In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
No, the letters don’t stand for “Wahhabi Weapons of Mass Destruction” (although that is a very, very unsettling thought). Rather, they stand for “What Would Muhammad Do?” This question, to me, is extremely relevant to the current Danish cartoon incident that has become a full-fledged controversy.
In September 2005, a Danish newspaper called Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in offensive manners. One showed the Prophet (pbuh) as a knife-wielding Bedouin; another showed him with a turban shaped as a bomb; yet another depicted the Prophet (pbuh) standing at the gates of heaven telling suicide bombers: “Stop! Stop! We have run out of virgins!”
The cartoons were offensive and repulsive. Although their publication was defended in the name of “freedom of expression,” they still insulted the Prophet (pbuh), and it was wrong for the newspaper to publish them. And I believe as Muslims, we have the right to protest the hurtful and insulting depiction of our Prophet (pbuh) in the newspaper, just as the newspapers reserve the right to publish said offensive cartoons.
That being said, however, the way in which many Muslims around the world protested the cartoons was - dare I say it - barbaric. There were street demonstrations across the Middle East, with flag-burnings galore. The Danish Government warned its citizens about traveling to Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. It even withdrew aid workers from the Gaza Strip.
Speaking of Gaza, masked gunmen temporarily occupied the EU office in Gaza and warned Danes and Norwegians to stay away. In Indonesia, eggs were pelted at the Danish embassy. In Saudi Arabia - as reported by the Associated Press - two employees of the Danish company Arla Foods were beaten up by angry customers. Two Palestinian militant groups threatened to retaliate against the newspapers by kidnapping Europeans and targeting churches and European offices.
What in God’s Most Holy Name is going on here? What sort of response is this? Is this what the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - the one whom is supposedly being defended by these Muslims - would do in this situation? Absolutely not. I mean, let’s examine briefly what the Prophet (pbuh) did do when he was confronted with very similar situations. On the very first day of the Prophet’s (pbuh) ministry, his own uncle, Abu Lahab, interrupted him and yelled out, “May you perish!” The Prophet (pbuh) did nothing.
In fact, this uncle of his, Abu Lahab, would intentionally follow the Prophet (pbuh) around and tell others not to listen to him because he is a crazy sorcerer. The Prophet (pbuh) did nothing. One time, while the Prophet (pbuh) was praying, one of the Meccan pagans pressed his foot on the neck of the Prophet (pbuh) so hard that the Prophet (pbuh) thought he was going to die. He did nothing.
The Prophet’s (pbuh) neighbors would place waste and filth at his front door every single day. The Prophet (pbuh) did nothing except say out loud, as he was cleaning the filth, “Is this how a neighbor should be treated?” When the Prophet (pbuh) went to Taif, the city to the south, he was driven out by the street urchins who stoned his feet, making them bloody. The Angel Gabriel descended with the angels of the mountains after the incident. Gabriel told the Prophet (pbuh): “If you want, these angels can crush Taif for what they did to you.” He said, “No.” “Perhaps,” the Noble Prophet (pbuh) said, “their children will believe in God.”
After everything the Meccans did to him, when he entered Mecca a conqueror, he asked them, “What do you think I am going to do with you?” A terribly frightened Meccan public responded by saying, “A noble brother, son of a noble brother.” He told them, “Go, for you are free.” He did not take revenge by slaughtering them.
Once, before Mecca was conquered, the Prophet (pbuh) was sleeping, and a man suddenly stood above him with a sword pointed at his chest. The man said, “Who will protect you from me, O Muhammad?” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “God.” As soon as he said that, the man fell back and dropped his sword. Angel Gabriel, you see, came down and pushed the man away. The Prophet (pbuh) quickly picked up the man’s sword from the ground and said to him, “Who will protect you from me?” Yet, the Prophet (pbuh) did not kill him; he let him go.
Another time, a Bedouin grabbed the Prophet (pbuh) by his shirt and pulled it so violently that his neck was reddened. The Bedouin wanted some money from the Prophet (pbuh). The Companions were very angry; the Prophet (pbuh) prevented them from doing anything to him, and he treated that man with kindness and compassion.
