In their criminal assault against Charlie Hebdo, Muslim extremists succeeded in the one thing they were trying to prevent: the publication of more cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and more attention given to these cartoons than ever before. The Paris tragedy is a reminder of the dangerous result of detaching faith from morality. A morality that was established by the very man these attackers claimed to be avenging.
If Charlie Hebdo's cartoons were drawn in Prophet Muhammad's time, they would hardly have been deemed worthy of recording in history. These depictions would dim in comparison to the torrent of insults, mockery and derision that the Prophet had to face nearly on a daily basis. It is hard to imagine any man facing 23 years of such abuse without succumbing to violence, but such was the true and gentle nature of Muhammad.
Lest you think I am making these claims based on fanciful thinking I would like to share a few examples from recorded Islamic history of how he dealt with those that were verbally or even physically abusive towards him.
Starting from the very beginning of his ministry it does not take long for us to arrive at a perfect illustration. The Prophet once traveled to the Arab city of Taif where the chieftains gave him a cold reception and then set the city's vagabonds against him. For miles, these men pelted him with stones and swore at him. Islamic tradition records that instead of vengeance, the Prophet prayed for them "I hope that God will let them beget children who will worship God alone." Fittingly, a few years later Taif converted to Islam.
Another incidence comes from the time when the Prophet was effectively the chief of Medina. A firebrand poet name Kaab bin Zuhair mocked the Prophet in his odes and incited tribal violence against the Muslim minority that had migrated from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution. For promoting bloodshed, Kaab had was banned by the Prophet as a war criminal. Kaab himself sneaked into the Prophet's city state and was granted forgiveness for his hostility. Kaab then read a poem in the Prophet's honor that is still recited in Muslim tradition.
Another example during this time is that of Abdullah bin Ubay, a tribal chieftain who was angered when the citizens of Medina chose the Prophet as the city's leader instead of him. Throughout his remaining life, he took potshots, including making false accusations of adultery against the Prophet's wife, and once declaring that he will drive the "meanest" person (i.e. the Prophet) out of Medina. The Prophet's response to such offences was to encourage restraint among his passionate followers and even praying for Abdullah when he died.
It is often claimed that Prophet Muhammad was harsh to the Jews. An incidence where he was with his wife, Ayesha, when some Jewish men sought his audience demonstrates that it was actually quite the opposite. It is said, that the Jewish men said, "As-saam alaikum" or "death be upon you" to mimic the Muslim tradition of saying "As-salam alaikum" or "peace be upon you." On hearing this, Ayesha was angered and responded harshly. She was promptly stopped by the Prophet himself who said that "surely God loves kindness in every matter."
The last incidence I would point out comes at the conquest of Mecca, which was precipitated by the breaking of a peace agreement between the Prophet and his people and the Meccans. Amnesty was granted to nearly all Meccans most prominent in hostility among whom were Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind. This husband and wife duo were Meccan tribal overlords who spent nearly 20 years conspiring and waging hostilities against the Prophet. Hind was responsible for the murder and mutilation of the Prophet's close companion and uncle, yet in a gesture of unprecedented kindness, she too was forgiven.
If anything the above examples illustrate that Muslim extremists who react violently to blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad have little understanding of the man. Many Western historians including William Muir, Karen Armstrong, Stanley Lane-Poole and Lamartine have alluded to the magnanimity of Prophet Muhammad that won over hearts and minds. It is this side of the narrative which Muslim extremists and Islamophobes try to ignore.
Perhaps, this side is what the post-Paris tragedy cartoon by Charlie Hebdo also inadvertently depicts.