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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.

Western Argument:

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:

  • As a mark of respect and sentiments for the dead soldiers and their families, Western media will never display their faces either on the TV or in newspapers, yet in this case, they portrayed the Prophet as a terrorist ignoring the sentiments of some 1.3 billion Muslims. 
  • When Salman Rushdie published his book, ‘The Satanic Verses’, the Western media and government leaders hailed his book as one of the best literary works while ignoring the sentiments of 1.3 billion Muslims.
  • President Bush, as a personality, is without doubt no match to any of the Prophets whether it is Moses, Jesus or Muhammad (peace be to them). Yet, a Canadian politician, Francoise Ducros, was made to resign simply because she called him a ‘MORON’ and that too only in a private conversation. In an article, published by ‘The Associate Press – Toronto; 26th November, 2002, Mr. Colon writes that this comment made “Bush to turn around and scan the room. It was pointed out that Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge and Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman also wheeled about to answer the call”.

·         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.

  • Ernst Christof Friedrich Zündel, a holocaust denier, was jailed several times and in 2005 he was finally deported (under pressure) to Germany for trial. German prosecutors charged Zündel with fourteen counts of inciting racial hatred.
  • David John Cawdell Irving, a prominent British World War II historical researcher, was sued for slander for refuting the holocaust and the judgement found him “anti-Semitic and racist” and in addition, he is barred from entering many countries.

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):

Qur’anic Evidence:

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:

  1. Protest with dignity in a civilized way, without resorting to violence.
  2. They must ask the heads of their countries to launch official protests.
  3. They must ask the IOC and the Muslim League to be more proactive in their protest.
  4. They must contribute money to launch legal actions.
  5. They must not act hypocritical – act violently against the West and yet allow corrupt decadent Kings, Sheikhs and ministers to govern their countries in the pretext of ‘Islamic nations’; disobeying Allah’s Shariya.
  6. They must formulate procedures and processes whereby the up-coming generations of Muslims, in the West, educate their fellow non-Muslims about the ‘True Message’ of Islam.
  7. They must not cocoon themselves while living in the West and must indulge in a healthy dialogue and interaction with their Abrahamic (peace be on him) cousins – the Jews and the Christians.
  8. They must respect people of all faiths as per the Qur’an: “And do not insult what they (disbelievers) pray besides Allah…(Quran 6:108)”.
  9. They must remind themselves and others the universal character of Islam by quoting from the Qur’an: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.  And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) (Qur’an 49:13).”
  10. They may also remind the West that Democracy, Secularism, and “Freedom of Speech” is not a license for libel and slander or defamation of character of any human being let alone the Prophet; any Prophet. “Freedom of Speech” must be exercised with responsibility.
  11. They may remind the West that by lampooning and vilifying the Prophet, they are only fulfilling one of the prophecies of the Qur’an: “Thus we made for every messenger an enemy - Satan from among men and jinn, some of them inspiring others with seductive talk (in order to) deceive (them), and had your Lord pleased, they would not have done it. Therefore leave them and all that they forge” (Qur’an 6:112). “Thus we made for every messenger an enemy among the criminals - but enough is your Lord (O Muhammad,) to guide and help" (Qur’an 25:31).

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).

Ashfaque Syed

ILM – Islamic Learning Media

Dated: February 14, 2006

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