France and Caricatures of the Prophet
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) is more beloved to us than anything else. He is more beloved to us than our material possessions, our loved ones, and even our own selves. Allāh the Exalted says:
النَّبِيُّ أَوْلَى بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ
“The Prophet has greater concern for the believers than they do for their own souls.”
The Ottoman exegete, Abū al-Saʿūd Āfandī, mentioned that this verse is general and applies to all matters. In his commentary, he stated that the Prophet (upon him be peace) is more beloved to a Muslim than even his own self. Others have mentioned this too.
In the Ḥadīth corpus, there are several narrations that speak of this. Some of them are:
The Prophet (upon him be peace) said:
لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى أَكُونَ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ وَالِدِهِ وَوَلَدِهِ
“One does not truly believe until I am more beloved to him than his parents and his children.”
And in another narration, he said:
لَا يَجِدُ أَحَدٌ حَلَاوَةَ الْإِيمَانِ حَتَّى يُحِبَّ الْمَرْءَ لَا يُحِبُّهُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ وَحَتَّى أَنْ يُقْذَفَ فِي النَّارِ أَحَبُّ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ أَنْ يَرْجِعَ إِلَى الْكُفْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ أَنْقَذَهُ اللَّهُ وَحَتَّى يَكُونَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْهِ مِمَّا سِوَاهُمَا
“One will not taste the sweetness of faith until he loves for Allāh’s sake, until being cast into fire is more beloved to him than returning to disbelief after Allāh saved him from it, and until Allāh and His messenger are more beloved to him than anything else.”
Imām Bukhārī, Imam Muslim, and others related this. In some narrations, the mention of loving Allāh and His messenger comes first. Loving the Prophet (upon him be peace) is a priority in every Muslim’s life. The Prophet (upon him be peace) is more important to us than our wealth and families. He is more important than any other creation.
In another narration, Imām Bukhārī related the following incident on the authority of Anas b. Mālik (Allāh be pleased with him):
أَنَّ رَجُلًا سَأَلَ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: مَتَى السَّاعَةُ يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ قَالَ: مَا أَعْدَدْتَ لَهَا قَالَ: مَا أَعْدَدْتُ لَهَا مِنْ كَثِيرِ صَلَاةٍ، وَلاَ صَوْمٍ، وَلاَ صَدَقَةٍ وَلكِنِّي أُحِبُّ اللهَ وَرَسولَهُ قَالَ: أَنْتَ مَعَ مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ
“A man asked the Prophet (upon him be peace): ‘O Allāh’s messenger! When is the hour?’ The Prophet (upon him be peace) replied: ‘What have you prepared for it?’ He said: ‘I have not prepared a lot of prayers, fasting, or charity, but I love Allāh and His messenger.’ The Prophet (upon him be peace) said: ‘You will be with the one whom you love.’”
Loving the Prophet and following him are key to one’s success in this world and the hereafter. Felicity in the next world is found in believing in him and following his way. When we reach the hereafter, we will be with those whom we love. When one loves the Prophet, one will accompany him in paradise.
This is not a reality that applied only to those around the messenger. In fact, it includes mankind in our current time. The passing of time has not changed this. This applies to the Muslims of then and the Muslims of now. This applies to Muslims who reside in the Muslim World and likewise to Muslims who reside in minority contexts. We all love our messenger. Loving him is applicable in all times. Imām Muslim related the following narration:
مِنْ أَشَدِّ أُمَّتِي لِي حُبًّا نَاسٌ يَكُونُونَ بَعْدِي يَوَدُّ أَحَدُهُمْ لَوْ رَآنِي بِأَهْلِهِ وَمَالِهِ
“Those from my community who have the most love for me will come after me. They will yearn to see me even if their families and wealth be sacrificed to do so.”
For Muslims, the Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) is sacrosanct. He is beloved to us. He is inviolable and insulting him is deplorable. Showing caricatures of him is offensive. Furthermore, using Islām to further political agendas, win elections, and to stir up xenophobic sentiments is something that we do not accept. The Prophet’s honor and the sanctity of our religious symbols must not be used to advance the political agendas of individuals or governments.
The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) is our messenger. Sacrilege toward him is unacceptable. We feel this way about all of Allāh’s prophets, including Ādam, Nūḥ, Ibrāhīm, Mūsā, ʿĪsā, and the others.
Muslim students should not have to endure this while they pursue their education. Muslims deserve respect in the societies in which they reside, in the schools that they attend, and in the places where they work. We must always love our Prophet (upon him be peace). If we find animosity exhibited toward us because we follow him, we must remain steadfast. The love for him in our hearts should always be there. Our love for the Prophet (upon him be peace) should be more than the love we have for anyone else.
With the events that are transpiring in France, in cities like Montpellier and Toulouse, these offensive caricatures are being projected onto government buildings. This is a religious and cultural affront to Muslims around the world. Moreover, it is being sanctioned within high levels of the French government. Their message seems to be that they will continue to promulgate antireligion and secularist ideologies even if it compromises their relationships with the global Muslim community.
