Answered by Ustadha Shazia Ahmad
Question: Assalamu alaykum
Was the Prophet really merciful? I read in Abu Dawud and Nasai that Abu Bakr said that killing anyone for insults is for no man after the Prophet, is this authentic? Abu Bakr’s own daughter Aisha had said that the Prophet would not repel evil with evil but rather overlook it and pardon it. She that he did not take revenge for the wrong done to him. It would clash with Allah’s command for the Prophet in the Qur’an which was to forgive and turn away from the ignorant. And It clashes with Allah own criterion for the Prophets in the bible, where Zaid Ibn Suna’ the rabbi told Umar that intense abuse increases one in forbearance.
Answer: Assalamu alaykum Brother,
I thank you for your question. The Prophet’s greatest quality was mercy. He was known during all his years of Prophethood for being silent against those who insulted him, for avoiding killing prisoners, and for choosing mercy for his enemies when he was given the option of destroying them, in hopes that their descendants would convert.
The hadith that you refer to is here in full: Abu Barzah said, “I passed by Abu Bakr and he was furious with one of his companions. I said, ‘O Khalifah (Caliph) of the Messenger of Allah, who is the one with whom you are furious?’ He said, ‘Why are you asking about him?‘ I said, ‘I will strike his neck (kill him).‘ By Allah, the seriousness of what I said took away his anger. Then he said, ‘That is not for anyone after Muhammad, may Allah bless him and give him peace.‘“ [Hadith Hasan; Nasa’i]
Hadith commentators have said that the meaning of “That is not for anyone after Muhammad, may Allah bless him and give him peace“, is that the Prophet left behind three scenarios in which it would be permissible for the Caliph to give capital punishment: apostasy, adultery, and murder. The only other scenario where it would be permissible is discretionary punishment (ta`zeer). This is where a judge would decide, at his own discretion, what punishment should be given for a certain crime, taking into consideration the customs of the place and time. This hadith proves that an imam can choose a punishment in order to discipline, or he can forgive and not punish at all. [Atraf al-Ghara’ib wa al-Afrad]
Abu Bakr, as caliph did have every right to act as he saw fit, but he chose mercy instead. He learned this mercy and compassion from the Prophet himself, may Allah bless him and give him peace. This hadith in no way indicates that the Prophet wasn’t merciful, it only shows that an Islamic government can pursue justice as they deem fit, as any other government would.
Please read the following article about seventy examples of the Prophet’s mercy, brilliantly written by Mohammad Elshinawy. After this, one can no longer doubt that the Prophet was anything else but a mercy to the worlds. Below are the words of a French historian from the 19th century, who also speaks of the Prophet’s mercy, may Allah bless him and give him peace.
It is such a distortion of historical facts when some writers accuse Prophet Muhammad of cruelty…They forget that he spared no effort in eliminating the inherited desire for revenge between Arabs; despite the fact that revenge was highly esteemed in Arabia, like fencing was in Europe. They do not read the Quranic verse by which the Prophet broke the horrible habit of burying new-born girls alive. They never think of the pardon he granted to his worst enemies after the Conquest of Mecca. Neither do they consider the mercy he showed to many tribes during war. Do they not know that he never misused his power in fulfilling the desire for cruelty? If any of his Companions committed anything wrong, he would stop them and correct them. It is well known that he refused the opinion of his close Companion, Omar bin al-Khattab, on killing the prisoners of war. When the time came to punish Banu Quraydha, he left the judgment to Sa‘d bin Mu‘adh who used to be their ally and was well acquainted with rabbinic law. He also forgave Hamza’s killer and never refused any request for kindness and forgiveness. [Louis Sédillot (d. 1875), Histoire des Arabes (Brief History of the Arabs), pp. 63-64 – published 1854]
May Allah bless all of us with abounding mercy in this world and the next.
[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad
Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria for two years where she studied aqidah, fiqh, tajweed, tafseer and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterwards, she moved to Amman, Jordan where she studied fiqh, Arabic and other sciences. She recently moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.