Once again the Muslim world is under the spotlight, this time in regards to Pope Benedict’s recent comments on Prophet Muhammad. He quoted a Byzantine emperor stating that Muhammad has brought nothing new to the world that wasn’t “evil and inhumane.” However, his comments are not unusual, as they fit into a centuries-old stream of anti-Islamic rhetoric coming from those solely seeking to provoke a negative reaction from Muslims.
In the midst of the “war on terror,” it was only a matter of time before religion became entangled on both sides of the front. It now seems that Islam is not only being pinned against democracy, but Christianity as well. This meditated agitation of Muslims seeks only to showcase Islam as a series of violent protests and riots.
Despite the worldwide condemnations and calls for apology of the Pope’s irresponsible comments, there has not been an answer to the question: has Muhammad brought anything new that wasn’t “evil and inhumane”? It is, however, one of the many questions that Muslims have been forced to answer in recent years.
To see the goodness and humanity in what Muhammad brought, we need only to look at his words. In his final sermon, shortly before his death he addressed his followers:
“O People, it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you … Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers … All mankind is from Adam and Eve; an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor does black have any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
These words may seem to belong in the era of the civil rights movement, but they were uttered over 1400 years ago.
Muhammad left us a way of life that sought to return people to a state of virtue and righteousness. Islam was only a return to these ideals and not a beginning because it is a continuation of the same inherent message that Judaism and Christianity brought to the world.
If we review history, we find that Muhammad used Islam’s doctrines of peace, brotherhood and humanity to clear the darkness that had settled over pre-Islamic Arabia. In a time and place where newborn girls were buried alive for their lack of social value, Islam gave women the right to live, inherit wealth, and be equal members of society.
Islam brought justice and peace to places of extreme corruption and lawlessness. The city of Medina was on the brink of being destroyed by tribal warfare when its leaders sought Muhammad and the humanity in his message to bring peace to the ravaged city. Not only did he bring stability, but he also united in brotherhood tribes and factions that had previously fought each other for centuries. It is clear to see that Muhammad’s words and actions embody the same ideals and principles that we all value here in the West.
There are no crimes unique to Islam. To say that terrorism is rooted in the fundamental teaching of Islam is just as ridiculous as saying that child molestation is rooted in Catholicism. Islam does not hate freedom, nor does it fight against it. All violence is reactionary, and it is impossible and irresponsible to take the events taking place in the world today out of their political and economic context.
There is no sole reason for something happening, and there is no one catalyst of change. Instead of fanning the flames of hate and animosity, instead of working against promoting a peaceful world, we can all accept our responsibilities toward one another. The same responsibilities that have been enjoined on all people of faith – to respect, honor and care for each other.
Faizan Mujeebuddin is president of the Muslim Student Association at VCU.