5:54 Allah will bring a people whom He loveth and who love Him, humble toward believers, stern toward disbelievers, striving in the way of Allah, and fearing not the blame of any blamer. Such is the grace of Allah which He giveth unto whom He will. Allah is All-Embracing, All-Knowing. 48:29 Mohammed is Allah's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another
Non-Muslims think that this verse tells Muslims to be harsh and cruel to non-Muslims. Let us first provide a better translation:
مُّحَمَّدٌ رَّسُولُ اللَّـهِ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ أَشِدَّاءُ عَلَى الْكُفَّارِ رُحَمَاءُ بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ تَرَاهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا يَبْتَغُونَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللَّـهِ وَرِضْوَانًا ۖ سِيمَاهُمْ فِي وُجُوهِهِم مِّنْ أَثَرِ السُّجُودِ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مَثَلُهُمْ فِي التَّوْرَاةِ ۚ وَمَثَلُهُمْ فِي الْإِنجِيلِ كَزَرْعٍ أَخْرَجَ شَطْأَهُ فَآزَرَهُ فَاسْتَغْلَظَ فَاسْتَوَىٰ عَلَىٰ سُوقِهِ يُعْجِبُ الزُّرَّاعَ لِيَغِيظَ بِهِمُ الْكُفَّارَ ۗ وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ مِنْهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا ﴿٢٩﴾
48:29 Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. and those who are with him are strong against disbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other. Thou wilt see them bow and prostrate themselves (in prayer), seeking Grace from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure. On their faces are their marks, (being) the traces of their prostration. This is their similitude in the Taurat; and their similitude in the Gospel is: like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight. As a result, it fills the Unbelievers with rage at them. Allah has promised those among them who believe and do righteous deeds forgiveness, and a great Reward.
The Arabic word "ashidda" does not mean ruthless, but strong and firm. Ruthless is an unacceptable translation. Translations of ashidda:
Pickthall: hard; Yusuf Ali: strong; Daryabadi: stern; Khan-Hilali: severe; F. Malik: strong; Shakir: firm of heart; Arberry: hard; Irving: strict
Also, the disbelievers being referred to in these verses are the those who persecuted and attacked the Muslims. Shaykh Fawzee Al-Atharee said the following:
And similarly the disbeliever, if he has good character with us and good manners with us and good way and treatment with us, then we have good manners with him, good behaviour with him, good way with him and good treatment of him. And if his manners are bad and his behaviour is bad [i.e. abusive and cruel], then we treat him with accordance to how he is treating us. This is something permissible in the legislation. But the Prophet s.a.w.s. has indicated very clearly in all the narrations that have been brought and throughout his life, that there must be a matter of balance and to be just. And that is in dealing with the people of disbelief and also in dealing with those who have faith.
The Muslims were commanded to stand up for their religion and defend themselves against the persecution of the disbelievers. Again, if we examine the historical context, we also find that this is referring to those who attacked the Muslims continuously. So verses apply in a situation similar to the historical context. Since this verse mentions the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and praises their path, let us examine some narrations about the companions. Musab bin Umair was a notable companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sent to Madinah to share the message of Islam with the people living there. One incident of his related as follows:
Once Musab and Sad were sitting near a well in an orchard of the Zafar clan. With them were a number of new Muslims and others who were interested in Islam. A powerful notable of the city, Usayd ibn Khudayr, came up brandishing a spear. He was livid with rage. Sad ibn Zararah saw him and told Musab: "This is a chieftain of his people. May God place truth in his heart." "If he sits down, I will speak to him," replied Musab, displaying all the calm and tact of a great daiy. The angry Usayd shouted abuse and threatened Musab and his host. "Why have you both come to us to corrupt the weak among us? Keep away from us if you want to stay alive." Musab smiled a warm and friendly smile and said to Usayd: "Won't you sit down and listen? If you are pleased and satisfied with our mission. accept it and if you dislike it we would stop telling you what you dislike and leave." "That's reasonable," said Usayd and, sticking his spear in the ground, sat down. Musab was not compelling him to do anything. He was not denouncing him. He was merely inviting him to listen. If he was satisfied, well and good. If not, then Musab would leave his district and his clan without any fuss and go to another district. Musab began telling him about Islam and recited the Quran to him. Even before Usayd spoke, it was clear from his face, now radiant and expectant, that faith had entered his heart. He said: "How beautiful are these words and how true! What does a person do if he wants to enter this religion?" "Have a bath, purify yourself and your clothes. Then utter the testimony of Truth (Shahadah), and perform Salat. Usayd left the gathering and was absent for only a short while. He returned and testified that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah. (SOURCE)
