“The Innocence of Muslims”: Some Reflections


“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”


Well, I’ve now watched what may be the entirety of The Innocence of Muslims, the film that has, ostensibly, sparked the recent demonstrations and violence in Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and elsewhere.


As the saying goes, those are fourteen minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.


It’s a dreadful piece of work — badly acted (especially noteworthy is the aged Arabian Jewess who speaks with a distinct Brooklyn accent), incomprehensible and disjointed, with oddly wavering sound quality.  But its production values aren’t the least of its many sins.


At one point, in connection with his marriage to the very young ‘A’isha, daughter of Abu Bakr, the film calls Muhammad a “child molester.”  I understand where this is coming from, though I think the charge is inflammatory and deeply misleading, and that this union needs to be placed within its Arabian historical context (something that I may, someday, attempt to do in an academic setting).


But there is utterly no historical basis for the film’s depiction of the Qur’an as a deliberate fraud concocted, at the request of Khadija, on Muhammad’s behalf by Waraqa b. Nawfal (who, curiously, is shown in the film wearing the apparent garb of a Coptic priest).


Nor is there even the slightest warrant in the documents for representing early Muslims as gleefully simple-minded sadists whose early expansion was motivated by lust and pedophilia, let alone for portraying Muhammad as illegitimate and as an idiotic buffoon, and both Muhammad and the Caliph ‘Umar as “gay.”


It’s amazing to see how much insulting falsehood the film’s creator(s) managed to cram into somewhat less than a quarter of an hour.


The movie has no redeeming virtues, and I cannot imagine that it would ever have gained much of an audience anywhere had murders and demonstrations in parts of the Islamic world not made it internationally famous.


As an undergraduate, decades ago, I once acted in and co-directed a satirical movie entitled Oedipus Wrecked.  About the same length as The Innocence of Muslims (a puzzling title, by the way, that is never explained), it was roughly as faithful to its historical sources and far better filmed, but never gained an audience of more than a hundred people.  (The site on which I saw The Innocence of Muslims boasts nearly six million views, and it’s not the only place to watch the thing.)  Oedipus Wrecked also never existed in more than one copy — this was long before personal computers, etc. — and, so far as I’m aware, may no longer exist at all.  If it does, it’s in the custody of a Salt Lake City psychiatrist.  (A fellow student at the time, he was one of its co-directors — honest! — and his wife was our lead, and only, actress.)  I’m bitterly jealous that this piece of dreck, The Innocence of Muslims, has gained such notoriety.  It’s not even (intentionally) funny.


But we’re talking serious matters here.  People have been murdered (at least ostensibly) over this worthless film, their bodies defiled, embassies and consulates damaged if not destroyed.


Writing in the Daily News, an English-language version of the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, for 15-16 September, columnist Mustafa Aykol proclaims this a “Time for Muslim Anger Management.”  Like me, he has seen the film (though he describes it as eleven minutes long).  Quite accurately, he pronounces it “simply disgusting,” “a silly yet nasty attempt to demonize Islam in all possible ways.”


“The main problem here,” he writes, “which we also saw in the protests of the insults against the Prophet Muhammad in Danish cartoons, is that the peoples of the Middle East are not used to make a distinction between a government and a society, because in their own countries, governments typically control everything.  So, when cartoons in Denmark or films in America vilify Islam, they intuitively presume that the Danish or the American governments have ‘allowed this to happen,’ if they didn’t do it themselves behind the scenes.”


“Ignorance of the way the West works in many Muslims countries makes rabble-rousing easy,” observes The Economist (“Muslim Rage: Why They Won’t Calm Down,” 15 September 2012).  “Protestors at the American embassy in Cairo on September 11th erroneously believed the offensive film to have been shown on ‘American state television’: in a place with a weak tradition of independent broadcasting, that claim is not as absurd as it might be elsewhere.”


One of the many things we ought to be doing is explaining to the Muslim world that our government does not and cannot and, by our values, should not do anything about even worthless and dishonest films.  I have no illusion that doing so will end these demonstrations or calm the rage in the short term.  But these sorts of responses have happened before (e.g., with the Danish cartoons, and, much earlier, with Moustapha Akkad’s film The Message), and The Innocence of Muslims will, sadly, certainly not provide the last occasion for rioting and killing over a Western depiction of Muhammad.


(to be continued)



"How to learn 30 languages"
Real freedom and real slavery
Millennials: The Least Religious Generation
Deeply sad about Elder Perry
  • Danny Boy

    It is pointless to try to defend Islam when all of the sources from the film are taken from the authentic Islamic sources i.e the Koran and the Hadiths. There is no Christian or atheist sources in that film.

