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Mercy in Medina

The brutal murder of the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was shameful for any civilised society. Arif Mohammed Khan writes.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2011 17:23 IST

The brutal murder of the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was shameful for any civilised society. But the statement of the leading clerics forbidding mourning his death added insult to injury. Their behaviour needs to be scrutinised on the yardstick of the Koran and sunnah (Prophet Mohammad’s practices) as these two sources constitute the basis of both morality and law in Islam.

The prophet’s biographies have instances of his dealings with both his friends and foes. After his ordainment, Mohammad stayed for about 13 years in Mecca. This period is marked by hostility from the Meccan elite who persecuted the prophet and his followers, forcing them to migrate to Medina. Subsequently, Medina too was attacked and besieged.

How did the prophet deal with these enemies who oppressed and humiliated him and his followers, forcing them to leave their hometown? After taking over Mecca, when the Meccans were expecting retaliation, he told them: “Go, for you are free” and recited a verse of the Koran: “No reproach on you this day; may God forgive you and he is the mostmerciful of those who show mercy” (12.92).

Medina was also not free from detractors. Here they tried to damage the reputation of the prophet and harm the Muslim community. They were led by Abdulla ibn Ubai, who had notionally accepted Islam but nursed deep animosity towards the prophet.

The Bukhari (a collection of the prophet’s narrations) reports at least two episodes where Abdulla bin Ubai used insulting language but the prophet ignored it. On the occasion of Uhud, when Quraysh had organised an armed attack on Medina, about 1,000 Medinites marched under the leadership of the prophet to repel the aggressors. Abdulla and 300 associates walked some distance and then abruptly withdrew. This was a case of treachery that endangered Medina. But the prophet ignored it.

In 626 AD, during his return from Banu Mustaleeq, Mohammad and his people stayed at a camp. Here one immigrant and a local had an altercation over water. Abdulla used this to inflame bitterness and, according to the Koran, threatened to throw Mohammad out of Medina. Something more sinister took place during the return journey. It is known in Islamic history as the episode of slander, described in the Koran in chapter 24 (Noor). Abdulla and his associates started a malicious campaign to tarnish the reputation of Mohammad by launching a smear campaign against Aisha, the prophet’s wife.

It is ironic that in this campaign, Abdulla was able to enlist the support of some Muslims, including a poor cousin of Aisha named Mistah, who received financial assistance from her father on a regular basis. After the mist cleared, Abu Bakr promised not to help Mistah anymore. The Koran disapproved of this and a verse was revealed: “Let not those among you endued with grace and amplitude of means resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen those in want” (24.22). Abu Bakr recanted and resumed helping his kin.

And how was Abdulla dealt with? He received no punishment. After his death, the prophet gave his shirt for his shroud and led his funeral prayer. The Bukhari reports that when Umar tried to stop him and referred to a Koranic verse saying: “If you ask 70 times for their forgiveness, Allah will not forgive them, the prophet said: I will ask more than 70 times.”

The Koran commands Muslims to emulate the prophet and declares: “You have indeed in the messenger of god a beautiful pattern of conduct” (33.21). The beauty of his conduct consists in forgiveness, charity and compassion. Surely the inhumane Pakistani law on blasphemy and the insensitive and cruel behaviour of the clergy do not fit into the compassionate profile of Prophet Mohammad.

(Arif Mohammed Khan is a former union minister)

*The views expressed by the author are personal