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Cartoons Put A Great Religion To The Test
To Muslims, Islam is the religion of peace and reason. The holy Qur'an is said to be the greatest miracle given to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Other prophets were given visual and tangible miracles. Jesus Christ's miracle was to raise the dead, restore the vision for the blind and heal the leper. Moses had his staff turned into an obvious serpent that dazzled the Pharaoh magicians; he also struck the sea with his rod to split it asunder, allowing him and his followers to escape the persecution of the Pharaoh. For David God made the Iron supple for him and taught him the language of the birds, while the wind was subjugated for Solomon and he also could understand the language of animals and use birds as messengers.
As for Muhammad, Muslims believe that his greatest miracle was the word, Al Qur'an, as can be seen in the first Qur’anic verses ever revealed to him:
“Read in the name of your Lord, who created, created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is most bountiful. (He who taught) the use of the pen taught man which he knew not.” (96: 1- 5)
From the outset one can see that Islam gave precedence to the brain over brawn, to mental challenge over brute physical engagement, to the pen (qalam) over the sword (sayf). The Qur'an is replete with verses ending in the words calling human beings to think, contemplate and resort to reason (aqal, fikr, tadabbur).
When the non-believing Arabs of Mecca asked Muhammad to show them miracles like previous prophets used to do; the prophet knew he was not but a mere human being. They asked him: “They say: We shall not believe in thee, until thou cause a spring to gush forth for us from the earth; Or (until) thou have a garden of date trees and vines, and cause rivers to gush forth in their midst, carrying abundant water; Or thou cause the sky to fall in pieces, as thou sayest (will happen), against us; or thou bring Allah and the angels before (us) face to face; Or thou have a house adorned with gold, or thou mount a ladder right into the skies. No, we shall not even believe in thy mounting until thou send down to us a book that we could read." (17: 90-93)
But knowing that his message was not about myths and physical miracles but to appeal to the human intellect until eternity, Muhammad’s answer as revealed to him by Allah came as simple and clear: “Say: “Glory to my Lord! Am I aught but a man,- a messenger?".
In a moment of defiance, however, the Qur’an, challenged the Quraishites, Muhammad's tribe, who were people known to have been given the gift of garb to come up with only one chapter like the Qur’an: "And if you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to our servant, Then produce a Chapter like thereunto; And call your witnesses or helpers besides Allah, If you are true. But if you cannot, and surely you cannot, Then fear the fire Whose fuel is men and stones, Which is prepared for those who reject faith." (2: 23-24)
When the Meccan non-believers gave chase to Muhammad’s earlier followers who sought refuge with the king of Abyssinia at the time, it was again the power of the eloquence of the Qur’an that appealed to the intellect of the Christian king and saved Muslims from being returned with their erstwhile enemies to Mecca, a step that would not have only killed the early Muslims but might have dealt a death blow as well to the religion of Islam as a whole.
However, it seems Muslims today have lost their intellectual fortitude. The Muslim nation is the nation that dazzled the world with its free and powerful theological and philosophical discourse in the Middle Ages. The nation that had translated Greek and Roman knowledge, studied it with voracity and opened new vistas in the fields of alchemy, astronomy, geography, history, medicine, philosophy and great theological rhetoric. The nation that boasted of carrying the touch of knowledge in the hands of great men of learning such as Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina or Avicenna, Abu Nasr Al-Farabi or Alpharabius, Jabir Ibn Hayyan or Geber, Ibn Al Haitham and great sufists like Al Hallaj, Hassan Al Basri, Al-Ghazali, Abdul Qadir Al Jilani, Jalaluddin Rumi and Ibn Al Arabi. To say that such a nation is defeated by amateur cartoons penned down by an adventurous artist in a little known European newspaper is an insult to the core message and mammoth history of Islam.
If one takes history as a guide, these infamous cartoons will seem amateurish compared to the insults and ridicule that Prophet Muhammad suffered in the hands of his kin and kith, the non-Muslims of Mecca . They described him as crazy, liar, magician, possessed, demented, that the Qur’an was the word of an evil spirit and many other ignoble attributes to which Muhammad refuted in the words of God: "And (O people!) your companion is not one possessed; And without doubt he saw him in the clear horizon; Neither doth he withhold grudgingly a knowledge of the Unseen; Nor is it the word of an evil spirit accursed; When whither go ye? Verily this is no less than a Message to (all) the Worlds; (With profit) to whoever among you wills to go straight". (81: 22-28).
