As a child I went to Jewish and Christian primary and secondary schools, where pupils were taught to love and revere names like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Ezekiel, Moses, David, Solomon, Mary, Zachariah, John, Jesus and his disciples. At home my parents taught me from an early age about the Prophet Muhammad s, his companions and the rise of Islam. The more I heard stories about them as I was growing up the more I began to love them and see them as part of my heritage, especially our Prophet who was sent as a ‘Mercy to Mankind’.
His characteristics and actions – as described in the seerah (biography) and ahadith (recorded Prophetic sayings and actions) – of faith piety, virtue, integrity, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, contemplation, steadfastness, courage, chivalry, selflessness, concern for others and vision are ones that I alongside 1.6 billion others hope to possess and struggle to emulate.
In his book, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History author Michael H. Hart places the Prophet Muhammad s at the top, ahead of Isaac Newton, Jesus, Budda, Columbus and Einstein stating that he was “supremely successful” in religious and secular terms. Indeed, the Prophet’s influence can be measured by the numbers of adherents to Islam fourteen centuries after his passing. Predictions suggest a quarter of the world’s inhabitants will be Muslim by 2030 –by far surpassing the combined populations of the US and Europe. Hence, it is no surprise as recent studies show, that ‘Muhammad’ is the most common name in the world. And despite increasing anti-Muslim sentiment since 9/11 (or as a result of it) there are now over 100,000 coverts to Islam in the UK – especially young white women, while it is arguably not only the fastest growing religion in the USA, but in the world.
So, does it make sense to regularly insult such a large portion of humanity?
The US Government may not be directly responsible for the most current attack against Islam, as depicted in the contemptuously entitled ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film but, abusing Islam – and Muslims – is something that the US government has tolerated and seemingly incubated over the years.
In addition to the media free-for-all against us, flagrant attacks aimed at the heart of Islamic beliefs have been regularly carried out in the US with complete impunity. Resultantly, individuals like Pastor Terry Jones and his attempts to quite literally fan the flames of hate by burning the Qur’an in public go unpunished under colour of ‘freedom of speech and expression’. In fact, Muslims in America have faced an onslaught which includes discrimination based upon appearance and ethnicity, bans on practicing Islamic law, congressional hearings on the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslims, invasive questioning at borders, excessive placement on ‘no-fly’ lists, anti-terror financing laws that criminalise charities based on who they assist, infiltration and surveillance of mosques, the FBI training agents to be suspicious of Muslims, then entrapping them and seeking disproportionate sentences for those convicted as a result.
Abroad, the US military was openly teaching its soldiers that ‘Islam is the enemy’. In Iraq and Afghanistan the US military’s abuses against religious freedom was used as a means of breaking the enemy’s resolve. The naked prisoner pyramids used at Abu Ghraib in Iraq sought to destroy any sense of Islamic modesty the captives had, while the stripping of clothes and shaving of beards as a punishment was carried out in Kandahar, Bagram and Guantanamo especially to wound the prisoners’ religious sensitivities.
In 2008, US soldiers caused uproar – and embarrassment – when they were discovered using the Qur’an for target practice by their Iraqi counterparts. Former Guantanamo prisoners unanimously state that the Qur’an was desecrated in front of them on numerous occasions by US soldiers. In the Bagram airbase prison facility –which came under rocket attack last week, shortly after being handed over to Afghan authorities – torture and abuse against religious beliefs including Qur’an burning was regularly carried out. Bagram was also the scene of a murder (featured in Taxi to the Dark Side) where one Afghan prisoner was repeatedly beaten until he died because the soldiers found his repetition of the word ‘Allah’ amusing. Military policeman, Specialist Jones was present:
It became a kind of running joke, and people kept showing up to give this detainee a common peroneal strike just to hear him scream out ‘Allah’. It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes.
One may argue, if they could do such things to human beings then what value would alien ideas and stories written in old, foreign books hold? It’s a logical question, when nothing is considered sacred. Yet, despite the actions of some ignorant Muslims the Qur’an specifically warns them not to insult other religions:
Do not abuse and vilify those who invoke other than Allah, lest they should retaliate and revile Allah out of ignorance. We have indeed made the deeds of each people appear adorable to them. (The Qur'an 6:108)
So it’s hard to understand why Islamic beliefs are abused when those same beliefs prohibit the vilification of other faiths.
Demonstrations which resulted in the loss of life took place all over the world after reports of the desecration of the Qur’an came out, as they did when cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad s were published. There are few things at present that have the potential to unite the fractured Muslim world and the response in unison this time is one of them.
Notwithstanding all the countries, sects, factions and schools of thought that exist within Islam, Muslims are unanimous in their belief in and love for the Prophet. Mass protests in Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Somalia, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Australia and UK confirm this very clearly. And, while some of the worst violence which unfortunately accompanies such protests has occurred in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia – with even Syria taking part, despite the rebels’ frustration at Assad’s horrors being overshadowed by the latter – it is significant that similar protests against derogatory depictions of the Prophet Muhammad s were relatively few before the ‘Arab Spring’.
The proponents of free speech have argued that the Jones’ Qur’an burning antics and the new film are simply expressions of free speech – however odious they may be – and Muslims should just get used to it. But that’s not the whole truth.
The case of Tarek Mehanna who was given a 17-year sentence for terrorism offences this year because he watched videos about jihad, discussed views about suicide bombings and translated texts available on the Internet shows quite clearly that when the US wants to, it can criminalise freedom of speech/expression in the name of anything it wants, in this case ‘national security’.
Attempts to curb freedom of speech with the introduction of the controversial NDAA – which sought to detain US citizens indefinitely without charge or trial – was only narrowly thwarted this year, but the lengths to which the government was prepared to go to were exposed.
Similarly, this year President Obama fought to block the release of files on the US drone kill programme in the’ interests of national security’, while in 2009 he successfully prevented the publication of scores of images depicting the abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan by US troops, arguing that the inflammatory images would ‘endanger lives.’ How odd that the current crisis, after the loss of so many lives and orders for US staff to evacuate diplomatic missions, is not seen in the same light.
It goes without saying that diplomats, workers, tourists and ordinary people should not have to pay the price for the actions of a few individuals bent on provoking havoc, even if innocent Muslims have been paying for 9/11 since it began. However, we could all agree if someone were to publicly insult our parents or children, depicting them in animations and films as terrorists, murderers, child-molesters, paedophiles – or worse – most of us would be extremely offended and demand some kind of proceedings be brought against the perpetrators as well as a public apology. Of course, one may argue, correctly, that Prophet is not a close relative of ours so why all the fuss? The characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad s were described by his wife Aisha g as the ‘Qur’an embodied’; and the answer lies in the words of Prophet himself:
“None of you truly believes until I am more beloved to him than his child, his father and all of mankind.” (Muslim)
“You will be (on the Day of Judgment) with those whom you love.”’ (Bukhari)
Muslims have seen all they love and hold sacred –people, places and paper –invaded, insulted, incinerated, incarcerated, desecrated, tortured, bombed, assassinated, raped and vilified after which they are required to apologise. The violators are always innocent and the victims always guilty. That’s where all the anger comes from, and it won’t stop until the causes do.