Since 2005, cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad have been met with both mass criticism and favor. The cartoon depictions have led some to express themselves violently, while others have non-violently articulated their concerns over rights to free speech.
Interestingly enough, when depictions of the Prophet emerge, the frenzy that ensues only assists in the dissemination of the image, rather than curtailing it. The irony of the situation induces questions regarding the complex relationship between free speech and religious concerns. Ultimately, we must all come to terms with the ugly side of free speech if we hope to maintain it. And within that right, religious concerns should be voiced without resorting to violence and without trampling on the rights of others.
In September 2005, several images of the prophet, including caricatures, were published by the daily Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten. The outrage that ensued began within the Danish Muslim community and quickly spread to the rest of the world. Violent demonstrations resulted in the death of numerous protesters, and multiple Danish embassies throughout the Middle East were attacked. In 2010, a South Park episode was altered to censor the Prophet after the show’s creators received online threats.
To fully understand the outrage and disgust with the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Muhammad and his family, it is essential to understand Islam’s view of icons. One of the founding values in Islam is the prohibition of depicting anyone or anything that could be worshipped – the idea is that there is no God other than Him, and no one else can be worshipped but Him. This rule applies to the Prophet Muhammad himself, but as revered as he is in the religion, he must not be elevated to any level higher than man and prophet. Throughout Islamic history any depictions of the Prophet, his companions, or any of his close family members were strictly forbidden. And there are absolutely no depictions of God in the religion. The fear is that with no images of God, any image of the Prophet could lead Muslims to worship the man instead of the Creator; furthermore, any images made are sure to disturb all adherents of the Islamic faith.
Islamically, there is no justification for the violence that follows the visual display of the Prophet Muhammad. However, it is completely unfair to assume that any Muslim response would inherently be violent. Those who do respond violently represent only themselves, no one else.
Muslims study how the Prophet Muhammad practiced Islam and how he lived his life. We do not know what he looks like nor should we care. It is more important to study who he was as a person rather than the color of his skin, the length of his beard, or the volume of his turban.
Muslims must realize the impracticality of policing the web or attempting to control what others say or do. They must look to voice their displeasure non-violently, signaling out intolerance while allowing others their right to voice their beliefs.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons