Muhammad’s Mildness and Forbearance
Mildness is another dimension of his character. He was a bright mirror in which God reflected His Mercy. Mildness is a reflection of compassion. God made His Messenger mild and gentle, thereby allowing him to gain many converts to Islam and overcome numerous obstacles.
After the victory of Badr, the Battle of Uhud was a severe trial for the young Muslim community. Although the Messenger wanted to fight on the outskirts of Madina, most Muslims desired to fight on an open battlefield. When the two armies met at the foot of Mount Uhud, the Messenger positioned 50 archers in ‘Aynayn pass and ordered them not to move without his permission, even if they saw that the Muslims had won a decisive victory.
The Muslim army, having only one-third of the men and equipment of the enemy, almost defeated the Makkan polytheists in the initial stage. Seeing the enemy fleeing, most of the archers forgot the Prophet’s command and left their post. Khalid ibn Walid, the Makkan cavalry’s commander, saw this and, riding round the mountain, attacked the Muslims from behind. The fleeing enemy soldiers turned back, and caught the Muslims in a crossfire. They began to lose, more than 70 were martyred, and the Messenger was wounded.
He might have reproached those who had urged him to pursue their desires as well as those archers who had abandoned their post, but he did not. Instead, he showed leniency:
It was by the mercy of God that you were gentle to them; if you had been harsh and hard of heart, they would have dispersed from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them in the affair. And when you are resolved, then put your trust in God; surely God loves those who put their trust (in Him). (3:159)
This verse shows two prerequisite for leadership: mildness and leniency toward those who make well-intentioned mistakes, and the importance of consultation in public administration.
This mildness and forgiveness was a reflection of God’s Names the All-Mild, All-Clement, and All-Forgiving. God does not stop providing for people despite their rebellion or unbelief. While most people disobey Him by indulging in unbelief, by explicitly or implicitly associating partners with Him, or transgressing His Commandments, the sun continues to send them its heat and light, clouds full of rain come to their aid, and the soil never stops feeding them with its fruits and plants. God’s Clemency and Forgiveness are reflected through the Messenger’s compassion, mildness, and forgiveness.
Like Abraham, whom he used to say that he resembled, the Messenger was mild, imploring, clement, and penitent (11:75), gentle to believers, and full of pity and compassion for them (9:128). Abraham was never angry with people, regardless of how much they tormented him. He wished good even for his enemies, and implored God and shed tears in His Presence. Since he was a man of peace and salvation, God made the fire into which he was thrown cool and safe (21:69).
Like him, the Messenger was never angry with anybody because of what they did to him. When his wife ‘A’isha was slandered, he did not consider punishing the slanderers even after she was cleared by the Qur’an. Bedouins often behaved impolitely with him, but he did not even frown at them. Although extremely sensitive, he always showed forbearance toward both friend and foe.
For example, while he was distributing the spoils of war after the Battle of Hunayn, Dhu al-Huwaysira objected: “Be just, O Muhammad.” This was an unforgivable insult, for the Prophet had been sent to establish justice. Unable to endure such offences, ‘Umar demanded permission to kill “that hypocrite” on the spot. But the Messenger only replied: “Who else will show justice if I am not just? If I don’t show justice, then I am lost and brought to naught.”38 According to another possible meaning of this expression, he said: “If I am not just, then, by following me, you people have been lost and brought to naught.”39 In addition, he implied that this man would later take part in a seditious movement. This came true during the caliphate of ‘Ali: Dhu al-Huwaysira was found dead among the Kharijites after the Battle of Nahrawan.
Anas ibn Malik related that a Jewess offered a roasted sheep to the Messenger after the conquest of Khaybar. Just before he took the first bite, he stopped and told the others not to eat, saying: “This sheep tells me it has been poisoned.” Nevertheless, a Companion named Bishr died immediately after his first bite (taken before the Messenger spoke). The Messenger sent for the woman and asked her why she had poisoned the meat. She replied: “If you’re really a Prophet, the poison won’t affect you. If you’re not, I wanted to save people from your evil.” The Messenger forgave her for her conspiracy to kill him.40 According to some reports, however, Bishr’s relatives demanded that she be punished, and she subsequently was.
Once when the Prophet was going home after talking to his Companions in the mosque, a bedouin pulled him by the collar and said rudely: “O Muhammad! Give me my due! Load up my two camels! For you will load them up with neither your own wealth nor that of your father!” Without showing any sign of being offended, he told others: “Give him what he wants.”41
Zayd ibn San‘an narrates:
Before I embraced Islam, the Messenger borrowed some money from me. I went to him to collect my debt before its due time, and insulted him: “O you children of ‘Abd al-Muttalib, you are very reluctant to pay your debts!” ‘Umar became very angry with me and shouted: “O enemy of God! Were it not for the treaty between us and the Jewish community, I would cut off your head! Speak to the Messenger politely!” However, the Messenger smiled at me and, turning to ‘Umar, said: “Pay him, and add 20 gallons to it, because you frightened him.”
