Socio-Political Issues

Recent Controversies about Freedom of Speech

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Once the disbelievers injured Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) so much that His (pbuh) shoes got filled with blood. But, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) only asked mercy of Allah for them. He (pbuh) forgave those in Fath-e-Makkah who tortured Him (pbuh) and Companions (rta) and who banished Him (pbuh) and Companions (rta) from their homeland and deprived the Muslims to offer prayers in Holy Kaaba for several years.

He (pbuh) left all glory and glamour offered by disbelievers in exchange of leaving the message of Islam. He (pbuh) did not leave the message even when this was surely to result in oppression, social isolation and persecution. He (pbuh) lived same, simple and modest life before and after the political rise.

Disbelievers who even tried to take the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) could not find tiny misconduct or blemish in character which if it had existed, surely will have been used by them (God forbid). But, there was indeed no blemish in character which was the reason why even the disbelievers called Him (pbuh) ‘Saadiq’ (Truthful) and ‘Ameen’ (Trustworthy). In fact, His (pbuh) character inspired Companions (rta) to follow Him (pbuh) and Islam even when it was surely to result in oppression and persecution and it did.

At the time when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) started preaching Islam, not only following Him (pbuh) meant facing oppression, persecution and socio-economic isolation for oneself, but even the Prophet (pbuh) Himself had to suffer such atrocities for one and a half decade. Companions (rta) who followed Him (pbuh) could not have done so for any other reason than looking at the upright character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and embracing Islam because it touched their hearts and gave them eternal peace.

The very reason that disbelievers who had done all to stop Him (pbuh) and that even they could not put against Him (pbuh) any ethical charge during and after His (pbuh) lifetime tells the story itself. Dozens of non-Muslim historians, philosophers and intellectuals in West have mentioned Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in high esteem including Goethe, Bernardshaw, Bernard Smith, Carlyle, Gibson, Montgomery Watt, Leonard and many others. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) lived in the daylight of history. His (pbuh) life was fully documented in such comprehensive detail that we find no comparison and parallel to it.

Muslim community comprises 1.7 billion human beings and this community represents a rich history and heritage. It includes scientists, philosophers, historians, academicians, Nobel laureates, philanthropists, artists, sports stars and elected political representatives in western countries as well.

Qur’an made it necessary for all Muslims to believe in Prophet-hood of all messengers of Allah including Ibrahim (pbuh), Moses (pbuh), Jesus (pbuh) and all others. It is through Qur’an that we get to know and believe that all messengers without any single exception were pious and excellent role models in character and Muslims differentiate in no Prophets (pbut) when it comes to their stature, role, respect and character.

The quotations below by non-Muslim historians and intellectuals go on to show that even if one studies the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), an unbiased study cannot fail to admit that He (pbuh) was indeed the best in character.

Writing on Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophecy, Scott (1904, p.126) wrote:

“If the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect and if the performance of good works will avail in the great day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit that Muhammad was indeed an Apostle of Allah.”

Describing His upright character and personality attributes, Muir (1912) wrote:

“If he turned in a conversation towards a friend, he turned not partially, but with his full face and his whole body. In shaking hands, he was not the first to withdraw his own; nor was he the first to break off in converse with a stranger, nor to turn away his ear. A patriarchal simplicity pervaded his life. His custom was to do everything for himself. If he gave alms, he would place it with his own hands in that of the petitioner. He aided his wives in their household duties, mended his clothes, tied up the goats, and even cobbled his sandals. His ordinary dress was of plain white cotton stuff, made like his neighbors’. He never reclined at meals. Muhammad, with his wives, lived, as we have seen, in a row of low and homely cottages built of unbaked bricks, the apartments separated by walls of palm branches rudely daubed with mud, while curtains of leather, or of black haircloth, supplied the place of doors and windows. He was to all of easy access…

… Muhammad displayed all the qualifications of an able and experienced ruler. What renders this stranger is that he was never known himself to write.

A remarkable feature was the urbanity and consideration with which Muhammad treated even the most insignificant of his followers. Modesty and kindliness, patience, self denial, and generosity, pervaded his conduct, and riveted the affections of all around him. He disliked saying ‘No’. If unable to answer a petitioner in the affirmative, he preferred silence. He was not known ever to refuse an invitation to the house even of the meanest, nor to decline a proffered present however small. He possessed the rare faculty of making each individual in a company think that he was the favored guest. If he met anyone rejoicing at success, he would seize him eagerly and cordially by the hand. With the bereaved and afflicted, he sympathized tenderly. Gentle and unbending towards little children, he would not disdain to accost a group of them at play with the salutation of peace. He shared his food, even in times of scarcity, with others, and was sedulously solicitous for the personal comfort of everyone about him. A kindly and benevolent disposition pervaded all those illustrations of his character. Muhammad was a faithful friend. He loved Abu Bakr with the close affection of a brother; Ali, with the fond partiality of a father. Zaid, the freedman, was so strongly attached by the kindness of the Prophet, that he preferred to remain at Makkah rather than return home with his own father. ‘I will not leave thee,’ he said, clinging to his patron, ‘for thou hast been a father and mother to me.’”

Leonard (1909, p. 09) describing the purity of His personality and of His message and mission wrote:

“If ever any man on this earth has found Allah; if ever any man has devoted his life for the sake of Allah with a pure and holy zeal then, without doubt, and most certainly that man was the Holy Prophet of Arabia.”

Samuel Huntington in his book raised the debate of clash of civilizations and argued that Islam has ‘bloody borders’. But, the data on actual military expenditures paints a very different picture and confirms that almost all major countries in the race to expend on military are not Muslim countries. Among the individual countries, United States has a share of 41.5% of global military spending followed by China, France, UK and Russia with shares of 5.8%, 4.5%, 4.5% and 4% respectively as per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook 2009. It is ironic that the present age is considered ‘age of reason’ while millions of people have died over the course of the last decade in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere.

On the other hand, there is also an academic need to reconsider the true notion of ‘freedom’ by Western intellectuals and philosophers.

–         Is freedom to promote hatred and using false allegations to hurt sentiments of millions of people justified?

–         Is it justified to use freedom to allow use of environmental resources and pursue economic policies which will result in future generations having to inherit massive levels of debts and the consequent problems of unemployment, austerity measures and cut in welfare spending without having a say in the policies that led them to be inheriting such unprecedented problems?

–         Is it justified to use freedom to pursue self-interest and impose costs of negative externalities on others and freedom to hold no responsibility for society and its welfare even while having enough resources to combat poverty, famine and chronic illness as documented by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen?

–         Is freedom to pursue self-interest through cronies in a capitalistic democracy justified? What ethics, moral imperative or even enforceable law govern interactions and relationships of nations and their political, security and economic policies regarding other nations?

In search of weapons of mass destruction that were never found, hundreds of thousands of people lost lives in Iraq and in each passing week, hundreds of people die through drone attacks in Pakistan in the name of ‘collateral damage’ and no discourse, critique and question is raised against it. What exactly is freedom then?


Leonard, Arthur G. “Islam, it’s Moral and Spiritual Values”. London: Luzac.

Muir, William (1912). “Life of Muhammad”. Edinburgh: John Grant.

Scott, P.S. (1904). “History of the Moorish Empire”. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

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