To Islamophobes, he was a violent man who overcame his foes with terror, and ruled them with cruelty. To over a billion Muslims, he represents the epitome of mercy, and never allowed persecution or oppression to tarnish his exalted character. So which image is more accurate?
Descriptions of Muhammad’s life, military career, and traditions form the foundation for most judgments about his mission. Islam as a whole, through these depictions, is seen as either a religion of peace or a religion of war, depending on which interpretation of the messenger and message is followed. Modern critiques of some of the Prophet’s undertakings are meant to question the civility of Islam in the ongoing manufactured clash of civilizations that fuels both Islamophobes and extremists. Michael Bonner notes, “Many of these modern arguments over historiography, and over the rise of Islam and the origins of jihad more generally, began in the nineteenth and the earlier twentieth centuries among European academic specialists in the study of the East, often referred to as the orientalists.”  He goes on to note that the motivation of these arguments cannot be disconnected from “their involvement in the colonial project.” By portraying the Prophet himself as a barbarian, surely his followers cannot but be treated as an inherently violent political body that will employ any means necessary to achieve global domination.
What is uncontroversial is that Muhammad succeeded at wielding unprecedented power after decades of persecution. Michael Hart, who famously considered him the most influential man in history, wrote, “My choice of Muhammad to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise some readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular level.”  The question of whether or not he sacrificed his principles in the pursuit of that success is one that requires an in depth look at his consistency, or lack thereof, in varied political contexts.
For the first time in any language, researchers at the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research have compiled seventy incidents in which the Prophet Muhammad rose above enmity and insult. The primary goal is to form a foundation for understanding how Muhammad consistently chose mercy when insulted and attacked.
The French historian, Louis Sedillot, writes that, “It is such a distortion of historical facts when some writers accuse Prophet Muhammad of cruelty… They forget that he spared no effort in eliminating the inherited desire for revenge between Arabs; despite the fact that revenge was highly esteemed in Arabia like fencing was in Europe. They do not read the Quranic verse by which the Prophet broke the horrible habit of burying new-born girls alive. They never think of the pardon he granted to his worst enemies after the Conquest of Mecca. Neither do they consider the mercy he showed to many tribes during war. Do they not know that he never misused his power in fulfilling the desire for cruelty?” 
The incidents compiled in this research show just that. Both when Muhammad was a persecuted outcast and after he became a ruler, he consistently demonstrated a remarkable level of tolerance and morality that was unprecedented in history. These seventy incidents, paraphrased for the sake of brevity, serve as a reminder of who the Prophet really was, and why over a billion people in the world hold him in such high regard.
The full research publication can be read at this link: https://www.yaqeeninstitute.org/publications/how-the-prophet-muhammad-rose-above-enmity-and-insult/
Author: Imam Omar Suleiman - Founder and President of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, and an Adjunct Professor of Islamic Studies in the Graduate Liberal Studies Program at SMU (Southern Methodist University). He is also the Resident Scholar at Valley Ranch Islamic Center and Co-Chair of Faith Forward Dallas at Thanks-Giving Square. He holds a Bachelors in Accounting, a Bachelors in Islamic Law, a Masters in Islamic Finance, a Masters in Political History, and is currently pursuing a Phd. in Islamic Thought and Civilization from the International Islamic University of Malaysia. Follow on twitter!
 Michael David. Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 16.
 Michael H. Hart, The 100: a ranking of the most influential persons in history (New York: Hart Pub. Co., 1978), 21.
 Louis Sédillot (d. 1875), Histoire des Arabes (Brief History of the Arabs), p. 63-64 – published 1854