How Muslim-Americans can avoid being Trolled by Israel-Firsters: Look again at the Prophet’s example

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

In the period from roughly 610 to 622 CE (“AD”), Muhammad ibn Abdallah of the noble Quraysh tribe in the western Arabian city of Mecca preached monotheism to an outraged polytheistic city dedicated to the worship of ancient Near Eastern goddesses, and the commerce of which deeply depended on fairs dedicated to those deities.

In the manner of biblical prophets like Isaiah, Muhammad denounced the goddesses as demons and threatened their worshipers with hellfire, urging them to turn to adoration of the one God, the God of Abraham, David, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of the clans of Mecca turned against him and constantly harassed him and his small band of followers. Some Muslims had to escape for a while to nearby Christian Ethiopia. Others were tortured. The whole community was subjected at one point to an economic boycott.

Muhammad’s uncle, powerful Quraysh clan leader Abu Talib, stood with him even though he remained loyal to the goddesses and did not convert. Abu Talib was able to ensure that the Muslims were not summarily killed, but could not keep them from being bothered.

Another of Muhammad’s uncles, however, Abd al-`Uzza the son of `Abd al-Muttalib (d. 624), took the lead in tormenting the prophet. al-`Uzza was one of the goddesses worshipped in Mecca, so his very name showed devotion to her. He gained the epithet Abu Lahab (father of flame), it is said, because of his ruddy complexion.

Since two of Abu Lahab’s sons had married daughters of Muhammad this relationship was the in-laws from hell. Abu Lahab ordered his sons to divorce the girls.

According to Muslim traditions, Abu Lahab was a stalker. He followed Muhammad around as the latter preached in markets, contradicting him and slandering him. He threw trash in his path. At one point he threw entrails on him. Muhammad just cleaned them off. Abu Lahab led the economic boycott that made the early Muslims’ lives miserable and turned them into outcasts.

There is no evidence in the traditions of Muhammad ever doing more than denouncing Abu Lahab as an idolator and tormentor. He never took, or advocated taking physical action against him. His typical attitude to such opposition seems to have been to pray that they or their children would become pious believers in the one God. The traditions have him saying that he came not as a curse on people but as a mercy to them: “Abu Hurayrah mentions: “It was said to the Prophet: ‘God’s Messenger! Pray to God against the idolaters.’ He replied: ‘I have not been sent to curse people; I have been sent as mercy to mankind.’” (Related by Muslim and by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad).”

A couple years after Abu Talib died and Abd al-`Uzza became leader of the Quraysh, Muhammad emigrated with many followers to the nearby city of Yathrib, which became known as Madinat al-Nabi or the city of the prophet (i.e. Medina).

Medinans and Meccans gradually went to war with one another, but the Qur’an indicates that the Muslims viewed this as a defensive war– that the Meccans were bloodthirsty, militant polytheists who were determined to overwhelm the young monotheistic community and slaughter it. While Muslims were ordered to defend themselves and their women and children, they were instructed not to pursue hostilities with anyone who did not physically attack them or who sued for peace.

Abu Lahab appears to have died of small pox or some other disease involving pustules in 624, shortly after the Muslims in Medina won the first major battle between them and the Meccan forces.

Unlike contemporary extremists, early Muslim sources on the life of the prophet did not see him as divine. They frankly reported Abu Lahab’s charges against Muhammad of being a liar or of being mentally unbalanced, though of course they refuted them.

Surely making harsh criticism of Muhammad a serious offense is an attempt to elevate him from human being to god, since in most societies it is the divine that is taboo.

The Qur’an (41:6) itself instructed Muhammad that he was just a human being:

“Say: ‘I am just a human being like you, who has received revelation: that your god is but one God; so take a straight path to Him and seek His forgiveness, and woe be to the idolators.'”

It is one of the features of the human estate to be open to ridicule and humiliation.

