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5 Examples of Supreme Muslim Tolerance

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As we see the images of burning embassies and burnt flags unfolding across the Muslim world, it is easy for non-Muslims (and some Muslims too) to jump to the conclusion that there is an inherent lack of tolerance amongst “religious” Muslims.

A lot of this is down to the hypocrisy of trying to judge others by standards that are completely your own.

Generally speaking, just because the West tolerates blasphemy on a grand scale, this does not mean that people who condemn blasphemy are necessarily intolerant.

Some of it is down to pure Islamophobia, in which Muslims are seen as irrational, violent, and pathological zealots. A fair proportion of this is rooted in a deep-seated ignorance of the supremely tolerant history and nature of Islam.

Here are just a few examples of exceptional Muslim tolerance:

5. The Success of Non-Muslim People in Muslim Ruled Lands

Here’s a quick game you can play…

What happened to the Muslims of any land in which Non-Muslims ruled them?

In Communist Russia they were forcibly marched into the gulags of Siberia. In Eastern Europe it was the genocide of Bosnia and Srebrenica that awaited them. In Palestine, it is 60 years and counting of occupation, humiliation and imprisonment. In Spain, it was total annihilation, such that not one man was left to call the Adhaan.

Now, what happened to Non-Muslims living in Muslim lands?

In Moghul India, the Hindus survived, prospered and eventually took over. In Umayyad Spain, they all lived happily in the most modern state in all of Europe. In the Ottoman Empire, the Jews found shelter and a new golden age. In Egypt and Syria, a significant minority of the country is still Christian despite living under Muslim rule for 1400 years. Contrary to modern perceived wisdom, Muslims have almost always been tolerant of Non-Muslim minorities/ majorities in lands that they ruled. Had Islam been as intolerant as other ideologies, the non-Muslim communities in the Muslim world would have disappeared just like the Moors of Spain.

4. Preserving the Wisdom of Other People

It is customary for a conquering people to see nothing of value in their vanquished foe. Indeed, to this day, the Orientalist bigotry of the Colonial West towards Islam and Muslims is evidence of this.

Islam is often described as having nothing of benefit for mankind, and Muslims as being backwards despite huge amounts of evidence to the contrary. However, during the Muslim Caliphate there was a healthy respect for the culture and legacy of other cultures. It was this tolerance of the wisdom of others and the humble acceptance that there were things that they, the conquerors, could learn from the conquered that allowed Muslims to be the guardians of world knowledge.

It is little wonder that the oldest Universities in the world are all in Muslim lands. Everything from the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, the numerical system of ancient India and the agricultural marvels of ancient Persia were all preserved for posterity and built on, rather than destroyed.

3. The Conquest of Jerusalem

The Crusader chronicles mention in vivid detail the scene that took place when they conquered Jerusalem.

“Our horses waded knee-deep in the blood of the Saracens,” wrote one Knight Templar.

They celebrated their bloody triumph by converting the beautiful Dome of the Rock and Masjid Al Aqsa into palaces and stables. Under a century later, Salahuddin had finally reached the gates of Jerusalem after righting the wrongs of the 1st and 2nd Crusades. Having ground the Crusader army to dust at the horns of Hattin, Salahuddin could have stormed the city like the Crusaders before him and leveled the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Indeed that is exactly what some in his army wanted. Instead he negotiated the surrender of the city with every inhabitant having to pay a certain amount in ransom. When he saw that many of the poor Christians had not enough money to ransom themselves, this tolerant Muslim leader paid their ransom out of his own pocket. Seeing his example, his soldiers did the same.

2. Saving the Jews of Spain – Twice 

The Jews of Europe have always been a persecuted minority. Living in ghettos, derided openly and victims of regular pogroms – their suffering seemed endless. Nowhere was this worse than in the Iberian peninsula where the Visigothic kings chose to show off their new-found Catholic faith by making life hellish for all Jews.

First they took their children and when that wasn’t enough to stamp out the Jewish presence in Spain, they decided to kick them out. But before they could complete their ethnic cleansing, the Muslims had arrived and put an end to such barbarity. The Jews were now not only free to live their lives, but also immediately promoted and allowed to take up high positions in government.

This situation lasted for nearly 800 years until eventually the Catholics regrouped and, showing that old habits die-hard, expelled both the Jews and the Muslims out of Spain. The Muslims were absorbed as refugees into the Muslim world, but where did the Jews go?

They were welcomed into Muslims lands as well with the Sultan of Turkey sending boats to bring them to Istanbul and entire districts in Morocco being allocated to them. Muslims saved the Jews for a second time.

1. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Of course, no example of tolerance can be greater than that of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) himself. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was struggling in Makkah with a few followers, he would not raise his voice against those who heaped rubbish on him.

