Making Sense of the Danish Cartoon Issue

By Maimoona Tariq

The issue has sparked a lot of debate, bitter feelings, protests and even violence. An obscure newspaper in Denmark has spread worldwide contention and acrimony leading to repercussions on the international politics. There is a need to come up with a peaceful resolution acceptable to all.

For the entire Muslim community, Prophet Muhammad (sa) is a role model and epitomizes the essence of Islam. It is obligatory on a Muslim to protest against those, who malign his name.

Those Muslims, who have resorted to violence, have only increased anger, hatred and embitterment. This method of protest is not supported either by the Quran or the Sunnah.

Ironically, this Danish cartoon publication and the response it caused manifest intense feelings of racism. The cartoons simply portray the Western perception of Muslims, while violence by Muslims reciprocates with a similar sentiment. There is no effort on either side to avoid causing offense to the other.

Activities of a few members of a religion cannot be used to generalize that this religion is preaching disorder. Instead of imposing their uninformed opinion about Prophet Muhammad (sa), Danish newspapers should have done their homework on the actual teachings of the Prophet (sa). Many non-Muslims have studied his life and have given a positive feedback. In his book on 100 the most influential people in history, Michael Harte has ranked the Prophet (sa) as the first!

Freedom of speech should not be used as a license to offend others or spread bigotry. It should be a tool for voicing the truth and speaking up against injustice. Muslim media does not malign venerated figures of other religions; thus, it has the right to protest against the humiliation of the Prophet (sa).

Although Western newspapers are publishing cartoons on Christianity, this practice should not be so easily applied to other religions. Muslims do not have pictures of the Prophet (sa), as Christians have of Christ. Muslims do not make movies about apostles and do not use their names in satire. Their respect is compulsory. Danish newspaper has not only crossed the boundaries of another religion, but also done something prohibited in that religion. The newspaper cartoons, which continued over a total of twelve issues, were a source of a tremendous heart sore for the entire Muslim community.

In Christian society, censorship still prevails; yet, the freedom of speech is lauded, as if it is the only concept defining the Western pattern of communication. “Da Vinci Code” and “Passion of Christ” were banned on religious and social issues. The same Danish newspaper, which published cartoons about the Prophet (sa), refused to publish drawings of Christ, as these were thought to be offensive to the readers. Wasn’t this issue also worth the same consideration? Or is this simply a way to express the Western supremacy?

I believe that the people involved owe an apology to the entire Muslim community. This issue has increased the gap between Muslims and the rest of the world. It has also given to hostile people, who call themselves Muslims, a reason to proliferate their objectionable activities.

Voicing discontent about cartoons also falls under the ambit of freedom of speech. Actually, the emphasis should not so much be on the freedom of speech, as on justice, logic, rights and equality. It is important to distinguish between right and wrong, rather than rationalize a wrongdoing. Muslims condemn all the un-Islamic actions done in the name of Islam. We would appreciate a similar response from the Western side for dissolving the racial bigotry.

It is better to conduct seminars for stimulating a worldwide dialogue on the interpretation of Islam. Islam is different from other religions and has a unique approach to life and humanity. It must be understood, rather than ridiculed on the pretext of freedom of speech.

Characters can counter caricatures

cartoonBy now, we are all well-aware of the blasphemous caricatures publication by the Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, in September last year. France Soir, a Paris daily reprinted the cartoons along with a German paper, this January. Le Temps in Geneva and Budapest’s Magyar Hirlap also played their part. Spain’s ABC newspaper and Periodico de Catalunya put on display the photographs of papers, which had published the cartoons. The list goes on, including other European dailies such as France’s Le Mande.

The Muslims all over the world have condemned the publication of these caricatures and as a result, we have witnessed a variety of protests and demonstrations.  There is a call from all quarters for a complete boycott of Danish products.  Inevitably, this event has created deep resentment and has concurrently enraged the sentiments of the Muslim community the world over. And I feel myself a strong part of this community. But having said that, I feel that this problem should be confronted with more suitable means.

We raised our voices when “The Satanic Verses” was brought into the market. We chanted slogans and sent numerous emails asking Muslims the world over to boycott all Jewish products. But did all of that bear any fruitful results? I think not.

Before reacting against any form of bigotry, we must first analyze what we wish to eventually gain from it.  Do we just want to show that we are incredibly devout Muslims who will not take a word against Islam? Or do we want to leave a lasting image on the world that no matter what you do, you cannot shake our faith, our principles and our commitment.  We are a strong nation, which shall never waver, no matter how strong the trial may be Insha’Allah.

When the companions (rta) claimed loyalty to Allah’s Apostle (sa), they proved every word of it by following the Prophets’s (sa) Sunnah and the Quran to the core. They lived the faith and not just pay lip service. They ascertained it by passing along Allah’s (swt) message to the whole world with dignity and honour, regarding it as their fundamental duty.

They earned Allah’s (swt) pleasure Who glorified them. Don’t we wish to be like them? If our answer is yes, then we must first look into ourselves before we blame others. Are we the appropriate ambassadors of Islam? Are we submitting to Allah (swt) whole-heartedly, or are we simply following some odd rituals with a heavy heart? Are we strong enough to observe the message brought by our Prophet (sa) and have we made it imperative upon us to deliver it to the rest of mankind?

Let’s check ourselves and then our family, our neighbours, our countrymen…

The task is endless and we have a lot to do. There is no time to be wasted. One life may not be enough to cause a noticeable change. But one life, no matter how small, is enough to prove to the world that it was worth living.

Let’s make a pledge to ourselves that we shall be a beacon of light for everyone around us by genuinely reflecting the image of Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) Ummah. It is my conviction that if we mend our ways the world will be at our feet. Our Prophet (sa) won the hearts of even the greatest enemies of Islam, simply by submitting completely to the will of Allah (swt). We simply need to step out of the shadows of respect and reverence and build up the courage to practically apply and deliver what the Prophet (sa) brought to the mankind.