Here we go again. Baptist Minister Jerry Falwell, during an interview conducted by CBS’s “60 Minutes” on October 6, told journalist Bob Simon he thought the Prophet Muhammad was “a terrorist.” Naturally, this has caused an angry uproar in the American Muslim community. My question is, why are Muslims so bent out of shape over this?
This is not the first time conservative Christian leaders have attacked Islam and its Prophet. The Rev. Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son and successor, called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.” Christian Coalition founder and television evangelist Pat Robertson called the prophet Muhammad “an absolute wild-eyed fanatic . . . a robber and brigand . . . a killer.” Jerry Vines, past President of the Southern Baptist Convention, also put his voice in the fray when he called the Prophet a “demon-possessed pedophile.”
Further, this is not the first time the Prophet Muhammad has been slandered. During his lifetime, he was smeared as “demon-possessed,” or as a “sorcerer,” or as “crazy,” or as a “soothsayer” by his enemies. During his ministry in Mecca, the Prophet would be slandered every time he prayed at the Ka’abah, Islam’s holy shrine. Yet, this did not deter him. He frequently took it in stride and never let it bother him.
What’s more, this is not the first time Prophets have been slandered and attacked by their opponents. Jesus was frequently stoned, as was recorded in the New Testament. Jesus, in fact, twice said, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country” (Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4). In the Qur’an, Noah was slandered as a “man possessed and was driven out [by his people]” (54:9), and Moses was condemned by Pharoah as a “sorcerer” (17:101). So, the slander of Prophets in general, and Prophet Muhammad in particular, is nothing new.
And yet, it still hurts. Why? Because the “terrorist” Rev. Falwell claims is Prophet Muhammad is not the Prophet we know as Muslims. The Prophet we know is kind and gentle. Whenever he passed by small children, he would greet them with kisses and kind words. The Prophet we know told us, “The best of you are the ones who treat their wives the best.” Our Prophet abhorred violence, and he always searched for peaceful ends to conflict. Our Prophet forgave his enemies despite their relentless and violent opposition to him. Our Prophet forgave his companions after they directly disobyed his order during a military battle, in which the Prophet himself was badly wounded. The Muhammad that these conservative Christian leaders are talking about must be some other person; it is not the Prophet 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide honor, revere, and ask God to send blessing down upon each and every day.
I am not asking Rev. Falwell (or Robertson or Graham or Vines) to love or even like the Prophet Muhammad. They are entitled to their opinions. What I, and the millions of other American Muslims, ask is respect for our Prophet. No Prophet or religious figure should be slandered in the way the Prophet Muhammad has been publicly maligned. Comments such as that of Rev. Falwell only serve to divide us as a people. Furthermore, it is unbecoming of a Christian because the Qur’an told me, “And nearest among them in love to the believers wilt thou find those who say, ‘We are Christians'”. In this day and age, division and discord are two things America can do without.
HESHAM A. HASSABALLA is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and the Independent Writers Syndicate. He is contributing author to the forthcoming Rodale book, Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, due to be released in November.