    The Koran as prescribed from the mouth of Mohammad expressly orders Muslims to strike fear, harrass and kill unbelievers including christians and Jews who the Koran describe as ‘people of the book’. The evidence is abound – Koran 9:5 and 9:29 and 9:123.
    Indeed Mohammad married a six year old girl and had sex with her aged nine (before her puberty as she was still playing with dolls and swings). Here is evidence from the Islamic Hadiths of Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 151
    ”Narrated ‘Aisha: I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah’s Apostle used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. ”
    (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for ‘Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty. Fateh-al-Bari page 143, Vol.13 on Sahih Bukhari Volume 8, Book 73, Number 151).
    Another Hadith that expressly say the age is this one from Sahih Muslim Book 8, Number 3311
    ‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reported that Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) married her when she was seven years old, and he was taken to his house as a bride when she was nine, and her dolls were with her; and when he (the Holy Prophet) died she was eighteen years old. ”
    Another one from Sahih Abu Dawudi Book 41, Number 4917.
    “Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin: When we came to Medina, the women came to me when I was playing on the swing, and my hair were up to my ears. They brought me, prepared me, and decorated me. Then they brought me to the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) and he took up cohabitation with me, when I was nine.”
    I supposse you can see why Muslims (especially Western Muslims) are embarassed and why Asian/Middle East Muslims turn to violence.
    To me the film is just a mere narration to what the holy writtings of Islam say about this ‘role model’ called Muhammad.


    No wonder why it is non Muslim apologetics like this blog who are trying to buld up facts to defend Islam yet the real Muslims have no facts available to defend themselves hence they resort to violence to silence that which is written in their own religion.

    • danpeterson

      Right. And where, exactly, in the Qur’an and the hadith is Muhammad identified as, say, a simple-minded buffoon and a homosexual?

      Where in the historical record is there any justification for the claim that the early Arab conquests were substantially motivated by pedophilia?

      Where does the Qur’an identify Waraqa b. Nawfal as its own author?

      I’ve already alluded to the case of ‘A’isha, where the film has at least a modicum of superficial credibility, but have also suggested that viewing that instance in the context of the appropriate time and culture might “defang” it quite a bit. In response, you’ve simply repeated the usual critics’ talking points, utterly without analysis or contextualization.

      • Danny Boy

        My friend, the problem why we have this fuss with Moslems is that they upraise Muhammad as THE last and SEAL of all prophets!!, the epitome of holiness and the paragon of righteusness.
        If they simply admitt (like you are saying) that Mohammad was a man ‘trying his best’ who was a caravan driver living in the 7th Century Arabia, then there would be any problem.
        So you really understood our position? Really a man cannot be THE seal of all prophets when he orders husbunds to beat their wives (Koran 4:34)!
        Let me go however to give you what you asked …….i.e about the bufooness of Mohammad in the Koran and the Hadith!
        Koran 86:6 claims that a sperm is made between the ribs and the spine. (Here Muslims should only accept that this is not a word from God but it is a thinking coming from an 6th century Arabian.
        Here is another example that supports the view that the Koran is a confused mixture of some contemporary literature in that region. The Moslems say Jesus never died (obviously copiying from the ‘Gospel of Thomas’ which the early church rejected but embraced by renagade christians like Wariquah). Yet Koran 19:33 shows the baby Jesus in the cradle prophesiying saying ‘Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised alive’. This is a really thing that will trigger Islamic violence whenever it is exposed!!. And people like you will come in handy to sanitise the Mislim violence and indignation.
        Do you believe that there will be sex in heaven as men will be give virgins for sex as in Koran Chapter 55? What about women????
        As of the film’s depiction of the sad story of Aisha having a scant superficial truth is just another way of being apologetic for Islam’s shame! The film say the TRUTH and the whole TRUTH. You may disagree with the film but ALL the muslim writtings agree withe the film as this innocent small girl was given to a man of 57 years!!
        I still have more to say but I will write it later.


        • JohnH

          According to D&C 132 and the teaching manual Gospel Principles there will be sex in heaven.

  • Steve Funk

    As always Dr. Peterson….well done! It’s always hilarious to watch an educated person really challenge something made by pure ameteurs in a completely academic and frankly logical way! Still your biggest fan!

  • Jack

    Just compare Quran to bible. Quran is nobel prize winner when it comes to the violence and call for terrorism. Youtube “Innocence ofmuslims (quran vs bible)

    • danpeterson

      I have some slight personal acquaintance with the Qur’an. For example, I’ve been reading it on most days, in Arabic, for several decades; I’ve written and published about it; I teach courses on it in both English and Arabic every year (I’m teaching one right now); and etc. So perhaps I’m qualified to have an opinion on the topic:

      I think many critics of the Qur’an misread it in precisely the same way that Muslim extremists do. While there are passages that certainly pose difficulties at first glance, my judgment is that, properly interpreted and in their historical context, they do not mandate violence against Christians and Jews.

  • Danny Boy

    People are trying their best to evade whether the content was factual or a mere fiction. To me it was factual according to every Islamic literature.


  • danpeterson

    I’d be fascinated to see specific references to the “Islamic literature” that identifies Waraqa b. Nawfal as the actual author of the Qur’an and that portrays Muhammad as a homosexual, a bastard, and a buffoon.

    Provide the sources.