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So what’s the big deal with drawing the prophet?

By Muhammad Karim

I can’t understand why the media, the West and everyone else who engaged in the “Let’s Draw Muhammad” contest recently couldn’t, in all their secular intelligence, attempt to first UNDERSTAND and then act instead of the other way round. I am also extremely disappointed with Zapiro for simply “jumping on the bandwagon” which is very unlike him. The Zapiro I’m used to has deep insight, sharp wit and gets to the heart of the issue at hand. Zapiro’s cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shows only deep ignorance … but I’ll analyse that later.

First, let’s get to the heart of the matter. Why are Muslims going crazy when this happens? Well, at the essence, we do not draw the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) or represent him in any way or form even though we do have detailed, verified and ratified descriptions of him because it is mentioned in the Qur’an not to fall into the trap of worshipping the Prophet instead of God. Secondly, Muslims believe in ALL of the prophets of God — Moses, Jesus, Noah, Jonah, Adam etc (peace be upon them all) and we don’t DRAW any of them.

But still … why is there so much passion in this issue? Well, look at the content. The depictions are ignorant and horrible. There is no mistaking the intent behind them. It represents some hard-line Iranian “Terrorist” Mullah rather than any insight into the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Muslims LOVE the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), I mean truly love. For Muslims he is the ultimate example of what a human being is supposed to be. We actually implement the idea that whenever we’re faced with any situation in life the question is automatically … “Well, what did the Prophet (pbuh) do?” You can’t underestimate this point, it leads to the next point in this issue.

Let’s make it personal. Take someone you truly love and would do anything for … say it’s your mother. Now, if someone was talking badly (or drawing nasty pictures) of your mother, but did it among themselves and, obviously, they have a right to say what they want. It’s all absolutely fine. But when someone comes up to you and waves it about in your face and swears your mother to your face, what would you do? Yes, it is the ultimate example we need to follow to hold our peace and deal with it in an intelligent and civilised manner (in fact this is what the Prophet (pbuh) himself would have done. But be realistic … your first move would be a punch in the gut of the offending perpetrator. This is the line between having the freedom to say what you want, but respecting the people around you.

Personally, this is the first time I’m writing about this because I can’t believe people’s stupidity and ignorance. In this day and age! For God’s sake (no pun intended) is everyone getting stupider? Why can’t anyone else see this? Regarding the drawings themselves, I refuse to join any action AGAINST them on Facebook and shout out slogans etc because that only fuels the fire of the same idiots who created the group in the first place. I’ve IGNORED them from the beginning and I implore all other Muslims to do the same, or even better, start telling these people who the Prophet (pbuh) was, his example and what he means to them. This is the perfect opportunity.

Finally, I pray … that intelligence dawns on both sides of this conflict. It’s a shame on humanity that BOTH sides are acting like this. Let’s grow up.

Muhammad Karim is a blogger on Tech Leader and a contributing author on Global Voices Online.

  • nissim

    There’s a deafening silence coming from all those progressive Muslim voices I am told share our country.

    When Jews and Christian have a public spat, you get to see the full spectrum of opinion in these comments – why don’t I hear any Muslims saying “Guys, lets drop this pernickety brouhaha (that other people just won’t get anyway), and pick our battles more wisely.”

    They just seem to close ranks, and present a one-dimensional reading and response to the non-Muslims, …who obviously just don’t get it.

  • Robard

    “From a Muslim perspective , the portrayal of Muhammad in visual form is prohibited as mentioned in the article, to avoid people worshipping Muhammad (pbuh) and worshipping God instead.”

    Yes, but caricaturing is quite the opposite of idolatry. Clearly the caricaturist is much more in line with the spirit of the prohibition, avoiding worshipful behaviour towards Muhammad, than the protestors who are demanding worshipful reverence even from non-believers. Who are the real idolators here?

