By Dr Qari Muhammad Asim (Senior Editor ImamsOnline)
Chief Imam, Makkah Masjid UK
In early May 2015, two gunmen were killed and a security guard wounded outside a “Draw Muhammad” contest organized at a school arena in Garland, Texas, USA. The contest was described as a “free speech” event by its organisors, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an active anti-Muslim group. It offered a $10,000 top prize.
“This is a war. This is war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?” Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, commented on the events. “The war is here.”
It is maintained that Draw Mohammed Cartoon contest is a protest against radical Islamists who threaten violence against individuals that attempt to depict the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Many have questioned Geller’s intentions. On 8 May, on Fox News, Juan Williams (a prolific writer and receiver of Political commentary award) said that Pam Geller was “intentionally trying to provoke this [violent] reaction” and compared her to a pyromaniac who walks before a judge and insists she only burns down buildings to see how quickly the fire department responds.
Mayor Douglas Athas told the Dallas Morning News that he wished anti-Islam activist and conspiracy theorist Pam Geller had taken her business elsewhere as she had “invited” the attacks.
In recent years, there have been many attempts to provoke and offend Muslims in the name of freedom of expression – these attempts have varied from satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s publishing derogatory caricatures of Prophet Muhammad to ‘organising Everybody Draw Mohammed’ campaign in the US.
Rise in Anti-Muslim sentiments
There seems to be a rise in the demonisation of Muslims because of their faith with the unfortunate outcome of Muslims becoming the perceived “other”; whose emotions and feelings bcome a secondary concern to the rest of the world. It does not matter if their feelings and emotions are hurt or if a fundamental part of their faith is under attack. Muslim-bashing can be very lucrative for some and they have built their careers on demonising Muslims.
Islam cherishes human liberties and freedoms, including freedom of speech. Islam and Muslims are allowed to flourish in the west because of freedom of speech, conscience, press and religion, and Muslims appreciate that. However, this freedom of expression should not be turned into freedom to offend others. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right and there are already many limitations on such freedom of speech; 1.8 billion Muslims are.
Muslim’s Response to Provocation
There have been various kinds of response from Muslims and other non-biased individuals against such campaigns and they are seen as nothing more than a desperate attempt to incite and provoke Muslims.
Depictions of Muhammad (peace be upon him) are forbidden in the Muslim tradition and despite having immense love for their Prophet, Muslims do not draw their Prophet (peace be upon him). It is incumbent upon Muslims to vocalise their discontent at attempts to belittle the honour of the Last and Final Messenger (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) and stand united to defend the persona of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him). However, rather than giving satisfaction to those who want to provoke Muslims or divide Muslims or reinforce the narrative of Muslims being the “other”, Muslims need show unity on this very important issue and create an awareness of who the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) really is and what he stands for. Holding up placards saying “Death on those who draw Prophet’s images”, “Go to Hell” and “Death awaits you” is not the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Muslims need to raise awareness of their faith. Anger and emotions are natural reactions to such disgraceful acts. However, in order to prevent fitna (chaos in the land) Muslims must express their emotions and anger in a constructive manner at all levels. Their protest, which may include marching on the streets, presenting petitions to official authorities, writing articles or internet blogs, interviews to the media should all reflect Prophetic guidance.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) has taught man to exercise patience in the face of adversity: “The strong is not the one who overcomes people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.” [Bukhari]
At times of adversity and provocation, Muslims must revert to the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) who once said: “Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.” [Muslim & Bukhari].
The focus of Muslims’ response should be living the Prophetic example and educating others about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and why it is important to Muslims that derogatory depictions are not made about him.
Raising Awareness about Sublime Character & Universal Teachings
There is no better way to raise awareness about the Prophet (peace be upon him) than to highlight his character, teachings and contribution to humanity. It is our responsibility to demonstrate to the world how much mercy, love and affection the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) brought to the lives of those who he came in contact with; how his every action was based on universal principles of mercy, justice, forgiveness and respect for others; how he inspired people to be faith to be law-abiding people and peaceful citizens of the world; how he motivated people to work for the greater good of humanity.
There are scores of things that we do everyday, from brushing teeth to exchanging gifts, from dinning with friends to spending time with family, which were encouraged by the Prophet and practising them can be an ‘Islamic’ act and a source of reward for Muslims. No other faith has made ordinary daily actions a reflection of one’s faith.
Affection, moderation, clemency, fear, hope, chastity, compassion, generosity and the reflection of these in life are values that were highly regarded by the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and they form part of “Jihad” for Muslims.
It was through tolerance, kindness, endurance, self-restraint, justice and respect for humanity that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) won the hearts and minds of those who opposed his principles and values and we Muslims must do the same. We Muslims must follow the best example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) to bring about a change in the negative portrayal of this benefactor of mankind.
The Glorious Qur’an reminds us: “Goodness and evil are not equal. Repel evil with what is better. Then that person, with whom there was hatred, may become your intimate friend! And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but people of the greatest good fortune. [Qur’an 41:34-35]