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Tweets on Prophet Muhammad: Islamic Thoughts

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By Dr. Wael Shihab
Head of Shari`ah Department- Onislam.net
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A critical fair look at the Saudi blogger’s tweets shows that he has some misconceptions about the noble Prophet.

Like millions of people, Muslims and non-Muslims, I have followed up the media debates and fuss over the case of the Saudi blogger, Hamza Kashgari, whose controversial tweets on Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) sparked outrage few days ago. On the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday, Kashgari posted his debatable tweets expressing some of his personal feelings and conceptions regarding the noble Prophet (peace and blessing so of Allah be upon him). Though the blogger’s tweets are really shocking, they should be discussed and fairly approached in order to refute any misconception he may have about Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

Also by Dr. Shihab

According to reports, there are many calls from among the Saudis to punish the 23-year-old blogger for what they percieve as "highly despicable irresponsible behavior and terribly outrageous attitudes." Moreover, some Saudi scholars declared the blogger “apostate” and ordered his arrest over the “blasphemous” tweet. Malaysia, where the blogger was staying, deported him to Saudi Arabia, where he faces the death penalty. The Malaysian home ministry defended its decision to deport the blogger, saying the charges against him would be decided by Saudi authorities. Though Kashgari has issued a statement in which he apologized for his remarks and announced his repentance, Saudi scholars will judge whether the blogger has repented from his insults against the Prophet.[1]

 

 

 

 

Shocking Tweets

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On the Prophet’s birthday occasion, Kashgari tweeted, "I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don't understand about you,” “I will not pray for you," and “On your birthday, I will not bow to you. I won’t kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more.”

Many Muslims see the above tweets shocking only because the young blogger is a Saudi Muslim. Saudis are known for their conservative understating of Islam. However, the reactions that have followed the case so far need to be reviewed along the line of history. I will begin this by stating clearly that history bears witness to the fact that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to tolerate criticism and to pardon offenders.

 

Blogger’s Misunderstanding

The young blogger has groundless notions about the Prophet (PBUH) and about Islamic values.

A critical fair look at the blogger’s tweets on the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) shows that he has some misconceptions about the noble Prophet. Kashgari himself said in his controversial tweets that he does not understand many things about the Prophet as follows:

I have loved things about you . . . and there is a lot I don't understand about you”.

The young blogger has groundless notions about the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and about Islamic values. For instance, he says “On your birthday, I will not bow to you . With regard to this statement, it seems Kashgari fails to know that in Islam it is not originally allowed to bow or prostrate before anyone except God. The Qur’an unequivocally states, {O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good - that you may succeed.}[2]

At-Tirmidhi quoted Ibn Malik, may Allah be pleased with him, as saying: “Once a man said to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): ‘O Allah's Messenger! When a man meets his brother or friend, is he allowed to bow to him (in a show of extraordinary veneration)?' The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), said: ‘No’. The man asked: ‘Then should he embrace and kiss him?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), said: ‘No’ and the man asked again: ‘Should he just shake hands with him?' The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: ‘Yes.’"

Therefore, the young blogger clearly expressed his love for many things he knows about the Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him). He, at the same time, admitted that he doesn’t understand many things about the noble Prophet.

 

Misunderstanding Isn’t Apostasy

The best way in approaching the Saudi young blogger is to kindly and wisely educate him and refute his misconceptions about Islam and the noble Prophet.

Misunderstanding Islamic values or the Prophet’s sunnah does not per se amount to apostasy. The Glorious Qur’an makes it clear that Allah Almighty accepts the repentance of the wrongdoers who commit a mistake because of misunderstanding and ignorance.  Allah says, {Allah accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.}[3]

Commenting on the above Qur’anic verse, ibn Kathir says in his Tafsir: Allah states that He accepts repentance of the servant who commits an error in ignorance and then repents, even just before he sees the angel who captures the soul, before his soul reaches his throat.

