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by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.


Anger has spread over the 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and recently reprinted in European media and elsewhere in what the newspapers say is a statement of free speech.

The drawings - including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb - have caused unrest among the Muslims. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of Muhammad in order to prevent idolatry.

This has nothing to do with free speech, its pure sensationalism that reeks of religious disrespect. The Pope Benedict said, Freedom of Speech is not Freedom to insult a religion.


Are Europeans telling the Muslims "We can treat you the way we want and thou shall shut up."  Still, why do Muslims react so strongly?


Imagery was not the only problem with the Danish cartoons. They were insulting, which is, of course, the point of a cartoon. But they also portrayed the Prophet as a terrorist and, by extension, all Muslims, thereby engendering hate against them.


The drawings were hurtful to a people who are, arguably, more attached to their prophet than others may be to theirs.



Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have caused a storm of protest throughout the Islamic world, refused to run drawings lampooning Jesus Christ, it has emerged today.  The Danish daily turned down the cartoons of Christ three years ago, on the grounds that they could be offensive to readers and were not funny.


In April 2003, Danish illustrator Christoffer Zieler submitted a series of unsolicited cartoons dealing with the resurrection of Christ to Jyllands-Posten.


Zieler received an email back from the paper's Sunday editor, Jens Kaiser, which said: 'I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them.'



In any event, it's not about whether the Prophet should be pictured.  The Qur'an does not forbid images of the Prophet even though millions of Muslims do. The problem is that these cartoons portrayed Muhammad as a bin Laden-type image of violence. They portrayed Islam as a violent religion. It is not. Or do we want to make it so?


On 31 January, Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, published an open letter to Muslims saying he was sorry that Muslims took offence from the cartoons (which his cultural editor had commissioned for the express purpose of causing offence. He also said in a separate comment that had he known the extent of Muslim anger, he would not have published those cartoons. Since then the same cartoons have been reproduced by one newspaper after another in Europe, New Zealand and USA. How could these "especially commissioned works of art" be reproduced by other papers?  Only if Jyllands-Posten, the original copyright holder, gave them permission to do so. That it should continue to let others reprint these despicable cartoons, while claiming that it had expressed its regret, is only fitting in a drama that continues to reveal the depths of hypocrisy in which Europe is mired today.


All of these newspapers claim that they were exercising their right to free speech. But where can we draw the line between Free Speech and Hate Speech?


These papers may be exercising their right of free speech but to the more than 1.5 billion Muslims of the world it seems like it is Islamophobia which is really being propagated under the cover of free speech. To denigrate a religion and a historical figure is an act of blasphemy, not democratic freedom.


In Islam, any depiction of not only Prophet Muhammad, but any prophet of God Almighty, including Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, is strictly forbidden.  Muslims in the United States demonstrated when the movie "Temptations of the Christ" was released, because of what the movie depicted. These great religious personalities who are revered by billions shouldn't be ridiculed and blasphemed in the name of free speech.


Muslims don't disrespect spiritual leaders, scriptures, and places of worship of other faiths, and they expect, rightly so, from their neighbors and fellow human beings to do the same.


Criticism of the Prophet is therefore equated with blasphemy, which is punishable by death in some Muslim states. When Salman Rushdie, in his novel "The Satanic Verses", depicted Muhammad as a cynical schemer and his wives as prostitutes, the outcome was - to those with any understanding of Islam - predictable.

The cartoons set out not to depict but to ridicule the Prophet. And they do so in a climate in which Muslims across the globe feel alienated, threatened and routinely despised by the world's great powers. Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said media freedoms cannot be limitless and that hostility against Muslims was replacing anti-Semitism in the West.

The issue in not freedom of speech and no one is calling for censorship. The issue is increasing lack of tolerance against Muslims and Islam in the West. Today, no one defends similar insults against any other group in the name of free speech. In the last three decades people have been fired from jobs, made to resign from elected position, and excommunicated from clubs and associations for saying similar, socially and morally reprehensible, things against Blacks, Jews, and other groups. 

Muslims must recognize and resist an emerging pattern of provocation and entrapment. This entrapment leads to insult and humiliation, on the one hand, and cleverly insinuated conflict with free speech, on the other. While subjecting Muslims and Islam to palpable intolerance, this clever stratagem seeks to make them appear the intolerant community.

In Austria, a case of Holocaust denial charges is being prepared against British historian David Irving, based on two speeches he made in the country in 1989. He could face 10 years in jail if convicted. In Germany, antihate legislation that took effect last year has been used to rein in Muslim preachers who call for terrorist attacks or propagate hate.

When it comes to hate crime and defamation laws, there is no homogenous approach in Europe. Britain, for example, has long had a more tolerant approach to free speech than countries like Germany, France, and Austria, where Holocaust denial is a crime.

"Free speech" was never "freedom to cause hatred". It's not one rule for us and one for them.