Many Muslims are angry and frustrated over this. Many are wondering what they should do. Following the scholars’ guidance is the path that the community should adopt. The scholars uphold the sacred law in a way that is coupled with wisdom. This situation does not need vigilantes administering extrajudicial punishments. One who speaks ill of the Prophet (upon him be peace) has done something grave. His action is utterly unacceptable. We must look at the reality of our current circumstance to sensibly determine what is the most prudent course of action considering the situation and the needs of the time.
The context underlying what is happening in France and the relationship that they have with many Muslim nations and the Muslim minority who resides there must be understood. The teenager who committed this act is from that minority community. Only 8.8% of France is Muslim. People from an Algerian background comprise most of this demographic. There are also many Muslims in France from the other North African countries, like Morocco and Tunisia.
Historically, France colonized Algeria, which continued until 1962. The French committed many atrocities while trying to maintain their colonial hegemony. In fact, their colonization of Algeria was brutal. French historians have acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of instances of torture took place during this time. The torture was systemic. Many Muslims lost their lives and limbs during these events.
Many Muslims from these backgrounds who currently reside in France were moved there to serve as low-level laborers. Nowadays, many of them stay there in housing projects and ghettos. Moreover, the discrimination that they routinely face is severe.
The French have oppressed generations of these people. They have murdered, tortured, raped, and oppressed them. And this is an oppression that has, in many ways, continued in the modern era. At present, the French are using isolated events to validate the wrongs that they committed and to rationalize the continued oppression of Muslims who reside under their governance. They are using the caricatures and the incidents related to them to forward their ideological and political agendas.
The event that happened with Samuel Paty is unfortunate. The stabbing of two Muslim women under the Eiffel Tower is calamitous. What happened in Nice is terrible. Any act of violence or oppression that ensues from these events is tragic. These acts of violence must stop. Incendiary hate speech (i.e. the caricatures) must stop.
What the French media and government continues to do is racist and derogatory. It is not freedom of expression. The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) and other symbols of our religion must be respected. France has repeatedly published demeaning caricatures of him. This is unacceptable.
It is important that the world knows where we stand on this issue. We must act wisely and should not resort to vigilantism. It is best that we defend our beloved Prophet (upon him be peace) peacefully. Boycotting French goods, peaceful protests, and these sorts of measures should be taken.
Participating in this type of activism is one part of what we can do. Our greatest act now and the most important thing for us is that we adopt the Prophet’s way and live according to his Sunnah. This is what it means to love him. And when we love him, we will soon be with him in paradise.
The Prophet (upon him be peace) has been insulted before. In fact, it happened many times during his life. Prior to his dispatchment, those who he lived among considered him to be truthful and noble. Then, after he began conveying the message, they accused him of being an insane poet, bewitched by magic, and a soothsayer. Allāh defended the Prophet (upon him be peace) and refuted their accusations.
In the Qurʾān, Allāh the Exalted says:
إِنَّهُ لَقَوْلُ رَسُولٍ كَرِيمٍ وَمَا هُوَ بِقَوْلِ شَاعِرٍ قَلِيلًا مَا تُؤْمِنُونَ وَلَا بِقَوْلِ كَاهِنٍ قَلِيلًا مَا تَذَكَّرُونَ تَنْزِيلٌ مِنْ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“This Qurʾān is, indeed, the very word of God, conveyed by way of a noble messenger-angel. And it is not the word of a poet. But little is it that you human beings believe. Nor is it the word of a soothsayer. But little are you human beings mindful of God’s admonitions. It is revelation sent down from the Lord of All the Worlds.”
And He says:
إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا إِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ يَسْتَكْبِرُونَ وَيَقُولُونَ أَئِنَّا لَتَارِكُو آلِهَتِنَا لِشَاعِرٍ مَجْنُونٍ بَلْ جَاءَ بِالْحَقِّ وَصَدَّقَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ
“For whenever it was said to them in life: There is no God but the One God, they would grow so very arrogant and say: Are we to forsake our gods for the word of a possessed poet? Rather, Muḥammad has, indeed, come with the truth from God! Moreover, he has confirmed the revealed truth of all the messengers proceeding him.”
The pagans’ hostility toward the Prophet (upon him be peace) and his noble companions was not limited to just their words. In fact, they both verbally and physically abused them. In some instances, they tortured them to death. There are accounts transmitted in the prophetic sīrah that discuss this in detail. In early Islām, there were only a few Muslims. For years, they were unable to practice their faith openly.
In the Qurʾān, Allāh says:
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ الَّذِينَ يَجْعَلُونَ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آخَرَ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ وَلَقَدْ نَعْلَمُ أَنَّكَ يَضِيقُ صَدْرُكَ بِمَا يَقُولُونَ فَسَبِّحْ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّكَ وَكُنْ مِنَ السَّاجِدِينَ وَاعْبُدْ رَبَّكَ حَتَّى يَأْتِيَكَ الْيَقِينُ
“Proclaim that which you have been commanded to convey and turn away from the idolaters. For, indeed, We shall suffice you against all the mockers, those who assign along with God any other god. Yet shall they all come to know the penalty of unbelief. And very truly, We know that your breast is constrained by what they say. Yet highly exalt your Lord with all praise. And be always of those who bow their faces down to the ground. And worship your Lord thus – until the certainty comes to you.”
