Last week over dinner, my 13 year-old daugther Aria asked me if I had heard about the film on Prophet Muhammad and the resulting riots. Of course I had. I was reading every bit of news about it.
Usually I kick-off our dinner discussions about current events, but on this subject I’d been silent mostly because I wasn’t sure where I stood on it. Don’t get me wrong; the film is extremely insulting to Muslims who believe Prophet Muhammad is the messenger of God and the last Prophet sent to humans by God. Muslims live their lives following the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. However, Muslim’s reverence of the Prophet by no means justifies violent protests nor the burning of buildings and killing innocent peoples such as Ambassador Stevens.
So, are Muslims barbarians?
Unfortunately we only hear about the small number of Muslims making the loudest noise and taking the most destructive paths. We don’t hear about Muslims demonstrating peacefully or the constructive conversations among Muslims that this video triggered. Until recently, I had not heard that Egyptian activists are taking legal action against Ahmed Abdullah, who burnt the bible during the riots, and more importantly about Libyan protesters who attacked the militant Islamist group believed to be responsible for U.S Ambassador Stevens’ death and ran them out of town. I was brought up understanding Islam as a peaceful religion and Muslims as tolerant citizens of the world. That’s still true. Egypt’s grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, recently reminded Muslims that Prophet Muhammad on many occasions was insulted or run out of town for his ideas but the Prophet always endured all personal insults and attacks without retaliation. Today Muslims around the world should follow the Prophet’s example.
What is heartening to me is that many Muslims and Islamic leaders around the world are engaging in open discussions about:
- What is Islam’s role in a globalized
- What is the role of religion and
- What is free speech?
- How should Muslims engage in a dialogue
- with non-Muslims and how should they react to blasphemy against Islam?
Thoughtful Muslims are taking lemons and making lemonade. Qatar has announced that they are investing $450 million in a three-part epic on the life of Prophet Muhammad so people around the world can learn about Islam. Similarly, Islamic leaders like Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, nephew of Saudi Arabia’s king, denounced extreme reactions and noted that Islam was too strong to warrant such uproar over such matter.
There are 49 Muslim countries summing up to 2.2 billion Muslims living among us today. As I started digging I was surprised to find out that in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Afghanistan, and many other countries there were only peaceful protests or no public protests at all.
So why do some Muslims start rioting or killing people over a small-minded video?
I found that the biggest and most violent rioting were in countries:
- With autocratic governments where
- freedom of speech is unfathomable and therefore people are convinced that the
- U.S. government endorsed the film.
- Where governments are weak or
- in transition.
- With low literacy rates where uneducated
- people are more easily swayed by militant Muslims.
- Where unemployment is high and
- local populations have a bone to pick with their government without much to
- Where a rudimentary understanding
- of true Islam makes subverting its core values easier.
- Where political motive or
- anti-American sentiment fuels reactions against things labeled as “American”.
Pakistan fills this bill very well. The literacy rate in Pakistan is at 46% with a deep anti-American sentiment fueled by extremely conservative Muslims secretly supported by the Pakistani government and secret service ISI. Although the constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of press, it is well known that journalists who have written about ISI or government corruption turn up dead in a ditch. What is really sad is that violent demonstrations are only hurting the image of Muslims and the highest death tolls are mostly incurred by Muslims. I consider myself a Muslim. My husband Jim grew up Catholic but nowadays he is agnostic and our two daughters attend a Quaker school.
You can say we are the modern family showcasing what our world looks like today. I feel the more we find a common ground and mutual understanding the better our lives will be as we move forward. After all, don’t all Abrahamic religions fundamentally teach the same thing?
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