Given the above, I believe that the best way in approaching the Saudi young blogger is to kindly and wisely educate him and refute his misconceptions about Islam and the noble Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). As the blogger showed willingness to repent, scholars should embrace that and try to engage him in discussion with regard to all misconceptions he might have about Islam and the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), especially that he has clearly admitted that he does not understand many things about the Prophet; scholars therefore should educate and enlighten him about the Prophet’s morals and character.

 

Ethical Vs. Irresponsible Freedom

Islam secures freedom for all. Freedom—including religious freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of action, media freedom, personal freedom, etc.—is supported by countless number of general and detailed proofs of Shari`ah. For example, the Qur’an emphasizes religious freedom saying, {There is no compulsion in religion}[4], {Say: (It is) the truth from the Lord of you (all). Then whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve}[5].

Freedom, which is guaranteed and protected in Islam, works within a frame of general ethics and morals that secure people’s wellbeing and happiness.

At the same time, it is noteworthy that ethical responsible freedom, which Islam supports, is bounded by the general ethics and guidelines of Islam. It is restricted by the Shari`ah-based limits that regulate people’s relations and dealings. So, it is not acceptable, for example, to approve insulting or attacking holy books, prophets, or religions under the pretext of freedom expression or liberties. Also, it is not acceptable to justify harming people or risking public interest of communities for “irresponsible” freedom of few individuals.

Freedom, in whatever type or form, is therefore governed by the following general maxims:

  1. Harm should be removed. Freedom does not justify harming one’s self or others, whether individuals or communities. This equally applies to physical, emotional, material, or spiritual harm. One is not free to harm others’ lives, beliefs, emotions, reputation, etc. This principle is line with the juristic maxim that reads: Ad-dararu yuzal (harm must be eliminated). This legal maxim is founded on the hadith that reads: "no harm shall be inflicted or reciprocated."[6] Some of the variant renderings of the maxim 'ad-dararu yuzal' read as follows: “Harm must be eliminated but not by means of another harm” (ad-dararu yuzalu wa lakin la bid-darari); and “Harm is not eliminated by another harm” (ad-dararu la yuzalu bid-darari).[7]
  1. Public interest takes priority over personal benefit. An individual’s freedom does not entitle him or her to endanger or violate the public interest of the community. Islam considers both personal and public interests. However, in case of conflict between personal and pubic interests, the public interest of the whole community, which is usually greater and more significant, takes precedence over the interest of individuals. In other words, protecting the valid interests of whole community takes priority over the interests of few individuals.
  1. Islamic ethics and values should never be violated. One’s freedom is governed by the Shari`ah-based rulings and regulations, which are meant for people’s valid benefits. It is Islamically not allowable, for example, for a man and a woman to freely engage in illicit sexual relations under the pretext of personal freedom.

Freedom, which is guaranteed and protected in Islam, works within a frame of general ethics and morals that secure people’s wellbeing and happiness. Ibn `Ashur elaborates,

Freedom of expression (hurriyat al-aqwal) consists of showing one’s beliefs and views within what it is allowed by the Shari`ah. . . .

Freedom of action that affects others is lawful so far as it does not cause harm to them. This kind of freedom combines a twofold objective of the Shari`ah, namely, the freedom to act that does not go beyond the actor and the freedom to act that affects someone else’s freedom to act, without however causing harm to him or her. Harm might consist of suspending someone’s right or destroying it altogether. This requires the offender to compensate for the damage caused, as has been expounded by the jurists. For this reason, a person can be prevented from an act that would result in the violation of someone else’s freedom, for this is a form of injustice. When one has carried out an act that has harmed another person, one is responsible for that harm and must rectify it as far as possible. If the damage is such that it cannot be rectified by financial compensation, then recourse must be had to deterrent punishment. . . .