This was revealed in the fourth or fifth year after the Prophet’s dispatchment. For years, the Prophet (upon him be peace) and his companions did not practice openly. They would pray and observe the rituals of faith in seclusion to avoid the idolaters’ persecution. During this time, the Muslims would gather in Dār al-Arqam.
In these verses, Allāh commanded the Prophet (upon him be peace) to convey the message. He is being commanded to disregard the polytheists’ insults and ridicule. He is being commanded to turn away from their regrettable state, but not to completely give up on them. Rather, the verse tells the Prophet (upon him be peace) to invite to Allāh and His religion. And Allāh says that he will suffice the Prophet (upon him be peace) against their cruelty and abuse.
Allāh says He will suffice the Prophet (upon him be peace). As well, He assures him that He is aware of the pain inflicted by their hurtful words and harmful deeds. Their disbelief and mockery were intense. And for years, the Muslims had borne the brunt of their brutality. Allāh is telling the Prophet (upon him be peace) to remain steadfast and to convey the truth. The Prophet (upon him be peace) should rely on Him.
Indeed, Allāh suffices the righteous. The Prophet (upon him be peace) began inviting the people to Islām. Then, Allāh opened the hearts of many great men and guided them to the truth. Ḥamzah b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (Allāh be pleased with him) embraced Islām. After his conversion, the pagans were limited to mocking the Muslims by their words. Prior to that, they used violence and torture to oppress them. Thereafter, ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (Allāh be pleased with him) embraced Islam. Regarding ʿUmar’s conversion, Ibn Masʿūd (Allāh be pleased with him) said:
إن إسلام عمر كان فتحا وإن هجرته كانت نصرا وإن إمارته كانت رحمة والله ما استطعنا أن نصلي عند الكعبة ظاهرين حتى أسلم عمر
“ʿUmar’s conversion was a triumph, his migration was a victory, and his rule was a mercy. By Allāh! We were unable to publicly offer our prayers at the Kaʿbah until after he converted.”
Allāh commanded the Prophet (upon him be peace) to diligently remember Him and to engage in worship. He continued to praise the Almighty, submit to Him in prayer and devotion, and invite mankind to the truth. The divine assistance and success that Allāh promised him came.
In the face of the polytheists’ malignant mockery, Allāh told His messenger to remain steadfast and to worship Him while inviting the people to Islām. The Prophet (upon him be peace) did so and truth triumphed over falsehood. Maintaining composure when besmirched by the depraved may be difficult. Allāh is with those who are resolute and devout.
Our time is steeped in ignorance. Many are unaware of who the Prophet (upon him be peace) really is. We must follow his Sunnah in word and deed. Moreover, we must teach the people about him. In the Prophet and his Sunnah there is goodness. In the Prophet and his Sunnah there is mercy. Allāh says:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ
“We sent you as a mercy to the world.”
Indeed, the Prophet (upon him be peace) was sent with all that is required for one to find peace and felicity in this world and the next. Mankind was misguided and confused. They were lost and astray. Allāh sent the Prophet as a beacon of light and a mercy. The Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace) came with guidance and wisdom. He came with mercy.
These attempts to disparage Islām, the Prophet, and Muslims will come to naught. The Prophet’s teachings illuminate the hearts of men. We should not limit displaying our love for the Prophet (upon him be peace) to protesting these caricatures; verily, our love for him should also be displayed in how we emulate his ways and manners. We must strive to follow him, inwardly and outwardly. We should strive to convey the message and to teach those around us what we know about our beloved Prophet Muḥammad (ṣalla Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). We should teach them the mercy that he came with.
 Sūrat al-Aḥzāb, 6.
 Irshād al-ʿAql al-Salīm, 6:418.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, #13.
 Ibid., #6041.
 Ibid., #6171.
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, #2922.
 Conrad Hackett, “5 Facts About the Muslim Population in Europe,” Pew Research Center, November 29, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/29/5-facts-about-the-muslim-population-in-europe/.
 Angelique Chrisafis, “France Admits Systemic Torture During Algeria War for the First Time,” The Guardian, September 13, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/13/france-state-responsible-for-1957-death-of-dissident-maurice-audin-in-algeria-says-macron.
 Staff writer, Al Arabiya English, “European Court Rules Insulting Prophet Muhammad ‘Not Freedom of Expression,’” October 25, 2018, https://english.alarabiya.net/en/features/2018/10/25/European-court-rules-insulting-Prophet-Mohammed-not-freedom-of-expression-.
 Sūrat al-Ḥāqqah, 40-43.
 Sūrat al-Ṣāffāt, 35-37.
 Sūrat al-Ḥijr, 93-99.
 al-Muʿjam al-Kabīr, #8806.
 al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr, 7:87-92.
 Sūrat al-Anbiyāʾ, 107.