Islamic Perspectives

Prophet Muhammad: Master of Tolerance

By Raya Shokatfard

We, as the Prophet’s followers, have the easy part which is to seek and adopt his gentle qualities and high moral standards into daily practice. God has always chosen prophets with the best of characters, morals and spirits. Since God is All-Knowing, All-Wise, and has ordained humans’ destiny before their birth, it is feasible to think that He has already chosen His Prophets before even their entrance into the world.

Prophet Muhammad was not an exception. God bestowed on him the best of characters, one of which was his exceptional tolerance which is manifested in his life and teachings. The Qur’an testifies this in the following words, “And verily, you (O Muhammad) possess an exalted (standard of) character” (Al-Qalam 68:4). We will examine here some examples of his tolerance at the advent of Islam and during its expansion process.

In Makkah, during the first 13 years of his life as Prophet, he and his followers faced much persecution. Muslims were not allowed by God to fight back due to the fact that they had no military strength yet as the Prophet had a small following which gradually increased. It was only in Madinah, when his following and military power rapidly grew, that fighting to defend themselves and the new religion was allowed.

When the Prophet’s opponents greatly increased their persecution, his companions asked him to curse them. At this the Prophet replied, “I have not been sent to lay a curse upon people but to be a blessing unto them” (Muslim). His opponents continued to treat him and his companions unjustly and cruelly, but he always prayed for them.

He once decided to personally visit the town of Ta’if, to the east of Makkah, to invite its inhabitants to Islam. People there rejected him, stoned him, ejected him, and made him to bleed. Angel Gabriel came to him and said, “Allah has heard what your people said to you and how they rejected you. He has ordered the angels of the mountains to obey whatever you tell them to do.” The angel of the mountains called him, greeted him and said, “Send me to do what you wish. If you wish, I will crush them between the two mountains of Makkah.” The Prophet said, “Rather, I hope that Allah will bring forth from their loins those who will worship Allah alone and not associate anything with Him” (Al-Bukhari).

In the early Makkan period when the enemies of the new faith far exceeded the Prophet’s companions in number, it often happened that when the Prophet would stand to pray in the House of God (the Ka’bah), his foes would approach him and whistle and clap in order to disturb him, but the Prophet would not even once show anger at such provoations. He always opted for tolerance and avoided confrontation.

In one instance when the Prophet was praying at the Ka’bah while his enemies were watching his movements and action, one of his adversaries threw on his back the intestine of a slaughtered camel while the Prophet was in the prostration position. He did not react and stayed in that position. His daughter, Fatimah, rushed to take the filth off his back and cleaned him up. Later, when Prophet Muhammad and many of his companions migrated to Madinah, again his great character in dealing with his companions and enemies was manifest.

In Madinah, Muslims were in the process of establishing the new Islamic state. Yet, their enemies in Makkah did not leave them at peace but decided to wage war against them and pursue them even in Madinah.

In the battle of Uhud, when his Makkan enemies attacked the Muslims, Prophet Muhammad suffered a head injury and one of his front teeth got smashed. When  blood started to seep from his head, he swabbed it saying, “If a drop of my blood fell on the earth, those infidels will be destroyed by Allah.” Umar told him, “O Messenger of Allah, curse them!” The Prophet replied: “I wasn’t sent (by Allah) to curse. I was sent as a mercy.” Then he said: “O Allah, Guide my people!” (Hadith authenticated by Al-Albani). Allah confirmed his blessed character by saying, “And We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to mankind” (Al-Anbiya’ 21:107).

The Prophet once said, “A true believer is one with whom others feel secure” (Al-Bukhari). He manifested these words with action and was not fast to take revenge or to rebuke a wrong doer.

A bedouin once entered his mosque in Madinah and started to urinate inside it. Mosques at that time had no walls and carpeted floors and the ceilings were made of palm leaves held up by palm stems. People ran to (prevent and restrain) this man. The Prophet said, “Do not interrupt him (i.e., let him finish). Then the Prophet asked for a pitcher of water to be poured over the place of urine (Al-Bukhari).

One of Jesus’ famous sayings is “Love your neighbour like you love yourself.” Prophet Muhammad complemented this by saying, “By God, he is not a believer, by God, he is not a believer, by God, he is not a believer, with whom his neighbours are not secure” (Al-Bukhari). This includes tolerance for actions people do that is not pleasing to some.

It is reported that one of the Prophet’s neighbours was a Jewess who hated the Prophet so much that each day she would throw trash on him while he passed there. The Prophet never rebuked her. One day, the Jewess did not show up. The Prophet asked about her, and was told that she was sick. So, he went to visit her and inquire about her health. Upon seeing this, the Jewess embraced Islam.

The enmity of his worst enemies toward his most beloved was also met with awesome goodness. Hamza was among the Prophet’s most beloved uncle. During one of the battles, Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, the arch enemy of the Prophet in Makkah, had ordered her slave to find Hamza and kill him with his arrow. Upon seeing him dead, she rushed to his body and cut out his liver and started chewing it in a fit of rage. Years later, after the conquest of Makkah, the Prophet did not seek revenge on her and accepted her and her husband as new converts and gave them full protection and honour as one of the chieftains of Makkah.