‘Umar relates the rest of the story:
We went together. On the way, Zayd said unexpectedly: “‘Umar, you were angry with me. But I find in him all the features of the Last Prophet recorded in the Torah, the Old Testament. It contains this verse: His mildness surpasses his anger. The severity of impudence to him increases him only in mildness and forbearance. To test his forbearance, I provoked him deliberately. Now I am convinced that he is the Prophet whose coming the Torah predicted. So, I believe and bear witness that he is the Last Prophet.”42
This mildness and forbearance was enough for the conversion of Zayd ibn San‘an, a Jewish scholar.
The Messenger was extremely meticulous in practicing Islam. Nobody could match his supererogatory prayers. Despite being sinless, he spent more than half the night praying and crying, and sometimes fasted two or three successive days. Every moment he took another step toward the “praised station” set for him by God. He was very tolerant toward others. Not wanting to burden his community, he did not perform the supererogatory prayers in the mosque. When people complained that an imam was prolonging the prayer, the Prophet mounted the pulpit and said: “O people! You cause people to dread the prayer. When you lead a prayer, don’t prolong it, for there are people among you who are sick or old or in urgent need.”43 Once his congregation complained about Mu‘adh ibn Jabal, saying he prolonged the night prayer. The Prophet’s love for Mu‘adh did not stop him asking three times if he was a trouble-maker.44
The Messenger’s mildness and forbearance captured hearts and preserved Muslim unity. As stated in the Qur’an, if he had been harsh and hard-hearted, people would have abandoned him. But those who saw him and listened to him were so endowed with Divine manifestations that they became saints. For example, Khalid ibn Walid was the Qurayshi general who caused the Muslims to experience a reverse at Uhud. However, when he was not included in the army that set out on the day after his conversion, he was so upset that he wept.
Like Khalid, Ikrima and ‘Amr ibn al-‘As were among those who did great harm to the Messenger and the Muslims. After their conversions, each became a sword of Islam drawn against unbelievers. Ibn Hisham, Abu Jahl’s brother, converted to Islam shortly before the Messenger passed away. He was such a sincere Muslim that just before he was martyred at Yarmuk, he did not drink the water that Hudayfa al-‘Adawi offered him. Rather, he asked that it be given to nearby wounded fellow Muslim groaning for water. He died, having preferred a fellow Muslim over himself.45
Such people attained high ranks in the enlightening atmosphere of the Messenger. They became his Companions, regarded and respected as the most virtuous people after the Prophets by almost all Muslims since the earliest days of Islam. Explaining their greatness, Said Nursi, the great twentieth-century Muslim revivalist, says:
I wondered why even the greatest saints like Muhyi al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi could not attain the rank of the Companions. One day God enabled me to perform in prayer a prostration that I could never repeat. I concluded that it is impossible to attain the Companions’ ranks, for all of their prostrations were like that in meaning and merit.46
The Messenger brought up the Companions. Their greatness is shown in the fact that despite their small numbers, they successfully conveyed Islam to the furthest reaches of Asia and Africa within a few decades. In those areas, Islam became so deeply rooted that despite the concerted efforts by the superpowers of each era to extinguish Islam, it continues to gain new momentum and represents the only realistic alternative for human salvation. The Companions were transformed from their wretched pre-Islamic state to being guides and teachers of a considerable part of humanity until the Last Day, the vanguard of the most magnificent civilization in history.
In addition, the Messenger was absolutely balanced. His universal compassion did not prevent him from executing Divine justice, and his mildness and forbearance kept him from breaching any Islamic rule or humiliating himself. For example, during a military campaign Usama ibn Zayd threw an enemy soldier to the ground. When he was about to kill him, the man declared his belief in Islam. Judging this to be the result of a fear of imminent death, Usama killed him. When informed of the incident, the Messenger reprimanded Usama severely: “Did you cleave his heart open and see (if what you suspected is true)?” He repeated this so many times that Usama said later: “I wished I had not yet become a Muslim on the day I was scolded so severely.”47
Likewise, once Abu Dharr got so angry with Bilal that he insulted him: “You son of a black woman!” Bilal came to the Messenger and reported the incident in tears. The Messenger reproached Abu Dharr: “Do you still have a sign of Jahiliya?” Full of repentance, Abu Dharr lay on the ground and said: “I won’t raise my head (meaning he wouldn’t get up) unless Bilal put his foot on it to pass over it.” Bilal forgave him, and they were reconciled.48 Such was the brotherhood and humanity Islam created between once-savage people.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
- Muslim, “Zakat,” 142, 148; Bukhari, “Adab,” 95; “Manaqib,” 25.
- Bukhari, “Adab,” 95; Muslim, “Zakat,” 142.
- Bukhari, “Hiba,” 28; Abu Dawud, “Diyat,” 6.
- Abu Dawud, “Adab,” 1; Nasa’i, “Qasama,” 24.
- Suyuti, Al-Khasa’is, 1:26; Ibn Hajar, Al-Isaba, 1:566.
- Bukhari, “‘Ilm,” 28; “Adhan,” 61.
- Muslim, “Salat,” 179; Nasa’i, “Iftitah,” 71; Bukhari, “Adab,” 74.
- Hakim, Mustadrak, 3:242.
- Said Nursi, Sözler (Istanbul: 1986), 459.
- Muslim, “Iman,” 158; Ibn Maja, “Fitan,” 1.
- Bukhari, “Iman,” 22.