Dr. Hassaballa in Middle East Online

In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving

The article below was published on Middle East Online today.

Muhammad in Denmark, Redux

On October 27, Federal authorities announced they had arrested and charged two men from Chicago — my home town — for an alleged plot to attack targets in Europe.

According to authorities, the two men — David Headley and Tahawwur Rana — are alleged to have planned attacks in Denmark in apparent anger over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Mr. Rana adamantly denies being involved in any terrorist plot and said, through his attorney, that he “eagerly awaits his opportunity to contest them in court and to clear his and his family’s name.” Both men were arrested earlier this month, and it is important to note that both men are innocent until proven guilty.

I thought the controversy over the Danish cartoons had long ago abated, but sadly, it has not. In fact, there is fresh controversy at Yale University, where the University Press has decided to omit the cartoons from an upcoming book about the controversy and the violent aftermath, fearing the outbreak of new violence. This really makes me sad as a Muslim. It saddens me that, yet again, the association of Islam and Muslims with violence is alive and well in the minds of many people.

I viewed the cartoons (along with their translations) in an article in Harper’s magazine in 2006. While a number of them were very offensive and repugnant to me, some were actually complementary of the Prophet and attacked the terrorist barbarians who do violence in his name.

Traditionally, it is forbidden by Islam to depict the Prophet in any artistic sort of way. But clearly the cartoons were designed to be provocative, in order to seemingly ‘prove’ that Muslims cannot but act like violent barbarians. And in many parts of the Muslim world, Muslims fell for the trick.

The maligning of the Prophet Muhammad is nothing new. Ever since the beginning of his ministry, his enemies — including his own uncle — had attacked and smeared the Prophet. He was called a “sorcerer,” a “liar,” a “debased one,” among many other names. The Quran itself documents this in several verses. Yet, never did he react violently or ask his followers to do so. In the West, less than exemplary depictions of the Prophet Muhammad have existed since the time of the Crusades. In fact, the Prophet is located in one of the lowest circles of Hell in Dante’s Inferno, which caused me to chuckle when I read it in college.

Yet, perpetrating violence and harming innocent people, in an effort to “defend the honor of the Prophet,” is not a manifestation of love for him. It, in fact, insults his memory. The Prophet once said, “I was sent to perfect moral character.” The Prophet constantly forgave those who wronged him and encouraged us to do the same. When he conquered Mecca, he forgave the very people who attacked, maligned, and expelled him from the city years before. Because of his extraordinary mercy, some of his most bitter enemies became his most beloved companions.

That is the legacy of the Prophet for us today. That is the example we are beseeched to emulate, not blowing up embassies and attacking newspapers and its employees. Whenever the Prophet was cursed by his enemies, he would not answer, because he said the angels would answer his attackers on his behalf.

I am certain that there are going to be other cartoons and offensive material about the Prophet Muhammad to come in the future. And there is nothing wrong with objecting to such offensive depictions and calling for the respect of all things sacred — and not just the Islamic.

Blowing up people and buildings is not showing one’s love for the Prophet, nor can it show any love for anything, especially anything sacred. If Headley and Rana did conspire to commit a violent act, by doing so they showed the utmost disdain and disrespect for everything for which the Prophet lived and died.

(Distributed by Agence Global)


One thought on “Dr. Hassaballa in Middle East Online

  1. With respect, the association of Muslims with violence remains because whenever a journalist or writer (or pope!) says something seen as critical of Muhammed, Muslims always riot and threaten or use violence, mostly on people who had nothing to with it. It's happned many times in the few years, in several countries. 99.9% of Muslims do not think like you about this subject. Secondly, the idea that Islam forbids the depiction of Muhammed is a modern innovation; here is a gallery that includes many Islamic depictions of Muhammed, going back to early Islamic times: http://zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/I don't know what the motive of the gallery owner is (provocative, no doubt) but this is an important subject when people are being threatened with death for cartoons that (as you point out) don't in some cases say anything negative about Muhammed at all.

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