Many Muslims such as the Salafis are nowadays attempting to reach back beyond medieval glosses and rediscover the Islam of the prophet and his companions. A dispassionate survey of the early sources such as Ibn Hisham shows an attitude of calm and peaceful resignation by early Muslims to the denunciations of the polytheists, and a determination to simply wait out their antipathy. Only when Mecca violently attacked the Muslims, plotted Muhammad’s assassination, etc., did the latter turn to defensive violence, but that was not vigilanteism (as it would have been in Mecca) but rather an organized response of a city-state. Muslims in the West are in a position similar to that of Muslims in Mecca before the Hijra or migration, and would do well to consider how the earliest community dealt with Islamophobia in the first years of the religion. (The Dallas Muslim community, which is part of a local interfaith peace coalition, knew this well and stayed away from the Geller event). Despite all the questions that can be raised about early Muslim historical sources, the community preserved traditions showing tolerance, forbearance and steadfastness in the absence of violence toward them.

This is the only way to avoid the Muslim-American community being trolled by extreme Zionists like Pamela Geller, who are attempting to deprive them of a public voice by painting them all as violent fanatics to whom no attention should be paid. In turn, this tactic is aimed at keeping Palestinians stateless and upholding the Apartheid situation in Israel/Palestine. After all, if Palestinians don’t have standing to complain about their statelessness on account of being beyond the pale, then no one need listen to them. Ironically, it is a supremacist vision of Israel that is the equivalent for Zionist extremists of caricaturing the prophet. That is why the Jewish Defense League targeted Rep. Darrell Issa, an Arab-American, for assassination, and why Baruch Goldstein shot up Palestinians in Hebron. Because the Zionist extremists understand that there are hot button issues like Israelolatry that can lead to violence from their community, they know exactly how to get the goat of extremists on the other side. In essence, this is a tango of sharpening contradictions.

Related video:

The Young Turks: ‘Draw Muhammad’ Contest Organizer Ups The Hate Following Shooting

23 Responses

  1. Juan. you grow more acute and incisive from day to day.

    It’s great to read it, yet it makes me wonder and worry, our so-called civilization is just not set up to hear so much truth.

    And looking back on human history as a whole, has truth ever really been considered such a virtue? In nearly all societies and situations, the mythic lie, the necessary misrepresentation, have been far more preferable to many more people than any serious pursuit of the truth, wouldn’t one think?

  2. Thanks Juan for this great discussion concerning the birth pains of Islam and it’s early history. (It calls to mind early Christianity – a radical sect deeply committed to non-violence until the State [i.e., the Roman Empire and Constantine the Great] became heavily involved and connected with church hierarchy and doctrine. Thank you Constantine, for the Church militant -NOT!). Many of us would have no clue about Islam’s teachings of tolerance, patience, and peace were it not for your posts.

    Yes, the violence in Dallas is inexcusable. But so, too, is the event. How is this sort of provocation based on anything but bigotry? For a contest depicting cartoons of the Prophet, replace with a contest the provocatively caricatures Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, or Gays. Such bigotry would not be tolerated; the evil perpetrated by the gunmen in no way negates the immature, insecure, hateful mindset that would offer $10,000 to mock and metaphorically throw mud at someone’s faith.

  3. Nice history lesson, but the conclusion needs a bit of work. As it stands, it’s a bit condescending and insulting. Zionist trollsters are exactly that, and the Muslim community does not need to bother wasting its collective time defending itself from them. It should instead continue in the tradition of the early Muslim community and reach out to the wider community for outreach, community service, and exchange of ideas.

  4. What about a satirical depiction of “Pam Geller and her Activities” contest ?

    Or a “Parables of Pam Geller” contest, where people compose little skits and brief aphoristic stories about the life and livelihood of Pam Geller ?

    These skits and stories could be motivated by earlier events in human history, like the activities of a certain German propagandist who held a doctorate.

    What about an “Ariel Sharon Depiction and Satire Contest” ?

  5. Well said with great historical examples to practice which goes hand in hand with a lecture I listened to recently that addressed this in regards to Charlie Hebdo and had the similar historical points and meaning. The Prophet endured it and showed us how to just move on. Unfortunately the gunmen made things worse by giving them undeserved attention.

    They had Robert Spencer on CNN but barely a difficult question about how they’re deliberately offensive to Muslims or being hateful though did mention baiting.

  6. 100,000 Muslim residents of Garland, Texas totally ignored this event. Pam Geller and the Islamic radicals who attacked were outsiders. City officials who allowed this VERY DANGEROUS event to take place share most of the blame.

    • Your first two statements are spot on. But the third goes against the First Amendment; the City generally cannot discriminate based on viewpoints. Geller is odious, but the proper response is to either ignore or ridicule, not violence.

