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February 10, 2006

"Cartoon Intifadah" Not Backed Up by Islam's History

Does the Quran prohibit creating any image of the prophet Muhammad? According to Amir Taheri, writing in the Wall St. Journal, no.

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers.

He goes on to list a few of the many famous depictions.

Well then, does this have more to do with a deep Muslim resistance to having their religion made fun of? Again, no.

Now to the second claim, that the Muslim world is not used to laughing at religion. That is true if we restrict the Muslim world to the Brotherhood and its siblings in the Salafist movement, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al Qaeda. But these are all political organizations masquerading as religious ones. They are not the sole representatives of Islam, just as the Nazi Party was not the sole representative of German culture. Their attempt at portraying Islam as a sullen culture that lacks a sense of humor is part of the same discourse that claims "suicide martyrdom" as the highest goal for all true believers.

The truth is that Islam has always had a sense of humor and has never called for chopping heads as the answer to satirists. Muhammad himself pardoned a famous Meccan poet who had lampooned him for more than a decade. Both Arabic and Persian literature, the two great literatures of Islam, are full of examples of "laughing at religion," at times to the point of irreverence.

Again, he offers further historical examples.

So if what some are calling the "Cartoon Intifadah" is not religious in its origin, what is it? Mr. Taheri, explains.

The "rage machine" was set in motion when the Muslim Brotherhood--a political, not a religious, organization--called on sympathizers in the Middle East and Europe to take the field. A fatwa was issued by Yussuf al-Qaradawi, a Brotherhood sheikh with his own program on al-Jazeera. Not to be left behind, the Brotherhood's rivals, Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami (Islamic Liberation Party) and the Movement of the Exiles (Ghuraba), joined the fray. Believing that there might be something in it for themselves, the Syrian Baathist leaders abandoned their party's 60-year-old secular pretensions and organized attacks on the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.
It's political. Much of the defense of Muslims has tried to come at this from one or the other of these perspectives. The fact is that nothing happened for months after the cartoons were first published, and only after a political body called for a response that 10 people (so far) were killed and buildings burned over them. This is a calculated political response, even if it may have gone farther than the Muslim Brotherhood intended.

I'm not thrilled when religion is lampooned, but I understand that not everyone shares the same opinion. One's religion is as personal as one's political opinion and so both are subject to it. Hence, I understand that it's generally all fair game, including my own Christianity. And on the other side, when someone's offended, it is their right to speak out against what they believe to be wrong, whether in fact, or whether it be one opinion vs. another. But this furor is unjustified on many counts. It's has a political origin in spite of claims to the contrary. It doesn't follow Islam's own history. And it has become outrageous in its excess and cruelty.

This may be the oft-cited "less than 1% of Muslims" who are doing all the damage. I can buy that. But how soon will it be before we see this kind of action from the other 99%, rather than just press releases? There has been some, but it's been lost in the din raging over some cartoons.

Posted by Doug at February 10, 2006 03:37 PM

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Oh I just knew it!

Thanks so much for finding this, I had just commented on another blog, that I had no idea creating Mohammeds image was a sin in Islam, and did Muslims expect the whole world to know all about their religion?

(A Fatwa... what crap)


Posted by: PebblePie at February 11, 2006 07:31 AM