I WRITE in response to the recent 10-year jail sentence imposed on a social media user for insulting Islam and the Prophet. I have a strong conviction that we must relook this law. It is not justly balanced. Ironically, it is also not in accordance with the Quran’s and the Prophet’s way of doing things.
Muslims must remember how the Prophet behaved at the conquest of Mecca – when he was at the zenith of his power. For more than a decade before the conquest, the people of Mecca insulted and boycotted him, refused to listen to his mission, tortured him and his followers, persecuted them, drove them to exile and tried very hard to kill him. At that moment of power, did he act with cruelty or mercy? With vengeance or love?
Instead of following the rules of war, under which he could avenge himself and punish them with a death sentence, Muhammad the Prophet – whom the Quran declared as “the one sent as the mercy to all mankind” (Quran 21:107) – overflowed with kindness and love and he proclaimed: “This day, there is no reproof against you and you are all free. This day I trample under my feet all distinctions between man and man, all hatred between man and man.”
The Prophet’s behaviour in pardoning even his worst enemies, even those who killed his beloved uncle Hamzah, mangled his body, ripped it open, even chewed a piece of his liver, is consistent with another Quranic declaration, Quran 3:159: “And it was by God’s grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers: For if thou hadst been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, then, and pray that they be forgiven. And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him.”
It is obvious that the 10-year sentence is in itself an insult to the Prophet. Is it not ironic?
So where do we go from here? We need to practise mercy, just like the Prophet did. Let me unpack why mercy must play a bigger role in these kinds of situations.
Mercy is central to everything that is good. When all else fails, mercy is our saviour. The Prophet knew this. His goal is peace, not vengeance. As such, our framework to make things good and move forward must emerge from mercy. Once we have mercy as our operating system, our worldview, our intentions, our journey, our plans, actions and behavior cannot help but come back to moderation in action.
Mercy is the core of being a good human. Without mercy, there would be no humanity. With mercy, we create a chain reaction that has the powerful ability and capacity to convert enemies into friends. To change those who insult the other, into those who appreciate the other.
Mercy helps us to forgive and forget. We are a young nation chasing after big dreams. We come from different backgrounds, religions, cultures and ethnicities. It is natural that along the way, we may intentionally or unintentionally hurt each other. If we are not quick to forgive and forget, we will create a tit-for-tat cycle. Mercy will help us choose to be the bigger person and even turn the other cheek. Mercy will help us to see the greater good in forgiveness.
How to punish, then? We need to change our goal. The goal should be to educate, not to punish. To open someone’s heart, not to harden it.
I suggest a two-prong approach.
1. Anyone found insulting another religion/culture/tradition must spend time studying and understanding that religion/culture/tradition under a merciful teacher from that faith. This should include time to do community service.
2. The religious and community leader of the offender should also play a role in re-educating him or her based on his or her religious tradition. In other words, if a Christian mocks another faith, church leaders must engage the person with their own tradition and core values that correct his or her wrongful behaviour. Similarly, if a Muslim mocks another religion, a Muslim religious leader should bring him or her back to the behaviour of the Prophet.
As a Muslim Malaysian, I have a strong conviction that we need to be the first to practise mercy and follow this method. After all, we are the majority community, the country’s official religion is Islam, and the main leaders of the nation are Muslim.
We need to be the standard bearer if we want to claim leadership. We must be the community that makes the first move. When a non-Muslim insults Islam and is punished with a 10-year sentence but a Muslim preacher who insults another religion is given protection, we are seen as unjust. Our religion is looked down upon and our Prophet is misunderstood.
We Muslims know and are proud to profess that “being just is nearest to Taqwa – God-Consciousness (Quran 5:8)” but we must also be seen to practise it consistently. Lest we become the very type that is warned by Allah as a Mutaffifin – those who give short measure.
“O You who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: verily, God is aware of all that you do. (Quran 5:8).”
“Woe unto those who give short measure, those who, when they are to receive their due from [other] people, demand that it be given in full, but when they have to measure or weigh whatever they owe to others, give less than what is due (Quran 83:1-3)!”
“Verily, in the Apostle of God you have a good example for everyone who looks forward [with hope and awe] to God and the Last Day, and remembers God unceasingly (Quran 33:21).”