Friday, February 11, 2011

Importance of Context

A few months ago, I read a story which did not seem to make any sense. In a book about the greatness of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in a chapter about his playfulness, I read the following story:

The prophet (peace be upon him) ordered Sad to shoot a disbeliever with an arrow. When he shot him, the disbeliever fell over and his private parts became exposed. The prophet (peace be upon him) laughed till his molars were exposed.

This story did not make any sense, I will not lie that it worried me. In what was a really good book, this one story stuck out as the only story that did not make sense and could easily be used by Islamaphobes to make the Prophet (peace be upon him) look bad.

Anyway I completed the book and continued doing what I always do after that, read another book. So now I am reading Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtoom (The Sealed Nectar) and today while reading about the Battle of Uhud, I came across the same story in its proper context and it made perfect sense, here is full story in my own words:

During the Aftermath of the battle of Uhud, a female companion Umm Aiman was walking around the battefield giving the wounded water to drink. Hibban Bin Al-Arqah saw her and shot an arrow at her. The arrow hit her, she fell over and her Awrah become exposed. Hibban started laughing at her and the prophet (peace be upon him) became very angry.

He gave Sa'd Ibn Abi Waqqas and arrow without an arrowhead and told him to shoot Hibban. Sa'd did so and Hibban fell over and his awrah became exposed. The prophet (peace be upon him) laughed and said, "Sa'd has avenged her, may Allah always respond to his supplications,"
(See Ar-Raheeq Al-Makhtoom, p: 330)

So this is the full story. The half-story made it seem like the prophet (peace be upon him) had a man executed and laughed at the man's embarassment when his private area became exposed. Yet the full story was about defending the honour of a women, a brave woman who was unjustly shot, exposed and mocked at and the prophet (peace be upon him) could not tolerate a Muslim woman being treated so badly.

So this was a very good story about the honour and respect that Islam gives to women, yet a half told version of it can be easily misunderstood.

We need to realize that there are people out there looking for faults in the prophet (peace be upon him) and will misinterpret any story to make him look bad. While we can't please these people and there will always be issues they make up and misinterpret, at least we should be careful to not give them extra ammunition.

When stories are mistranslated, half told or quoted out of context, they can be very easily misunderstood and misinterpret. We need to be very careful in making sure that whenever we narrate a story, we convey it properly leaving no room for misinterpretations.

I just wanted to present this as an example of what happens when we half-quote a story out of context, and how different the story can sound.