When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went to Ta’if he would not curse those who stoned him. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saw his beloved wife and uncle die during the years of expulsion and starvation, he would not raise his hands against those who decimated his beloved family members. When he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) entered his hometown as a conqueror, he would not seek vengeance against anyone – even the killer of his dear uncle. Of course, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did stand up against oppression, unprovoked aggression and injustice. There was a balance in his behavior that is missing from the discourse of both, those whose first instinct is to burn stuff and those who say that all provocation should be ignored.

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us tolerance and taught us its limits.

As the Western world grapples with the cancerous spread of dangerous Islamophobia in their lands and the Muslim world grapples with tendency to reflexive actions in theirs – we would all do well to remember his ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) example. Muslims have a choice – we can either use our limitless love for the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) to burn the world to avenge him or to reunite, refocus and re-build the world in honor of him. It is not hard to guess what he would have wanted.

No wonder he is known as “Rahmat lil-‘Alimeen” – a mercy to ALL the worlds.

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Dr. Muhammad Wajid Akhter - Doctor, Medical Tutor (Social Media, History & Medicine) - Islamic Historian - Founder of, and current board member to Charity Week for Orphans and needy children. www.charityweek.com - Council member, British Islamic Medical Association

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Abdul Raheem

    September 20, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    SubhanAllah, it is a good reminder to follow the best example for mankind, the Prophet Muhammad (S).

  2. Avatar

    Abdi Why

    September 20, 2012 at 4:30 AM

    Excellent article and great reminder and motivater for young muslims like myself

    • Avatar

      Garcia

      April 24, 2014 at 8:47 PM

      That article is not accurate

  3. Avatar

    Ali Saeed Farooqi

    September 20, 2012 at 4:41 AM

    JazakAllah for such a nice write-up. But Brother Muhammad Wajid, would nt it be too naive to just say ‘reunite, refocus and re-build the world in honor of him’. For a less literate reader like me it would be more beneficial if you can shed some light on the steps that can be counted as condemnation of the act of blasphemy through this movie. Should nt muslims around the world ban American products? Would that be violent? Should nt the muslims protest in the form of articles and literature where the personality of the Prophet PBUH can be revealed to the people of other religions or even those with no religions? Should nt there be a proper PR campaign to advocate a legal framework which can not only protect Islam and our beloved Prophets honour but also other religions and their prominent personalities?

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      September 20, 2012 at 1:55 PM

      Walaikum asalaam brother Ali,

      Wa iyakum. I don’t think the formula I set forth is unrealistic. In fact, in my opinion it is the only solution that is a permanent solution to all our problems.

      Everything else – whether burning a car, boycotting goods, writing articles (such as my own) or even a PR campaign – pales into insignificance when compared to the dream of a united Muslim Ummah.

      Why is it that the French courts are falling over themselves to ban indecent pictures of Kate Middleton, but allowing denigration of our Prophet (SAW)? Why is it that holocaust denial is a crime in certain countries but they will defend the freedom of anyone who wants to insult our faith? Why is it a criminal offence to burn a pound note but it is not an offence to burn the Quran?

      The answer is simple – because everyone else is worth respecting and we are not. There was a time when we commanded respect and when we were able to back this respect up by a civilization that protected its citizens as well as its holy symbols, but today we command contempt and everything is fair game. And no amount of writing, boycoting, burning or screaming is going to change this… only when we are united upon Islam.

      I hope I’m making sense inshaAllah.

      • Avatar

        Brother

        September 20, 2012 at 10:19 PM

        You make perfect sense to me Brother Wajid.

      • Avatar

        Ibn Colujoog

        September 21, 2012 at 2:26 AM

        You wrote ‘…everyone else is worth respecting and we are
        not.’ I agree with this statement 100%. Think about this: In the last
        Democratic Convention, Obama ordered the addition of ‘Jerusalem is the eternal
        capital of Israel’ to the Party’s Platform. To my knowledge, not one single
        word was uttered by any Muslim protesting.
        Now, how do you expect others to respect you when you don’t care about one
        of your most holy places?

        • WAJiD

          WAJiD

          September 21, 2012 at 4:12 AM

          Walaikum asalaam,

          Actually – when I watched clips of this absolute farce on “The Daily Show” there were images of Muslims at the convention protesting. Still, they were ignored.

          But even if there were thousands of us protesting (like against the Iraq war) it would make no difference. When we are divided and secular/ nationalisitic/ unprofessional and illiterate – when we are not united upon Islam – no one will care what we feel or what we think.

          • Avatar

            Ibn Colujoog

            September 21, 2012 at 7:51 AM

            Assalamu alaikum,

            I think the protests/responses should have come from Muslim governments, because now you have the ‘address’ of who to respond to. It is President Obama and the American System as a whole. So far, any government responding to this affront.

            Ibn Colujoog

  4. Avatar

    sadmuslimah

    September 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    great article BUT it makes me sad that we need articles like this, though. :(

  5. Avatar

    Muslimah

    September 20, 2012 at 12:53 PM

    Excellent article…JazakAllah Khair for writing this

  6. Avatar

    Fatima Haffejee

    September 20, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    Asalaamualaikum Muhammad. I’m a journalist with a South African based radio station that is broad casted internationally, We would like to conduct an interview with you on the topic of your article ‘tolerance’ on live radio. Would you be willing?

