Cultural Difference?

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.


13 thoughts on “Cultural Difference?

  1. A couple of weeks ago two shia channels in libanon were to air an iranian series about Isa (a.s) but after christian groups in Lebanon protested, the channels stopped the airing. It shows how it goes in the muslim world, where you dont hurt other religious groups feelings. The film can be seen here

    It only shows the way muslims see Isa, nothing more nothing less. It amazes me that we, who have trouble in the mid east, are the ones who show more tolerance and understanding of other groups amongst us.

    A shia dua says, your my mother and your my father, to the holy Prophet, this is how i usually try to explain the love and the admiration of the holy Prophet, something people dont understand.

  2. That was a wonderful post.

    The book you’re reading seems really good. I love the small passage you included in your post. That image of the Prophet (pbuh) was just beauitful.

    I also love the fact that this author is shedding light on the reason why muslims were outraged about those cartoons. Simply, we were all hurt seeing the prophet (pbuh) who we love and respect be disrespected and ridculed.

    Like we spoke about before, just because you CAN DO something doesn’t mean you SHOULD DO it.
    Sometimes for some people excercising and “protecting” their freedom of speech means attacking a person(s).
    ofcourse you have the right to do that but at the end of the day what do you really gain from doing it?

  3. On the one hand, the shock and hurt felt by Muslims around the world by those cartoons was understandable to say the least… I was personally disgusted by them. I don’t know what point they were trying to make, but it was offensive and downright mean. But I feel I must point this out: just because a Danish cartoon was published doesn’t mean all Europeans (or all Westerners, for that matter) are insensitive. Nor are all Muslims like the fanatics who threatened to kill Trey Parker and Matt Stone, or who destroyed the large statues of Buddha in Afghanistan (hurting not just Buddhists, but taking a historical treasure away from all of us) – ignorant jackasses exist regardless of culture or country.

    • I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that all Europeans are insensitive. I just find it interesting, as Khalidi points out, that Europeans made the debate about freedom of speech when for many Muslims that wasn’t the issue: the issue was the fact that the Prophet was insulted and that was hurtful.

  4. Throughout history – Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) has been attacked in many ways. The cartoons was just a new wave of attack of the prophet.

    There is news spreading here in the UK, that another wave of attacks will take place during 9/11 this year – this particular church are going to run an event to burn a holy Qur’an. Once again we see this another attach on Islam and another provocation. The link to the news is below. As Muslims we should not tolerate such attacks but we should engage with this group and educate them. Please spread this word, as I writing an article on this and will be available on my blog shortly.

  5. I am all for freedom of speech, but not when its used to hurt others.

    Our beloved Prophet Muhammad is a significant figure in each and every Muslim’s lives. The Danish dont realise that any insults towards the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is a personal insult to each and every Muslim.

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