The Rage Game, Putting On The brakes
By Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
Anyone who hasn’t capitalized on the recent malicious caricature portrayal of the Prophet (SAWS) to express their outrage, promote their organization, get their name in the paper, pontificate the loftiness of Islamic ideals, start a membership drive, indulge in a little political posturing, to open dialogue, or defend the Prophet (SAWS) has missed their opportunity. The cartoon issue has officially become a non-issue. There was no fatwa, no official sounding consensus of scholars declaring cessation of protest, hastily prepared press conferences. On the contrary, the media puppeteers, knowing what motivates Muslims to action, simply turned off the cameras and directed them to another venue. Muslims are well in tailoring activity based on subliminal media directives, and it looks like we were duped once again. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been had. Or as al-Hajj Malik Shabaaz (Malcolm X) used to say, we were conned, bamboozled, hoodwinked, and flimflammed.
Of course, there are those in denial and that has to be expected. After all, Islam has become our universal adapter. All we need to do is preface an action with; “this is for the sake of Allah” or, “this is for Islam”, or, “this is in defense of Islam” and it assumes immediate legitimacy irregardless of whether it’s fair, Islamic, prudent, or in agreement with the shariah. Since as Muslims, everything we do is ostensibly in the name of Islam, for Islam, for the Muslims, for Allah, in defense of Islam etc., we are never wrong about anything, ever. Perhaps this is how we justify suicide bombings where the innocent (including women and children) are casualties. If the world was unaware how sensitive Muslims are about our Prophet (SAWS), then our recent response to a singular incident, not only erased any ambiguity, it showed how malleable the global Muslim community has become.
By even the most conservative accounts, we’ve proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are unpredictable, volatile, rage driven, and that a little name calling and scribbling on a piece of paper can stir us into frenzy. People have been attempting to demean and ridicule the Prophet (SAWS) ever since the first revelation of the Quran saturated his pure heart. When has that ever warranted a full-scale campaign? What are we going to do the next time someone demeans the prophet of Allah? Why was this incident singled out for response when there are hundreds of negative references to the Prophet Muhammad in circulation? A couple of years ago a well-known television evangelist from California gave a series of lectures in which he vilified the Prophet (SAWS) much more insidiously than this heretofore-unknown cartoonist (whom we have now made famous and probably wealthy from his future book deals). Why wasn’t there an outpour of condemnation and rage then?
Since this issue surfaced, these insidious and demeaning images of the Prophet (SAWS) have been reprinted in at least 143 newspapers in 56 countries. In defiance of Muslims umbrage, many media publications have stepped up their parody of not only the Prophet himself (SAWS) but also the hypersensitive way that we have responded to the issue. There will always be people, groups and institutions who will do, say, or write something that we can consider an affront to the dignity of the beloved, Prophet of God, Muhammad (SAWS) especially since we are so adept at interpreting words and events as anti-islamic. Should Muslims therefore assume a perpetual state of protest? On second thought, that might not be the most efficient use of labor. How about we just appoint a group of people whose job will be to hunt down and protest every insult to the Prophet (SAWS). That way the rest of the Muslim world can concentrate on other matters.
Whether we care to admit it or not, we are slowly, and dangerously I might add, evolving into a people so consumed with self-righteousness; rage, indiscipline, and intolerance, we have lost our collective ability to acknowledge our own wrongs. Let us grow up folks. Even Adam (AS) admitted his mistake and conducted a healthy self-assessment. To say that we overreacted to the cartoons is not only an understatement; it also raises questions about who we are, what we stand for, and how we interpret our belief system. Let me see if I got this right. A three month old negative caricature of the Prophet (SAWS) and we take to the streets by the thousands, protest, throw rocks, issue death threats, tear down buildings, blame whole nations and contort our angriest and most menacing facial expressions for the cameras. In the process, scores of Muslims are killed, hundreds more injured, countless man hours are expended, and after the dust settles, there is no measurable tangible gain we can claim from the experience.
