In “What would Muhammad do?: History suggests the prophet was more pragmatic than followers rioting in his name,” in the LA Times (thanks to James), Jamil Momand, a professor of biochemistry at Cal State Los Angeles, says that the cartoon ragers should follow Muhammad’s example:
Some Muslims may say that public opinion does not matter when it comes to Islam. Yet if one examines the life of the prophet Muhammad, one would conclude that he carefully considered public opinion. When he negotiated a treaty with Arabs who were at war with him, he did not insist that his title as “prophet” be placed in the document (this act horrified his companions, to the point where they thought it was sacrilege). Instead, he had his name written as simply Muhammad, the son of Abdulla. This placated his enemy and was essential to successfully concluding the treaty, which gave the Muslims an extended period of peace that allowed them to publicize Islam. In fact, the opportunity the treaty created may be responsible for Islam’s existence.
Yes, the prophet cared deeply about public opinion. Now if only Muslims would follow his lead.
The problem is, the cartoon ragers may believe that they are already following Muhammad’s lead.
Momand thus joins Amir Taheri in suggesting that today’s violent cartoon ragers would have displeased the founder of Islam himself. Taheri asserted in the Opinion Journal yesterday that “The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade.” Both Momand and Taheri are only looking at part of the evidence about Muhammad, and generalizing without warrant.
In fact, the prophet asked his followers to assassinate poets who had insulted him — Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan — and rejoiced at their deaths. When the killer of ‘Asma reported his deed to Muhammad, Muhammad replied: “You have helped Allah and His Apostle, O Umayr!” (The Sira of Ibn Ishaq, 995-996).
What was Abu ‘Afak’s offense? He composed a poem praising some of Muhammad’s opponents, and lamenting their defeat by the Muslims: “A rider who came to them split them in two, saying ‘Permitted,’ ‘Forbidden,’ all sorts of things” — which was a small jab at the legalism of Islam. Muhammad accordingly asked for his death. When ‘Asma bint Marwan heard he was dead, she was angry, and her poem calls in turn for the death of Muhammad after Abu ‘Afak was murdered: “Is there no man of pride who would attack [Muhammad] by surprise and cut off the hopes of those who expect aught from him?” But as a woman in 7th century Arabia, she was in little position to make good on this call or influence anyone else to do so. Muhammad had no reason to treat her as a serious threat. Nonetheless he called for — and received — her death also.
On another occasion Muhammad was at prayer when his enemies provoked him with a vile deed: “Narrated “˜Abdullah: While the Prophet was in the state of prostration, surrounded by a group of people from [the] Mushrikun [unbelievers] of the Quraish, “˜Uqba bin Abi Mu”ait came and brought the intestines of a camel and threw them on the back of the Prophet.”
The prophet found in this undeniable humiliation no occasion for mercy: “The Prophet did not raise his head from prostration till Fatima (i.e. his daughter) came and removed those intestines from his back, and invoked evil on whoever had done (that evil deed). The Prophet said, “˜O Allah! Destroy the chiefs of Quraish, O Allah! Destroy Abu Jahl bin Hisham, “˜Utba bin Rabi”a, Shaiba bin Rabi”a, “˜Uqba bin Abi Mu”ait, “˜Umaiya bin Khalaf (or Ubai bin Kalaf).” Later on I saw all of them killed during the battle of Badr and their bodies were thrown into a well except the body of Umaiya or Ubai, because he was a fat man, and when he was pulled, the parts of his body got separated before he was thrown into the well.” (Bukhari, vol. 4, book 58, no. 3185 — print edition numbering)
In sum, there is ample evidence that this was not a man who thought a soft answer turned away wrath, or who was interested in turning the other cheek and reacting with gentleness when insulted or humiliated. The cartoon ragers may well see in him not only one whose honor they must avenge, but whose example in the face of insults they must follow.