  • X Cepting

    “Well, what did the Prophet (pbuh) do?” In spite of not being Muslim or even religious I have most of the major religious works amongst my philosophy books and the person I saw behind the pages of the Qur’an would not have found Zapiro’s depiction anything but funny and an attempt at understanding the sorrow and despair he must sometimes feel at the actions of his supporters. In fact, I have often thought that if there is a God, round about now he must be quietly tearing his hair out somewhere, in despair at the actions of the religious who supposedly follow him. The main issue here seems not to be Zapiro’s supposed attack on the Prophet (mhrip) but rather that he attacked the hypocracy of some in the Muslim comunity who live very different lives from the teachings of the Qur’an. Even you, Muhammed refer to them. Those who use religion to further their own selfish ends.

  • Lesego

    I don’t understand why most of the whites want to ridicule prophet mohammad so much. Is it because of 9/11 or what? Most of you people here mustn’t beat around the bush and come out and say what is really your motive to condone caricatures of Mohammad. But Muhammad Karim, I wonder what kind of Zapiro’s work you like. The shower head?

  • Vrye Denker

    If the prophet is not God, then why is it wrong to draw him?

  • Benjamin_sa

    ‘But when someone comes up to you and waves it about in your face and swears your mother to your face’
    If you don’t want to see them DON’T click the link, DON’T buy the paper. Where are people waving pictures in your face?

    I find it offensive that someone attempted to decide, for me, what I could or couldn’t read.

  • Jimmy

    Grow up Muhammad. You have clearly not even bothered to look at the cartoon in question. Are you saying that if you love someone unconditionally then you can’t poke fun at them? Really? This is actually a redundant question in that the cartoon doesn’t even make fun of the prophet but merely is a representation of him to show how absurd the current situation is. Granted I can see how poking fun at Mohammed would cause offence BUT drawing a cartoon representation does NOT mean he becomes a figure of ridicule and it is high time you and other overly sensitive and blinkered people stopped rising to the non-existent bait.

  • Justin Hall

    @Lesego: Firstly, this has nothing to do with race (reference to “whites”). Secondly, I don’t think that Zapiro was mocking Mohammed; he was aiming his satire at FOLLOWERS of Mohammed. The text says that it is the followers that don’t have a sense of humour, not the Prophet.

    M. Karim, please clarify for me, as I am not a Muslim student:
    It is my understanding that the Muslim prohibition on drawing the Prophet is a law that was NOT spoken by the Prophet himself; in fact it is a law that was added by latter writers of the Kuran – is that correct?

  • Peter L

    @ Muhammad
    I empathise with your views, but respectfully suggest that the “picture of your mother” analogy was off the mark.

    I am of the view that many of the major conflicts in history can be ascribed to one or more groups’ intolerance of one or more other groups.
    This intolerance, in turn is fed by, if not the result of ignorance and prejudice.

    Devoutly religious people live their lives on a rules – based system. Everything they do and everythng they think is defined to a large part by their relgious beleifs and thinking.
    The “rules” of the game that govern their lives are to be found in the Qu’uran, Bible, Torah etc.

    By publishing a cartoon that “breaks” one of these rules, the Newspaper and cartoonist cannot help but offend those that live their lives by those rules.

    The old cliche that you cannot understand a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes is true, nevertheless.

    Instead of judging people by our own standards and belief systems, should we not perhaps try to at least get an understanding of the other person’s belief system before condemning it?

    Many South Africans have a belief system that reveres age and wisdom, and demands that respect be shownn to elders and leaders – to publically criticise such leaders and depict them with a shower head is likely to cause extreme anger, hurt and indignation.

  • katse

    These supremict stunts are nagging. Religion is not supposed to be any subject of discussion. I did outline this in my previous post which I cannot see here and that makes me wonder why? or is it because the editor is too religiously polarised.

    This vicious cycle can only be stopped by eliminating the Bush type of mentality, that some will educate others because they are the chosen people so called “great nation”. And we wonder why Mandela was still listed as a terrorist until recently. T

    My suggestion, let’s discuss politics and not religion, cause infinity is going to catch up with us, sure as soon as we run out of ideas we’ll start thinking of GOD’s picture, isn’t that ubsurd?

    I’m not going to be rhetorical about my ancestor this and that; I’ve slaughtered too many goats so far. Respect one another, finish and klaar…

  • Dave Thomas

    Mr Karim’s original article provides well explained reason for the strong feelings that are demonstrated within the Muslim community each time these issues arise. Much of the rest of this discussion appears to be from people who disagree with this cultural norm of that community.

