City of Brass

City of Brass

my letter to the editors at about Draw Muhammad Day

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Below is the text of an email I sent to Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, urging them to make public all the nearly 200 entries to the Draw Mohammed Day contest at Reason magazine. If they consent, I will also update with their reply.

Dear Nick, Matt,

I am a muslim blogger who currently blogs at Beliefnet.

I genuinely appreciate what you were trying to do with Draw Muhammad Day. However, the theme of your winning entries is rather obvious to my mind, suggesting that perhaps you engaged in a little self-censorship of your own, for editorial reasons.

Make no mistake. I thoroughly disagree with your methods. And I have posted my own thoughts on Draw Muhammad Day which I think you may find unexpected, but which I assure you is rather mainstream a perspective within the muslim American community:

I suspect that the remaining 190 submissions are more susceptible to my critiques than the three you finally chose, none of which I really consider to be true depictions of the Prophet SAW but more a form of satirical commentary on the debate as a whole (exactly the same as Santa in the South Park episode, in fact).

I am writing this letter to you, therefore, to urge you to also make available the 190 other submissions to your Draw Muhammad Day contest. I think that the winners have had their recognition, but youu should have nothing to hide with respect to the other entries.

I intend to reproduce my email to you above at my blog. I ask for your permission to reproduce your responses. Of course, I will not do so if you refuse.

with Regards

Aziz Poonawalla

City of Brass

Talk Islam

in hindsight, I wish i’d made clear in that email that I do not want nor care to know the identities of the artists. I just think the submissions should be made public so everyone can see for themselves whether free speech, or hate speech, is the motivation of the participants.

If you agree, then send your own email to Nick and Matt urging them to publish the remaining non-winning submissions. Their email addresses are and

You can also add your voice to this on Twitter, by simply re-tweeting (just copy and paste into your twitter client):

open letter to @mleewelch and @nickgillespie to publish all the entries for Draw Muhammad Day: (via @azizhp)

and incidentally, to anyone tempted to send Nick and Matt angry or threatening messages, understand that you are acting in a way contrary to the values of our Prophet SAW and are insulting his memory. If you do so, you are far worse than any caricature.

UPDATE: Matt Welch made the following very courteous reply, and graciously gave me permission to reprint.

Thanks much, Aziz, that’s very thoughtful and appreciated.

We figured that, since the Internet would be filled with every and all matter of more scabrous images, we would curate ones that best underline both the broader points we were making, and the whole issue of representation that was at the heart particularly of the South Park episode that sparked the day to begin with. Since this began with an is he/isn’t he question about Mohammed in a cartoon bear suit — and even *that* was heavily censored! — our images, we feel, get to the heart of the absurdity of that event.

All curating and editing is indeed self-censorship. For example, we did a video recently about the obscenity trial of pornographer John Stagliano without lingering on the most offensive of his images. And, in the course of engaging in this contest, we have shut down a handful comments threads, because we believed that competing depictions of graphic goat-rape fantasies on our storefront was distracting from the points we care about most. Yes, the irony of shutting down comments threads on a free speech issue is not lost on us, but I would in response make two points: 1) Though the internet was thankfully full of individuals participating in the Draw Mohammed day, we were pretty lonely in terms of print publications; and 2) we still are pretty lonely in generally offering unmediated comments at a high trafficked political blog.

These decisions aren’t always easy, and we certainly struggled with them, but I think we have contributed very positively to the free speech debate this week.


  • Hitch

    Aziz, I really don’t get your point. If you want to see how vile or non-vile the overall images are, why not go to facebook? Why not search youtube for Draw Muhammed Day.
    You get a very good sample of respectful versus not so respectful that way and you do not have to bother the Reason folks at all. It is indeed in the public domain. Here is another, again selected list. You decide which are respectful and which are not:
    My assessment is that the majority of those are not vile, but you make your own judgments. Again these are selected. YouTube or Facebook give you an open impression.
    Here is an entry I liked:
    And the reason winners are nice. I’d say about 70% of the friendly atheist list are to the point I’d endorse.
    But it’s no fun to notice that people submit peace signs and friendly gestures, when one can find some vile stuff, right?

  • Anan E. Maus

    Trying to reason with crazy people is rarely effective.
    However, I do think appeals of the heart and to conscience can be.
    Not that they are effective in and of themselves, but I think the appeal is an offering before Allah for justice.
    And that has complete power, depending on His Will.
    I think the best thing to do is make a simple and honest appeal to conscience. And then pray on the matter. Pray that people are safe and protected, pray that the hateful are turned to compassion.
    There have been many wonderful stories of lost souls who have been brought back into the realm of the compassionate.
    May He Bless you and your work!

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