Wikipedia, Prophet Muhammad, and Muslims in need of Islam 101
by Sheila Musaji
The most recent non-issue being turned into a major incident by the thoughtless reaction of some Muslims is the Wikipedia entry on Prophet Muhammad. This wikipedia entry contains some paintings showing images of the Prophet from very old Islamic texts. Images also available to anyone who owns copies of the books in question, or who visits a museum or online academic archive of images.
Some Muslims have demanded removal of the pictures. Put together petitions to “cleanse” wikipedia of the pictures. Muslim blogs are posting requests to complain to wikipedia and sign petitions. Non Muslim blogs see this as an attempt at censorship.
Islamonline published an article expressing the opinion that the pictures should be removed and also referred to the Jylland posten Danish cartoons incident as if this could be considered in the same category.
There is more than one petition online. One which only has 178 signatures reads: “To: Wikepedia Authorities. The wikipedia has shown the picture of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon him) in their article on Muhammad. It is highly deplorable act and i request you all to order the wikipedia to remove this picture which is fueling religious hatred. Who ever has placed this picture is a true terrorist as he is trying to incite more then 1 billion Muslims of the world.”
The main petition mentioned in blogs, articles, and even emails going out, now has over 116,443 signatures. This petition states: “In Islam picture of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and other Humans are not allowed. But Wikipedia editors are showing illustrations with face illustrated and face is veiled or white washed. But still they are offensive to Muslims. I request all brothers and sisters to sign this petitions so we can tell Wikipedia to respect the religion and remove the illustrations.”
The number of signatures on this site disturbs me as the number of signatures for truly important issues like endorsing The Common Word statement, or The Amman Statement, A Pax on Both Our Houses: A Multireligious Call & campaign for US-Iran Peacemeking, or even the National Interfaith Statement Against Domestic Violence have received very few signatures in comparison.
Even the NYT has noted the flap, and the NYT article notes that the Muslim petition site was informed that Wikipedia readers could set their personal viewer so that images are not shown on any page. “The site considered but rejected a compromise that would allow visitors to choose whether to view the page with images.” Since Wikipedia is not an “Islamic” site, this seems like a perfectly reasonable adjustment to the sensibilities of some readers. Another solution would be for Muslims to put their efforts into expanding the existing MuslimWiki site.
Wikipedia has refused to delete the pictures and has released a statement as to why they are not removing the pictures. This statement seems perfectly reasonable to me as a Muslim.
And, of course, as such things go, someone has posted a petition to fight Islamic pressure to censure Wikipedia. Once again, some Muslims who have a particular point of view express themseves in such a way that non-Muslims see this as “the” Islamic position on a particular issue, and not one of many possible positions. It’s not Islamic pressure it’s Muslim pressure by some Muslims.
I truly don’t understand why with all the serious problems we face in the world, anyone would make an issue about the Wikipedia entry on the Prophet Muhammad. This is especially true since the article is well balanced and may cause many non-Muslims to read more about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and since the pictures are from Muslim texts and the article includes the disclaimer:
“Figurative depictions of Muhammad were a significant part of late medieval Islamic art; however, such depictions were generally limited to secular contexts and to the elite classes who could afford fine art. Depictions of Muhammad were common during the Ottoman Empire, when the taboo on portraying him was less strong, although his face was often left blank. This article includes two images of artworks created by Persian Muslim artists which depict the uncovered face of Muhammad. The images are used respectfully in a historical context to illustrate two episodes from the life of Muhammad.”
Those who are making a mountain out of a mole-hill not only don’t understand Islam, but don’t understand wikipedia. Wikipedia is an online free-content encyclopedia that anyone can edit. It is a collaborative effort in which anyone can participate.
Making an issue about something like this is pointless, and just gives the Islamophobes something else to make fun of. Although, it may be hoped that since there are so many sites around the world commenting on this incident and referring to the wikipedia page (28,000 hits when I googled this topic) that in spite of the thoughtlessness of those creating this issue, in the end many more people will have a chance to learn something about the Prophet (pubh).
There have been a lot of non-controversies turned into controversies by foolish Muslims. A few that come immediately to mind are the Opus cartoon, the Sudanese teddy bear incident, the Minnesota cab drivers who refused to carry blind passengers with guide dogs, the Malaysian court decision that Christians can’t use the word “Allah”, the Apple store in New York - Apple Mecca incident.
We need to put on the brakes and install circuit breakers in the system to head off foolish and sometimes even violent responses, and turn even difficult situations into opportunities to benefit Islam and Muslims by reacting in positive ways and asking ourselves What Would Prophet Muhammad Do?.