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      September 20, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      Walaikum asalaam sister Fatima,

      I’m sure you have many more qualified people than myself to speak on this subject. Of course I am willing to help if needed.

  7. Avatar

    Yasmin

    September 20, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this very beautiful and timely post!

  8. Avatar

    Nazim

    September 20, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    Wajid, I remember you well from the FOSIS annual conference in Nottingham in 2002. I doubt you remember me – I was a medical student and President of the Islamic society of Edinburgh back then. Masha allah good to see your works after over a decade!

    • WAJiD

      WAJiD

      September 22, 2012 at 7:45 PM

      Walaikum asalaam brother Nazim,
      It is difficult to forget you scottish brothers. JazakAllah khairun for the kind words and hope that we meet sooner than another ten years.

  9. Avatar

    Brother

    September 20, 2012 at 10:15 PM

    Regarding the people who made the cartoons/movies, it really shows the level of hatred and hostility they have towards Muslims. Your examples are great for showing how Muslims should react to such attitudes. Jazakallahkhair!

  10. Avatar

    Hassan

    September 20, 2012 at 11:18 PM

    French newspapers just in recent days published blasphemous cartoons against our beloved prophet Muhammad PBUH. Yet if I am not mistaken holocaust denial is crime there, and also they banned muslims from protesting against youtube video (before the newspaper cartoon). So I am not sure what kind of freedom of expression they are trying to pretend having.

  11. Avatar

    Abubucker

    September 29, 2012 at 10:24 PM

    There is a difference between tolerance in strength and tolerance in weakness. While i agree both are required, we should focus a bit more on the necessity to be intolerant to certain things especially around Prophet’s (saws) honor.

    Leaders of non-muslims think that muslims should be defeated/enslaved in all spheres (intellectually, economically,politically,militarily) today. Just an observation of global scenario is sufficient to understand this. No conspiracy theory.

    We should encourage the idea that “We will give back in kind” irrespective of our position. If that means going to oblivion, so be it. Never without a fight though.

    while we harp on tolerance, we should also harp on our reaction as an ummah otherwise extremists will take the lead as they do today.

  12. Avatar

    Euthyphro

    October 4, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    Salam!

    I appreciate your zeal for history, and especially where Muslims stood out as models of tolerance, knowledge, and respect. However, I must for the sake of stirring up discussion present a brief critique. For this referring to the past seems to be a scapegoat that we Muslims have become accustom too. We love boasting about the Islamic Golden Age when we conquered the world. It’s as if somehow how our “glorious” past justifies our current situation, which includes lack of scholarship, learning institutions, deplorable literacy rates, etc.

    Most young Muslims I know go on to become engineers, medical doctors, IT consultants, lawyers, or business people, leaving the social sciences (economics, political science, sociology, etc) and the humanities (history, religion, art, philosophy) with very few Muslim minds. Why is that? It seems our problems are social, ethical, economic, political, psychological, and yet we don’t study (or at least in large numbers) the sciences that target these issues and help any people to cope creatively, constructively, and pragmatically.

    Aren’t Muslims over due for another Islamic renaissance? A revival of the sciences that are based on reading, writing, and thinking. In the words of the late scholar, Fazlur Rahman Malik, “A people that deprives itself of philosophy necessarily exposes itself to starvation in terms of fresh ideas – in fact, it commits intellectual suicide.” In closing I think this reference can and should be extended to the social sciences and humanities, where a surfeit of ideas exists.

  13. Avatar

    Ahmad

    October 6, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Allahu akbar ! The saddest thing is that despite the disunity caused by so many factors in Islam,some muslims are still ignorant that they follow the west sheepishly. Subhana’llah. I am very sad !

  14. Avatar

    hamida bithi

    October 9, 2012 at 6:21 PM

    Masha’Allah, what an amazing article!
    I never knew these tremendous facts, and I’m even more proud to be a Muslim now as I’ve always been Alhamdulillah. I pray that we could all come together as a a better nation & implement in our lives the true, authentic teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and those who’ve followed his footsteps. Ameen.

  15. Avatar

    Paul Ogden

    October 15, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    It is evident to me that the Muslim prophet, Muhamed, would not storm consulates and kill people just due to offensive words or actions against him personally or against Allah. Nor would he order retalliation by his follwers. The problem is that he is not here to speak and his words, though memorialized in the Qur’aan, are interpreted by disparate groups, clics and individuals just like the various Christian sects, Jewish adherences and diverse claimants of every religion. For lack of a clear and perfect mutual understanding of God’s identity, how can any of them get along indefinitely. Tolerance is fine, but wars break out as ignorance of one’s own faith exaggerates our incompatibilities. Is there not a prophet today? Has God really abandoned his people, the human race? Are His words only available in print or recitation? Is revelation obsolete or passe’ in God’s modus operandi?
    Must we resign to atheism in order to agree?
    Pray we can really, really get to know the Father of us all.