These indecent attributes of Meccan non-believers to Muhammad are in our holy Qur’an. We read them everyday and we teach them to our children, but we don’t get angry and they don't prompt us to extricate these insulting words from the holy book and declare them as an apocrypha. Simply because we read them in their historical perspective and they teach us a valuable lesson that finally it was the word and indeed free speech that won the battle against the emotional outbursts of Muhammad’s adversaries, the sword of later days was but incidental.
May be if we had read the Danish cartoons in the same historical and geographical perspective, we would have understood that Denmark is a non-Muslim country with its own values, its own culture and that the Danish people have the right to behave the way they want to behave on their own turf.
My Muslim brothers and sisters, if we are really so adamant to defend the reputation of Islam it is in our house that we have to begin. It is unfortunate that we are so hell bent on burning diplomatic premises and Danish and western flags when Islam is everyday insulted, ridiculed and slandered in the house of Islam.
A painful reality check for Muslims
My brothers and sisters, the daily hostage taking and slitting the throats of innocent humanitarian workers and journalists before world television cameras is an insult to Islam; the brainwashed young men flying civilian airplanes into towers and taking with them thousands of innocent lives on their promised journey to heaven is an insult to Islam; the suicide bombers murdering tens of innocent commuters in the subways of London and Madrid and Embassies in Nairobi, Darus Salam and other foreign capitals is an insult to Islam. The warlords that hijacked the Muslim people of Somalia and turned the once proud pastoral people into beggars are an insult to Isam. The Taliban regime that kept the Afghan people hostage for years, ridiculed its female population and destroyed the historical heritage of the Afghan civilization and religious sculpturers of Buddha without any regard to the religious feelings of millions of Buddhists around the world was an insult to Islam. The Somali Islamists who dug up hundreds of skeletons from an Italian colonial-era cemetery and dumped them into the trash was an insult to Islam. The kidnapping of tourists coming to our countries to enjoy the cultural legacies of Muslim civilizations and demanding outrageous ransom for their lives in Yemen and elsewhere is an insult to Islam. The ugly bearded, turbaned and shabby looking firebrand clerics like Abu Hamza Al Masri who seek fame in this world and heaven in the world after by preaching hatred and inciting young Muslims to kill and maim the people on whose tax they live and learn is an insult to Islam. The ubiquitous images of Bin Laden and his lieutenants and their messages of hate beamed by Al Jazeera satellite television and other Arab televisions in the name of freedom of press is an insult to Islam.
Dear Muslims, in the face of the current furor over the infamous cartoons, one Danish editor has proposed that Danish authorities should build a Mosque for the Muslim community as an apology. One may ask how many Muslims would even see it as fair to raise the issue let alone propose reparations for civilian Christian people slaughtered by Muslims in Muslim lands as a result of the messages aired by these outcast militants.
As Muslims we may claim to posses all the good virtues in the world but we definitely lack one very important virtue – that of self-criticism, while the West is at least blessed with this good viture. We witnessed some of the biggest demonstrations against the war in Iraq in Western capitals. We daily see the Western media chastising their governments for their involvement in foreign adventures, we see women, students, professors, actors and other ordinary masses expressing their anger against their leaders and sometimes voting them out of office as a punishment for them on those issues as we have seen in Spain .
One may ask, how many demonstrations the Muslims had organized to express their anger against the innocent Russian children slaughtered in the name of Islam in Beslan, how much anger the Islamic world has shown to protest the crimes committed in the name of their religion in Algeria, Iraq, Chechnya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. Why the world doesn’t see the large mobs thronging to the streets and chanting God’s name when Muslims commit some of the heinous crimes in the name of Islam. In fact many of our Muslims enjoy moments of shadenfraude and dance in the streets when such misfortunes befall to our brothers in the Abrahamic faith.
It was painful to hear the lament of a Lebanese Sheikh after he helplessly watched a mob torching the premises of Danish and Norwegian embassies in Beirut that such violent demonstrations had insulted Prophet Muhammad more than they defended him.
