Notes on the Cartoon Controversy
A Call To Maturity and Self-Determination
So it’s happened again. They decided to republish the cartoons. Perhaps it is because they want to re-emphasize their opinions on the character and personality of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Maybe because they wish to provoke more reactionary Muslims into random acts of violence or demonstration. Maybe…just to show the world that they can, and stand proud in the gleaming light of free speech.
Anyone with a sense of justice can see that the apathetic Western reaction to these cartoons – full of hate and vitriolic sentiment targeted against the heritage, culture, and beliefs of over a fifth of humanity, is unjust – when compared to the resistance such cartoons would be met with if they were targeted at other groups.
The Muslims wonder why our community can be insulted, and threatened with deportation, our holy cities threatened with nuclear weapons by a U.S. Presidential candidate (Tom Tancredo), and our most sacred figures reviled? But if a whisper is raised against any other community – if a comedian goes off on a racist tirade using the N-word, or an award winning actor and director makes anti-semitic comments in a state of drunkenness – the entire Western world rises to say: “We will not tolerate your intolerance. We are better than your hate.” But when Muslims are lambasted across the country on conservative radio shows, urging violence against them, deportation, whole-scale attacks against their countries and forced conversion to Christianity……we hear no civilized response against the unholy right-wing war talk. When a mosque is burned down by a white-supremacist group in Columbia, TN, it does not even make the news. When the enlightened West is met with comments which declare “The Other” as inferior…..there is a complicit silence.
Muslims need to realize three things:
1. Do not be surprised or shocked, emotionally, or intellectually, that this is happening.
“…And never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow their religion. Say, “Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the [only] guidance.” If you were to follow their desires after what has come to you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper.” (Qur’an, 2:120)
When your Lord tells you that a group will NEVER be pleased with you, satisfied with you, or happy with you, until you follow their way, it behooves the Muslim to accept it as a fact. The continuous begging and pleading Muslims who yell: “Please don’t make fun of us! Please don’t ridicule us! We are people just like you! Please be impressed with our history!” is nothing short of pathetic – when you consider how sometimes the street mob goes to burn and attack their own streets in protest, as has happened in Pakistan, and a few other places in the Muslim world. A political cartoon painting Islam as violent – is given seeming credence when in reality, only a tiny speck of Muslims even think of reacting win such ways.
It is time for the Muslim to realize that the actions of a person who makes fun of the Prophet ﷺ, or even goes so far as to insult or ridicule God himself, is responsible for his or her own deeds. He or she will be held responsible for what they draw, say, or write on the Day of Judgment. It is not up to us to legislate against them in this world when they are living in their own countries, nor to beg powerlessly that they cease and desist their activities.
Should we defend our Prophet ﷺ? Yes. Through teaching people who he was and spreading the Truth. But, it is time for us to stop being so emotionally surprised when Islamophobes insult Islam. They don’t believe in your Prophet. Or your religion. And they don’t like either of them, or you. We should grow up and deal with it. The Quran is preparing us for this reality with the verse above.
So let us be prepared.
2. If you are going to respond, respond in the manner of the Prophetic Sunnah (Tradition) which we are claiming to defend.
“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace…” [Qur’an, 25:63]
Realize that the Islamophobes have the right to say or write whatever they want. They do. And no one will stop them. Your complaints will make them happier. They are not in a Muslim country. Our response should be a response fitting the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) which we claim to defend so staunchly.
When some enemies of Islam once walked by the Prophet ﷺ in Madinah, they said to him, “As-Sa’mu Alaikum” (Death be upon you), trying to slyly make it sound like “Assalamu-Alaikum” (Peace be upon you). They didn’t write against him, draw against him – they spoke directly to him. He, with the calm demeanor of prophethood, simply responded – “Wa alaikum”, and upon you. He did not escalate or insult – he responded by reflecting their greeting, without mentioning anything negative himself or lowering his noble speech.
“And you [Oh Prophet] are upon the noblest of character.” (Qur’an, 68:4)
His wife `Aisha, who out of her love for him, acted in a way many Muslims today do and yelled: “May the curse of Allah be upon you, and his punishment, and his…!”
The Prophet ﷺ stopped her saying: “Calm down oh `Aisha, calm down. There is not gentleness in anything, except that it becomes more beautiful, and there is not harshness in anything except that it makes it ugly. So be calm oh Aisha.“
This exemplifies the Prophetic response. Calmness. Tranquility. Humility. He was active in spreading the message with “wisdom and beautiful preaching” with enthusiasm, vigor and strength, but he did not let insults take over his greatness. He engaged with those around him to teach them about God, and teach them about how to live their lives to the fullest. A model citizen. A good neighbor. A fortress of justice. An honest friend. A helper of the needy. A Messenger of God. This was his response. More than that, this was his driving mission.
“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching.” (Qur’an, 16:125)
Also, that we engage those people who do believe in God, in working acts of righteousness and benefit for humanity.
3. It is time to stop being dependent on others to present a good image of us. They have not and will never do so reliably, save a few fair-minded individuals. Self-determination in our message, our image, and our work, is the only answer.
Yet another incident, when the Makkans used to try to make fun of the Prophet ﷺ by twisting his name because of its meaning being “The one deserving of praise,” and calling him Mudhammam (belittled one) – he simply smiled and said, “They are making fun of a man named Mudhammam, but I am Muhammad!”
Rather than worrying about these insults, he spent his time propagating his message. He spent his time building his community and ensuring that every man, woman, and child could hear about what he had to say and how to worship God and come close to Him. So rather than focusing on what they produce, draw, write, and say – what has each of us done to paint the proper picture of the Messenger ﷺ? Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes are making millions painting a picture of a warlord and a “Prophet of Doom.” Why are we surprised when Allah (swt) told us it would happen, and more importantly, what have we done to spread a positive image of the Prophet ﷺ actively?
Perhaps we are arguing about whether or not praying behind someone who eats McDonalds is allowed. Or whether wiping over our leather socks is permissible. Or if music with more than a duff is makruh or haram. Or maybe our mufti “saab” teaches that I shouldn’t talk about Islam, Quran, or the Prophet without being in his presence or even read a book without his stamp of approval, turning us to intellectual zombies, far from the example of the Sahabah and the righteous predecessors. Maybe we are busy arguing about tariqahs, madhabs, manhaj, `aqeedah, and other things which we have no understanding of beyond a few pamphlets and classes in our neighborhoods, and of course, the Internet.
It is time for the Muslim to be a self-determined, educated, citizen of humanity and of Islam. Someone whose character aims to mirror the Prophetic character. It is time for the sisters to put down their mascara and their foundation, and the brothers to put down the Nintendo Wii and XBOX controllers, and stand up and become men and women, and stop being boys and girls. It is time for them to become self-determined individuals, who understand that the honor of this Deen and its Ummah, can only be given by Allah, but they must work for it. Allah says:
“…God will not change the condition of a people, until they change what is within themselves.” Qur’an, 13:11)
It is time to stop burning flags, and start burning desires.
Stop yelling in the streets against people who are overjoyed at your anger, and whisper to Allah who will become overjoyed at your prayer.
Stop breaking, burning, and screaming.
Start building, learning, and calling.