Lots of things have happened recently. Most of them involve angry men, ranting sheikhs, and fuming Muslim scholars. The first incident involves me. A certain man, ostensibly infuriated by my writing (as many people are), went so far as to track me down (which must have taken forever, because I write under a pen name) and send emails to my real father about how his daughter is “on heavy shirk and kufr, and should have her Internet access taken away immediately.”
Firstly, this is unimaginably creepy. Secondly, I was rather amused by it, because clearly this man–who was one of those people hell-bent on not giving me a platform or attention, but inevitably ended up doing it–was rebuffed. My father was quite impressed with my writing. He has not stopped me from writing at all. I am shocked to death, yet pleasantly surprised. This man’s plan to stop me from writing by, of all intrusive methods, stalking me and contacting my actual father, has completely backfired. I’m laughing, babe, I’m laughing.
Secondly, my friend Nahida wrote an article that has gone viral over the past few days. It has inspired quite a few highly amusing khutbas about the evils of “Westernized Muslim feminists,” and it has also garnered her death threats, rape threats, and torture threats. I was cited in her article, so my site traffic skyrocketed for a couple of days. Here are just a few of the milder comments she received:
Evidently “Usman EM” has not read the Qur’an, which orders men to lower their gaze.
Nahida’s article also inspired a Facebook post by Jonathan Brown, which has since been suspiciously modified after Jonathan received notice that his post was offensive. In the post, Jonathan (falsely) accused Nahida of having a mental illness, which supposedly rendered her commentary on the Prophet meaningless. Nahida pointed out that this was exactly the rhetoric leveled against Muhammad (pbuh) himself. The Qur’an frequently makes references to the Prophet’s enemies calling him majnoon, or crazy. People said he was possessed by a jinn. They said he was mentally ill, and modern critics of Islam have alleged epilepsy. Jonathan Brown was basically regurgitating the despicable false arguments made against the Prophet because he was incapable of engaging Nahida on an intellectual level.
Jonathan’s attack was immensely immature and uncalled for. I took some time to go through Nahida’s specific statements about the Prophet in depth, which all of these men clearly did not. She stated that she does not feel any particular ardent all-consuming love for him, and that when you think about some of the mistakes he made in his life, it’s hard not to be angry.
Immediately, the entirety of the Islamosphere started screaming. If you want to know the type of bigoted neotraditionalists we’re dealing with here, just read the comments on posts linked to Nahida’s. It’s truly horrifying. These people cannot stand anyone questioning them.
Nothing that Nahida said was factually incorrect. The Prophet (pbuh) did indeed make mistakes, and there is an entire surah of the Qur’an attesting to it. Surah Abasa (80) records the Prophet “frowning and turning away” in impatience from a blind man who asked him in reverence to recite the Qur’an. Surah Noor speaks of the Prophet and his community’s collective doubt towards Aisha when she was accused of infidelity, to the extent that God had to exonerate her, demanding, “Why did the believers not think good of each other?” (24:12). Surah Al-Ahzab specifically forbids the Prophet from marrying any more women; he was marrying so many that God literally had to send down revelation telling him to stop (33:52). He wasn’t marrying them for altruistic purposes, either. The text clearly says “beauty” (husna).
The point of all this is that the Prophet made mistakes. We all do. This did not, however, negate his righteousness, because he was apologetic about his mistakes. This is the crucial distinction that must be made. If he had callously disregarded morality, that would render him incapable of Prophethood–but he showed remorse. He was merciful, because it is natural for Prophets to express mercy. But he still sinned and he knew it.
For what would the Prophet spend the entire night in prayer if he thought he had nothing to be forgiven for?
“Indeed, your Lord knows, [O Muhammad], that you stand [in prayer] almost two thirds of the night or half of it or a third of it, and [so do] a group of those with you.” 73:20
The Qur’an does not say a word about requiring the believers to love the Prophet. It only requires us to believe in his Revelation. It is certainly admirable to love the Prophet–with this sentiment I agree–but it is not enforceable, and the moment you attempt to enforce love for Muhammad (pbuh) on someone who has been wronged by his supposed followers, you are committing oppression.
Wallahi. It is haraam on you to manipulate someone into loving the Prophet when you have done nothing but harm them in the name of religion.
By the way, you have the right to debate the Prophet. There is a Qur’anic passage dedicated to a woman who did just this. Read 58:1-4.
But you know what? That information is not even relevant. It doesn’t matter, at least in this debate, whether or not the Qur’an legitimizes people/women challenging the Prophet Muhammad. The issue in question here is coercion. And coercion in religion, under ALL circumstances, is prohibited.