    I can see much in the side of the argument that says that there is nothing wrong with a satirical cartoon on ay subject.

    However, by accepting that a Muslim is likely to have a diffrent view, I will not deliberately seek to provoke the kind of reaction that we have seen in this instance as well as in many others around the world.

  • Al-murshedy

    To Mr Karim, You offended millions of Iranians as you chosen to use the phrase “Terrorist Iranian” to defend the prophet. I’m sorry to say that your argument refelects a narrow minded view. Surely streotyping people is not in line with the prophet teaching!

  • qwentin

    As a Muslim, I don’t agree with this article. I haven’t yet seen the cartoon, but it sounds to me as something not really offensive. It isn’t racist, like most of the Danish cartoons. It isn’t xenophobic either. Though it does make a generalisation about Muslims not having a sense of humour and it does imply that the Danish cartoons were actually funny (which they mostly weren’t). But nothing of that is racist or xenophobic. The idea of the cartoon is rather funny, though, as was one or two of the Danish ones. At least it sounds funny, because I haven’t seen it yet.
    The main thing intelligent Muslims and others opposed about the Danish cartoons was their context. They were created in a climate of strong anti-immigration sentiments in Denmark. They have roots in local-political far right scene which is in the business of vilification of foreigners, non-white Danes, and so on. And they were made on the 10th anniversary of the latest genocide against Europe’s indigenous Muslims in Bosnia, so they were a bit insensitive. We in Europe are rightly not allowed to vilify Jews seventy years after the Holocaust. So why Muslims 10 years after Srebrenica?
    As of prohibition of depicting Muhammed, it was meant as “don’t make Muhammed icons” and don’t pray to them. These cartoons are hardly that. And even if they were, they were made by non-Muslims, so it doesn’t count.

  • Peace In Our Time

    An interesting read. I would like to make the point that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to particularly in a country as diverse as ours. That said I think that Zapiro proved very accurate in what was in effect a cartoon aimed at the violent supporters of Islam. If you are not a violent supporter who believes that anyone who isn’t a Muslim should be killed well then rest easy. He was not talking to you Muslims nor about you and violence surely is not what God preached regardless of whether you are Jew, Christian or Muslim. Defend God yes but not by threatening Death and violence. My God said that vengeance was his and that all of us fall short of the right to enter heaven.

  • Qalam

    Sometimes mature, sensible people choose NOT to exercise a right. Others consider it better to avoid (within reason) any overt act that they KNOW will hurt or antagonize others. Those who seem to now take great pleasure in using their free speech right to offend their Muslim fellow beings over and over again are like school children who, when they know something that hurts another child, unmercifully tease that child by repeating the hurtful action. I should think those who live in societies deeply marked by Christianity would remember the words of Jesus: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your soul, mind and strength and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Good, kind, decent people do not use their rights to inflict needless, gratuitous hurt on their neighnbours.

  • X Cepting

    @Qalam – That instruction only work on those non-Muslims who are Christian. Those of us who are atheist or agnostic and do not see the need (feel compelled) to subscribe to a human-made book of rules in order to feel good about ourself or need the whip of such rules to live a mutually beneficial (you’d probably call it moral) lifes actually might find such an injunction just as offensive as the act of drawing a cartoon of a historical figure is to you. Somehow, it is always OK to offend the non-religious, we’re damned anyway and beneath your regard, not so?

  • Dee

    Nice article.. but someone is out there killing people in the name of your prophet. If they were doing so in the name of your Mother.. either you agree they are right or you fight them. The status of the world Muslim population is quiet content with those using Mohammed’s name in their violent terror, then don’t complain when their victoms deamonise your prophet… you can’t have your cake and eat it… we are outside your law and you cannot impose it… whether you like it or not!

  • Thetreeden

    Virusman was the name of a Danish company founded in 2000 by Robin Drinkall. The company consisted of a cartoon character similar to Spiderman who was going to save the world from destruction. The motto “He cares” is a registered Trademark at the Danish Patents Agency.