The crowd was growing in size by the minute. They were beating drums, singing, dancing, and shouting in joy. Pagan Makkah was about to kill Khubaib bin Adi Ansari, Radi-Allahu anhu, who had been captured through a sinister and treacherous plot, then sold in the slave market so the buyers could exact their vengeance.
It started when some tribesmen from Uthul and Qara went to Madinah and requested the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, to send some teachers with them who could educate their fellow tribesmen about Islam. The request was granted and about ten Companions were sent with them. When the group reached Raji’ two hundred armed men were lying in wait for them. Khubaib and Zaid bin Adathna, Radi-Allahu anhuma, were captured alive, while the others were martyred. Then they were sold in exchange for a hundred heads of camel. Both had fought in the battle of Badr and their swords had killed some pagan soldiers. Now the relatives of those killed in war wanted to get even. Of course, Arab traditions did not allow revenge for war like this. But their opponents were Muslims. Then, as now, the pagan world was ready to violate its own rules and traditions when the victims were Muslims.
While facing death, Khubaib, Radi-Allahu anhu, said a poem that has been recorded by history. It includes these lines: “They say if I renounce Islam, my life will be spared. But it is better to die with belief than to live with unbelief.”
At the last minute, the pagans asked him: “Don’t you wish that you were spared and Muhammad (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) got this punishment? Would not you like that you were resting comfortably in your home, while he was killed in your place?” From the man who was about to die because he had accepted the Message brought by Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, came this reply: “By Allah, I cannot even imagine that a thorn should prick the foot of Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, while I rest in my home.”
Abu Sufyan, an unbeliever at the time, remarked to his associates: “See, the love of the companions for Muhammad (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is unparalleled and unprecedented.” At another time, a similar observation was made by another Quraish leader Urwah ibn Mas’ud al Thaqafi. “I have seen Ceasar and Chosroes in their pomp, but never have I seen a man honoured, as Muhammad is honoured by his comrades.”
The biographies of the Companions are full of stories that show their extra-ordinary love and devotion for the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The Qur’an itself attests to this. “The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves.” [Al-Ahzab 33:6] It is a statement of fact as well as a command. The following two ahadith, from among the many on the subject, clarify this point further. “None of you can be a believer unless he loves me more than his parents, his children, and all the people.” [Bukhari and Muslim] “There are three signs that indicate that a person has tasted the sweetness of faith. 1) That he loves Allah and His Prophet more than anything else. 2) He loves everyone solely for the sake of Allah. 3) After accepting Islam he hates going back to unbelief as much as he hates going into the fire.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
It has to be so, because our relationship to the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is at the core of our entire religion. He is human, not Divine, but he is our connection to the Deity. He relays to us the Word of Allah and he explains what the Word means. He sets a personal example that we look at not just for admiration but emulation. Our relationship to him is legal as well as personal; moral as well as spiritual; intellectual as well as emotional. Allah chose him to guide us, educate us, inspire us, and purify us — and we remain indebted forever!
This not only establishes a relationship between a believer and the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, it also establishes the relationship among the believers, making them one unit because of— in addition to their common faith— their common love for the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.
Together these facts explain a Muslim’s sensitivity to the honor of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. To begin with, we must remember that the honor of everyone is important. As the hadith reminds us: “If a believer does not come to the help of another believer whose honour and dignity are under attack, then Allah will also not help him when he is most in need of Allah’s help. And a believer who does come to the help of another believer whose honor and dignity are under attack, then Allah will also help him when he is most in need of Allah’s help.” [Abu Dawood]. If a Muslim is not supposed to be indifferent when the honour of another ordinary Muslim is under attack, how in the world can anyone expect him or her to be indifferent when the honor and dignity of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, himself may be under attack?
As has been noted by someone else, a civilization in which nothing is sacred may have difficulty in understanding the values of a civilization in which sacred is all that counts. But if it cannot understand the logic, because of its own blinders, it will have to come to terms with the facts on the ground: Muslims treat their Prophet, and all the prophets, with utmost respect and they simply cannot tolerate any willful insult and disrespect. To compromise on this issue would tantamount to compromising one’s faith. And no one has a right to demand that. The blasphemy laws in Muslim countries like the one in Pakistan, are not only based on solid and agreed upon juristic grounds, they express a fundamental value of the Muslim civilization. We need not offer any apologies for that just because the forces of profanity seem to be powerful.
Some think that the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, forgave his worst enemies and never took revenge for himself. So any law that prescribed punishment for assaulting the honour of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is clearly against his Sunnah. What the prophetic example teaches is that we should also be willing to forgive those who have committed offences against us, personally. But we know of Ka’ab bin Ashraf who used to abuse the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and instigated others to do so. He ordered Mohammed ibn Salma to execute Ka’ab. (Bukhari) There are not many but history records that whenever anyone tried to abuse the person of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, he was meted with the same punishment. As the Persian poet said, “May take liberty with God, Be careful with Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.”