A little dose of self-criticism will show us that Muslims every day insult and make mockery of other people. Our Imams curse the Christians and pray God to destroy their houses, to shatter their unity, to wipe them out of the face of the earth; and all the faithful respond with a hearty Amen. I will not even mention the Jews whose ridicule is a daily bread for our clerics although I find it beyond my understanding why Muslims always drag Jews and the holocaust into the agenda whenever they have a debate with the Christian world. These are the beliefs with which every Muslim child grows up, my brothers and sisters, and no one in our self-righteous world has ever questioned how much disservice we are doing to our future by preaching such hate to the young minds.
My dear brothers, even today, at the dawn of the 21st century, some of us dream of the day when Islam will again conquer Europe and a turbaned Muslim will occupy the American White House. I am not saying this, these are the words of Ayman Al Zawaheri, Al Qaeda's second man, and Abu Hamza Al Misri. The first uttered these words in one of his broadcasts in Al Jazeera and the latter preached them in his Finsbury Park mosque in London . It would have been understandable if this kind of fantasy thinking was confined to these unbalanced and misguided men, but it is very worrying and indeed scary when one discovers some of the learned men of Islam taking pride in such utterances and defending them in Arab televisions; not even feeling any shame to add the title of Sheikh to the name of these men. It is not also uncommon to read reports in newspapers from the Arab and Islamic world on Islam spreading in the West like a fire on a windy day. They talk with glee about European women converting to Islam in their hordes. In fact most of such reports come from Muslims living in the West. With such vitriol rhetoric and with the stereotype of the few Europeans converted to Islam turning their back on the norms and values of their home countries, changing their attire and adopting an alien look and attitude, it is just natural for the Western people to feel their values and their free speech were under threat.
Muslims historical grievances and their flipside
Despite our bravado about Muslim brotherhood, we all know that there is neither brotherhood, nor fraternity among Muslim people. Not a day passes without the satellite television stations beaming to our homes the ugly reality of Muslims killing fellow Muslims in Mosques and in shrines, at religious festivals and at homes with mothers and children sleeping peacefully slaughtered like animals. My brothers and sisters, truth hurts and I am hell bound today than any time before to tell the truth.
My fellow Muslims, let me now say few words about our chronic complaints against the West. They colonized our lands, yes they did. They divided our peoples and territories, yes they did. They helped the Jews to usurp the Arab territories in Palestine , yes they did. They invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and killed thousands of innocent Muslims, yes they did. They humiliated Muslims in Guantanamo and Abu Ghuraib and other tens of clandestine incarceration camps around the world, yes they did. All this is true and painful facts of history. It is, however, a misery that we share with millions of people around the globe, both in the distant and near history, who suffered the same fate or sometimes worst in the hands of foreign oppressors. To cite but a few the annihilation of the Red Indians in the Americas, the inhuman act of the slave trade of which Arabs had a big hand, the Jewish holocaust and the apartheid system in South Africa were the worst crimes that ever committed by a human being against his fellow human being.
Looking at the other side of the coin, however, we have to admit that Western countries gave money and ammunition to the people of Afghanistan to help them liberate their country from Soviet occupation, they saved the Muslim people of Bosnia and Albania from annihilation, they went to the rescue of the Muslim people of Somalia to break the grip of warlords on the people's life, to feed the poor and treat the sick. Despite their follies they still extend the largest financial aid to the Palestinian people. They generously and compassionately opened their pockets to help the millions of Muslim people whose lives and homes were devastated by Tsunami in Indonesia and other places. Even now as I am writing these words, Western nations are dispatching thousands of tons of food and medications to the drought affected people of East Africa, the majority of whom are Somali speaking people in the Horn of Africa, while western humanitarian organizations are feeding, sheltering and treating thousands of Muslim refugees of Darfur . Finally, I would like to hear if anyone could tell me what the life of the Arab people in the petro-dollar Gulf countries would have been today without the West exploring and bringing out oil and gas for them.
I may also mention that despite our acerbic rhetoric and collective bashing of the Western world, thousands of Muslim youth who are running away from harsh political realities and grinding economic conditions make their way to the West every year. Although they don't all find milk and honey in the promised land and many of them live in squalid ghettos, the hard working ones who are ready to integrate and embrace the values of their host countries make a decent and dignified living. It is worth mentioning that hundreds of militant clerics, who are known to be sworn enemies of the Western norms, sought refuge in the west to escape imminent beheadings in their own Muslim homelands. They were not only given free food, shelter, free education and nationality but they had also been allowed to build their own mosques and carry on their own religious missions, which they have unfortunately misused to produce armies of suicide bombers, instead of disseminating God's word of peace, love and brotherhood.
