Death Be Upon You

Due to my interest in Islam, I often spend time interacting with Muslims in various venues. Often times, these interactions trigger one of these articles. So it was the recently when the topic of Muhammad’s kindness came up, particularly in response to harsh treatment. To compare this to Jesus’ response, I specifically want to examine Muhammad’s response when confronted with verbal abuse.

Within the Muslim community, many Muslim apologists discuss the merits of Muhammad. One of these is that Muhammad was kind to everyone, regardless of the insults or taunts that were hurled at him. These supporters cite the Qur’an, which orders Muslims in general and Muhammad in particular to ignore such verbal abuse. For example,

[33.48] And be not compliant to the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and leave unregarded their annoying talk, and rely on Allah; and Allah is sufficient as a Protector.

And again the Qur’an says,

[50.39] Therefore be patient of what they say, and sing the praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before the setting.

The Qur’an teaches Muslims to patiently bear up and disregard criticism. Yet this isn’t often the response from Muslims today when Muhammad or Islam itself is disparaged. The reason for this is that Muslims look to the life of Muhammad as the perfect model for Muslim’s present-day actions. (Qur’an 33:21). In order to understand the Muslim reaction to verbal assault, we must examine Muhammad’s comebacks when verbally harangued

There are some cases where Muhammad was confronted with severe opposition, and indeed offers a gracious and kind response. However, there are also cases where his response is equally harsh, or even more so. For example, in a previous article, I discussed Muhammad’s response to a man named Abu Lahab. When Abu Lahab excoriated Muhammad for wasting his time, the response was the revelation of an entire surah of the Qur’an (Surah 111) dedicated to cursing Abu Lahab as well as his wife. Another example of how Muhammad dealt with verbal abuse is narrated by one of Muhammad’s wives, Aisha

The Jews used to greet the Prophet by saying, “As-Samu ‘Alaika (i.e., death be upon you), so I understood what they said, and I said to them, “As-Samu ‘alaikum wal-la’na (i.e. Death and Allah’s Curse be upon you).” The Prophet said, “Be gentle and calm, O ‘Aisha, as Allah likes gentleness in all affairs.” I said, “O Allah’s Prophet! Didn’t you hear what they said?” He said, “Didn’t you hear me answering them back by saying, ‘Alaikum (i.e., the same be upon you)?” [i]

In other words, when greeted with a curse, Muhammad returned it verbatim. This kind of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” retaliation often feels good in the flesh, but God teaches us something very different in the Bible. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 we are told to never “return evil for evil.” These words are echoed in other verses such as Romans 12:17. But God’s teaching goes much further than this. Not returning insult for insult isn’t the end of the story; we are supposed to return a blessing instead! Form 1 Peter 3:9,

9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Jesus Himself exemplified this teaching, (1 Peter 2:23) and as Christians this is to be our guiding principle (Hebrews 12:3). Romans 12:21 sums it up,

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The difference between Christian and Islamic doctrine couldn’t be clearer. The example for Muslims is to return an insult for an insult. In Christianity, when we are insulted, we are to return a blessing instead.

When I started this article, I noted that this article came out of a recent discussion I had with several Muslims. I asked the men to explain to me how Muhammad’s actions of returning a curse in the Hadith cited above exemplified his kindness and goodness. After several minutes, the consensus was that they didn’t know, but because it was Muhammad who did it, it must be the kind and appropriate thing to do.

Not once have I ever been embarrassed by Jesus’ actions, or forced to write off something He did as unexplainable. This, in itself, is another stark difference between the actions of Jesus and Muhammad.


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