Another example is found in the treatment of Thumamah Ibn Uthal, who was a notorious criminal who had killed many Muslim travelers. Because of this, the Prophet Muhammad declared him a wanted criminal who was to be captured or killed. Soon after, when he was traveling for pilgrimage, some Muslims caught him and took him to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The Prophet recognized him and had him kept in the Masjid (mosque) with food and even ordered his own camel to be milked for him. They treated him like a guest rather than a war criminal! The Prophet Muhammad asked Thumamah what he had to say for himself, to which he replied "If you want to kill in reprisal, you can have someone of noble blood to kill. If, out of your bounty, you want to forgive, I shall be grateful. If you want money in compensation, I shall give you whatever amount you ask." The Prophet Muhammad freed him and allowed him to leave. The very same day, Thumamah returned and declared his acceptance of Islam to the Prophet Muhammad. So we find that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions displayed the best character and attitude towards all people and this is what drew so many people to Islam. As the God says in the Qur'an:
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّـهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ ۖ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ ۖ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ ﴿١٥٩﴾3:159. And by the Mercy of God, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have ran away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (God's) Forgiveness for them; and consult them in the affairs. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in All‚h, certainly, All‚h loves those who put their trust (in Him).
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was commanded by God to bring people to the teachings of Islam through the beautiful character that Muslims must show. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) conveyed this message to others by saying:
He who is not merciful to others, will not be treated mercifully. (Muslim, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 42)
And there are numerous examples one could quote which illustrate the kind and loving nature of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Narrated Abu Huraira: A disbelieving Bedouin urinated in the mosque, and the people rushed to beat him. Allah's Apostle ordered them to leave him, let him finish and pour a bucket or a tumbler (full) of water over the place where he has passed urine. The Prophet then explained to the Bedouin calmly, "This is a place of worship, in it is the worship of God and the reading of Qur'an." After the Bedouin had left, the Prophet then said to his companions, " You have been sent to make things easy (for the people) and you have not been sent to make things difficult for them." (Muslim, Book 2, Number 559 and Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 149)
This narration, on its own, is sufficient to refute the claim that Islam is intolerant. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not show any anger or resentment to a non-Muslim who urinated in the Muslims place of worship! So Islam teaches gentleness in all things. As the Prophet Muhammad said:
Whoever is deprived of gentleness is deprived of all good. (Muslim, Book 32, Number 6270 & Abu Dawood, Book 41, Number 4791)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always displayed tolerance and compassion in his dealings with people, including Non-Muslims. Dr. M. Hamidullah explains the following points:
When the Prophet Mohammed settled down in Medina, he found there complete anarchy, the region having never known before either a State or a king to unite the tribes torn by internecine feuds. In just a few weeks, he succeeded in rallying all the inhabitants of the region into order. He constituted a city state, in which Muslims, Jews, pagan Arabs and also probably a small number of Christians, all entered into a statal organism by means of a social contract. The constitutional law of this first 'Muslim' State - which was the confederacy as a sequence of the multiplicity of the population groups - has come down to us in toto, and we read therein not only in clause 25: "to Muslims their religion, and to Jews their religion," or, "that there would be benevolence and justice," but even the unexpected passage in the same clause 25: "the Jews . . . are a community (in alliance) with - according Ibn Hisham and in the version of Abu-'Ubaid, a community (forming part) of - the believers (i.e., Muslims)." The very fact that, at the time of the constitution of this city-state, the autonomous Jewish villages acceded of their free will to the confederal State, and recognized Muhammad as their supreme political head, implies in our opinion that the non-Muslim subjects possessed the right of votes in the election of the head of the Muslim State, at least in so far as the political life of the country was concerned. (Hamidullah, Introduction to Islam, paragraphs 414-416)
During the life of Prophet Muhammad, there was a Jewish synagogue in Madinah and an educational institute known as Bait Al-Midras. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) preserved and protected both of them. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also honored a group of Christians of najran from Yemen, when they visited his mosques in Madinah. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) held interfaith discussions with them and they prayed in the Mosque in the Christian fashion while the Muslims prayed in the Islamic tradition. The Prophet Muhammad's tolerance is also illustrated in the following narration:
Once the Prophet was seated at some place in Madinah, along with his Companions. During this time a funeral procession passed by. On seeing this, the Prophet stood up. One of his Companion remarked that the funeral was that of a Jew. The Prophet replied, “Was he not a human being?” (Bukhari, Muslim)
