Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What would Mohammed do?

In the light of the Danish cartoons of Mohammed I came across this article, which I thought was very interesting.

My own observations about the cartoons is that those responsible should have chosen not to print them, though it should not be illegal for them to do so. They should have been responsible enough to realise what a stupid idea it was to print those pictures. Freedom of speech does not mean you can shout 'fire!' in a crowded theatre, someone one said (a Unitarian?). And this was effectively what these cartoons were.

The ignorance of Islam staggers me. People don't seem to realise that to picture Mohammad at all it frowned upon in Islam, let alone ridiculing him in a very hurtful way.

It worries me a great deal the Islamaphobia in America. The Daily Show, which I usually love, is making jokes that show a real ignorance towards Islam. No one would talk like that in the UK, it would be considered racist. A while ago I heard an African American Baptist preacher say that she heard someone use the word 'Arab' the way 40 years ago someone would have said 'nigger.' That seems to be the way things are going in America.

Anyway, here's someone else's take on it:

What would Prophet Mohammed have done?

The Globe and Mail

Keep to forgiveness (O Mohammed), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.
- The Koran, Chapter 7, Verse 199

During his lifetime, Prophet Mohammed endured insults and ridicule on a daily basis. His opponents mocked his message and used physical violence to stop him from challenging the status quo.

At no stage during this ordeal did the Prophet lose his temper or react to these provocations. Tradition has it that he would, instead, offer a prayer of forgiveness to those who showed contempt for him.

Today, however, many followers of Prophet Mohammed are acting the exact opposite. Reacting to the provocative Danish cartoons about the Prophet, they are burning newspapers, threatening journalists, issuing bomb threats, yet claiming they are standing up for the Prophet himself.

I have seen the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. There is no question they are meant to hurt the feelings of Muslims. As I saw them, I had to restrain my anger. Once more, Muslims were being depicted as a violent people. (One particularly derisive cartoon showed the Prophet wearing a turban with a bomb inside it.)

No one in the Muslim community is willing to buy into the notion that these cartoons were not meant to promote racism against Muslims. The editors may say otherwise, but the community knows better when it is depicted as the"other," to be scorned and sidelined.

Caricaturing racial minorities has been a tradition in Europe and North America since long before it became acceptable to deride Muslims. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't uncommon to see Jews and blacks depicted negatively. Today, thanks to the great work of many civil rights and anti-racism activists, no newspaper would invoke press freedom to depict Jews and blacks or their leaders the way the Danish paper depicted the Prophet.

Having said that, the way some Muslims have reacted to the provocation leaves a lot to be desired. Provoked, they walked blindfolded into a trap set for them, and came out worse than what they started with.

In Canada, we had a similar case, if not of the same magnitude. In the mid-90s, a Toronto man distributed highly inflammatory literature against Islam and the Prophet. Unlike our European colleagues and some fanatics of the Middle East, Canadian Muslims took up the case with the police and the gentleman was charged under Ontario hate laws and convicted. End of story.

In the Danish case, the Arab world's reaction, led by the Egyptian government, suggests there is more to it than meets the eye. Thousands in the Arab world have protested against the publication of the cartoons. The Danish paper has received bomb threats. Two armed groups threatened yesterday to target Frenchmen and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories, as well as Danes, after the caricatures were published in their countries.

Many believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government is acting not for the love for Islam, but for love of the power it has usurped for decades.

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, a regular columnist for the London newspaper Sharq Al Awsat, wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dastour: "Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign -- led by Egypt-- felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years."

For the Arab League to demand that the Danish government shut down the newspaper Jyllands-Posten shows how deeply entrenched dictatorial practices are in many Muslim countries. They are so accustomed to closing down their own newspapers, they could not understand why the Danish government could not issue a decree closing the Jyllands-Posten.

This posturing by Arab governments and Islamist movements is not in the tradition of Islam. These zealots should ask the question: What would Prophet Mohammed have done when faced with this insult? He would, I suggest, have said a prayer for the cartoonist and "turned away from the ignorant," as Allah commanded him to do in the Koran.

Tarek Fatah is host of a weekly TV show on CTS-TV, The Muslim Chronicle, and is the communication director of the Muslim Canadian Congress.


Blogger Jennifer said...

I was horrified when earlier this year I had to dress down a student for using the term "towelhead".

Yes, it would seem that racism and ignorance are on the rise here in the US. I can only hope that the pendulum will eventually swing back.

4:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen,

This is you know who, who doesn't want her identity disclosed! You have certainly been busy on your blog! Just one thought - something I heard discussed on "Feedback" the other day. Why do we usually (and you have done it too) call Mohammed the "Prophet Mohammed"? He is a prophet to Islam that is true, but is he considered a "prophet" by the whole world? When Jesus is mentioned, do we/they say "the Prophet Jesus" or "the Saviour Jesus"? No we don't, so why say it about Mohammed? I am not a Christian, but I thought it was an interesting point!
By the way, I have half drafted an email to you which may get finished someday - sorry about the delay.
Oh and yes - congratulations on taking your "stand" in Birmingham. I do agree with you on many points about the need for Unitarians to get out there and evangelise.

1:51 am  
Blogger Stephen said...

Well actually we do say 'Jesus Christ.' 'Christ' is a much more theological title that 'prophet.' The article was written by a Muslim I think, so the title is appropriate. For me personally, I'm entirely happy to acknowledge Muhammad as a prophet, so I am very happy to say the prophet Muhammad.

9:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You demonstrate a typical liberal wishy-washy opinion on the whole subject of the cartoons. Why focus on Islamophobia and deflect from the real issue here which is Muslims ability to confront criticism without resorting to violence and collective punishments.

For a start, people DIED because of THEIR MANNER OF PROTEST. Secondly, the Islamic states and leaders are calling for a boycott of all Danish goods, and even all EU goods. So they want to collectively punish an entire nation, and continent, for the actions of a few... yet no criticism of that.

Just a focus on portraying Islam as the victim's religion when it dominates 80 countries and prevents YOUR RELIGION from existing and prospering in many of them.

Also, Islam is an ideology that is meant for all races - just as Christianity and UUism are. Therefore the use of the term racism when describing intolerance towards Muslims is wrong. It is simply YET ANOTHER attempt to deflect hard questions and criticism.

Yes it is clear Muslims in the West, as well as those in war-torn / dictatorship-ruled countries, are to a degree suffering.

But so are many other religious people, and non-religious people (and homosexual people), in Muslims societies.

Let's have some balance in future. Unitarians are very quick to criticise Christianity, perhaps their 'questioning minds' should also be directed at the intolerance and negative aspects of other faiths?

10:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please do tell us how this post is consistent with this post:

10:52 am  
Anonymous Reza said...

The article you quote omits the fact that during his lifetime Mohammad ordered the assassination of two poets who had mocked him. The first was a man called Abu 'Afak, the second a woman called 'Asma bint Marwan. Both their killings were ordered by Muhammad. These events are recorded in the standard biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq, which Muslims consider to be the most authoritative biography of Muhammad.

For further details see:

I am disturbed that you believe Muhammad was a prophet, when in fact he both preached and practised violence against those he considered to be his enemies.

9:04 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home