  7. As a student of World Wars One and Two, I find the hate speech emanating from Geller and her friends to echo the anti-Jewish vendetta in Germany in the 1930s. Hate speech condemning an entire race amplified by squalid cartoons.

  8. Juan,

    I am a believing and practicing Muslim.

    I completely agree with your wise analysis.

    Thanks much!

  9. On the topic of the recent ‘Islamist terrorist plot’ in Texas: it is my impression that AFDI was provoking insane people who happened to consider themselves Muslims. The religiously-mad and the amorously-mad have much in common in this regard as both are wont to claim that another person has power over their life, over their ability to live/die, on the basis of certain idiosyncratically volatilizing words, etc., to which the aggrieved responds: “If you leave me I will die,” “If you leave me I will die and so will you,” “If you leave me we both will die but will be united in heaven!;” “If you draw this image you will die,” “If you draw this image I will die too,” “If you draw this image we both will die and I will be rewarded with love in heaven!”

    Provoking demented people, whose mania involves an obsession with the gorier aspects of Islamic history, is of a larger well-established genre, one whose common (and dangerous) dynamics frequently implicate a topic that has come to mark an age, to the level of mania, with the most literally susceptible to mania responding as literal maniacs, i.e. illogically, impetuously, and often violently, without regard to their own or others’ well-being. Most people only come closest to encountering such dynamics, if at all, in sexual-affective relationships; but if one indefatigably seeks them out and sticks one’s neck out in a superfluity of other contexts (especially in those that have been mediatized ad nauseam and naturally have come to populate the imaginations of the already insane) one will not fail to find them.

    • In Weimar Germany, the Nazis and Communists assaulted each other in public as a form of political theater. In reality, they were temporarily allies in discrediting democracy by associating it with chaos. Each side was doubtless confident that a sufficient number of Germans would be radicalized in the correct direction. But they also wanted other Germans to be paralyzed and disgusted. That group would be grateful when order was restored by one side attaining a monopoly of power.

  10. We Muslims would do well to reflect upon the Prophet’s supplication in Taif.

    This is the supplication he recited with shoes full of 
blood, wounds all over his body and after having been insulted, ridiculed and abused by the people of Taif to whom he had taken recourse seeking a place of refuge.

    Moreover, this occurs after three years of suffering a boycott at the hands of the pagans of Mecca as a result of which Muslims were reduced to eating grass and leaves off of trees.

    The Prophet (s) as he walks out of Taif:


”O God! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and the humiliation I have been subjected to by the people.

    O Most Merciful of those who are merciful.

    O Lord of the weak and my Lord too.

    To whom have you entrusted me?

    To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair?

    So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care.

    Your favor is of a more expansive relief to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or Your displeasure descend upon me. I desire Your pleasure and satisfaction until You are pleased.

    There is no power and no might except by You.”


If those who claim to love the Prophet(s) so much that they are willing to infringe upon prophetic conduct with their blind rage and fury would reflect upon this prayer, it would be a guiding light for them and a clear instruction as to how a Muslim should respond to the provocations.

  11. Professor Cole,
    I think you need to research regarding Abu Talib “he remained loyal to the goddesses and did not convert”. This allegation is not accepted by many sunni scholars and by all shia’s who believe he was muslim. Further it makes no logical sense that the man who defended the Prophet his entire life, and protected him with not only with his own life, but his children as well, be associated with such a statement.

    • Read the earliest Sira, Ibn Hisham’s redaction of Ibn Ishaq.

      Clan loyalties ran deep in Mecca and Abu Talib refused to have his own nephew mistreated by other septs.

  12. People treat the past as a cafeteria, cherry-picking all the dishes that taste sweet, but are bad for them. No conservative adores the aboriginies as an example of how we must live, even though their way of life is most ancient of all. Nor do they mention the Amish. “Conservatism” is simply the selective worship of past abuses of power to obtain personal gain.

  13. I absolutely agree with everyone and especially with professor Cole who continues to a tremendous job for the sake of truth, when there are nothing but lies everywhere! He truly understands the truth about Islam, just like other religions which unfortunately have been changed. I also fail to understand the reaction of the few ignorant people who fall in Geller’s trap!

  14. Isn’t there also a story about a woman in Mecca or Medina pouring bathroom waste on Muhammad, and his doing nothing to retaliate?

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