Anas ibn Malik, who served the Prophet for ten years, said that the Prophet never rebuked him: “When I did something, he never questioned my manner of doing it, and when I did not do something, he never questioned my failure to do it. He was the most good-natured of all men” (Al-Bukhari). Such tolerance gained him the respect of even of his enemies, and his followers stood by him through all kinds of hardships and misfortunes. Despite all the concessions, Prophet Muhammad made to the Makkans, the latter violated the treaty they signed with him earlier.

Although his worst enemies were the Makkan Arabs at the beginning, but in Madinah, the Jews did not spare any effort to conspire against him despite signing treaties with him. However, he tried to be as fair with them as possible and only waged war against them when they broke treaties which caused much loss of life to Muslims.

Once, when the Prophet was sitting at a place in Madinah, along with his companions, a funeral procession passed by. On seeing this, the Prophet stood up. One of his companions remarked that the funeral was that of a Jew. The Prophet replied, “Was he not a human being?” (Muslim).

Since Prophet Muhammad wished to avoid conflict and war at all cost, he strove to conclude a peace agreement with the Makkans. After great efforts and concessions on his part, the non-Muslims of Makkah agreed to a ten-year peace treaty, which was drafted and signed at Al-Hudaybiyyah, a place outside Makkah.

During this important meeting, the Makkans insisted on a number of extremely provocative demands. For instance, the agreement mentioned the Prophet’s name as “the Messenger of Allah.” They insisted to replace by “son of Abdullah.” The Prophet accepted this peacefully and deleted the appellation. Similarly, they made the condition that if they could lay their hands on any Muslim they would keep him as a hostage, but if the Muslims succeeded in detaining anyone from their side, they would have to return him. The Prophet conceded to even this point for the sake of establishing peace in the region. He was clearly setting examples of fairness and tolerance while facing injustice and intolerance.

Despite all the concessions Prophet Muhammad made to the Makkans, the latter soon violated the treaty. It was only then that the Prophet finally marched with his huge army to Makkah and without any resistance or shedding a single drop of blood, he conquered the city which was once the abode of his worst enemies.

As mentioned earlier, the Prophet and his followers had suffered a great deal during their 13 years of life in Makkah and even after their migration to Madinah. His own clan and even family members continued to oppose him not only in Makkah but chose to fight him in Madinah for over 10 years. They did not spare any effort to inflict the worse possible hardships on the Prophet and his companions. In Makkah, it included torture, boycot, killing weak Muslims, confiscating their wealth and properties, separating family members and killing them wherever they could find them after migration from Makkah. With God’s help and his companions’ steadfastness in Madinah and upholding the message of Islam, Muslims finally conquered Makkah. Its leaders came to him fearing that he would kill them as all conquerors do. Instead, he told them, “Go! You are all free!” (Hadith authenticated by Al-Albani).

Prophet Muhammad’s mercy and tolerance included  his worst enemies. Such tolerance awed his enemies who converted to the new faith. The end result of his tolerance is registered to this day. The message of Islam spread across the world to include one fifth of the global population today.

These are only a few among many examples of the Prophet’s tolerance and noble character. Aisha, the wife of the Prophet, was asked regarding his character. She said very simply:

Clearly, the Prophet moulded his life in accordance with the ideal pattern of life that he presented to others in the form of the Quran revealed to him by God. He never beat a servant, or a woman, or anyone else. He did, of course, fight for what was right. When he had to choose between two alternatives, he would opt for the easier course, provided it involved no sin. No one was more careful to avoid sin than him. He never sought revenge for himself for any wrong done to him personally. He was tolerant to the extreme with both his friends and enemies. Only if God’s commandments were broken would he meet out retribution for the sake of God. It was such conduct which gained the Prophet universal respect.

Scholars had explained as follows how the Quran was the Prophet’s character: What this means is that he followed the Qur’anic etiquette and adopted its attitude. Whatever was praised in the Quran, he was pleased with it, and whatever was condemned in the Quran he hated it. It says in one report that Aisha said: “His attitude was the Quran. Whatever it was pleased with he was pleased with and whatever it hated he hated it” (Ibn Rajab, Jaami’ al-’Ulum wa’ l-Hikam (1/148)).

One may say, since he was the last Prophet and Messenger to Mankind, none other can ever be quite like him. This is true because none shall ever have to shoulder a fraction of the responsibilities he had to bear. However, we, as his followers, have the easy part which is to seek and adopt his gentle qualities and high moral standards into daily practice; for the Prophet’s life was divinely chosen to function as a practical manual of how one should live and behave.

Prophet Muhammad’s character and qualities are not only for the Muslims to follow, but sincere seekers who learn about him, praise his noble character and wish to follow it.

Goethe, a famous German writer, artist, and politician of the 1800s, marvelled over the achievements and status of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) saying:

“We Europeans with all our concepts and ideas have not yet attained that which Muhammad attained, and no one will ever surpass him. I searched in history for the loftiest example for man to follow, and I found it in the Prophet Muhammad. The truth must prevail and become supreme, because Muhammad succeeded in subjugating the whole world by means of the message of Divine Oneness.” (