The Cartoon Controversy
The offensive cartoons, published by some countries, on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), portraying him as a terrorist, caused a major backlash across the Muslim world. As the issue continues to be hotly debated in the media and in cyberspace, Muslims continue to protest; some peacefully while others resorting to violence.
This article explores the issue from an Islamic perspective, and sheds some light on the role played by the media, and attempts to highlight the socio-political, cultural and religious discord between the Muslims and the West.
The West has generally argued that the publication of the cartoon or caricature of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is justifiable on the basis of ‘Freedom of Speech’ or the so called ‘Freedom of the Press’ in a democratic and secular society. This notion has been put forward by almost all of the non-Islamic nations barring a few exceptions.
Muslims’ Reaction and Arguments:
It has become quite apparent that Muslims throughout the world have reacted to such a derogatory publication of their Prophet rather violently in some parts of the world and this is a shock, dismay, and surprise to many in the non-Muslim world. The West feels that such acts are over-reactionary, uncivilized, and unwarranted; they claim that the cartoons should be taken as a joke.
But for Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is considered to be the most honoured, respected and beloved of all people. They are told in the Qur’an:
The Prophet is closer to the Believers than their own selves….. (Quran 33:6).
Therefore, the deliberate publication of such cartoons is considered an insult and a slander to the Prophet, while some even consider it as an act of blasphemy – this is not merely a joke for them. This is considered as a mockery and a blatant insult to the Prophet of some 1.3 billion believers of Islam.
Double Standard: Muslims claim that the West, in particular, plays a double standard when it comes to the issue of Muslims or Islam at large. They argue that the same ‘Freedom of Speech’ or the ‘Freedom of the Press’ did not apply to situations illustrated below:
· Professor Butz, received considerable media attention from all sectors with strong criticism and condemnation for publishing a book (The Hoax of the Twentieth Century) on the denial of the holocaust. A detailed front-page report in the Chicago Tribune (Dec. 29, 1994), which was dismissively hostile to Butz, also appeared in other newspapers around the country. Similarly, an Associated Press report was published in a number of daily papers.
Muslims are expressing utter disappointment with the “double standard” that continues against Islam. They believe that it was a deliberate and provocative act - The same Danish newspaper that published sacrilegious cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) after The Guardian of London reported that the same publication had earlier refused to run cartoons of the Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) contending they could be offensive to readers.
So, the Muslims ‘cry’ aloud and ask the most obvious question: Why the West does not apply the same rules for libel and slander of their most honoured and beloved Prophet of God? According to British and American law, the publication of the cartoons of the Prophet falls under the libel and slander clause – defamation of character. But for some inexplicable reason, the slandering of the Prophet of Islam appears to be outside the purview of this law. Freedom of one should not infringe on the rights of others, particularly in the case of vilification of a Prophet.
Violent Reaction by Muslims – Is it justified?
It is understandable that when a Prophet of some 1.3 billion Muslims is insulted and vilified by characterizing him as a “terrorist”, there will be reaction, unrest and protest. But violent protests that disrupt society and harm innocent lives are anti-Islamic, anti-Qur’anic and anti-Prophetic Sunnah. This notion is clearly illustrated by referring directly to the Qur’an and the tradition (Hadith) and the Sunnah of the Prophet: (to keep the volume low, only a few references are made):
As the Qur’an was being revealed, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was accused and vilified by the Pagan Arabs of Mecca. They called him an impostor (30:58), a mad man (44:13/14, 68:51), and an insane poet (37:35/36). They charged him with forging lies and witchcraft (34:43, 38:4), forging lies against God (34:8, 42:24), forgery and making up tales (32:3, 38:7, and 46:8). They charged him time and again for witchcraft (17:47, 21:3, 43:30, 74:24), and of being possessed by a Jinn (23:70, 34:8).
But God guided the Prophet to stay calm, maintain patience and to continue to propagate the Message against all odds; thus did God revel to him:
Let not their speech then grieve thee (O Muhammad). Verily We (Allah) know what they hide as well as what they disclose (Qur’an 36:76).
There is a great lesson embedded in this verse for Muslims to contemplate.
Evidence from Prophetic Tradition (Hadith & Sunnah):
There are numerous reports of the Prophet that clearly illustrate that he never resorted to or allowed his companions to be violent or aggressive toward anyone who oppressed or insulted him.
One famous report says that a woman used to throw dirt over him whenever the Prophet passed by her house and the Prophet did not take revenge nor allowed any of his companions to do so. One day, as he passed by the woman’s house, no dirt was thrown over him. So he inquired about her, only to find out that she was sick. He went to see her and wished her good health.
This only goes to show the noble character of the Prophet. It is no wonder that the Qur’an describes him as “the excellent exemplar” – ‘Uswatun Hasana.’
You have an excellent example in the messenger of Allah, ….. (Qur’an 33:21).
If Muslims must follow his Sunna, then they must follow his examples.
So, what must Muslims do?
Particularly at times of distress, Muslims must act with caution and persevere with patience. The Qur’an says:
O ye who believe! seek help with patience, perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere (2;153).
In situations like this they are expected to:
Finally they may consider this as per the Qur’an:
And dispute you not with the People of the Book (Jews & Christians) except with means better (than mere disputation) unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say "We believe in the Revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” Qur’an 29:46).
And remember, if a dog barks, one is not expected to bark back. The Qur’an puts it beautifully, a parable for Muslims to remember:
………His (a disbeliever) similitude is that of a dog: if you attack him he lolls out his tongue or if you leave him alone he (still) lolls out his tongue. That is the similitude of those who reject our signs; so relate the story; perchance they may reflect (Qur’an 7:176).
ILM – Islamic Learning Media
Dated: February 14, 2006
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