Expelling the Myths
The Muslim stance on the caricatures depicting the Prophet (saws).
Muslims and non-Muslims join in protest over the ‘unveiling’ of the horrific cartoons at the University of California, Irvine.
When Europe departed from the Dark Ages and witnessed the coming of the ‘Enlightenment Period,’ the first societal act was the expulsion of Christianity as a social and civil dogma. It was replaced with human rationale as a source of legislation and scientific inquiry. The monopoly that the church imposed on freedom of thought limited scientists and intellectuals, and resulted in a complete rejection of the church and its principles in favor of rationality. This has been Europe’s attitude toward religion since.
Modern European civilization thus began with the expulsion of a religion from the daily affairs of life, limiting Christianity to a religion of rituals practiced at home or exclusively in the Church. Hence, since the beginning of the European modernity, religion was stigmatized and remains so today. This can be witnessed historically as only fifty years ago, it was Judaism that was being attacked and a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment swept across much of Europe.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” True to this old adage, it is not surprising to see the Muslims today being dehumanized and the religion of Islam being wrongly depicted as a religion of hatred and animosity. Over a decade of anti-Muslim movies, television shows, and political rhetoric by the media has set the stage for the corrupt powers to ravage the Muslim world as they please. Most of the ‘first’ world watches rather indifferently and ignores the plight of the oppressed. It behooves any intelligent individual that the media can get away with such games without the public seeing through the deception and motivations.
Two decades ago, all of the favorite war movies featured the heroic Americans against the dubious Russians who were everything from murderers, to robbers, to terrorists. Perhaps it is only coincidental that the Cold War against Russia was a national priority at the time, hence the media propaganda against Russians; however, now it is the Muslims who are made out to be the enemy of the West by the media.
A few months ago, a Danish magazine asked forty artists to submit drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu `alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings be upon him), as they perceived him. The magazine published twelve renditions that uniformly ridiculed and demonized the personality of Muhammad (saws)—the Prophet whom over 1.5 billion people revere, love, and aspire to emulate. One depiction showed the Prophet (saws) donning a turban with a bomb inside. The cartoons did not receive much publicity, so they were deliberately republished in Norway on `Eid ul-Adha—an Islamic holiday marking the completion of Hajj, a pilgrimage to Makkah. How timely! What a way for the Europeans to send their greetings to the Muslims.
After the Danish Muslims attempted to resolve the issue internally but to no avail, they reached out to the greater Muslim world, who reacted immediately, stunned by the insensitive depictions of their beloved Prophet (saws). This has led to protests, an international boycott, and the fracturing of ties between Denmark and the Middle East. Newspapers in Germany, Italy, France, and Spain, amongst others, sided with their European Union counterparts by reprinting the cartoons under the guise of freedom of speech. An often overlooked fact of the matter is that there are copyright laws in Europe. Would it not be illegal for all the other papers and magazines to publish the cartoons without the approval of the Danish press?
What must be understood is that this was an act of religious intolerance that attempts to provoke Muslims, ridicule Prophet Muhammad (saws), and further polarize Islam and European society. It is not an issue of freedom of speech, but one of blatant intolerance, disrespect, and hypocrisy.
Muslims prepare for prayer during the demonstration at UC Irvine.
Former US president Bill Clinton strongly criticized the Danish cartoons, saying, “So now what are we going to do? … Replace the anti-Semitic prejudice with anti-Islamic prejudice?” Actions such as these only seek to inhibit mutual understanding and tolerance between Muslims and the West, furthering the idea that Muslims are enemies of the West, incapable of living peacefully with European society. “It is not only nuclear weapons that threaten world peace. Religious tensions can be a serious global problem, and the denigration of that which people of faith hold sacred only helps to aggravate those tensions” (Islamtoday.com).
The element of hypocrisy is clearly evident as well, for it is illegal—even punishable by imprisonment—in seven European countries to question the Holocaust in an academic matter. Furthermore, the Danish paper refused three years ago to publish images of Jesus, `alayhi salam (peace be upon him) as they considered it against the desires of the readers, who may find it offensive. The double standards are obvious, and the laws and ethics are undoubtedly applied subjectively. One should take heed from these actions and not be duped or timid in a response.
Allah, subhanahu wa ta`ala (the Exalted and Glorified) warns in the Qur’an, “Oh you who believe, do not take as intimates those other than yourselves, for they will not spare you any ruin. They wish that you would have hardships. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is even greater. We have certainly made clear the signs to you if you will use your intellect” (3:118). Reflecting upon the Qur’anic understanding of dealing with an aggressive and hostile power, the Muslims’ response should be dignified, strong, and direct. There should be a civil, yet powerful reaction that will teach those who attempt to abuse the Messenger of Allah (swt) that the Muslims are an Ummah (global Muslim community) of strength, dignity, and unity.
An effective measure that was employed was the mass boycott of all Danish products in the Muslim countries. This has severely angered the European Union. Such double standards only further illustrate the hypocrisy of European dealings with Islam—the EU is allowed to ridicule and humiliate Muslims in the name of free speech, but if as a consequence people refuse to purchase their products, this is seen as preposterous. Only after the Danes were financially affected did the editor of Jyllands-Posten make an attempt at apology: “In our opinion, the twelve drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive.”
Muslims universally reject this attempt at an apology. The ignorance and arrogance of Europe has gone too far; financial repercussions are an appropriate response. The teachings of Islam do not call for its followers to hurl insults and denigrate other religions; Islam stresses the need to come together as one group of people who collectively work to achieve prominent goals. It is through organized resistance that the solutions to the Muslims’ problems will come about.
The Muslims of today must be able to look at the big picture and realize the motivation behind such actions and their long term consequences. Muslim emotions should not fluctuate depending on what the media publishes, but rather on the actions of the powers they serve. However, purely logical answers based exclusively on human intellect will not suffice in the Muslim response to such an issue. Muslims must understand that Allah (swt) has the ability to and will Perfect the Light of Islam even if others despise it.
Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah (swt) have Mercy upon him, said: “Allah [swt] will extract revenge for His Messenger from those who slander and attack him. Allah [swt] will make His religion prevalent and will expose the lies of the liars if the people cannot apply the penal law a slanderer deserves.” Having such an optimistic point of view will lead to a proactive response that would make Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saws) proud. ̹