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What Would the Prophet Have Done?


/Keep to forgiveness (O Mohammed), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant. /- The Koran, Chapter 7, Verse 199

During his lifetime, Prophet Mohammed endured insults and ridicule on a daily basis. His opponents mocked his message and used physical violence to stop him from challenging the status quo.

At no stage during this ordeal did the Prophet lose his temper or react to these provocations. Tradition has it that he would, instead, offer a prayer of forgiveness to those who showed contempt for him.

Today, however, many followers of Prophet Mohammed are acting the exact opposite. Reacting to the provocative Danish cartoons about the Prophet, they are burning newspapers, threatening journalists, issuing bomb threats, yet claiming they are standing up for the Prophet himself.

I have seen the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. There is no question they are meant to hurt the feelings of Muslims. As I saw them, I had to restrain my anger. Once more, Muslims were being depicted as a violent people. (One particularly derisive cartoon showed the Prophet wearing a turban with a bomb inside it.)

No one in the Muslim community is willing to buy into the notion that these cartoons were not meant to promote racism against Muslims. The editors may say otherwise, but the community knows better when it is depicted as the “other,” to be scorned and sidelined.

Caricaturing racial minorities has been a tradition in Europe and North America since long before it became acceptable to deride Muslims. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn’t uncommon to see Jews and blacks depicted negatively. Today, thanks to the great work of many civil rights and anti-racism activists, no newspaper would invoke press freedom to depict Jews and blacks or their leaders the way the Danish paper depicted the Prophet.

Having said that, the way some Muslims have reacted to the provocation leaves a lot to be desired. Provoked, they walked blindfolded into a trap set for them, and came out worse than what they started with.

In Canada, we had a similar case, if not of the same magnitude. In the mid-90s, a Toronto man distributed highly inflammatory literature against Islam and the Prophet. Unlike our European colleagues and some fanatics of the Middle East, Canadian Muslims took up the case with the police and the gentleman was charged under Ontario hate laws and convicted. End of story.

In the Danish case, the Arab world’s reaction, led by the Egyptian government, suggests there is more to it than meets the eye. Thousands in the Arab world have protested against the publication of the cartoons. The Danish paper has received bomb threats. Two armed groups threatened yesterday to target Frenchmen and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories, as well as Danes, after the caricatures were published in their countries.

Many believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government is acting not for the love for Islam, but for love of the power it has usurped for decades.

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, a regular columnist for the London newspaper Sharq AlAwsat, wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dastour: “Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign — led by Egypt — felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years.”

For the Arab League to demand that the Danish government shut down the newspaper Jyllands-Posten shows how deeply entrenched dictatorial practices are in many Muslim countries. They are so accustomed to closing down their own newspapers, they could not understand why the Danish government could not issue a decree closing the Jyllands-Posten.

This posturing by Arab governments and Islamist movements is not in the tradition of Islam. These zealots should ask the question: What would Prophet Mohammed have done when faced with this insult?

He would, I suggest, have said a prayer for the cartoonist and “turned away from the ignorant,” as Allah commanded him to do in the Koran.

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Tarek Fatah is host of a weekly TV show on CTS-TV, The Muslim Chronicle, and is the communication director of the Muslim Canadian Congress

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