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The Prayer of Taif -- The Prophet's Response to Ridicule and Abuse: A Reflection on the Danish Cartoon Crisis


Abu Kauthar

February 4, 2006

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In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

While many Muslims once again fall into the reactionary trap set for them and confirm the thesis of the offending cartoons by exploding in rage and violence, we would do well to reflect upon the Prophet's supplication in Taif. This is the dua he recited with shoes full of blood, wounds all over his body and after having been insulted, ridiculed and abused by the people of Taif to whom he had taken recourse seeking a place of refuge. Moreover, this occurs after three years of suffering a boycott at the hands of the Quraysh as a result of which Muslims were reduced to eating grass and leaves off of trees.

The Prophet (s) as he walks out of Taif:

"O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me?

To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favor is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descends upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased.

There is no power and no might except by You."

If those who claim to love the Prophet (s) so much that they are willing to infringe upon prophetic conduct with their blind rage and fury would reflect upon this prayer, it would be a guiding light for them and a clear instruction as to how a Muslim should respond to our current situation. It is also the only salve by which troubled hearts and souls will find peace. It will not be found on pickets and demonstrations -- not that these may not be useful in making clear our reverence for the sacred and the divine and our indignation at the injustice and double standards of the European press.

In my jum'ah khutbah today [editor: given on February 3, 2006], I spoke on this prayer and while there were some whose hearts and eyes were cooled by it, it was obvious to me that there were many who were so caught up in anger that they could not hear.

For whom does the Prophet's saying: 'Islam is good character' mean anything anymore?

Are we to revert to pre-Islamic tribal norms of vengeance and retribution rather than see this as an opportunity to turn hearts by sharing the example of our beloved Prophet's centeredness and compassion in the face of hate and enmity with those whose hearts are open?

Are we to fall into the major sin of despair-fuelled violence rather than maintain hope as the Prophet (s) did when the angel of the mountains met him outside Ta'if following his supplication and offered to cause the mountains surrounding Taif to crumble over the town and obliterate it to which the Prophet (s) replied: 'No, I hope that these people will one day come to worship only Allah and Him alone'?

Unless we have the centeredness and the Allah-consciousness of the Prophet (s) by which every event whether favorable or unfavorable (in material terms) offers us the opportunity of strengthening our relationship with Allah, we will continue to be the victim of every ruse and ploy.

Rather than reacting with violence and rage we should intensify our work to share the beautiful and merciful message of the Deen especially now that the Prophet (s) is headline news. Let the Prophet's prayer of Taif be printed in European newspapers as the example of his supreme magnanimity and patience.

Violence, death threats and fury only betray a lack of trust in the power and light of the sacred which is illustrated in the Prophet's experience in the garden outside Taif when persons who overheard his prayer were moved by it to come to Islam. Moreover, on the way back to Mecca after this experience, many jinn who happened to hear the Prophet's recitation of the Qur'an in his night prayer also came to Islam. And not long thereafter the Prophet (s) was conveyed on his night journey and ascent to heaven. Verily with difficulty comes ease.

Yet with the announcement by 'eminent' Muslim scholars of a 'Day of Outrage', I fear we have become nothing but saboteurs. Why not a Day of Remembrance of the Prophet, Why not a Day of Tremendous Prophetic Character? Why not a Day of the Prayer of Taif?

I recommend that we circulate the Prayer of Taif at this time as an antidote to all of the madness and poison of rage, violence and emotional maelstroms. May Allah guide us to that which is right and grant us the tremendous fortune of seeing our enemies as our close friends (see Qur'an 41:34-36*) to whom we have the duty of conveying the reverence and love of Allah and his Prophet (s).

Allah knows best.
Abu Kauthar

* "Good and evil cannot be equal. [Prophet], repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend, but only those who are steadfast in patience, only those who are blessed with great righteousness, will attain to such goodness. If a prompting from Satan should stir you, seek refuge with God: He is the all Hearing and the All Knowing." [The Qur`an: A new translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem]

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Second Response to Danish Cartoon Crisis (addressing whether or not the cartoonist should be put to death) - February 7, 2006

In the name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful

Dear Friends,

Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

The statement (referring to a statement on the web advocating the death sentence for the cartoonist) that my brother [in Islam] has brought to our attention is indeed alarming. This statement in addition to many others that have been issued like it which advocate the execution of the cartoonist on the basis of various ahadith completely disregard the necessity of certain circumstantial prerequisites in order for such a judgment (hukm) to be relevant and applicable.