If every human being in this world saw the various ethnicities and cultures with these eyes, the world would flourish in peace and harmony. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) set an example for his companions to follow in the way he showed respect and kindness to Non-Muslims. Dr. Farida Khanam also points out the following incidents:
In the present world, everyone’s thinking, tastes, aptitude, likes and dislikes can never exactly coincide. For many reasons, differences do arise in this world. But then, what is the permanent solution to the problem? The solution lies in tolerance, called i‘raz in Arabic. The Prophet’s entire life served as a perfect example of this principle. According to his wife, ‘A’isha, "He was a personification of the Qur’an." That is to say, the Prophet molded his own life in accordance with the ideal pattern of life which he presented to others in the form of the Qur’an. He never beat a servant, or a woman, or anyone else. He did, of course, fight for what was right. Yet, when he had to choose between two alternatives, he would take the easier course, provided it involved no sin.’ No one was more careful to avoid sin than he. He never sought revenge—on his own behalf—for any wrong done to him personally. Only if God’s commandments had been broken would he mete out retribution for the sake of God. It was such conduct which gained the Prophet universal respect. In the early Meccan period when the antagonists far exceeded the Prophet’s companions in number, it often happened that when the Prophet would stand to pray, his detractors would come near him and whistle and clap in order to disturb him, but the Prophet did not even once show his anger at such acts. He always opted for the policy of tolerance and avoidance of confrontation... When the opposition became very strong the Prophet left Mecca for Medina. But his antagonists did not leave him in peace. They began to attack Medina. In this way a state of war prevailed between the Muslims and non-Muslims. Since the Prophet avoided war at all costs, he strove to bring about a peace agreement between him and the Meccans. After great efforts on his part, the non-Muslims agreed to the finalizing of a 10-year peace treaty, which was drafted and signed at the al-Hudaybiyyah. While the al-Hudaybiyyah treaty was being drafted, the Meccans indulged in a number of extremely provocative acts. For instance, the agreement mentioned the Prophet’s name as ‘Muhammad the Messenger of God.’ They insisted that the phrase ‘the messenger of God’ should be taken out, and be replaced simply by ‘Muhammad, son of Abdullah’. The Prophet accepted their unreasonable condition and deleted the appellation with his own hands. Similarly, they made the condition that if they could lay their hands on any Muslim they would make him a hostage, but if the Muslims succeeded in detaining any non-Muslim, they would have to set him free. The Prophet even relented on this point. For the restoration of peace in the region, the Prophet accepted a number of such unjustifiable clauses as were added by the enemy. In this way he set the example of peace and tolerance being linked with one another. If we desire peace, we must tolerate many unpleasant things from others. There is no other way to establish peace in society. (SOURCE)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also extended the hand of friendship to Christians as well. He maintained good ties with the Christian Negus of Abyssinia throughout his life. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) even selected Non-Muslims as ambassadors. One such example was Amr ibn Umaiyah Ad-Damri. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sent a message to the Monks of Saint Catherine in Mount Sinai, saying the following: "
This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world."
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also advised his companion Mu'adh ibn Jabal by saying:
No Jew is to be annoyed because of their Judaic faith.
We must also examine the Prophet Muhammad's teachings towards neighbors:
Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.'' It was asked, "Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?'' He said, "One whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil". (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
"He who believes in God and the Last Day should honour his guest, should not harm his neighbor, should speak good or keep quiet." (Bukhari, Muslim)
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also clearly specified that a Non-Muslim neighbor should receive this excellent treatment:
"Whoever hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state hurts me, and he who hurts me annoys God." (Bukhari)
"He who hurts a Non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state, I am his adversary, and I shall be his adversary on the Day of a Judgment." (Bukhari)
It is fascinating to note that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was so vocal in his support of good treatment towards humanity that he would even be prepared to stand on the side of the Non-Muslims against the Muslims who did not follow his teachings. This is true justice and this is what lead to the peace and prosperity that Islam brought into the world. The excellent character of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has been noted by many Non-Muslim historians as well, and in fact anyone who has studied his life carefully has been amazed at the golden character of this human being. Washington Irving notes in his book 'Mahomet and His Successors':
In his private dealings he was just. He treated friends and strangers, the rich and poor, the powerful and weak, with equity, and was beloved by the common people for the affability with which he received them, and listened to their complaints. (Irving, Mahomet and His Successors)