  16. Avatar

    Carlos

    October 15, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    Insulting religion must not be made an exception to freedom of speech. I have read that Pope Urban VIII felt very insulted by Galileo’s masterpiece, “Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems.” Where would human civilization be now if Galileo had been burned at the stake (like Bruno Giordano)? I’m not saying the film “Innocence of Muslims” is on par with Galileo’s work. I watched some of that film on Youtube, and it is comically bad filmmaking; religious and historical criticism posing as (laughably amateur) entertainment. But everyone must resist calls to create laws prohibiting the “mocking” of religion. One person’s honest criticism is another person’s “mocking.”

  17. Avatar

    Um Aneesa

    October 19, 2012 at 6:10 PM

    Salam alaykum
    Jazakumullahu khayra for the article. I feel that your description of life for Non Muslims under the Mughals or under other Islamic dynasties is incomplete. It would be nice to have a follow up article that gave more specific examples of tolerance of other faiths. It would also be important to acknowledge to what extent has Muslim History had its share of less tolerant rulers.

  18. Avatar

    FUS

    October 20, 2012 at 8:31 AM

    yes definitively Of course, no example of tolerance can be greater than that of the Prophet himself.

    • Avatar

      Paul Ogden

      October 23, 2012 at 11:27 PM

      Intolerance is not incited by the true religious leader. It may be mixed in with sermons at grass roots or lay levels, but it actually stems from a lack of understanding of the essence and goodness of the faith. Presumptive ministers may find it difficult to separate their own agenda from that of the prophet so the tenets are thereby contaminated.

    • Avatar

      (cannot specify due to Religious Radicals nearby)

      August 27, 2015 at 8:57 PM

      Sounds a bit….narrow minded, don’t you think?

  19. Avatar

    Anne

    November 2, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    i agree with alot of what you say in this article but i feel like your argument is extremely one sided. You are putting muslims in a perfect light, stating that there are few instances that muslims have not been tolerant. I come from a large family that is catholic and muslim so i think i offer a unique perspective since i see the argument from both sides. While all the above examples are true, there have been instances where muslim people have done unspeakable things. for example, the killing and humiliation of the patriach of constantinople in the Greek war of independence by the ottoman empire, which we all know was largely muslim. though it is true that the ottomans were tolerant of other religions in their culture, there were also extremely brutal if their empire was threatened but i dont think any threat warranted the killing of an elderly man who couldnt even defend himself. with all this, I am not saying muslim people are horrible because i am muslim myself but we just have to face facts that no matter the religion, people who supposedly follow and worship it will do unspeakable things. I think the statement i am trying to make is that while muslim people have been tolerant, there are instances where they have been intolerant as well and i think we can see this copied in almost every major religion. I would also like to agree with what some people stated above. i do feel like our voices arent heard and sometimes we are made to look like the bad guys, the scapegoat and i think this needs to stop. Alot of us are tolerant people and sometimes our voices arent heard and its a shame especially in the world we live in today. just wanted to share my opinion

  20. Avatar

    Paul Ogden

    November 3, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    Anne, your coment shows wisdom in yur perspective. If we could all realize that we are indeed together in a multi- faith / multi-tribal / multi-ethnic family we would find it easier to love our siblings and to be tolerant of our individual efforts to seek the identity of ourselves and of the diety we hope to emulate.

  21. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    November 3, 2012 at 3:36 AM

    Unfortunately Anne- I have to disagree with your basic premise implying that we’re all basically just as bad as each other.

    I’m sure your views are partially due to the fact that you have Muslim and non-muslim relatives, but that doesn’t mean there’s any historical basis to your arguments.

    The execution of the pope Gregory V by the ottomans after the Greeks had rebelled against the empire that had given them centuries of freedom of religion, business & protected them can hardly be compared to the Catholic inquisition where millions were wiped out in the Iberian peninsula or the native populations of south America, Australia & North America were brought to the point of extinction or even the 2 world wars….

    We’re not perfect & we certainly have had intolerant episodes in our history (& our present…) But to suggest that there is some kind of equivalence between our history & that of others is simply inaccurate.

  22. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    November 3, 2012 at 3:42 AM

    Oh… & as further proof – guess where the current Greek patriarch still lives to this day?

    Yup – the Muslim city of Istanbul.

    We are not perfect, but we are not the same as everyone else.

  23. Avatar

    Kyle

    November 28, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    Assalamu alaikum
    I’ve enjoyed reading your article. As a young man living in the United States, I am doing my best to educate myself on Muslim history and fundamentals so that I may pass the knowledge on to others of varying faiths. I am a student and I’ve come to notice that most of my peers’ (whether Jewish, Christian, Atheists etc.) views on Islam as a whole are fueled by a blind and biased hatred that is without historical merit. I’ve often had to defend my Muslim friends in the midst of verbal onslaught and persecution while at school. This ignorance and intolerance shown by some greatly disturbs me… I hope that I can play a part in changing the way that followers of Islam are treated in my community. Peace be with you, Muhammad Wajid.