The judgments of capital punishment and other forms of punishment are only truly applicable in a Madinan environment where the preventative safeguards and the exemplary model that come with a society dynamically living the Deen are in place. This is because the Shari'ah is first and foremost preventative in its approach to the management of social and criminal affairs and is predicated upon a living example. The remedial has no place without the preventative because there can be no exception without an established norm. Otherwise the exception becomes the norm, in which case we have to go back to Makkah in order to regenerate and establish the prophetic norm.

Verily salat prevents wickedness and lewdness and assuredly the remembrance of Allah is greater ... 29:45

Salat is not only a ritual of worship connecting the servant with the Lord but it is also the social ethos and circuitry that connects the faithful and serves as the bedrock of a society living the Deen. It is for this reason that congregational salat is important and that Allah conflates the condition of salat with the condition of the society in chapter 107 (Ma'uun).

The reality is that we are at best living in Makkan or Abyssinian environments, certainly in Europe. Whether or not a Madinan situation any longer exists in the 'Muslim world' is debatable and if it does it is most probably a local phenomenon. What this means is that in relation to certain aspects of social and legal issues (but not ibaadat for the most part), we have to look to the Makkan phase of the story. And this is why I emphasize the importance of the story-dogma balance or equation. By that I mean that the dogma must be compatible with and appropriate to where we are in the story of the evolution of the Deen, individually and socially. If this is not the case, there can be no living tawhid and no gatheredness.

Statements like the one referred to betray a complete disconnect between story and dogma such that all concept of context and appropriateness is lost. This is why there is so much confusion in the Muslim world. There exists this erroneous assumption that because chronologically we come after the conclusion of the prophetic story we automatically inherit the collective station of the first Muslim community at its apogee without the need for the training and development that took place during the course of the story's unfoldment. As a result we do not understand the utter importance and power of patience nor do we understand the dynamics of power in Islam.

This latter point has been most vividly driven home to me by the response of some Muslims to my having advocated the circulation of the Prayer of Taif as a response to the cartoons. These Muslims argue that such a response is too weak when in fact it is the strongest response (if one understands the nature of power in Islam) especially with regards to the spectators who are in my view more important than the offending cartoonist. With respect to the cartoonist and the newspaper concerned, I do agree that we must make use of all legal means (petitions, letters, demonstrations, etc.) in order to make it clear in no uncertain terms that insulting depictions of the Prophet (s) are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in anyway shape or form. But this action has to come after we have checked and counseled ourselves and ensured that we are acting from the vantage point of truth and light and not emotional inflammation and rage.

On the question of force, power and war, we must ask ourselves why was the license for violent resistance and war withheld from the Muslims in Makkah and for a while thereafter? Could they not have adopted a form of guerrilla warfare from the mountains? Was it only because they were weak and vulnerable? Or was it because they were also being trained in patience, which is the principle virtue that Allah associates with the warrior (rather than courage, bravado, strength, etc.). Consider the verses 8:65-66 and 2:249 to mention a few.

In any case, I am fed up with Muslims banging on about war and violence. A warrior is either at war or he/she is at peace he/she does not live in limbo in between and just talk hot. That is agitation and is the result of an absence of inner peace and tranquility. The proof that Muslims are in no way up to military war lies in the current confusion which prevails throughout the Muslim world and the fact that more Muslims die in Muslim warring and violence than anyone else. But what is more important is that Muslims have not understood where and on what front the war is being fought.

Is the only war military or violent? There is a serious lack of intelligence as to what we are faced with here and no amount of legal pronouncements and dogma are going to conceal this fact. We have to become more sophisticated in our understanding of things and balance literalism (dogma) with a profound understanding of metaphor and symbolism (story). A sword can be a sword or it can be a smile, or a word, or an investment, or a film, or a book, or a pen, etc. Which is it to be in any given situation requires wisdom and justice, both of which are in no plentiful supply in our community.

As for the attack of takfir on certain Muslims contained in the statement in question, I think that in itself undermines the credibility and authority of the statement. Conflating issues and exploiting situations in order to vent poison is a sign of the predominance of anger over sense. Such attitudes and behavior should be ignored especially when previous attempts have been made to counsel those who conduct themselves in this way.

In the interest of balance and fairness, I must point out that the analysis of the arrogance and irreverence of certain sections of European non-Muslim society, whom I would call secular extremists, contained in the statement is useful.

Allah knows best.
Salaams & Duas
Abu Kauthar


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