Prophet Muhammad's reaction to the blind man: is he to blame?
That Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) had the highest standard of morals and the best manners is certainly true and evidenced by Quranic verses. However, it is also true that in the incident referred to in Surah 80, referring to the case of his blind Companion, the Prophet’s behavior was called into question. There is no contradiction between the two.
To remind ourselves of this incident, we may mention that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was once sitting with some of the elders of his tribe the Quraysh, which was the strongest and wealthiest in Arabia. He was trying to persuade them to believe in Islam as it is the true religion and the only way to ensure happiness in the life to come. At that moment, his Companion, Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoom who was blind, approached him and, not knowing how the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was occupied, insisted that he teach him something of the Quran. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not want to be distracted from the task at hand and ignored him. When the man persisted in his request, the Prophet’s face showed signs of displeasure as he did not wish to be interrupted. Needless to say, the blind man was not aware of the Prophet’s feelings who did not express with words what he felt. Yet the verses show that God the Almighty censured the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) for his conduct because he placed his own desire to bring the unbelievers to accept Islam above his duty to teach his Muslim Companions what they needed to learn of the Quran and Islam in general.
It is erroneous to suggest that this whole incident did not take place on the basis of the Prophet’s superior moral values. Indeed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had such standards which does not preclude the possibility that he may be annoyed at something or another. The blind man did not notice the Prophet’s irritation because he could not see the color rise in his face and because the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) did not voice his anger. Yet God the Almighty wanted the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) to maintain a much higher standard of values—a standard that does not look at people’s positions in this world but at their hearts and faith. Therefore, a poor blind person who wants to learn about his faith should have been given precedence over the rich and influential people who have not yet accepted the faith. Whatever benefit they would have given to Islam as a result of their belief was immaterial. The person who had already accepted the faith was more important on account of his faith. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was not responsible for making people believe in God the Almighty. His responsibility was to convey God’s message to mankind and leave them to decide what position to take.
Thus the Prophet’s position is outlined clearly. That he was corrected on this point does not bring into question his impeccable standard of moral values and manners. We should not read into this more than there is and deny an incident which God the Almighty employed to teach the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his followers an important principle of Islam.