Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Mockery & Honor: Muhammad and Jesus

By Roland Clarke

In a bid to defuse escalating violence over mockery of Muhammad, CNN quoted Salman Shaikh, a brilliant Muslim commentator, “The mindless and criminal actions of a few in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and elsewhere, which have already led to the deaths of innocents, threaten to do a great deal of harm and never seem to make a sensible point.” Shortly after that article (*) was published, a wave of violent protests erupted across several cities in Pakistan, killing 15 innocent victims – people with no real link to the offensive movie, “Innocence of Muslims.”

These protests call to mind the violent riots of 2006 evoked by cartoons that were perceived to be dishonoring Muhammad, the revered prophet of Islam. During that crisis some Muslim leaders came to the realization: their religion was being tarnished by such violence, especially the shedding of innocent blood. One prominent cleric in Afghanistan, Muhammad Usman, said, “these rioters are defaming the name of Islam.” (*)

This warning is consistent with a proverb of Solomon, the son of King David, “A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV) It is interesting to note how other translators have rendered this verse, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (ESV) “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” (NLT)

Christians and also most Muslims could endorse this which comes as no surprise since Muslims agree that God revealed his will through the prophets. So, if it is honorable to overlook an offense, it makes sense to look at Muhammad and Jesus – the respective founders/cornerstones of Islam and Christianity – to consider how they exemplified this trait.

Murdering a Mocker

The Ahadith tells how someone mocked Muhammad and “hurt” him. We read in Sahih Al Bukhari, Volume 5, Book 59, Number 369:

Narrated Jabir bin 'Abdullah: Allah's Apostle said, "Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Al-Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?"

Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslama got up saying, "O Allah's Apostle! Would you like that I kill him?" The Prophet said, "Yes."

Muhammad bin Maslama said, "Then allow me to say a [false] thing [i.e. to deceive Ka'b]. "The Prophet said, "You may say it." . . .

For the sake of brevity we aren't quoting the entire account but the conclusion was: K'ab was murdered! (*) In fact, Islamic sources document many cases of Muhammad killing people who mocked him and opposed him. (*) Unfortunately these examples give Muslims reason to respond in anger and bloodshed when they see their prophet or deity being hurt. A more detailed discussion of Muhammad's response to mockery is available here and here.

Forbearing/Forgiving Mockers

Like Muhammad, Jesus Christ was opposed and hated but he didn't prompt his companions to kill them. Instead, he allowed people to mock him, insult him and even spit on him. The words you see in bold are highlighted in the following account of Jesus' trial and crucifixion as recorded in Matthew 27:1-54 (i.e. Injil/Gospel).

Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

... “Are you the King of the Jews?” the governor asked him.

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

… But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don't you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor's surprise.

Now it was the governor's custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd – anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate's house that morning he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you – Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)

Just then as Pilate was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.”

Meanwhile the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

Then Pilate responded, “What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

“Why,” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

Pilate saw that he wasn't getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood. The responsibility is yours!”

And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death – we and our children.”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

Some of the governor's soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. They stripped him and put a scarlet rob on him. They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews.” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified. ...

They nailed him to the cross and a sign was fastened above Jesus head, announcing the charge against him.

It read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at you now,” they yelled at him. You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can't save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him. He trusted God so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.

At noon darkness fell across the whole land until three o'clock. At about three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema Sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? ... ”

A short while later,

Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

I have gone to great length to show Jesus was mocked. In fact, he was mocked by many people, including 1) Roman soldiers, 2) the Jewish religious leaders, 3) the crowd, and finally 4) the two criminals who were crucified on either side of him!

More importantly, however, we want to see how Jesus responded. Is there any indication that Jesus suggested retaliating against mockers like we see it in the life of Muhammad and, more recently, in the way Muslims have protested violently over mockery of Muhammad?

Scripture makes it clear Jesus did not seek to get revenge. Instead he exercised patience and forbearance. He overlooked offense and wrong. (Bold font should remind us of Proverbs 19:11.) We will see that Christ patiently trusted in God Almighty as seen in Matthew 26:52-54 where Jesus was approached by a crowd of men armed with swords. They had come to arrest him. Jesus said to Peter (who had drawn his sword), “Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will die by the sword. Don't you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen next?”

Not only did Christ display trust and patience, he overlooked offense. We see this in Luke 23:34 where Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they don't know what they are doing.”

Jesus showed mercy and love toward his enemies – so radically different to Muhammad's example and teaching! Indeed, Jesus not only left an example of how to patiently suffer injustice, he also taught his followers; “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44,45)

Following the example of Christ

It is an undeniable today, that Christians are often harassed and oppressed in Muslim lands. This was anticipated in Christ's teaching. He warned his followers they would be persecuted, even as he himself was hated by the world. (John 15:18-20; cf. 1 Peter 2:21-23; 4:12; Philippians 1:28,29) Jesus also predicted some people would kill Christ's followers in the name of God. (John 16:2)

Muslim oppression of Christians is plain for all to see, especially in the case of those who leave Islam, i.e. apostates. Interestingly, Salim Mansur, a Muslim Political Science professor, goes so far as to describe the oppression of Christian minorities in the Middle East as “scandalous.” (*)

Victory of God's children

Whether or not a Christian suffers martyrdom, he can be confident that the Lord is watching over him and is protecting him/her from the evil world. (John 17:11-15) A similar assurance is given in 1 John 5:4,5,11,12, “For every child of God defeats this evil world and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God... God has given us eternal life and this life is in his Son.”

Speaking of victorious martyrs, the Bible says, “And they have defeated him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” (Revelation 12:11)

Victory and honor

The idea of honoring martyrs as ultimate victors is not strange to Muslims. In fact, according to Islam the surest way to gain Paradise is to lay down one's life in Jihad. However, the Bible says that defeating the Devil and being welcomed by God is not grounded in our own pious act of selflessness but “in the blood of the Lamb,” i.e. Christ.

Jesus said something that sheds light on martyrdom and honor. He taught what it means to truely be his follower, alluding also to the bravery of those who would serve as martyrs i.e. those who “did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.” Jesus said, “Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.” (John 12:25,26)

It is significant that the sentence before this quote, i.e. v.25,26, Jesus anticipates entering into his glory and pictures the analogy of a kernel of wheat dying resulting in “a plentiful harvest.”

All Bible quotes are taken from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated.

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Noteworthy articles related to this subject

John Piper has written an excellent comparison of how Jesus and Muhammad responded to mockery, Being Mocked: The Essence of Christ's Work, Not Muhammad's.

Here is an article I wrote in 2006 about the cartoon riots, entitled, What Defames Islam?

Two articles which draw further comparisons between Jesus and Muhammad: Jesus and Muhammad: Fifteen Major Differences and The Cornerstone: Muhammad or Jesus?

Finally, here is an article I would highly commend if you want to know more about how Muhammad would respond to the offensive video and why: What Would Muhammad Do About “That Video”?


[First published: 1 October 2012]
[Last updated: 1 October 2012]