Furthermore, the Shari`ah has placed certain obligations upon its followers, according to which their freedom to act is restricted for their own good (salah), both now and in the future. These obligations include the fulfillment of what relates to the public good (masalih `ammah), such as implementing collective obligations (furud al-kifayat), or realizing the good of those whose well-being the Shari`ah has made the duty of specific persons, like providing for one’s relatives. If people transgress the limits of their freedom in this respect, they will have to be stopped at the limits of the Shari`ah by liability, such as compensation for negligence, or by punishment without acceptance of repentance, as in armed robbery (harabah), or after inducing them to repent, as in the case of apostasy (riddah). Examples illustrating this are abundant.

You should know that the violation of freedom is one of the gravest forms of injustice and wrongdoing (zulm). Therefore, the realization and determination of the extent of people’s freedom in the sight of the Shari`ah must be the responsibility of judges who are invested with the power to settle disputes between the people. That is why if a victim revenges himself on the offender, this would be considered an aggression for which he deserves to be reprimanded.[8]

 

Prophet’s Tolerance with Offenders

History bears witness to the fact that Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) used to pardon offenders, particularly when they repented and showed willingness to correct their mistakes. It is well-known that when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) opened Makkah, whose people used to severely persecute and attack the Prophet and his Companions for many years, he generally pardoned them.

Scholars may consider the Sauid blogger’s repentance and help him correct his mistakes.

Another example is the case of Ka`ab ibn Zuhayr, a fine poet who did his utmost to mar the image of Islam. His brother, Bujayr, also a fine poet, was a Muslim. Their father, Zuhayr ibn abu Salma, 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 opening of Makkah to Islam, Ka`ab went into hiding. Later, when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) returned to Madinah, he went to see the Prophet after Fajr Prayer 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. Ka`ab became one the Prophet's Companions, not opponents.[9]

Therefore, in line with the above shining examples, scholars may consider the Sauid blogger’s repentance and help him correct his mistakes.

 

Code of Ethics for Social Websites

Leading international websites, such as OnIslam.net, may take the initiative and propose a general code of ethics for internet and social websites users.

It is necessary for internet users to agree on a code of ethics, particularly for social websites such as twitter and facebook. Leading international websites, such as OnIslam.net, may take the initiative and propose a general code of ethics for internet and social websites users. Online, and offline, seminars and dialogues are recommended to maintain this urgent project.

A code of ethics for internet users is supposed to protect people’s privacy, beliefs, prosperities, and lives. “Responsible” freedom of expression should be secured within the general human values and morals. Attacking people’s beliefs, honor, or values should be prevented. Social websites should play a vital role in promoting respect and understanding among people of the world.

 

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Notes:



[2] Qur’an, surat al-Hajj, verse No. 77.

[3] Qur’an, surat an-Nisa’, verse No. 17.

[4] Qur’an, surat Al-Baqarah, verse no. 256.

[5] Qur’an, surat Al-Kahf, verse no. 29.

[6] Muhammad ibn Yazid abu `abd Allah al-Qazwini, Sunan ibn Majah, 2. vols., ed. Muhammad Fu'ad `abd al-Baqi (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, nd), 2: p. 784.

[7] Wa’il `Abdul-Mut`al Shihab Najm, Al-Masalih al-Mursalah and Their Contemporary Applications: An Analytical Study, unpublished PhD thesis, Faculty of Languages and Translations, Al-Azhar University (Cairo: 2010 AC), pp. 208-209.

[8] Muhammad at-Tahir ibn `Ashur, Treatise on Maqasid al-Shari`ah, annotated and trans. Mohamed el-Tahir el-Mesawi (Herndon: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1427 AH – 2006 AC), pp. 156-159.

[9] See al-Haythami, Majma` az-Zawa’id, 9: 395.

Dr. Wael Shihab holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Al-Azhar University and is the Head of the Shari`ah and Fatwa sections at the English website of Onislam.net. You may reach him at this e-mail address: [email protected]


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