Column: The anguish of Muslims – Part 4

Hafsah Qureshi was born and raised in Lincoln. She attended Washingborough Primary School followed by the Priory LSST Secondary School. She is currently a doctor working in Lincoln and lives with her husband and one year old son. In a series of articles, she will outline why Muslims feel anguish and sadness at people thinking their religion is ‘evil’ and associating it with terrorism, and will try to dispel some common misunderstandings about her faith.


It is often cited that terrorist groups like ISIS are doing ‘what Muhammad did’. However, taking a closer look at the Prophet Muhammad’s life will reveal just how deviant terrorist groups are from his example.

The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was born in 570AD in Makkah, around the same time that Anglo Saxons lived in Britain. He was a shepherd in his youth and later became a tradesman, earning the nicknames ‘the truthful’ and ‘the trustworthy’ due to his honest business dealings.

He lived in a society where female infanticide was common, women were treated like property, the poor were exploited, slaves were abused, idol worship was rife (but financially incentivised for Makkans, whose city was a regional centre for pilgrimage) and obedience to the Creator, the God of Abraham, had been forgotten. These things disturbed and saddened Muhammad deeply, and he would often retreat to a cave to meditate; it was here at the age of 40 that the first revelation came to him from Allah through Archangel Gabriel, an experience that terrified him.

He thought he had lost his mind and sought refuge with his most trusted friend and companion, his wife Khadijah. She consoled him and pointed to his good character as evidence that is was not unreasonable for God to have chosen him as a Prophet.

The first 13 years of his Prophethood in Makkah were characterised by oppression and brutal torture of the Muslim minority for their new beliefs and their vocal stance against societal injustices. However, not once in those 13 years did the Muslims violently retaliate. In fact, after an attack that left Muhammad bloody and distraught, he simply prayed for the perpetrators’ guidance.

Quranic revelations during those years galvanised the faith and character of the Muslims. Muslim slaves felt liberated by the belief that they could be higher in the eyes of God than their masters!

The promise of Heaven in the Afterlife for the patient gave courage and hope to those being tortured.

Then in the 12 and 13th year of the Prophethood, the people of Yathrib (later known as Madinah), invited Muhammad and his followers to their town to escape persecution. Being familiar with the concepts of monotheism and the coming of a new Prophet, due to their close association with Jewish tribes, they were more inclined to accept the Prophet’s message. They eventually turned to the Prophet Muhammad for leadership.

This is how the first Islamic community under Islamic law was established and how the Prophet Muhammad also became a head of state.

Meanwhile the leaders of Makkah were outraged that the Muslims had fled, and sought to crush them. Thus, the Muslims bore arms in self-defence. Heavily outnumbered, the Muslims won. They were governed by strict Quranic rules about the etiquette of warfare, including; not destroying crops, not killing non-combatants including the elderly, women and children, not to mutilate the dead, and to treat prisoners of war with kindness.

Muslim defended six years of Makkan aggression, culminating in a peace treaty. It was only after this, that Islam expanded rapidly in Arabia. Envoys were sent to various tribes and neighbouring states inviting them to come and learn about Islam, and many people embraced it. At no point was anyone forced to convert by the sword. In fact the Quran teaches ‘there is no compulsion in religion’

(2:256). When the Muslims conquered Makkah two years later, following a breach of the truce from the Makkan side, no vengeful battle ensued. The conquest was characterised by mercy and forgiveness, even for Islam’s worst previous enemies.

Towards the end of the Prophet’s life, the northern empires of Rome and Persia, perplexed at the unprecedented unification of Arabia, began amassing armies against the Muslims. Thus the Muslims advanced northward to meet the threat. This, together with increased trade with neighbouring lands, is how Islam came into contact with non-Arabs and expanded into lands beyond Arabia in subsequent years.

In this 7th century world, seeking conquest of land for resources, pride and prestige was common. However, the Quran taught engaging in ‘jihad’ on the battlefield only to fight oppression and injustice.

Muslims in the west must take lessons from the first 13 years of the prophethood – his community were a minority in Makkah, and although they were oppressed, they were taught to be compassionate and courteous to others. The Prophet and the Quran did not teach the killing of non-believers to terrorise, nor violent retaliation.

The final 10 years of the Prophet’s life in Madina set the precedent for humility, mercy and justice in daily dealings, as guided by the Quran. People of other faiths were free to practice their own religion undeterred. Islamic teachings, set out over 1400 years ago, were remarkably progressive, challenging racism, nationalism, sexism, slavery, poverty, unfair distribution of wealth, arrogance and exploitation of vulnerable people.

They strongly encouraged education and scientific enquiry – inspiring significant scientific progress in the middle ages.

The existence of thousands of recorded teachings of Muhammad, rigorously authenticated through a science called ‘hadith’, make Muslims feel a tangible closeness to him, despite the fact he lived so many centuries ago. Muslims do not worship Muhammad. We believe he is a servant of Allah, just like the rest of us, but came to renew and exemplify the simple message of obeying Allah alone and being good to others.