  24. Pingback: 5 Examples of Supreme Muslim Tolerance | Sunnah Muakada

  25. Pingback: WAJiD (wajid) | Pearltrees

  26. Avatar

    fred laister

    June 24, 2014 at 6:18 AM

    And what of today, still stoning women to death, slicing the throat of men, blasphemy against Christianity! Would any Islamic country tolerate Christians insulting the muslims prophet?
    Whatever western country muslamites have settled in there are problems. Why don’t they stay in their own countries and leave the west in peace?

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      June 24, 2014 at 12:18 PM

      And what would you have those who are not ‘settlers’ yet Muslim do? And I guess come to think of it unless your ancestors were Native Americans you should hike it out of the country too…. #JustSaying

      *Comment above is posted in a personal capacity and may not reflect the official views of MuslimMatters or its staff*

    • Avatar

      WAJiD

      June 24, 2014 at 1:13 PM

      Dear Fred,

      I can feel the frustration in your post. Believe me, many of us Muslims are even more frustrated at how far we are from our religious ideals and noble past. We have many, many problems – some self-inflicted, others externally thrust upon us.

      However, I hope you press pause on your anger long enough can see that we have also contributed much to the world and any community we’ve settled in, that we have shown grace under pressure and – most importantly – we are humans just like you.

      Reach out to us and you’ll be pleasantly surprised I hope.

  27. Pingback: 5 examples of supreme Muslim tolerance | The Muslim Debate Initiative Blog

  28. Avatar

    Nasra

    May 4, 2015 at 11:24 AM

    Salaam,

    Great Article Muhammad Wajid! Since we cannot emulate our Beloved Prophet Muahmmad Salal Lahu Alayhi Wa Salam because He was infallible and the best creation of our Creator, ALLAH Subhannahu Wa Ta’Ala, can you give me advise on how to draw the line of being tolerante and intolerante? How do I respond to a co-worker who insults or detest Islam and Muslims in front of me even after I portray a good image of a Muslim by being, kind, undersanding, helpful, tolerante etc…! When do you draw the line?
    Jazaka Allahu Karen!

  29. Avatar

    Yazdegerd II

    August 27, 2015 at 9:11 PM

    As much as i think Muslims should be on equal ground with other and the fact that I respect all religions I must point out that this post is really inaccurate, Particularly the part about the Caliphate being “Tolerant”. In fact they were anything BUT tolerant, The Caliphate were horrible to the Iranian people when they took down the Sassanid empire (the Sassanids were perhaps the most Tolerant so far in history) and the Caliphate suppressed religions, Violently put down revolts, and were the hosts of horrid executions, particularly the one of Babek who revolted against the Caliphate and his limbs were torn off and his head was crushed before the public. This is not Tolerance, infact the middle-east would be better of if the caliphate never came along but that would also mean no Islam.

    Also during the Rise of the Caliphate Prophet at the time sent a letter to the Leader of the Sassanid dynasty ( Khorsau II ) and told him he will convert or go to Hell with no questions asked, this “forcefulness” sadly became a common goal for the Caliphate.

    Id like to add the fact that I am Atheist, just to stop anyone saying im a christian or what not that hates other religions.

  30. Avatar

    DR.Fiaz Fazili

    November 21, 2015 at 3:34 AM

    i would like to receive posts

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Every Muslim knows the Kaaba, but did you know the Kaaba has been reconstructed several times? The Kaaba that we see today is not exactly the same structure that was constructed by Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail, may the peace and blessings of Allāh be upon them. From time to time, it has needed rebuilding after natural and man-made disasters.

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Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change

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Why do we consider emotional intelligence to be half of the Prophetic intellect? The answer lies in the word “messenger.” Messengers of Allah are tasked with the divine responsibility of conveying to humanity the keys to their salvation. They are not only tasked with passing on the message but also with being a living example of that message.

When ʿĀʾishah, the wife of the Prophet ﷺ, was asked to explain the character of the blessed Prophet ﷺ, her reply was, “His character was the Qurʾān.[1]” We are giving emotional intelligence a place of primacy in the construct of Prophetic intelligence because it seems implausible that Allah would send a messenger without providing that messenger with the means necessary to exemplify and transmit the message to others. If the Prophets of Allah did not have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully pass on the message to the next generation, the argument would be incomplete. People could easily excuse themselves of all accountability because the message was never conveyed.

