Making caricatures of us all

When I began writing several hours ago, having just turned off the Six O’Clock News in my car, I was pretty angry. I was foaming about the way Muslims have to react so stupidly every time a red flag is waved in front of us. Just after I became Muslim seven and a half years ago, another convert told me that the action we had taken was a bit like jumping on board a sinking ship. Days like this remind me of his analogy. But I’ve had dinner now and I’ve surfed a few blogs and suddenly noticed that it’s actually very hard to find Muslims saying anything stupid. All I see are the silent images on the BBC.

The cartoons in question were first published four months ago in Denmark, apparently to test the boundaries of freedom of expression. Perhaps Denmark had already established these boundaries when it’s Supreme Court ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to sack a young Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to work. Of course, we can’t say this; it’s changing the subject. No, the newspaper in question, Jyllands Posten, consulted the Danish theologian Professor Tim Jensen before publishing the cartoons, according to Zaman Online. He responded with the advice that the cartoons should not be published, pointing out that “It will offend Muslims and only cause pointless provocation.” So the newspaper went ahead and published them anyway.

On 20 October 2005, the BBC reported that ambassadors of ten Muslim countries had complained to the Danish prime minister about the newspaper’s cartoons. Then the story disappeared for three months, only to reappear when Arla Foods announced it would have one hundred redundancies after its sales in the Middle East fell to zero. In this bizarre twist to the usual sanctions regime, Danish companies were pleading for a food-for-oil programme. Thus the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, chipped in to criticise the papers that re-ran the cartoons. Why did they re-run the cartoons? Did they, too, need to establish the boundaries? Were they still in doubt? Of course not. Nothing stirs fame like controversy. So away they wave with the red flag.

All day, the BBC has been stirring the story. The Today programme on Radio 4, then the World at One and PM. On the One O’Clock News on BBC1 TV, Darren Jordan introduced the package in sombre mood, we listened as the reporter told us that another clash of cultures, like that seen with the Satanic Verses, “was developing fast”, then Darren turned to the other camera with a smile and told us how to contribute to the debate online. While the sales of Lurpak continued to plummet, a self-righteous media began to fight back, chanting death to the enemies who have no respect for pointless provocation. Calls to boycott Middle Eastern goods quickly faded, however, when it was realised that the only Middle Eastern goods available were oil and stale baklava.

Apparently there has been a massive wave of protest across the Middle East. One involved a group of men pouring lighter fluid over a Danish flag which appeared to be made of tissue paper before setting it alight. In another scene, men whose convictions were so strong that they had to hide their faces beneath scarves surrounded the EU offices in Gaza and fired bullets into the air, gaining prime time airing on the Six O’Clock News and BBC Online. But rolling into Luton, the BBC filmed men walking out of a mosque looking scarily unperturbed. Even the non-Muslim asked for his opinion on the street seemed oblivious to the media frenzy unveiling around him. Unprepared, he stuttered something about nothing and shrugged his shoulders.

Personally I believe there must be better ways to honour our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, than to violently demand a non-Muslim newspaper observes Islamic principles of not depicting the Prophets. Islam has always prohibited this because it wanted to prevent its followers from taking them as objects of worship down the line. That’s not unreasonable, if you think of the way Iconography has been used in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity. But would we not be better off honouring Muhammed, peace be upon him, by living as he lived, trying to curb our anger and observing patience? But then again, that seems to be what Muslims are saying on the blogs I’ve read. Only time will tell, of course; tomorrow’s Jummah and we’ll see if we have a ritual bonfire of tubs of Lurpak in the car park. We’ll see.

On the other hand, the BBC was making much of the democratic right to cause offence in the civilised countries of Western Europe today. Unlike those ignorant, backward Muslims over there with their quaint ways and failure to appreciate satire, Denmark is a land of enlightened souls doing nothing but exploring their boundaries. Yes indeed, Denmark is such a pleasant civilised land that a radio station in Copenhagen had to have its broadcasting licence taken away in August last year after calling for the extermination of Muslims. Whilst exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression, Kaj Wilhelmsen told listeners to Radio Holger: “There are only two possible reactions if you want to stop this bomb terrorism – either you expel all Muslims from Western Europe so they cannot plant bombs, or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims which would mean killing a substantial part of Muslim immigrants.” As Queen Margrethe of Denmark is quoted as saying in her autobiography, it is time to take the challenge of Islam seriously: “We have let this issue float around for too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.” You see: we in the civilized West are much too tolerant to behave like those flag-made-of-tissue-burning, sanction-wielding brutes over there.

Sorry if I speak out of turn, but the whole extravaganza reeks of hypocrisy – on all sides.

Meanwhile East Africa is currently suffering from a severe drought, which is threatening to put up to 2.5 million people in Kenya alone at the risk of famine. It might be time to shift our attention in that direction and come up with a positive outcome instead.

7 thoughts on “Making caricatures of us all

  1. Salaam ‘AlaikumOff topic, sorry. Just wanted to say that I’m sorry I haven’t seen this blog before. Insha’Allah you’ll be blogging more often as time allows.


