Before I get to the topic of this post, I want to quote a book I just began reading, Images of Muhammad by Tarif Khalidi:
A’isha, the favourite wife of Muhammad, was once asked: “Mother of the Believers, what did the Prophet do when he was at home?”
She answered, “What any of you will normally do at home. He would patch his garment and repair his sandals. Most of the time, he sewed.”
And so we have this marvelous image of the great prophet of Islam sitting cross-legged at home and, with thread and needle, sewing happily away – and what a feast this tableau is for the imagination! Did he whistle softly as he sewed? Was he good at threading the needle? But there he is, sharing the domesticity of his followers and in his daily life he was indistinguishable from the masses among whom his prophetic career ran its course.
Isn’t this a beautiful read? Love it!
In the preface, Khalidi brings up this point:
The social ideality of Muhammad is underlain by the love of his community. In 2006 Muhammad was the subject of a series of cartoons in the Danish press. The furor caused by that incident, like almost all similar furors, managed to obscure the raw nerve that these cartoons had touched. I am referring to the fact that little was said throughout that controversy about the love of Muhammad among his community, although much was said about respect for religious beliefs versus the primacy of free speech.
At the heart of the incident was the love of Muhammad, which, in the phrase of Muhammad Iqbal, “runs like blood in the veins of his community.” It was Muhammad as comforter, friend, intercessor, family member that these cartoons seemingly demeaned. The images of Muhammad collected in this book may help show how close the Prophet has been to his community, how much he remains at the centre of their affection, and how vividly he still stands among them.
This is the first time that someone has articulated the way I felt about the cartoons. It wasn’t about free speech or being able to express oneself; it was about loving and respecting the Prophet, and then seeing such demeaning images of him. I don’t agree with censorship, and I don’t think that the cartoons should have been withheld. However, I also don’t understand why someone was okay with putting something out there that was so hurtful to Muslims around the world.
The cartoons didn’t hurt me because I was against free speech. They hurt me because I saw someone I admired, respected, and loved being demeaned, insulted, and misrepresented. I just can’t imagine myself or anyone I care about drawing cartoons like that about, say, Buddha or Jesus, and then putting them out there when I know they will hurt someone. Why? Seriously, why?
Is it a cultural difference? Maybe Middle Easterners prefer keeping something to themselves when they know it will offend/hurt someone, whereas Europeans prefer being able to say what they think. I definitely see that in real life: Egyptians are careful about offending someone, whereas in Holland people are more about saying what they think. Is that what happened with the cartoons?
Or were they supposed to make a point?
Either way, I must say Khalidi described exactly how I felt – hurt, upset, and angry that such a great, inspirational man was demeaned in such a way. And even if you don’t think he was inspirational, 1.5 billion people do. And that should mean something.