What was done first by the Danish and later by Norwegian, French, German and many other European newspapers in publishing cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad is nothing less than emotional torture, verbal violence and intellectual terrorism. In the name of freedom of speech, the most sophisticated professional class of Europe succumbed to the century old hatred against Islam and Muslims. Europeans and Americans are often taught that freedom of speech ends where the sensitivities of people begin. Seemingly, the teachers have forgotten the lesson themselves. Making fun of a religion is an exercise in emotional torture. Showing solidarity with those who promote such kind of torture is untamed violence and hurting innocent people all over the world is intellectual terrorism.
But what is new in this? Many European and American scholars, academics and intellectuals, as well as public officials have remained engaged from the seventh century onwards in anti-Islam, anti-Muslim and anti-Prophet Muhammad campaigns. They have refused to show civility in dealing with issues pertaining to the second largest religious community in the world. After all, it was Martin Luther, the great Christian reformer to whom almost every Christian Protestant group owes its origin, who produced the worst writings against Islam and Prophet Muhammad. Those who are unable to overcome their hatred and ignorance of Islam will not stop promoting this agenda. To expect otherwise from such crusaders would be futile.
However, what was surprising was the silence of Christian and Jewish community and religious leaders on this issue. Through their interfaith dialogue with Muslims they must have realized the sanctity and sacredness Muslims attach to their religious values. They should have been the ones demanding ending of hostilities against Islam and Muslims. Yet only a few spoke after Muslims appealed to their rational mind.
Even more disturbing was the response of Muslims. Boycotting Danish products, burning down the embassies of European countries and threatening Danes working in the Gulf were measures that do not suit a community whose leader is described in the divine scriptures as a mercy to humankind.
Immediately, after the battle of Badr, Omar bin al Khattab, one of the most celebrated companions of Prophet sought the permission of the state to punish Suhail bin Amr, a prisoner of war who had engaged in anti-Prophet Muhammad propaganda in Makkah. Suhail was known for his abusive language and insulting attitude towards the Prophet. Prophet Muhammad, as the ruler of the newly formed Islamic State, strictly prohibited his companions to punish or torture any prisoner of war on account of their past hostilities. He admonished Omar bin al-Khattab for seeking retribution. After all, the Prophet had endured all possible humiliations at the hands of the elites of Makkah and their supporters without asking any of his supporters to silence his opponents.
Islam recognizes dissent to its teachings and appeals to its adherents to deal with it in a civil manner. Islam promotes the idea that a polite response and a decent rebuttal are powerful enough to change the worst enemy into a friend. Islam does not seek revenge on those who indulge in anti-Islam, anti-God, or anti-Prophet abuses.
Furthermore, Islam prohibits the use of pressure and intimidation for changing the hearts of people. Islam believes that coercion is incapable of bringing a change in the attitude of people. Intimidation might make others change their immediate reaction to Islam, but it is ultimately futile because every individual has to make a conscious decision about his or her relations with God and His creation.
The provocation of Danish and other European newspapers was foolish and full with hatred. There is no need for such provocation in a world that is fast becoming cosmopolitan in all its dimensions. Freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse to hurt or insult others. Moreover, there exists double standards in this matter among most European and American journalists working for big media corporations. None of these advocates of freedom of speech would dare write against the foul practices of multinational or mega-corporations that often provide bread and butter to most working journalists. None of them would dare to expose the dirty trade practices, excessive exploitation and other violation of human rights of people working in such corporations. None of them would even touch the so-called issue of national security, even if the position of the power elite is against national interests.
A case in point is the war in Iraq. Not many European or American journalists working for big corporation-controlled media have questioned the rationale behind going to war in Iraq. None of them have held accountable their leaders for costly mistakes. In fact, their anti-Islamic writings betray their loyalty to the power elites who are keen in promoting a hateful agenda against Muslims.
Muslims ought to be cognizant of these facts. Our response to such insults and humiliation should be based on the divine teachings and the lifestyle of our Prophet. We must not give in to our emotions.
We could have asked the Danish and other newspapers to allow us to introduce our Prophet to their audience the way we see him. We should have engaged the Danes and others in a meaningful dialogue and discussion on the true nature of our faith and the true personality of our Prophet. We should have risen above our emotions to use this moment to educate others about us in a serious manner. It was the responsibility of our religious and intellectual leaders to direct our masses in developing a meaningful response to incidents of hate and racial bigotry. No doubt, each of us feel hurt when we see an offensive depiction of our faith or our Prophet. However, rather than reacting in an emotional manner, we should use the opportunity to demonstrate true Islamic values of patience and persuasion.
We showed our weakness in controlling our emotions when Salman Rushdie insulted our Prophet. We have repeated the same mistake. By now we should have learned about the teachings of our prophet in dealing with such cases. Perhaps we need to go back to study the life of our leader more minutely to develop a better understanding of his character and teachings as well as his mission in the world. After all, we accept him as a mercy to humankind, including Danes, Norwegians, French, Germans, Jews, Christians and every human being that exists or will exist in our universe.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is edtior-in-Chief of the Muslim Observer and the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada as well as the director of the Muslim Electorates Council of America.