Innumerable people helpfully informed Nahida that she was outside the fold of Islam. This was amusing to say the least, considering that the Qur’an only requires us to believe in the Prophet’s Revelation, not to adore him. Adoration is a product of dialogue and understanding. It is simply absurd and abusive to cut women off from all dialogue regarding the Prophet, bar them from mosques, yell at them I SHALL HAVE 15 WIVES BECAUSE THE PROPHET DID IT (except he regretted it and the Qur’an told him to stop–but male scholars won’t tell you that part), and then demand that they worship the man in whose name you oppress them.
And to all those who claim Nahida is slandering the Prophet, that is absolute nonsense. Every single thing she said in this post is factually correct and is backed by the Qur’an, which records exactly when the Prophet sinned. For God’s sake, we are the ones defending the Prophet. We are the ones defending him from the allegations that he kept harems of slaves, married children, authorized the slaughter of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe, raided caravans, and oppressed women. We are the ones sifting through hadith to see which stories of intense brutality are falsely attributed to him.
But y’all? All you do is pretend you love the Prophet, yet go around making people miserable in the name of his religion, and cloak it all with masses of intellectual dishonesty. Stalking children online and sending death threats to a woman who has done nothing wrong while simultaneously gawking at her pictures, all while you talk about how girls should cover their faces and quit getting university degrees. You don’t give a damn about the Prophet; you are vandalizing his legacy. Admit to it before God forces you to.
The other thing I want to discuss here is the subject of pronouns. Nahida got massive amounts of backlash for her usage of Her to describe God.
Some of you probably notice that I repeat the word God uncomfortably often; I rarely if ever use any type of pronouns, because English is different from Arabic. In Arabic, the masculine pronoun is linguistically dominant, just as in French (for example, the male plural is used to refer to mixed groups, and almost every noun has a gendered form). The grammatical masculine is the closest thing to neutrality in the Arabic language, therefore it is used to reference God.
However, in English, there is no such thing as merely grammatical gender–every gendered pronoun refers to biological sex. Thus, in English, using any pronoun for God is attributing a biological gender to Allah, and is thus low-key shirk. Most of us don’t mean it as shirk deliberately, but still, in writing, I shy away from using any pronouns at all–hence the occasional awkwardness in sentence structure.
Since I try not to use English pronouns for God at all, Nahida’s commentary is not an issue I run into often. I don’t want to address her specific pronoun usage, since any pronoun in place of the word “God” in English is inaccurate. “He” and “She” are both equally wrong. (Perhaps that is why the Qur’an was revealed in Arabic, which includes pronouns that don’t refer to biological gender.)
I do, however, want to remark on the insane backlash Nahida received for this one fluffing pronoun. You all desperately need to rethink your priorities. Imagine how much better the world would be if bigots like these fueled their anger into, say, reforming American gun laws or building girls’ schools in India or countering extremist ideologies. Just imagine.
Note: This has happened to me before too. Once, I posted something about Prophet Ibrahim questioning the story that he left his wife and son in the desert. (This story does not appear in the Qur’an, and I have reason to think it is at least partially false.)
The backlash was immediate. Someone found it amusing to take my post and reproduce it and share it to a page called “High on Liberal Islam: The Caliphate Strikes Back” or some such absurdity. The post was heavily immature, laden with allegations of kufr and condemnations to Hellfire (but what’s new there)? The comment section included death threats and suggestions of “beheading these kafirahs.” Not everything was in English–the commentary included a fair amount of la’nat Allah ‘alayhaa (“may the curse of God be upon her”). Thankfully, the page was later taken down.
I was shocked by the comments. I was naïve. I shouldn’t have been. I am well aware now that this is what we are dealing with. These people sending us death threats are exactly what we are dealing with, and we needn’t be surprised by their behavior. How could we expect any good to come from destroying the legacy and message of the world’s second largest religion?
When you see someone’s actions like this, when you see “pious bearded men counting rosaries” sending death threats to strangers while hiding behind a screen, you know who the real bully is. These are the people who want to (at best) ostracize those who express dissent and (at…near-worst) behead them. And these are the men who arrogantly claim ownership over Islam and over the entirety of the scholarly tradition.
The Prophet was a man of excellent character. He was not an angel, and for good reason, because he had to make mistakes. What cemented his excellent character was that he learned from them.
“Say: If there were in the earth angels walking securely, We had sent down for them from heaven an angel as messenger.” 17:95 [Pickthall]
I have more to say on this in the near future. This will not be my last post on the subject. I suggest that you all prepare yourselves.