We also see clear examples in the Qur’ān that this knowledge was being perpetually perfected in the character of the Prophet ﷺ. Slight slips in his Emotional Intelligence were rare, but when they did occur, Allah gently addressed the mistake by means of revelation. Allah says in the Qurʾān, “If you (O Muḥammad) were harsh and hardhearted, then the people would flee from you.” This verse clearly placed the burden of keeping an audience upon the shoulders of the Prophet ﷺ. What this means is that the Prophet ﷺ had to be aware of what would push people away; he had to know what would create cognitive and emotional barriers to receptivity. When we study the shamāʾil (books about his character), we find that he was beyond exceptional in his ability to make people receptive. He took great care in studying the people around him and deeply understanding them. Only after the Prophet ﷺ had exhausted all the means of removing barriers to receptivity would the responsibility to affirm the message be shifted to those called to it.

Another example of this Prophetic responsibility can be found in the story of Prophet Mūsa when he was commissioned to call Pharaoh and the children of Israel to Allah. When Allah informed him of the task he was chosen for, he immediately attempted to excuse himself because he had a slight speech impediment. He knew that his speech impediment could potentially affect the receptivity of people to the message. He felt that this disqualified him from being a Prophet. He also felt that the act of manslaughter he committed might come between the people and guidance. All of these examples show that Allah’s Prophets understood that many factors can affect a person’s receptivity to learning something new, especially when the implications of that new information call into question almost every aspect of a person’s identity. History tells us that initially, people did not accept the message of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; they completely rejected him and accused him of being a liar.

One particular incident shows very clearly that he ﷺ understood how necessary it was for him to remove any cognitive or emotional barriers that existed between him and his community. When the people of his hometown of Makkah had almost completely rejected him, he felt that it was time to turn his attention to a neighboring town. The city of Ṭā’if was a major city and the Prophet ﷺ was hopeful that perhaps they would be receptive to the message. Unfortunately, they completely rejected him and refused to even listen to what he had to say. They chased him out of town, throwing stones at him until his injuries left him completely covered in blood. Barely making it outside the city, the Prophet ﷺ collapsed. Too weak to move, he turned his attention to his Lord and made one of the most powerful supplications made by a Prophet of Allah.

اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي، وقلة حيلتي، وهواني على الناس، يا أرحم الراحمين، أنت أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي، إلى من تكلني؟ إلى عدو يتجهمني؟ أو إلى قريب ملكته أمري؟ إن لم يكن بك علي غضب فلا أبالي، غير أن عافيتك أوسع لي، أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أشرقت له الظلمات، وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والآخرة، من أن ينزل بي غضبك، أو يحل علي سخطك، لك العتبى حتى ترضى، ولا حول ولا قوة إلا بك”

“Oh Allah, only to You do I complain about my lack of strength, my insufficient strategies, and lowliness in the sight of the people. You are my Lord. To whom do you turn me over? Someone distant from me who will forsake me? Or have you placed my affair in the hands of my enemy? [2]

The Prophet ﷺ felt that he was the reason why the people were not accepting the message. His concern that “my low status in the eyes of the people,” informs us that he understood that people naturally judge the seriousness of a message based on the stature of the message bearer. The people of Ṭā’if were extremely ignorant, so much that they adamantly refused to enter into any dialogue. In reality, this was not due to any shortcoming of the Prophet ﷺ; he demonstrated the best of character and displayed extreme patience in the face of such ignorance. But the beginning of the supplication teaches us what he was focused on: making sure that he was not the reason why someone did not accept the message.

Because his message was not geographically restricted like that of other Prophets, those who inherited the message would have the extra burden of transferring the message to a people with whom they were unfamiliar. The intelligence needed to pass the message of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ around the world included an understanding of the cultural differences that occur between people. Without this understanding effective communication and passing on of his message would be impossible.

A sharp Emotional Intelligence is built upon the development of both intra- and interpersonal intelligence. These intelligences are the backbone of EQ and they provide a person with emotional awareness and understanding of his or her own self, an empathic understanding of others, and the ability needed to communicate effectively and cause change. Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior. After that this intellect, if healthy and mature, forces a person to conform to that standard. Therefore, we understand the ʿaql to be a comprehensive collection of intelligences analogous to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.

Taking into consideration the extreme diversity found within Western Muslim communities, we see how both Moral Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are needed. Fostering and nurturing healthy communities requires that we understand how people receive our messages. This is the interpersonal intelligence aspect of EQ. Without grounding the moral component of our community, diversity can lead to what some contemporary moral theorists call moral plasticity, a phenomenon where concrete understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, are lost. Moral Education (Moral Education, which will be discussed throughout the book, is the process of building a Morally Intelligent heart) focuses on correcting the message that we are communicating to the world; in other words, Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to others.

My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.”

Interpersonal understanding is the core of emotional intelligence. My father would often tell me, “It’s not what you say, son; it’s what they hear.” From the perspective of Emotional Intelligence, this statement is very accurate. The way we interpret words, body language, verbal inflections, and facial expressions is based on many different factors. The subtle power of this book lies in the simple fact that your emotional intelligence is the primary agent of change and thus the most powerful force you have. You must understand how people perceive what you are communicating to them. What is missing from my father’s statement is the primacy of Moral Intelligence. Throughout this book, I attempt to show how the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ demonstrated a level of perfection of both of these intelligences.

