Some Hadiths of the Prophet (ﷺ) are criticised and claimed to be giving a free pass to insult others. Hadiths are as follows:
قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم لِحَسَّانَ “ اهْجُهُمْ ـ أَوْ هَاجِهِمْ ـ وَجِبْرِيلُ مَعَكَ ”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said to Hassan, “Lampoon them (i.e. the pagans) and Gabriel is with you.” [Sahih al-Bukhari 3213, 6153]
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ ـ رضى الله عنها ـ قَالَتِ اسْتَأْذَنَ حَسَّانُ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم فِي هِجَاءِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ، قَالَ “ كَيْفَ بِنَسَبِي ”. فَقَالَ حَسَّانُ لأَسُلَّنَّكَ مِنْهُمْ كَمَا تُسَلُّ الشَّعَرَةُ مِنَ الْعَجِينِ. وَعَنْ أَبِيهِ قَالَ ذَهَبْتُ أَسُبُّ حَسَّانَ عِنْدَ عَائِشَةَ فَقَالَتْ لاَ تَسُبُّهُ فَإِنَّهُ كَانَ يُنَافِحُ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Narrated `Aisha: Once Hassan b. Thabit asked the permission of the Prophet (ﷺ) to lampoon the infidels. The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What about the fact that I have common descent with them?” Hassan replied, “I shall take you out of them as a hair is taken out of dough.” Narrated `Urwa: I started abusing Hassan in front of `Aisha, whereupon she said. “Don’t abuse him, for he used to defend the Prophet (with his poetry). [Sahih al-Bukhari 3531, 6150]
One of the keywords is found within the Hadith itself and this is as follows:
he used to defend the Prophet (with his poetry)
From this we learn that the lampooning was not initiated by Hassan but he defended the Prophet (ﷺ) against those who insulted him. Before we look at the facts behind the incident, let us take a look at the meaning of lampoon. The Arabic word used for lampoon them is اهْجُهُمْ (ihjuhum) which means to publicly criticize (someone or something) by using ridicule, irony, or sarcasm. The word itself does not state that people were insulted and for one to reach this conclusion, actual poetry from Hassan b. Thabit would have to be read to determine whether he became personal and insulting or he only publicly criticized the pagan poets. In the absence of any evidence that his poetry was crude or vulgar, assuming so would be injustice. On the contrary, we have evidence from Islamic sources itself that the Muslim lampooning was done with dignity:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said to Hassan b. Thabit:
اهْجُ الْمُشْرِكِينَ، فَإِنَّ جِبْرِيلَ مَعَكَ
On the day of Quraiza’s (siege), Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to Hassan b. Thabit, ‘Abuse them (with your poems), and Jibril is with you. [Sahih al-Bukhari 4124]
How is the abusing to be done? We find in another Hadith that it does not involve foul language:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَة أَنَّ رَجُلًا شَتَمَ أَبَا بَكْرٍ وَالنَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ جَالِسٌ فَجَعَلَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَعْجَبُ وَيَتَبَسَّمُ فَلَمَّا أَكْثَرَ رَدَّ عَلَيْهِ بَعْضَ قَوْلِهِ فَغَضِبَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَقَامَ فَلَحِقَهُ أَبُو بَكْرٍ فَقَالَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ كَانَ يَشْتُمُنِي وَأَنْتَ جَالِسٌ فَلَمَّا رَدَدْتُ عَلَيْهِ بَعْضَ قَوْلِهِ غَضِبْتَ وَقُمْتَ قَالَ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مَعَكَ مَلَكٌ يَرُدُّ عَنْكَ فَلَمَّا رَدَدْتَ عَلَيْهِ بَعْضَ قَوْلِهِ وَقَعَ الشَّيْطَانُ
Abu Huraira reported: A man reviled Abu Bakr while the Prophet (ﷺ) was sitting down. That made the Prophet impressed by Abu Bakr and he smiled. Then, Abu Bakr reviled the man with the same words as him and the Prophet became angry and he stood to leave. Abu Bakr went to the Prophet and he said, “O Messenger of Allah, the man reviled me and you were sitting, but when I responded you became angry and stood up.” The Prophet said, “Verily, there was an angel with you responding on your behalf, but Satan appeared when you responded with the same words as him and I will not sit in the presence of Satan.” [Musnad Aḥmad 9411]
Foul language is not something the Prophet (ﷺ) allowed and the poetry of Hassan criticized the pagans but not in a crude or vulgar manner. Moreover, the Prophet (ﷺ) said:
إِنَّ أَعْظَمَ النَّاسِ جُرْمًا إِنْسَانٌ شَاعِرٌ يَهْجُو الْقَبِيلَةَ مِنْ أَسْرِهَا، وَرَجُلٌ انْتَفَى مِنْ أَبِيهِ
The greatest of criminals is the poet who satirises the entire tribe and a man who disclaims his father. [Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 874]
Now coming to the context of the scenario -> Hassan b. Thabit was the poet of the Prophet (ﷺ) who not only defended him but also the Muslims. He was the representative of the Muslims when poetry was the news channel of the day. In our times we see some news channels representing the Western agenda while some represent the Russian or the Chinese agenda. Similarly, the pagan poets represented the anti-Islamic side and Hassan b. Thabit was the Muslim channel of retaliation. He composed poetry in response to the pagans who had sweeped low to the extent of composing sensual and crude poetry about Muslim women.
When Hassan b. Thabit asked for permission to strike back at the pagan poets, the Prophet (ﷺ) had concerns because he knew the poetry of the pagan Arabs was of disgusting nature which is why he asked: ‘What about the fact that I have common descent with them?’ Hassan replied: ‘I shall take you out of them as a hair is taken out of dough’. This shows that Hassan did not criticize the ancestors of anyone and doing so would not be taking out the Prophet (ﷺ) from it. The way he took him (ﷺ) out was by refraining from the style of poetry that the pagan poets adopted.
Now coming to the poetry of the enemies of Muslims, we find that it was crude and vulgar. Some Jews in Madina went to Makkah, praised the Quresh and composed poetry to incite them against the Muslims [*]; in addition, Muslim women were not spared and were made fun of in the most disgusting ways [*].
The enemies of Muslims stooped to the lowest of low ways when it comes to criticizing the Muslims. Hassan b. Thabit took permission from the Prophet (ﷺ) to respond to them in an adequate manner which the Prophet (ﷺ) allowed provided that the response was not outside Islamic ethics. The enemies of Muslims refrained from any sort of morals while the Muslims displayed them in the highest form even in situations where a similar response would be considered acceptable according to many ethical standards.
Allah knows best.