours to reproach until You are well pleased. There is no power and no might except through You.”
After he had made the supplication, Muhammad (S) looked up. He saw a cloud providing shade to him and in that cloud was seated the Angel Jibril (Gabriel). Jibril said, “Allah has heard what your community has said and He had also witnessed what the people of Ta’if had done to you. He has sent you the Angel who is entrusted with the mountains. Whatever you command, he will carry it out.”
The Angel who is entrusted with the mountains approached Muhammad (S) and said, “O Muhammad, I am the Angle of Mountains. I am at your command. If you command me I shall destroy this town by smashing it with the Mountain Akhshab.”
At this moment of trial, what the Prophet of mercy had to say simply surprised the Angel. The Prophet (S) said, “I beg forgiveness for them. Even if these people do not accept Islam, I do hope from Allah that there will emerge from there a people submissive unto Him who will not associate any partners to Him.”
No man has ever uttered such words for those who caused so much suffering. But such was the person Muhammad (S). No wonder that he is described in the Qur’an as the Rahmatal-lil ‘alameen -- the mercy to the entire universe (21:107)!
In later years, when asked by his wife A’isha (R) if there was ever a more troubling moment in his life than that of Uhud, the Prophet (S) replied, “I had the most troubling time in Ta’if.”
It was all too natural for the Prophet of Islam to forgive all his tormentors on the day of the conquest of Makkah some ten years later. After entering the city of his birth from where he was forced to flee, Muhammad (S) performed the ritual tawaf (encircling of the Ka'bah) on his camel, surrounded by the Muslims. When he had finished, he said, 'There no divinity except Allah and He has no partner. Men and women of Quraysh be not proud for all are equal; we are all the sons of Adam, and Adam was made of dust.' Then he recited this verse to them:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know each another. Surely the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is All-knowing, All-aware. (Qur’an xlix.13)
After this he said to them: 'O Quraysh, what do you think I am going to do to you?' The people thought carefully before answering because they knew that according to the laws of war they could all be taken prisoners. They also knew, however, that the Prophet Muhammad (S) was generous, so they replied, ‘You will treat us as a kind nephew and a generous brother would.' To this he replied with the words used by the Prophet Joseph when his brothers came to Egypt: 'God forgives you and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.' Later the Prophet (S) went to the hill of Safa and there the crowd followed him and surged forward, taking his hand one by one, to declare their faith in Islam. He then turned to the Ka'bah and, pointing his staff at the three hundred and sixty-five idols, which were placed there, recited from the Qur’an:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
… Truth has come and falsehood has vanished away.
Lo! Falsehood is ever bound to vanish.
At this, each idol fell over onto its face. Together with his followers the Prophet (S) then proceeded to purify the Ka'bah, after which he ordered Bilal (RA), the Abyssinian companion, to climb on top of it and perform the call to prayer.
Since then the call to prayer has been heard five times a day in Makkah. The Ka'bah has served the purpose for which it was built by Abraham thousands of years ago -- as a sanctuary for the worship of Allah, our Creator, and Makkah continues to be the spiritual center of Islam. That nascent faith of Islam has now grown to become the faith of some 1.6 billion people in our planet. No fear-mongering and xenophobia will be able to stop a faith that is global and growing fast.
(Speech delivered at the Ramadan celebration in the Trinity Church, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania on August 28, 2010. The stories are extracted from the author’s upcoming book – The Book of Devotional Stories in Islam, pub. A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.)