Falling into the trap
Turning to the Jyllands-Posten's cartoons, which the New York Times has correctly described as juvenile, Muslims should know that these cartoons were published in the background of what I have tried to explain thus far and under the pretext of free speech. The aim may have been as admitted by the newspaper itself to test the tolerance of Muslims or even to see how much Denmark has changed since the arrival of other cultures to its shores. However as happens always when writers and artists try to lampoon anything Islamic, the Muslims have just readily and without any thought fallen into the trap. The Muslim nation that possesses the miracle book of the Qur’an, the mother of all eloquence and wisdom, has proven that it has long forgotten to use its intellectual prowess and has resorted as they are stereotyped in the West to mob mentality and savagery. By turning away from the teaching of the Qur’an which enjoins them "...And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (25: 63), and by resorting to violence the Muslims have inflicted more damage to the image of their great religion than any Western masterpiece let alone the amateurish, stupid and crass cartoons of Jyllands-Posten would have ever done. If Muslims dismissed the cartoons for what they are, as the guileless work of people ignorant of Muslims and their great culture and ignored them, they would have ended up in the dumpster of history. But the Muslim mobs destroying and burning the diplomatic premises in Damascus , Beirut and elsewhere have lifted them from imminent oblivion, like they did earlier for Salman Rushdie and had given him unprecedented fame and wealth.
There is no doubt that the extremist groups that have hijacked Islam long ago have also hijacked the cartoon crisis; diverting it from being an issue of cultural ignorance and instead waved it like Caliph Othman's blood soaked shirt to incite hatred and vengeful feelings among the illiterate Muslim masses. If only someone had told these mobs that Prophet Muhammad and the great religion of Islam were more noble and more entrenched in the hearts of millions than to be desecrated by cartoons. If only someone had reminded them that neither the marching brute force of Jengis Khan, nor the crusade armies of King Richard the Lion Heart could tarnish the Muslims' love for their Prophet. A little cool contemplation on the history of Islam would have shown them that it was Prophet Muhammad who fought for freedom of speech when he was pleading to the Meccan non-Muslims to just listen to him and they were instead threatening him with sticks and stones. Muhammad was telling them there was no compulsion in Islam, proclaiming in God's words "Unto You Your Religion and Unto Me My Religion." This is how Islam taught us how a civilized debate and freedom of choice was more powerful than brute force. Hence, it is pathetic to see in the cartoon saga that Muslims have taken the position of the Quraishites and instead of resorting to dialogue and judicial law suits, have instead turned to sticks and stones and economic boycotts for which definitely the Muslims would be the losers given the amount of aid extended by the west to the Muslim world.
One may be forced to draw an analogue, despite the difference in time and context, between Prophet Muhammad's struggle for freedom of worship in the early days of his call to Islam, and the West’s torturous and bloody journey to earn the freedom of speech they enjoy today. It is sacred to them as Islam is sacred to us. Indeed it is freedom of speech and liberalism that allowed Islam and other cultures to flourish in Europe . The Norwegian editor of the online afrol News, Rainer Chr. Hennig , has eloquently put this in his recent editorial "Without criticism of religion and religious leaders, Europe would still be burning witches and killing Jews and Muslims. Demanding respect for Islam has been considered a blasphemy in Europe ! European liberalists were called unfaithful by Church leaders when campaigning to stop slavery."
To sum up, I would say that living in a global village where millions of unfortunate human beings survive under the scourge of poverty, diseases and natural disasters; where millions of mothers watch their children turn into a pile of skeleton due to famine before they gasp their last breath, it is an insult to humanity and almost a blasphemous act by the erstwhile defenders of both camps to waste their energy and resources on such imbecilic endeavors.
I may take consolation here in remembering the prayers of Prophet Muhammad when he was wounded in the Battle of Uhud. Some of his followers asked him to invoke God’s anger and revenge on the enemy, however, Muhammad took the moral high ground and prayed for them instead saying: "O God, forgive my people and guide them to truth, because they do not know."
You can reach Bashir Goth at email: email@example.com