When Words Hurt: How to Respond to Offense?

Question and answer details
Ibrahim Chabuk
As-salamu Alaykum, This never happened to me, though I still want to ask. Let us say you come across some non-Muslims who start offending your religion. What is a Muslim supposed to do? Fight, argue, or just walk away?
Idris Tawfiq

As-salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh Dear Ibrahim,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

This is a very good question and, unfortunately, it is a question we need to answer more and more at the present time, when many people are attacking Islam and giving false impressions of Islam to others. Muslims are left wondering how to respond.

Can they just ignore what ignorant people are saying? Can they turn a blind eye when people knowingly present a wrong image of Islam? Can they choose to do nothing when people openly attack Islam and Muslims?

The answer, of course, is that we must respond in some way, but our response must be just that: our response, and not the response others have tricked us into making.

Let me give you a very good example. All the world knows that a few years ago, in Danish newspapers, some cartoons appeared that were offensive to Muslims because of the way they depicted our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The response was one of uproar throughout the Muslim world. We saw peaceful demonstrations and ways of protesting such as boycotting Danish goods, but we also saw some attacks on embassies, riots, and stone throwing in the streets, and so on.

Muslims have the right to respond when their faith is offended. However, when I watched the reaction of Muslims throughout the world to those Danish cartoons, I wondered just what was really going on.

People in the West have this image of Muslims as extremists and terrorists. When Muslims responded to the Danish cartoons, the people in the West saw on their television screens exactly what they thought about Islam: people rioting, burning and shouting. Do you see what I mean? The Muslim response played directly into the hands of those who were criticizing Islam and Muslims to begin with. We were almost tricked into responding in such a way.

There are different ways in which people can offend Islam. We have seen the aggression against the people of Lebanon and the ongoing aggression against the suffering people of Palestine. We saw the Danish cartoons. We see on our television screens every day a false image of Islam. We see many Muslims discriminated against because of what they believe. All of these are offenses against Islam, but our response is different to each of them.

We need to keep in our minds all the time that Islam is a mercy to mankind. It is the world's religion of peace, which has existed since the beginning of time itself. In Islam, the world can find happiness and fulfillment.

So our response to people who attack Islam and Muslims should always bear this in mind. We don't want our response to give others a chance to see Islam as anything other than peaceful and merciful. Whenever we respond to people who offend our religion, we need to use it as a chance for calling them to Islam and away from ignorance.

Islam is strong and Muslims do not need the approval of anyone for what they believe. We must not forget, though, that Almighty Allah is in control of all things. It is He Who will punish the wrongdoers and it is He Who will restore the rights of those who have had their rights taken away. We mustn't feel the need to do the job of Almighty Allah.

There are some Muslims who see no other way out of the circle of injustice in which they find themselves than to resort to violence. But we are not Allah. It is not for you or me to decide who shall take up arms against oppression.

Islam has very clear rules for when fighting in the cause of Allah is permitted. It insists, for example, that civilians should not be harmed. It insists, too, that the rightful leaders, whoever they may be, of the Muslim faithful should make such decisions. So it is not for a man living in Istanbul or Sydney or Washington to make such a decision. Their response should be a different one.

So we come back to your question of what a Muslim is supposed to do when non-Muslims start offending Islam. We are not governments, so how are we supposed to play our part?

The first way is that we should respond as Muslims. By our behavior and by the things we say, we should let everyone see that Muslims have a different approach to life. We should let them see that prayer and belief in Allah is central to everything we do. Our response should always be civilized.

Whenever I receive an e-mail, for example, that is quite hostile to Islam, or that attacks me or Muslims, I always send a very courteous reply — strong but courteous. We should not allow others to dictate to us how we shall behave. I try to tell them, very simply, the facts about Islam, rather than the distorted images they get from TV and newspapers. Very often, people are saying things about Islam out of sheer ignorance.

As Muslims we need to be strong in our faith and we need to study a lot so that we can answer these people correctly. We need to read about the heroes of Islam. We need to be familiar with the Qur'an and with the life of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) so that we can refute misconceptions.

Many of those who attack Islam have never met a Muslim and they know very little about Islam. It is our duty as Muslims to show the world what Islam is really like, that it is so beautiful and so very sweet and that it offers a threat to no one.

True da`wah, or calling to Islam, is about letting others see what Islam is like and then allowing Almighty Allah to work in their hearts and minds. We, on our own, will not make a single person Muslim. It is Allah alone Who calls others to Islam.

Similarly, we on our own cannot change the minds and the hearts of those who offend Islam, but we can make a start and then allow Almighty Allah to use our efforts for good. There may be times when all our efforts fall on deaf ears and on hearts that are hardened to hearing the real message of Islam. In such a case, all we can do is walk away, having tried our best. We will not convince everyone.

So there is no need for any Muslim to feel disheartened or depressed when others speak ill about our religion. It is first of all an opportunity for us to tell them the truth — either by what we say or, more importantly, by what we do. People will learn far more by good example than by all the words in the world. We need to let them see that we are very proud of our religion and their attacks cannot cause any harm to Islam.

Sometimes, it is just our lack of knowledge or experience that is the problem, not Islam itself. If you can present a strong defense, then do so. If you can't respond straightaway, then say you will speak to them in a day or two with the full answer.

Others will soon tire of trying to annoy us when they see that their tricks are not working and that we are not getting annoyed or frustrated. Islam is so beautiful and so perfect that it has the answer to all those who think they can trick us.

We, as Muslims, just need to keep our cool and let others see what Islam is really like. By praying the five daily prayers and by reading the Qur'an and living good lives, we will be able, in sha' Allah, to present the real image of Islam to the world.

I hope this answer helps.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful Links:  

Calling to Islam by Setting Examples

Jihad of the Average Muslim

Challenges Facing Da`wah to Islam

What Is Islam?