  2. Asalaamu ‘alaykum’Abdul-Haq suggested I view your most recent article on “Making caricatures of us all”.My name is Hamza and I work for The Muslim Weekly newspaper in London.I was wondering you would be willing to forward this article to be included in our forthcomings Opinions section. Mash’Allaah the article is very good and raises a justified alternative view.Please e-mail me soon (deadline Wednesday) at hamza@themuslimweekly.comInsha‘Allaah, look forward to hearing from you soon.Wa salaam


  3. Salams,It’s Abdul Hakim. Thanks for the insight. Will try and look at this site once in a while just to keep up with your ideas.Btw, did you write anything on the July bombings?Salams


  4. As always Neurocentric, your views are a great help.The Messenger has been ridiculed like this from the earliest of time. Nevertheless, I dont think this should stop us responding. The manner of our response is sadly typical, but we need to educate both Muslims and non-Muslims.As the imam in our local masjid said, this is an opportunity for us to explain who this man is that we love so much, and why any human being should feel ashamed – for the sake of his own humanity, if nothing else – to mock him. Who knows, maybe some people will come to (or come back to) Islam through this controversy?


  5. Salaams AllWhile Muslims once again fall into the reactionary trap set for them and confirm the thesis of the offending cartoons by exploding in rage and violence, we would do well to reflect upon the Prophet’s supplication in Taif. This is the dua he recited with shoes full of blood, wounds all over his body and after having been insulted and abused by the people of Taif. What’s more this all occurs after three years of suffering a boycott at the hands of the Quraysh as a result of which Muslims were reduced to eating grass and leaves off of trees.The Prophet (s) as he walks out of Taif:”O Allah! I complain to You of my weakness, my scarcity of resources and my humiliation before the people. O Most Merciful of those who are merciful. O Lord of the weak and my Lord too. To whom have you entrusted me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy to whom you have granted authority over my affair? So long as You are not angry with me, I do not care. Your favour is of more abundance to me. I seek refuge in the light of Your Face by which all darkness is dispelled and every affair of this world and the next is set right, lest Your anger or your displeasure descend upon me. I desire your pleasure and satisfaction until you are pleased. There is no power and no might except by You.”If those who claim to love the Prophet(s) so much that they are willing to infringe upon prophetic conduct with their blind rage and fury would reflect upon this prayer, it would be a guiding light for them and a clear instruction as to how a Muslim should respond to our current situation. It is also the only salve by which troubled hearts and souls will find peace. It will not be found on pickets and demonstrations – not that these may not be useful in making clear our reverence for the sacred and the divine.In my jum’ah khutbah, I spoke on this prayer and while there were some whose hearts and eyes were cooled by it, it was obvious to me that there were many who were so caught up in anger that they could not hear.For whom does the Prophet’s saying: ‘Islam is good character’ mean anything anymore?Are we to revert to pre-Islamic tribal norms of vengeance and retribution rather than see this as an opportunity to turn hearts by sharing the example of our beloved Prophet’s centredness and compassion in the face of hate and enmity with those whose hearts are open.Are we to fall into the major sin of dispair-fuelled violence rather than maintain hope as the Prophet (s) did when the angel of the mountains met him outside Ta’if following his supplication and offered to cause the mountains surrounding Taif to explode over the twon and obliterate it to which the Prophet (s) replied ‘No, I hope that these people will one day come to worship only Allah and Him alone’?Unless we have the centredness and the Allah-consciousness of the Prophet (s) by which every event whether favourable or unfavourable (in material terms) offers us the opportunity of strengthening our relationship with Allah, we will continue to be the victim of every ruse and ploy.Rather than reacting with violence and rage we should intensify our work to share the beautiful and merciful message of the Deen especially now that the Prophet (s) is headline news. Let the Prophet’s prayer of Taif be printed in European newspapers as the example of his supreme magnanimity and patience.Violence, death threats and fury only betray a lack of trust in the power and light of the sacred which is illustrated in the Prophet’s experience in the garden outside Taif when persons who overheard his prayer were moved by it to come to Islam. Moreover, on the way back to Mecca after this experience, many jinn who happened to hear the Prophet’s recitation of the Qur’an in his night prayer also came to Islam. And not long thereafter the Prophet (s) was conveyed on his night journey and ascent to heaven. Verily with difficulty comes ease.Yet with today’s anouncement of ’eminent’ Muslim scholars of a ‘Day of Outrage’, I fear we have become nothing but saboteurs. Why not a Day of Remembrance of the Prophet, Why not a Day of Tremendous Prophetic Character? Why not a Day of the Prayer of Taif?I recommend that we circulate the Prayer of Taif at this time as an antidote to all of the madness and poison of emotional maelstroms. May Allah guide us to that which is right and grant us the tremendous fortune of seeing our enemies as our close friends to whom we have the duty of conveying the love of Allah and his Prophet (s). Ameen.Allah knows best.Luqman


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