Yet, why was this so? What was it about these caricatures that infuriated many Muslims worldwide so much that they would torch a Danish embassy and bring sales of Danish cheese to a halt in the Middle East?
I think it’s more than--as many media outlets are reporting--the Islamic tradition that forbids the caricature of God or any of the prophets. Of course any image made of God or His prophets will invoke some Muslim protest. But it is the grossly negative caricature in the Danish cartoons that has sparked the intensity of this furor.
The cartoons depict the Prophet Muhammad to be a blood-thirsty brigand, a knife-wielding Bedouin, an inhuman terrorist. What was particularly bothersome to me was the cartoon that showed the Prophet telling suicide bombers at the gates of heaven: "Stop! Stop! We have run out of virgins!"
These depictions are so offensive because the Prophet holds such a special place in the hearts of every Muslim on earth. We believe he was the Messenger of God and the seal of the prophets. Islam tells us he was visited by the Angel Gabriel, that he ascended to heaven and spoke to God, and that he transmitted the very word of God to His servants on earth.
The Prophet suffered so much pain and torment just to give the message of Islam to the world, a message that will save me on earth and in the hereafter. So I love and revere the Prophet, and to see him maligned and attacked in such an insensitive and repulsive way causes a pain in my heart that I simply cannot bear.
These caricatures of the Prophet is akin to publishing a cartoon of Jesus Christ as a Catholic priest being dragged away in handcuffs for sexually abusing a young boy. Christ is wholly innocent of the crimes committed by a minority of Catholic priests against young boys. If such a cartoon were to ever be published, I would be shocked, angered, and deeply offended.
The same goes for the Prophet Muhammad. He has nothing to do with the terrorist monsters who kill in the name of Islam. It is completely inappropriate to equate him with them. I would never attack the character of any of God's Prophets. These men are His representatives to humanity and deserve nothing short of respect, honor, and reverence. In my mind, to attack their character is to attack God Himself.
But the Muslim reaction went way too far.
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The Muslim reaction went way too far. Most definitely Muslims have a right to protest such an insulting and degrading depiction of their Prophet. But to torch a Danish embassy (Syria), throw eggs at a Danish embassy (Indonesia), take over a European Union office at gunpoint (Gaza), and even beat two employees of the Danish company Arla Foods (Saudi Arabia) is completely unnecessary and--dare I say it--barbaric. Moreover, it is totally insulting to the example and character of the very man these Muslims claim to be defending.
I thought the economic boycott of Danish goods was a much more effective way of registering Muslim protest. It is true that Arla Foods and its employees--along with the Danish government-- had nothing to do with the cartoon controversy. Nevertheless, publishing the offensive cartoons sent a message to Muslims worldwide: That Denmark does not respect Muslim religious sensibilities (though this probably isn’t true). Dubai resident Mohammad Danani summed up this sentiment when he told The New York Times, "I will cut them off 100 percent because there is no respect. It's no longer an issue of apologizing. Now, they have to learn their lesson."
Rather than expending their energy with violent protests, Muslims could take the publication of these offensive cartoons as an opportunity to educate others about the Prophet Muhammad: The man who always had a smile on his face, who never missed an opportunity to help those in need, who forgave his most bitter enemies, and who did not respond to the constant and vicious attacks against his person and character by his contemporaries.
In fact, Muslims should take the advice of cartoonist Signe Wilkinson: "Instead of threatening to draw blood, Muslims should pick up their pens and draw return cartoons instead."
This last recommendation, however, comes with a condition: While I think it was wrong for the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten to publish those cartoons, it cannot be denied that newspapers in Arab and Muslim countries have published cartoons that were offensive to non-Muslims, especially Jews. If it is offensive to Islam, it is also offensive to Christianity and Judaism.
Depicting the Prophet as a terrorist is not what is most sad about this latest incident. What is most sad is that this cartoon controversy has further widened the schism between the Western and Muslim worlds, and it couldn't have happened at a worse time. This entire incident has truly been offensive all the way around.