*With the Heart in Mind is available for pre-order at https://www.qalam.foundation/qalambooks/with-the-heart-in-mind

[1]Bayhaqī, Shuʿb al-ʾĪmān, vol. 3, p. 23.

[2] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, vol. 3, p. 136.

 

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The Languages of the Sahaba

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Arabs – during the time of the revelation- were known as an illiterate nation for whom the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent from among themselves. Yet, there are instances in the prophetic hadiths that draw attention to some literate companions who were even able to speak and write in more than one tongue. In this article, we shed light at samples of the companions who were multilingual.

The Prophetic stand towards foreign languages:

One hadith is well known among current Muslims in which the Prophet ﷺ says: “Whoever learns a language of a people (other than Arabic), he becomes safe from their wickedness”. Although this saying is well known among Muslims, the fact is that it is not a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. Hadith scholars say it is root-less, fabricated, but its meaning is sound. Another fabricated hadith is the one that goes “Seek knowledge even in China”. Some people deduce that one cannot seek knowledge in China without being able to communicate with the Chinse in their own language.

Although these two fabricated hadiths are well known, there is no real need for them to establish the importance of learning a foreign language as perceived by the Prophet ﷺ and the companions in their dealings. After all, the Prophet’s tradition (Sunnah) is not just verbal hadiths; it includes his dealings and actions. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is known to have used messengers to carry his messages to kings and emperors after the 6th year of Hijra. He sent Hatib ibn Abi Baltaa to Egypt because he was knowledgeable about Greek that was spoken by the rulers in Egypt at that time. He also sent Jaafar Ibn Abi Talib to the king of Abyssinia, because Jaafaar learned their tongue while he was there in the first Hijra, where he spent more than 10 years there. The Prophet ﷺ even ordered some of his companions to learn the tongue of the Jews so as to translate for him the messages they used to send to him.

In addition, he ﷺ used very few non-Arabic words in his hadiths that were known to his interlocutors. In Al Bukhari, Um Khalid (the daughter of Khalid bin Sa`id) who was a very young child narrated “I went to Allah’s Messenger ﷺ with my father and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said, “Sanah, Sanah!” (`Abdullah, the narrator, said that ‘Sanah’ meant ‘good’ in the Ethiopian language). I then started playing with the seal of Prophethood (in between the Prophet’s shoulders) and my father rebuked me harshly for that. Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said. “Leave her,” and then Allah’s Messenger ﷺ (invoked Allah to grant me a long life) by saying (thrice), “Wear this dress till it is worn out and then wear it till it is worn out, and then wear it till it is worn out.” (The narrator adds, “It is said that she lived for a long period, wearing that (yellow) dress till its color became dark because of long wear.”)

In another hadith, The Prophet ﷺ said, “Near the establishment of the Hour, there will be the days of Al-Harj, and the religious knowledge will be taken away (vanish i.e. by the death of Religious scholars) and general ignorance will spread.” Abu Musa raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “Al-Harj, in the Ethiopian language, means killing.”

These rare instances of using non-Arabic words in the Prophet’s speech do not mean that he knew foreign languages. Rather, it means that he knew a few words that were known to most people to whom he spoke. He used them for recreation purposes (the case of Um Khalid), or for drawing attention to the importance of the idea (the case of Abu Musa).

Bilingual Sahaba:

  1. Abu Huraira:

There different instances where Abu Huraira raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) spoke Faris (Persian). In Al Bukhari, Hilal ibn Usamah quoted Abu Maimunah Salma, a client of the people of Madinah, as saying:

While I was sitting with Abu Huraira, a Persian woman came to him along with a son of hers. She had been divorced by her husband and they both wanted custody. She said: Abu Huraira, speaking to him in Persian, my husband wishes to take my son away. Abu Huraira said: Cast lots for him, saying it to her in a foreign language. Her husband came and asked: Who is disputing with me about my son?

Abu Huraira said: O Allah, I do not say this, except that I heard a woman who came to the Messenger of Allah ﷺ while I was sitting with him, and she said: My husband wishes to take away my son, Messenger of Allah, and he draws water for me from the well of Abu Anabah, and he has been good to me. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: Cast lots for him. Her husband said: Who is disputing with me about my son?

The Prophet ﷺ said to the boy: This is your father and this your mother, so take whichever of them you wish by the hand. So he took his mother’s hand and she went away with him.