Ironically, when Muslims bomb Masaajid while people are worshipping in Iraq, or when fratricidal lunacy claims the lives of at least 400 Muslims in the last week alone, there is hardly a whimper! We allege that we must protect and defend the honor of the Prophet (SAWS). Meanwhile in America alone, Muslims contribute upwards of twenty million dollars per year towards cable and satellite TV industry which broadcasts every imaginable abomination opposed by the Prophet (SAWS); homosexuality, pornography, blasphemy, gambling, infidelity, deception, gluttony, you name it, cable’s got it. I have not detected any mass rush to cancel our cable subscriptions. Bridges TV, a Muslim orientated cable station had to almost beg for the marginal support it receives from the Muslim community.
We clamor for tolerance yet we, after invoking the name of Allah, be He forever exalted, are notoriously intolerant. Discriminate against a Muslim and there is immediate outrage, yet we unabashedly champion nepotism, tribalism, and racial discrimination within our own organizations, boards, masaajid.and Muslim controlled lands. We want parity and inclusion in the world arena yet we cannot stop fighting each other long enough to create our own alternative industries. We vehemently protest the killing of Muslims by the Americans, the British, the French, the Russians, the Israelis, or any other so-called infidel. However, we are curiously silent about Muslims killing each other. It’s as if we are saying; hey, don’t kill Muslims! Let us kill each other! Don’t hate the Muslims! We have enough hate not only to hate you, but plenty left over to hate ourselves. Don’t disrespect the Prophet (SAWS)! We can do that ourselves by ignoring the standards of civility, fairness justice to which he commanded us.
The Muslim motto is becoming; ‘you disagree with me, therefore you are my enemy’. Some of us take the mantra a bit further; ‘you disagree with me, therefore I must kill you and your children’. The internet and print media are, full of one or another Muslim group, leader, scholar or imam, condemning the other, calling each other names, or inciting hatred and malice toward one another. Have we simply lost our minds? Somebody turn on the lights! Does it occur to anyone that the Muslims in the world are in a weakened, dependant and shamefully subordinate state? There is no doubt that there are multitude of organized and formidable seen and unseen forces confronting the Muslim peoples in this new and perhaps last millennium . Is there some law somewhere that says we are obligated to contribute to our own malaise? Can we call an emergency moratorium on inter-religious conflict between Muslims? Do you think that we can come up with better stratagem than our irritatingly redundant self-victimizing blame and complain modality? I thought that only juveniles did that. We are turning into complainaholics (okay I made the word up). The world’s crybabies.
Holding western democracies accountable to standards of law, fairness, civil liberty, and inclusion, has merit. Self-serving as it may be, there is some merit there. After all, publishing the cartoons in the first place was a criminal offence under sections 140 and 266b of the Danish Criminal Code. However, what is the Muslim standard? Do we have one? Of course, the unanimous response to that is; Islam is our standard! This, ladies and gentlemen, is my point. If Islamic law, ethics, protocol, morality or to put is bluntly for those of us who haven’t had their coffee this morning, the Quran and Sunna are the standards by which Muslims must be held accountable, are we then obligated to address errant behavior of Muslims perpetrated in the name of Islam? I’m not referring to contentious issues about which there is legitimate scholarly disagreement, or the triangulated fatwas cloaked in ambiguity. What I’m referring to are the incontrovertible standards of behavior, law, civility, honesty, good character, and fairness which all Muslims or most of us agree are the foundations of our faith. Are corruption, nepotism, racism, bribery, fratricide, inter-religious sectarianism, spousal abuse, issues that as Muslims we are obligated to address? You darn right they are! Does our failure to collectively and consistently enforce the Prophetic standard of conduct in government, community, business, religion, politics, and lifestyle, effect our overall condition and standing in the world? What do you think!
90% of Muslims in the West get their news from commercial broadcast networks. We only know what the media tells us. It seems like our group responses to issues are so scripted and choreographed, we might as well be paid for it and become members of the Screen Actors Guild. At least they have retirement benefits! Oh and speaking of boycotts; We have threatened boycotts of western products for years, yet our own division, short attention span, and intolerance of each other, prevents us from coming up with viable alternatives. Every six months or so, some Muslim scholar, organization or politician calls for a boycott of American, British, Israeli or another western countries products. . A recent fatwa from a well-known Muslim scholar (whom I happen to like), demanded that Muslims boycott all American Products. I guess that means Chinese products too since a lot of the product sold in American are made in China. While we are at it, let’s add Dubai to the list since they will now have a hand in managing several US ports. And aren’t we still supposed to be boycotting the French because of the Hijaab ban? I guess we might as well boycott Turkey too since they also ban hijaab. Boycotting Sweden may be tough. I mean, who can compete with IKEA’s prices and ingenuity? By the way, who’s keeping track of the boycott targets? Where is the list? Can they email Muslim enemy of the week list to my Treo handset? Like to keep track of such things you know.
