How the Prophet ﷺ responded to insults.
“Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research is a research institute which aims to instill conviction and inspire contribution based on mainstream Islamic texts.”
One of the most common attempts to undermine the character, and therefore the message, of the Prophet ﷺ, is the claim that he overcame his foes with terror, only to rule them with cruelty.
The most powerful remedy we have to such claims is the countless examples of the Prophet ﷺ not only looking past the insults and attacks that came his way, but time and time again responding with something even better, as a living example of the Qur’anic verse:
“Repel that which is evil with that which is better”
Here are 6 examples of this beautiful character that billions have emulated throughout history.
The insults of Arwa bint Harb, the wife of Abu Lahab
Arwâ b. Harb (also known as Um Jameel, the wife of Abu Lahab) would follow the Prophet ﷺ around to hurt and humiliate him and used to taunt him, “Mudhammam (the dispraised) we have denied, and his religion we have loathed, and his command we have defied (مذمم أبينا، ودينه قلينا، وأمره عصينا)!”
Instead of responding to her, he ﷺ would simply find solace in saying to his Companions, “Don’t you see how Allah diverts from me the curses and insults of Quraysh? They insult Mudhammam, and they curse Mudhammam, while I am Muhammad (the Praised One)!” He quickly calmed the situation and found optimism at a time where it seemed impossible to detect a silver lining.
We, too, should see that the cartoons and drawings that people claim to be his likeness are in fact far removed from our beloved Prophet ﷺ.
Seeking Allah’s guidance, not wrath, for the people of Daws
When Tufayl b. Amr ad-Dawsi (ra) first visited Mecca he was fearful of being bewitched by the Prophet ﷺ and even placed cotton in his ears while circling the Ka‘ba. Nevertheless, he embraced Islam shortly thereafter.
When he carried this message back to his people, however, they shunned him and adamantly refused. Abu Hurayra (ra) reports that Tufayl b. ‘Amr (ra) then traveled back to the Prophet ﷺ and said,
“O Messenger of Allah, Daws has defied [your call] so invoke Allah against them. He ﷺ said, “O Allah, guide Daws and bring them forth [as Muslims].”
Nearly a decade later, Tufayl b. ‘Amr (ra) migrated with eighty families—now Muslims—to Madinah.
Protecting the trusts of all his persecutors
When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ migrated from Mecca, he had many of his persecutors’ belongings with him for safekeeping. His integrity was never compromised, even though these individuals had expelled his Companions and subjected them to persecution.
‘Â’isha (ra) said, “He ﷺ instructed ‘Ali (ra) to stay behind in Mecca, in order to return all the trusts the Messenger of Allah ﷺ had for people. There was nobody in Mecca (even his enemies!) who had valuables that he feared for except that he kept them with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, due to the honesty and trustworthiness that was known [to all] about him.
Thus, ‘Ali (ra) stayed back for three days and three nights to deliver everything entrusted by the people to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ back to them, and then caught up with him ﷺ after completing that task.”
Teaching and practising the highest standards
Despite the Quran affirming that the insults of Quraysh tightened his chest with pain, he ﷺ never stooped to reciprocating in kind. In fact, he inevitably took the higher road of not responding at all, hopeful that this would one day penetrate their harsh hearts, following Allah’s injunction to: “Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend” [Fussilat (41): 34].
On one occasion, the Prophet ﷺ silently smiled when Abu Bakr (ra), his most noble Companion, refrained from responding to a person who was insulting him. But when Abu Bakr (ra) eventually spoke up, the Prophet ﷺ became angry and left.
He ﷺ later explained, “An angel was with you, responding on your behalf. But when you said back to him some of what he said, a devil arrived, and it is not for me to sit with devils.” The Prophet ﷺ taught thereby that when a person stoops to the level of those who insult them they allow the devil to steer their course.
“Today is the day of mercy, no blame is upon you.”
The Muslims ride into Mecca after the conquest, led by the Prophet ﷺ, who kept his head lowered out of humility for Allah to the point that his beard almost touched his saddle. It reached him ﷺ that some were saying, “O Abu Sufyân, today is the day of [your people’s] slaughter. Today, the Ka‘ba is not a sanctuary.”
In response, he ﷺ announced, “Rather, this is the day in which Allah will glorify the Ka‘ba, and the day when the Ka‘ba will be garbed.” In another narration: “Today is the day of mercy. Today Allah will honor Quraysh.” After securing the city, everyone gathered before the Prophet ﷺ at the Ka‘ba, and he asked them tenderly, “O gathering of Quraysh, what do you think I will do to you?” They said, “Only good, [O] noble brother, son of a noble brother.”
Ending the moment of suspense, he ﷺ declared, “
I will only say to you what Joseph said to his brothers, ‘No blame will there be upon you today’
[Yoosuf (12): 92].
Go, for you are unbound.” The Prophet ﷺ rose above it all, immortalizing himself with this grace in one of the most remarkable events in human history.
Responding to physical attacks with a smile
Anas (ra) said, “I was walking with the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and he was wearing a Najrâni cloak with a rough collar. A Bedouin man caught up with him, then violently pulled him by his cloak, causing the cloak to tear, and leaving its collar [hanging] on the neck of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ.
I looked at the Messenger of Allah ﷺ’s neck, and the cloak’s collar had left marks from how roughly he had snatched [it]. Then, he said, ‘O Muhammad, order [them] that I be given from the wealth of Allah that you have!’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ turned to him, smiled, and then ordered that he be given something.”
May Allah give us all the patience of the Prophet ﷺ!