In addition to Persian, Abu Huraira is reported to have spoken in Abyssinian. In Al Bukhari, Abu Salama narrated that ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Auf raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger ﷺ as saying:

There is no transitive disease, but he is also reported to have said: A sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Abu Salama said that Abu Huraira used to narrate these two (different hadiths) from Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, but afterwards Abu Huraira became silent on these words:” There is no transitive disease,” but he stuck to this that the sick person should not be taken to one who is healthy. Harith b. Abu Dhubab (and he was the first cousin of Abu Huraira) said: Abu Huraira, I used to hear from you that you narrated to us along with this hadith and the other one also (there is no transitive disease), but now you observe silence about it. You used to say that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: There is no transitive disease. Abu Huraira denied having any knowledge of that, but he said that the sick camel should not be taken to the healthy one. Harith, however, did not agree with him, which irritated Abu Huraira and he said to him some words in the Abyssinian language. He said to Harith: Do you know what I said to you? He said: No. Abu Huraira said: I simply denied having said it. Abu Salama said: By my life, Abu Huraira in fact used to report Allah’s Messenger ﷺ having said: There is no transitive disease. I do not know whether Abu Huraira has forgotten it or he deemed it an abrogated statement in the light of the other one.

So, while Abu Huraira used Persian in the first Hadith for communication purposes, he used Abyssinian in the second for expressing his anger. Did he try to conceal his anger by holding his tongue in Arabic, and releasing it in a foreign language? This may be the case.

  1. Zaid ibn Thabit:

Zaid is known as on the geniuses of the companions. He was the one entitled with the responsibility of collecting the Quran during the time of Abi Bakr and the time of Othman Ibn Affan. He tells us about how the Prophet (ﷺ) ordered him to learn a foreign language.

Narrated Zayd ibn Thabit: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) ordered me (to learn the writing of the Jews), so I learned for him the writing of the Jews. He said: I swear by Allah, I do not trust Jews in respect of writing for me. So I learned it, and only a fortnight passed before I mastered it. I would write for him when he wrote (to them), and read to him when something was written to him.

The hadith indicates that Zaid learnt Syriac/ Aramaic which the Jews used in their writings. Zaid states that only 15 days were enough for him to master the language. It seems that Zaid focused more on the orthographic system rather than the phonic system because he does not tell us about instances where he used Syriac/ Aramaic in speaking.

  1. Salman The Persian:

As Salman was a native speaker of Persian, he was the first choice for the companions when they wanted to communicate with Persians. Narrated Abu Al-Bakhtari: “An Army from the armies of the Muslims, whose commander was Salman Al-Farisi, besieged one of the Persian castles. They said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘Leave me to call them (to Islam) as I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ call them.’

So Salman went to them and said: ‘I am only a man from among you, a Persian, and you see that the Arabs obey me. If you become Muslims then you will have the likes of what we have, and from you will be required that which is required from us. If you refuse and keep your religion, then we will leave you to it, and you will give us the Jizyah from your hands while you are submissive.’ He said to them in Persian: ‘And you are other than praiseworthy and if you refuse then we will equally resist you.’ They said: ‘We will not give you the Jizyah, we will fight you instead.’ So they said: ‘O Abu ‘Abdullah! Should we charge them?’ He said: ‘No.'” He said: “So for three days he called them to the same (things), and then he said: ‘Charge them.'” He said: “So we charged them, and we conquered the castle.”

We can deduce from the story of Salman that in seeking the last prophet, he knew some other languages, especially Syriac/ Aramaic as he used to serve Jewish and Christian monks and read their books. It is also narrated that a group of Persians asked Salman to translate the opening chapter of the Quran (Al Fatiha) for them to be able to understand its meaning. It is reported that he translated it or part of it. If this is true, then Salman would be the first translator of the meanings of the Quran –or part of it- in history.

  1. ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib

Although we know very little about ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), he is reported in Al Bukhari to have saved a non-Arab woman from the punishment for adultery. It was during the reign of Uman Ibn Al Khattab that a Persian woman was forced to commit adultery. She came to Umar, and ‘Umar said in the presence of ‘Ali, ‘Abdur-Rahman, and ‘Uthman, “What is this woman saying?” (the woman was non-Arab) ‘Abdur-Rahman bin Hatib said: “She is informing you about her companion who has committed illegal sexual intercourse with her.” Umar realized that she didn’t know that adultery was prohibited in Islam and that she was complaining from her companion who forced her to commit it. So Umar released her.

  1. Abu Jamra Al Basri

Abu Jamra is not one of the companions. He is one of the Tabieen (followers). He used to keep the company of Ibn Abbas, and while Ibn Abbas is known as the turjuman (interpreter) of the Quran, Abu Jamra was the inter-lingual interpreter of Ibn Abbas. Abu Jamar said – as narrated in Al Bukhari, “I was an interpreter between Ibn ‘Abbas and the people.” Based on four instances of using translators (The Roman translator at the palace of Heraclius in Abu Sufian’s account, the hadith by Zaid ibn Thabit, the account of Abdur-Rahman ibn Hatib and the account of Abu Jamara), Al-Bukhari commented that “a ruler should have two interpreters.”

*******

These are just some instances of companions and followers who are narrated to have spoken or written in foreign languages. It is strongly believed that there were numerous cases of other bilingual transactions in the early Muslim community, but they were not recorded as they were not relevant to religious matters. Learning foreign languages then is deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition, and we do not need to go to China to prove this.

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