On October 16, 1946, a man named Julius Streicher mounted the steps of a gallows. Moments later he was dead, the sentence of an international tribunal composed of representatives of the United States, France, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union having been imposed. Streicher's body was then cremated, and - so horrendous were his crimes thought to have been - his ashes dumped into an unspecified German river so that "no one should ever know a particular place to go for reasons of mourning his memory."

Julius Streicher had been convicted at Nuremberg, Germany of what were termed "Crimes Against Humanity." The lead prosecutor in his case Justice Robert Jackson of the United States Supreme Court had not argued that the defendant had killed anyone, nor that he had personally committed any especially violent act. Nor was it contended that Streicher had held any particularly important position in the German government during the period in which the so called Third Reich had believed to exterminated some six million  Jews, as well as several million Gypsies, Poles, Slavs, homosexuals, and other untermenschen (subhumans).

The sole offense for which the accused was ordered put to death was in having served as publisher/editor of a Bavarian tabloid entitled Der Sturmer during the early-to-mid 1930s, years before the Nazi genocide actually began. In this capacity, he had penned a long series of virulently anti-Semitic editorials and ''news."

Stories, usually accompanied by cartoons and other images graphically depicting Jews in extraordinarily derogatory fashion. This, the prosecution asserted, had done much to "dehumanize" the targets of his distortion in the mind of the German public. In turn, such dehumanization had made it possible or at least easier for average Germans to later indulge in the outright liquidation of Jewish "vermin." The tribunal agreed, holding that Streicher was therefore complicit in genocide.

Islam says it's all right to demonstrate but not to resort to violence. This must stop.

Muslims can condemn the cartoons but this does not justify violence. These rioters are defaming the name of Islam.

Violence is not justified

"You do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness." (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith or Prophetic Traditions). That description of Islam's Prophet Muhammad is a summary of how he reacted to personal attacks and abuse.

Islamic traditions include a number of instances of the prophet having the opportunity to strike back at those who attacked him, but refraining from doing so.


These traditions are particularly important as we witness outrage in the Islamic world over cartoons, initially published in a Danish newspaper, that were viewed as intentional attacks on the prophet.

Muslims are taught the tradition of the woman who would regularly throw trash on the prophet as he walked down a particular path. The prophet never responded in kind to the woman's abuse. Instead, when she one day failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition.

In another tradition, the prophet was offered the opportunity to have God punish the people of a town near Meccah who refused the message of Islam and attacked him with stones. Again, the prophet did not choose to respond in kind to the abuse.

A companion of the prophet noted his forgiving disposition. He said: "I served the prophet for ten years, and he never said 'uf' (a word indicating impatience) to me and never blamed me by saying, 'Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?'" (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Even when the prophet was in a position of power, he chose the path of kindness and reconciliation.

When he returned to Meccah after years of exile and personal attacks, he did not take revenge on the people of the city, but instead offered a general amnesty.

During his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad 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.

In the Quran, Islam's revealed text, God states: "When (the righteous) hear vain talk, they withdraw from it saying: 'Our deeds are for us and yours for you; peace be on to you. We do not desire the way of the ignorant'. . .O Prophet (Muhammad), you cannot give guidance to whom you wish, it is God Who gives guidance to whom He pleases, and He is quite aware of those who are guided." (28:55-56).

The Quran also says: "Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path and who receive guidance." (16:125)

As the Quran states: "It may well be that God will bring about love (and friendship) between you and those with whom you are now at odds." (60:7)

"Indulge [people] with forgiveness, [accepting] what issues spontaneously from people's manners [of behaviour], and do not scrutinize them, and enjoin kindness, decency, and turn away from the ignorant, and do not counter their stupidity with the like". (7:199)


"And verily messengers before you were mocked but in the end, the mockers were overwhelmed by the very thing they ridiculed". (21:41)


"You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him - this, behold, is something to set one's heart upon". (3:186).


"When you see those who engage in discourse about Our signs, the Qur'an, in mockery, turn away from them, and do not sit with them, until they discourse on some other topic". (6:68).

Another verse tells the prophet to "show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant." (7:199).

These are the examples that Muslims should follow as they express justifiable concern at the publication of the cartoons.

This unfortunate episode can be used as a learning opportunity for people of all faiths who sincerely wish to know more about Islam and Muslims. It can also be viewed as a "teaching moment" for Muslims who want to exemplify the prophet's teachings through the example of their good character and dignified behavior in the face of provocation and abuse.

Today, however, many followers of Prophet Muhammad 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. Muslims by their angry outburst gave wide currency to the cartoons from ignorant and made many initially disinterested to search for the caricature. Unfortunately, Muslims made it widely known.

Some western states, including the US, UK and Vatican, have taken exception to those offensive drawings, have conceded to the Muslim grievances and called for restraint by editors in such matters which touch upon the beliefs of millions of people. Non-Muslim high profile public figures like Clinton have condemned the decision to publish such offensive material.




1. Ward Churchill, Crimes Against Humanity, Online at          


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