If the sum of what we are saying is, ‘do not portray Islam in a negative way’. Are we not then responsible for ensuring that we as Muslims do not portray Islam in a negative way? If the answer is no, then we’ve abdicated responsibility for our own behavior, which to do so is unislamic. If the answer is yes, then the negative portrayals of Islam which we ourselves exhibit, i.e. the killing of innocents and non combatants, collective blaming for individual acts, racism within the Muslim community, rampant corruption, Muslim on Muslim killings, the proliferation of Muslim owned liquor stores, the absence of Muslims in the social services arena, inter-religious intolerance, public mudslinging, and unbridled rage are all issues for which we bear responsibility. In other words, if Joe Abdullah straps a bomb to his back, strolls into a grocery store, yells out the name of Allah (Allahu Akbar) then blows himself up along with twenty innocent bystanders who were just out doing a little shopping, and the Muslim community says and does nothing about it, any outsider could reasonably conclude that Joe Abdullah’s actions represent Islam. After all, he did it in the name of Islam, and the Muslims sanctioned it through silence. In Islamic law, the acquiescence (iqraar) of the Prophet (SAWS) towards an action, essentially sanctions it. Doesn’t this rule apply to the rest of us?
No matter how much we try to avoid taking responsibility for our actions and behavior, the matter of collective ethical responsibility will always come back to bite us, erode any moral capital we have left, and invoke divine consequences upon us, unless we face up to it. We do after all; have a higher authority (Allah) to answer to. Oh yeah, remember Him? Well He’s not going anywhere, and guess what? He has standards, and rules that govern behavior. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. If we are going to use Islam as our raison de’tre, we ,must then also accept Islamic standards as governing criteria for our action and behavior.
When was the last time that Muslims came out and apologized for anything, or admitted that we might be mistaken about some of our methods, or choice of priorities, or assumed any responsibility for our condition? I know, even hinting that Muslims could be wrong about anything is risky, and possibly hazardous to one’s health. But hey, I’m feeling a little adventurous these days. Besides, somebody’s gotta say it. No one besides Allah’s Prophets (ASA) is immune from occasional lapses in judgment, blunders, mistakes, sins, or outright stupidity. If the life and practices of our beloved Prophet, Muhammad (SAWS) serve as any standard for Muslims, as Imam Zaid Shakir adeptly elucidated in a recent article, .hatred, anger, revenge, rage, and puritanical oppression, are not always the best catalysts for action. Anger has its place. However, it was not something the Prophet (SAWS) prioritized. In fact, he emphasized the contrary. A man came to the Prophet (SAWS) and asked for advice. The Prophet replied: “Do not get angry”. The man returned repeatedly and each time the Prophet replied: “do not get angry”.
Negative emotions tend to take on a life of their own. We have become so accustomed to employing anger as an organizing staple, that many Muslims leaders are now finding that the only platform upon which they can motivate masses of Muslims is by tapping into their reservoir of fury. Find a common enemy, or common target of anger, you’ve got yourself thousands in the streets. Make an appeal for Muslims unity or curbing sectarianism and you get lip service, and photo-ops. Perhaps we’re suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder at the loss of the caliphate, or maybe we’re still a little lightheaded from fasting during the month of Ramadan or who knows, maybe we’re bored. I am certain that with a billion Muslims on the planet, we can come up with some issues on our own, or sustainable, practical agendas to better our condition with Allah’s help. I guess until that happens, we’ll just have to wait and see what the next issue of the week is going to be. As a parting note, I do have one humble request; next time, can we schedule our response closer to the actual time of the occurrence? I like my issues fresh. And hold the mustard please.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad, an American born Muslim, is an Imam and freelance writer and lecturer.