Killing over pictures of Mohammed

There has been quite a lot of talk about “free speech” and the right of (mostly) westerners to make fun of the prophet of Islam, including making images and cartoons in his likeness.

In the interest of peace, I feel it is important to share my perspective.

Let me begin by stating that I have experienced Islam from many perspectives.

1) From an ignorant outsiders perspective.  When I was a Jew and Christian I didn’t “get” Islam or why anyone would convert to that religion.

2) From an insiders perspective.  In my book on religion and spirituality I go into detail about my experience with 20 different religions. Part of that whirlwind experience was a stop in Islam. While I can not in good conscious say I was ever a practicing Muslim, I can honestly say there was a period in my life where I felt I was a Muslim in spirit. I read the Koran, believed that the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH – peace be upon him, which is a traditional sign of respect to the prophet in Islam) was Allah’s messenger, and I said the traditional prayers in a Mosque in an Islamic country.

3) From a respectful outsiders perspective. While I have moved very far away from the Abrahamic religions (and monotheism in general), I still treasure those times I embraced Islamic theology. That experience gave me a truly unique view of the Islamic religion.

This all allowed me to see Islam from inside and various outside perspectives.

This post is not to explain all of Islam, nor to defend any of its teachings.

Rather it is to give a different perspective on the issue of why drawing pictures of the Islamic Prophet brings some Muslims to point to commit violence.

Islam is based on the belief that Allah (God) has no physical form.  We should have no images of anything in heaven. This is consistent with the Law of Moses. But Islam was concerned that prophets have a habit of being worshiped. From a non-Christian perspective, this is certainly how Jesus is viewed by many.  A prophet of God who ended up being worshiped as a deity.

Also, having images of anything raises the possibility of that image being misused, abused and mocked. Surely we have seen how the image of Jesus has been treated like that.  The image of Jesus is on everything from t-shirts to bobble heads. Is this really appropriate?

I asked a Muslim why they got so upset over people mocking their prophet.

He gently smiled and said “and why don’t you get upset over people mocking your prophet?”

Gave me something to think about.

We are so used to having the Christian religion, its beliefs, and its prophet mocked that we don’t even think about it anymore.  Movies, books, TV shows all regularly make fun of the Christian faith.

And we quietly take it.

I think this desensitizes us to what is going on.

Mohammed, along with the Koran, is the cornerstone of Islam.

Mohammed (PBUH) was not God, nor did he claim to be. To have any image of him would elevate him above humanity, and allow for his image to be mocked.

For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, there developed an Islamic law that forbade people to make pictures of Mohammed, with the penalty being death. At least I don’t believe this law is found in the Koran, which is the source of laws for Muslims. Eventually mocking the prophet became equated with blasphemy.

I am not asking you to agree with this law, only to understand it.

Now at this point, people tend to tell me “Steve, if people don’t want to see pictures of someone, that’s fine.  But that doesn’t give people the right to kill someone who makes a picture of Mohammed! That is just free speech!”

That is a nice, but flawed, argument.

The emphasis of free speech over someone’s personal religious beliefs is foreign to the Muslim mind. The fanaticism of free speech (e.g. I can say whatever you want and you just have to take it! So there!) is not a shared belief system around the world.

I would like to pose the following scenario to you to help drive home an important point.

Imagine a new neighbor moves right next door to you.  You see him the next day and yell “good morning!” at which point he gets visibly agitated and responds:

“Please do not say that! In my culture that is an insult. It is the equivalent of using the n-word to a black person!”

“what? it is just an expression! It doesn’t mean anything.  It is just a way of saying hello. So we say good morning. ”

“Please stop saying that phrase! I have already told you that it really upsets me. If my family were to hear you call me that, they would go ballistic!  Where I come from, people get hurt calling those names. I am your neighbor, and I implore you PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT phrase! Can’t you say something different?”

“You are crazy! I can say whatever I want! That is free speech, man. I don’t give a crap how you feel.  I will say “good morning” as much as I want, and you just have to take it.”

“you don’t get it, do you?”

“Are you threatening me?”

“look, we are neighbors. I am trying to live in peace with everyone. How would you like it if I were to call you an offensive term every time I see you!”

“I would get angry, of course.”

“See?”

“This is different!”

“why?”

“Because I am simply saying ‘good morning!'”

“arrgh. You are a real jerk, you know that?”

“and you are crazy”

Now, every morning when you see your neighbor, you say those words that you KNOW will just anger him. He keeps pleading for you to stop using that phrase but you keep on saying it because you feel you have the right to, and you do not understand why he has a problem with this simple American phrase.

You keep insulting the man every day, every week, every month – for years.

Then one day, your house burns down. Seems his family and friends couldn’t take it anymore.

—–

Far fetched?

I don’t think so.

Now let’s play it back using a different response.

——

Imagine a new neighbor moves right next door to you.  You see him the next day and yell “good morning!” at which point he gets visibly agitated and responds:

“Please do not say that! In my culture that is an insult. It is the equivalent of using the n-word to a black person!”

“what? it is just an expression! It doesn’t mean anything.  It is just a way of saying hello. So we say good morning. ”

“Please stop saying that phrase! I have already told you that it really upsets me. If my family were to hear you call me that, they would go ballistic!  Where I come from, people get hurt calling those names. I am your neighbor, and I implore you PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT phrase! Can’t you say something different?”

“cool down, man! I didn’t mean anything by it. It is just a simple expression. I admit to not understand why it upsets you so much, but we are neighbors and there is no point of upsetting you like this. Is it okay if say “hello, neighbor” instead?”

“oh that is fine!  I REALLY appreciate your sensitivity.  I know how hard it is for someone to understand someone else’s culture.  Can you do me a favor? If I ever say or do something that is offensive to you and your family, please tell me. This is how we learn. Please assume I don’t mean to anger you. I am sure we can work another term for all of us to be happy.”

“great idea! I will also tell my family and friends not to say that phrase that bothers you so much.  Probably should tell the other families around you, too.  I doubt they will understand.”

“could you help explain it to them? I am not sure they will listen to me.”

“no problem, friend. After all we all have to live together in this community. Let’s leave any fighting for something important! Like which team is going to win tonight!”

“hah! Good one!”

——-

Is that 2nd scenario so hard to imagine?

If you know you are doing something that upsets your friend and neighbor, and it is a simple thing to avoid- why wouldn’t you do it?  Just because “you can?” Really?

It seems to me that the real issue here is that a lot of non-Muslims just have no interest in respecting Muslims and their culture, and have no interest in being friends with them.

You don’t insult your neighbors and friends on purpose, over and over again.

You only do that to people you do not think much of, and could care less how they feel.

Is it really too much to ask people not to make pictures of someone who is not even an important figure in their culture?

Is it really too much to ask people not to make fun of someone’s religious beliefs?

Is it really too much to ask people not to make fun of an important figure in someone’s culture?

Yes, we can stand behind this “free speech” fanaticism all we want to.

Legally, in this country – and in many other countries- we can do so.

Is it worth the price to piss off almost 1/3 of the world’s population by doing so?

When you insult the religion of one Muslim, you insult the religion of 2 BILLION people.

Think about that for a while.

Is it really worth it?

I don’t think so.

Out of love and respect for another, I think it is a simple thing to refrain from doing something that angers them, it if can be easily avoided.

And making pictures of Mohammed is something that can easily be avoided.

If want peace with our neighbors, then we must first see them as neighbors.

At least, that would be a start.

Isn’t it time we learn to respect someone who beliefs differently than we do?

I think so.

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