Preventing Defamation of the Prophet – a Priority of Faith, Diplomacy & Our Media Resources

Zayn al-Din al-Rikabi|
It was a different kind of holiday greeting.

It was a greeting full of contempt and loathing. It was given disregard for the rights of the recipient – in this case the Muslims of the world. What kind of greeting is this?

A certain Norwegian Christian newspaper decided to publish a demeaning caricature of the Prophet of Islam, and when did they decide to do so? They published it on the tenth of January, which happened to also be the tenth of the Islamic month of Dhû al-Hijjâh, the day of `Id al-Adhâ. They chose the very day that Muslims around the world were waking up with smiles on their faces looking forward to their holiday season. It is as if they did this to deliberately greet the Muslims on that day by insulting their Prophet.

A Danish newspaper had already published something similar. The Norwegian paper was following their earlier example.

The Muslims would never dare imagine responding in kind by caricaturizing Jesus (peace be upon him) like that. Indeed, it would be seen by all Muslims as an act of unbelief to believe in one prophet and renounce the other. Renouncing one prophet is the same as renouncing them all.

Allah says: “Lo! those who disbelieve in Allah and His messengers, and seek to make distinction between Allah and His messengers, and say: We believe in some and disbelieve in others, and seek to choose a way in between; Such are disbelievers in truth; and for disbelievers we prepare a shameful punishment.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 150-151]

Aside from the matter of our own belief in Jesus (peace be upon him), it would simply immoral and unjust to behave in such a way. It would be unjust, because Jesus (peace be upon him) is innocent of that newspaper’s attack on Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Indeed, Jesus (peace be upon him) gave humanity glad tidings of his coming: “And when Jesus son of Mary said: O Children of Israel! Lo! I am the messenger of Allah unto you, confirming that which was (revealed) before me in the Torah, and bringing good tidings of a messenger who cometh after me, whose name is the Praised One. Yet when he hath come unto them with clear proofs, they say: This is mere magic.” [Sûrah al-Saff: 6]

The leaders of the People of the Scripture used to know this to be true and admitted to it. When the Negus of Ethiopia heard from the Muslims emigrants what the Qur’ân says about Jesus and his mother (peace be upon them both), he exclaimed about Muhammad: “I bear witness that he is the Messenger of Allah and he is the one about whom Jesus gave glad tidings.”

When the Roman governor Heracles heard Abû Sufyân’s account of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he said: “If what you say about him is true, then he is indeed a prophet, and I had already known that the time of his advent had come.”

The source of Heracles knowledge was none other than the Bible. Therefore, we can confidently say that the conduct of that Norwegian newspaper is something that Jesus (peace be upon him) would neither condone nor desire.

Such conduct as exhibited by that newspaper is also immoral and ill-mannered. It is wrong to treat any prophet in such a manner. Therefore, we say that it is wrong for any Muslim writer or artist to ever think of behaving in the same way towards Jesus (peace be upon him) or anyone other prophet.

This does not mean that we should remain silent and swallow this ignoble and rash insult against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is not something that should be ignored or trivialized. It is a matter of our faith that constitutes for us a number of intellectual, cultural, and diplomatic priorities.

To start with, a lack of a diplomatic response and a response from our intellectuals and our media will encourage greater outrages against the Prophet of Islam in the future. A while back, some foolish people in Denmark set a precedent, and now other foolish people in Norway have followed suit. Others may do the same if there is no objection is heard in the media or from diplomatic and intellectual circles.

Allah says: “And if it was not for Allah checking some people by way of others others, the Earth would have been spoiled.” [Sûrah al-Baqarah: 251]

Secondly, it is the right of Muslim peoples to come to the defense of their leaders, their beliefs, and the things that they hold sacred when those things are transgressed against. We are not talking about physical violence of any kind – that would be wholly unjustifiable. The Muslims must defend their beliefs and the dignity of their Prophet by peaceful means.

One of these is to have an organized media response condemning the defamation of the prophet (peace be upon him). Another is active diplomacy, including sending petitions and declarations to various embassies and foreign ministers, which can be carried out on an individual as well as societal level.

Muslims can benefit from the example of the Jews and how they respond to the defamation of their faith and the things that they hold sacred. Indeed, the Muslims must learn these things from them, especially their presence of mind, their awareness, and their readiness to take initiative.

Of course, we must refrain from any excessiveness. We must never resort to lying, distorting the facts, or bullying others. We must never let ourselves go beyond our right to defend our beliefs and instead act unjustly or oppressively towards others.

The Jews have achieved a level of deference and respect for everything in the world that is Jewish. This high degree of regard did not come about without effort. It required clarity of purpose, strong faith in what they were striving for, as well as persistent, concerted, and coordinated effort. They were in this way able to magnify the strength of their efforts and weaken the effectiveness of the efforts of those who opposed them.

The Jews were able to do this, though they were not backed up by the support of angels, nor did they have at their beck and call the jinn of Solomon, nor were they able to work miracles. Rather, they are a people who believe in their cause and they are willing to give their utmost to serve it. This is a living and practical example that should enliven us as Muslims as well as our leaders.

We need to demonstrate how we can defend our faith in the face of all affronts without lying and without wronging anyone else. This is what practical wisdom requires of us – that we approach the issues with integrity, view them with clarity, face them intelligently, and utilize them judiciously. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Endeavor for what benefits you, seek Allah’s help, and do not succumb to weakness.”

Another issue is that of defending the Prophets and Messengers of Allah. This principle is set forth quite clearly in the Qur’ân and Sunnah.

The following are examples from the Qur’ân:

“How many a prophet did We send among the people of old! And never came there unto them a prophet but they used to mock him. Then We destroyed people mightier than these in prowess; and the example of the people of old has gone (before them).” [Surah al-Zukhruf: 6]

“O you who believe! Be not as those who slandered Moses, but Allah proved his innocence of that which they alleged, and he was well esteemed in Allah’s regard.” [Surah al-Ahzâb: 69]

“But those who abuse the Messenger of Allah will have a grievous penalty.” [Sûrah al-Tawbah: 61]

If the Prophets and Messengers of Allah are to be disgraced, then what value or dignity can the rest of humanity claim for themselves? The Prophets and Messengers were the best that the human race has to offer. They were of the most pure and noble character. Their morals and manners were impeccable. They had attained the greatest possible human perfection. Therefore, any insult levied against them – or any one of them – is by consequence an insult against all people. One who has the audacity to defame a prophet can easily defame anyone else.

Another issue that needs to be considered is the detrimental effects that this behavior has on constructive interfaith and intercultural dialogue. How will Muslims be able to engage in dialogue with people who belittle and demean the person who is the very reason for their identity and existence, the one who they esteem as the reason for their worldly and spiritual welfare? It cannot be expected that Muslims will engage in dialogue with others and show them the utmost respect when those others in turn dismantle the very basis for dialogue by defaming and making sport of the Prophet of Islam.

It might be said that not all of them are behaving in that way. But then there is the silence of the churches and church leaders about the matter. It needs to be asked why they are keeping this long silence? Could it be because they do not know about what happened? That is unlikely. Could it be because they consider the matter to be too trivial to warrant comment? This is not to be expected from people of religion who should appreciate the respect and reverence in which the faithful hold the Prophets.

Could it possibly indicate their agreement and satisfaction with what happened? This would be an unfortunate assumption, since any impression that there is general satisfaction for that banal act would only contribute to an increase of religious tensions around the world, which in turn would nurture extremism and weaken global security. It is not only nuclear weapons that threaten world peace. Religious tensions can be a serious global problem, and the denigration of that which people of faith hold sacred only helps to aggravate those tensions.

We must consider what happened when in Austria banners were raised of pictures ridiculing leading European personalities including Queen Elisabeth and President Jacques Chirac. No sooner did those banners appear than a wave of angry protest erupted from Britain, France, and from all over Europe. The banners were taken down in a matter of hours. Is it possible for any rational person to think that the feelings the Muslims have for Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are any less than the feelings the people of Britain and France have, respectively, for Queen Elizabeth and Jacques Chirac?

[from al-Sharq al-Awsat Newspaper; 14 January, 2006]
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