I can go on and on. This is the example of our Beloved and Noble Prophet (pbuh). He was attacked, cursed, maligned, and debased constantly. Yet, he did not respond in kind. I mean, they used to call the Prophet (pbuh) muthammam, instead of Muhammad. Muthammam meant “one who is continually debased,” as opposed to muhammad, which meant “one who is continually praised.” Yet, he did not retaliate.
So, therefore, how could it be that Muslims today - who claim to love the the Prophet (pbuh) deeply and follow his example - reacted in such an ugly manner to the publication of cartoons that depict him in a negative manner? I mean, gunfire at an EU office? Threatening Europeans and churches? Beating up employees of Arla Foods? Is this what Muhammad (pbuh) would do?
Absolutely not. There are so many other - more dignified, more truly Muslim - ways to lodge a protest against the cartoons. Muslims could have had a silent vigil in from the Danish embassy, instead of pelting the embassy with eggs. Muslims could have written the newspaper - with polite, non-hateful, non-threatening language - and told it that this is wrong. Muslims could have taken the opportunity to show the world the true face of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - the face we know and love - to contrast the ugly face that was printed by the Danish newspaper. There are so many ways to disagree without being violently disagreeable. Muslims, sadly, failed to do so, and that is offensive in and of itself.
Now, some may disagree with me here, but I thought the boycott was a great way to lodge Muslim protest. I completely acknowledge and agree that Arla Foods - as well as the Danish Government, for that matter - have nothing to do with actions of this small, independent Danish Newspaper. Still, the fact that the cartoons were published sent the message - even though it is probably not accurate - that Denmark could care less about the religious sensibilities of Muslims. “Therefore,” said the Muslim consumer, “you should not get my business. If you don’t respect my religious sensibilities, then why should I reward you with my hard-earned money?”
And it worked. Arla Foods, which sold $430 million in the Middle East, had it sales grind down to zero in five days! I heard on the BBC that it had to suspend operations in three dairies and lay off 100 workers. Almost as soon as that happened, the paper issued a pseudo-apology. Interesting, isn’t it? But the point is, the boycott was such a better way of protesting than burning flags, shooting guns in the air, and threatening innocent Europeans and their houses of worship. Yet, Muslims failed to do so, and this is offensive in and of itself.
Now, this is total speculation on my part, but I believe in my heart of hearts that the publishers of these cartoons think that Muslims are nothing but a bunch of barbarians. To prove it, they intentionally published offensive and provocative cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in a horrible manner so that Muslims will threaten innocent Europeans, shoot guns in the air, and burn Danish flags. And you know what? Muslims, by and large, took the bait and ended up looking like barbarians. Isn’t that a stupid thing to do? I think so. Don’t you think so?
Like I said, Muslims have a right to protest the cartoons, but the manner in which they protest is of paramount importance. They way many Muslims protested the cartoons just confirmed in the minds of many people that Muslims are little more than backward, angry barbarians. How sad. How very sad indeed.
Now, I have to say two more things here:
(1) I believe in freedom of expression. Everyone should be free to express themselves, even if it means offending others. Yet, even though we have this freedom, we should exercise some responsibility. We in America have freedom of speech and expression, but we understand this to mean that we can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. With freedom comes responsibility. Even though someone can call the Prophet a “terrorist” and “demon-possessed pedophile,” it does not mean he or she should do so. He or she should refrain from doing so, not because their freedom is curtailed, but because it is out of respect for the faith of other people.
I mean, no one would ever think of publishing a cartoon depicting Jesus (pbuh) as a Catholic priest being hauled away in handcuffs because he sexually abused a young boy. Such a cartoon, if ever published, would deeply and profoundly offend me as a Muslim. Christ (pbuh) is too pure, too holy, too noble to be maligned like that. The same should go for the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
(2) With that being said, this same principle must also apply to Muslims as well. It is well known that Arab and Muslim newspapers across the world routinely publish cartoons that are very offensive to non-Muslims, most especially Jews. This is wrong. If it is wrong to publish a cartoon maligning the Prophet (pbuh), it is also wrong to publish cartoons that are offensive to Jewish or Christian sensibilities. It goes both ways, and Muslims should understand and respect this.
Copyright © 2006 Hesham A. Hassaballa, M.D.
Visit Dr. Hassaballa’s site at http://drhassaballa.blogspot.com/