Sunday, June 26, 2022


Local Muslim reaction to cartoon controversy

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A Lebanese Shiite woman cries during a ceremony to mark Ashura in southern Beirut, 09 January 2006. Hezbollah Shiite movement's leader, insisted on an apology over the Prophet Mohammed cartoons, as hundreds of thousands of Shiites gathered today in southern Beirut to mark the Ashura mourning ceremony. "Efforts for compromise are being made while the offensive campaign is gathering steam and more newspapers are publishing the cartoon. There will be no compromise before we get an apology," Hassan Nasrallah said. (RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A firestorm that has swept the globe since European newspapers published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad is an alarming demonstration of the growing friction between Islam and the West. In Minnesota, we've asked members of the Muslim community to reflect on the controversy.


The first time I saw the cartoon from Denmark depicting the Prophet Muhammad was in an anonymous fax sent to the Al-Amal Islamic School. Upon seeing the cartoon, a picture of a sinister-looking man with a bomb lit in his turban, I was disappointed that anyone would publish such a hateful image. Just because you have the right to publish something doesn't mean that you should.

But I was equally disturbed by the violent reactions of some groups of Muslims living abroad. The word "Islam" literally means "peace through submission to God." And all Muslims, regardless of race or ethnicity, use the greeting "As'salaam'mu'alaikum," which means, "May peace be upon you." The Prophet Muhammad taught non-violence and approached people peacefully, even when he was physically attacked. He taught Muslims to use their hands, their words, and their hearts to peacefully improve the world they live in. To use the teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad to justify violence just doesn't make sense.

I was proud to see that instead of violence, American Muslims responded to the incident with press releases and offers to educate others about Islam. Here, in Minnesota, the Islamic Resource Group sent out a press release that explained the emphasis on peace in Islam and why violent reactions to the cartoon are actually contradictory to the core teachings of Islam. Educating people is a good start, but there is much more to be done to change the many misperceptions about Islam.

I am an American Muslim, born and raised in this country, but I often am still treated like an outsider. When my husband and I bought our first home, our neighbor started harassing us the first day we moved in. He didn't even know our names. He saw my hejab – my headscarf – and that was enough. Over several months we endured him shouting "terrorist" at our windows, throwing pork into our backyard, opening our mail, and even sending us a letter that said people like us didn't belong in the suburbs. And he still didn't even know our names.

After that neighbor moved, I started to tell my friends the story, and I was shocked by their responses. Many of them had suffered violent hate crimes and threats from people who didn't know their names either. I realized, then, it didn't matter that we were nameless faces to all these people. The fact that we are Muslims was enough for them to justify their hateful actions. I will never forget that day, talking about what had happened to all of us; it was so sad and sobering. We are all American Muslims, but we didn't feel like any of us had been treated like Americans as we shared our stories that day.

What bothers me the most about this whole situation with the cartoon and the subsequent violence comes back to the fax I saw at Al-Amal School. Someone had actually typed obscene comments under the cartoon before faxing it. The picture and the comments were so full of hate, and it made me sick to think that a person would send such a message to a school full of children. Eventually, this cartoon and the violence that it's caused will fade away and be forgotten. But every day, Muslims in America will continue to fight hate, discrimination and racism for trying to practice a religion that teaches peace, tolerance, and love for all humanity.

I was born at the University of Minnesota hospital in 1981, went to public schools in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and North Mankato, and graduated from Edina. I played alto sax in the marching band and JV soccer. I figure, having been here for almost 27 years, that my parents are just as Minnesotan as most people, give or take – blueberry muffins, wild rice, loons, 14,000 lakes, not just 10.

These days, though, I don’t know how to feel about my identity. See, I’m a Muslim and I’m beginning to wonder whether or not people today really believe that my way of life is based on fanaticism and terror. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect everyone to agree with Islam, and I know there are those who act in its name to ends that are clearly unholy. But what does the person, Muhammad, have to do with that?

Maybe it’s my fault because I never told anybody why I love Muhammad. I love him more than I love my parents, more than I’ll love my future wife or children. The Muhammad I know is the person who taught me that the souls of men and women are of equal worth, that the poor are to be given aid and orphans protected, and that blood spilt without right is the equivalent of massacring all humanity. In his farewell sermon, Muhammad reminded people that everyone descended from Adam. He said that no Arab has superiority over a non-Arab and that, to God, only piety determines nobility.

In Muhammad’s time, those who knew him well and wanted to exterminate both him and Islam didn’t even resort to maligning his character. Similarly, in modern times, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Gandhi never professed belief in Islam, but considered the character of its prophet to be quite unparalleled in human history.

If you look at the north wall of the Supreme Court’s main courtroom, the fourth figure from the right is a man, dressed in robes, whose face is purposely unrecognizable. He holds a book in one hand and, in the other, a sword by the hilt, facing downwards. That man represents Muhammad, and that book is the Qur’an. In 1931, German sculptor Adolph Weinman was decorating the Supreme Court with revered, historical lawgivers. Weinman knew that Muslims don’t make images, but he wanted to show that Muhammad and the Qur’an are at least as significant as Moses and the Commandments, Hammurabi and his Code, and King John and the Magna Carta.

See, these protests and boycotts against Denmark aren’t really about cartoonists drawing pictures about Muhammad; if this issue were actually about the institution of free speech, there probably wouldn’t be any Muslims demonstrating in the streets. I think this is about something deeper – namely, that a lot of people in the world today actually believe that the negative depiction of Muhammad in those cartoons is true. It hurts me knowing those feelings are out there and upheld under the banner of free speech. But I believe this wouldn’t have been the case if I just had told you who Muhammad really was.

Editor's note: We will be posting commentaries in this location for the next several days. To submit a commentary, select the link in the right column.