New Year's, a Time of Ferment
In the action on the street, everyone's talking about the cartoons. Not much violence- only one rally, officially approved, in Rabat. But Muslims in class and on the street want to know what I think. I'm telling them that if there was a picture like that of Jesus, I probably wouldn't care much. Yes, I wouldn't like it, but it's not a big deal, because it happens all the time, and I would never want to force someone to believe what I believe. I would rather they never claim Christ than that happen- that they do so by force. But of course, this isn't academic, because people insult Jesus all the time. All you have to do is turn on the TV shows that Moroccans watch from America, taking His name in vain. Or look at the billboards of models on the street, up there for six months last year. 1/2-naked models in the images of Christ and the apostles at the Last Supper. Pulled in Europe after enough people protested. Most Moroccans didn't care about it though, for all that they declare their support for all the prophets, and that they love Jesus.
If you haven't already taken the opportunity to look at the cartoons, I would encourage you to do so at this blog. As you can see, 2 might be considered degrading to Mohammed (pbuh) (Though they simply tell the truth that he was a violent man, for he advocated violence. That is central to official Islamic history. And perhaps it could be said he supported terrorism, with his engaging in rizzyia, culturally approved raids done during all but truce months. Mohammed (pbuh) claimed to have received a vision allowing him to engage in violent raids against peaceful parties during the months of truce. Though it must be stressed that this was not against women and children, but against armed parties.) The other 10 cartoons speak of censorship, don't actually show Mohammed (pbuh) really, or make fun of the artists themselves! (South-West Denmark is an area seen by the Danes as "hickish".)
It would seem, from what I've pieced together, that these came out in Denmark 4 months ago, no one cared, they were reprinted in Egypt, no one cared, they were reprinted by an evangelical group in Norway, no one cared, there were a number of Hajj deaths in Mecca, people cared, the Saudi press started to redirect anger at the cartoons, the Imams got in on the act and distributed the cartoons along with three vastly more offensive ones (claiming that the cartoons were all published by an official government newspaper), the Organization for Islamic Conference (all the heads of Muslim nations) got together, and people cared. See the Toronto Star for an interesting summation of it.
It seems to me, there is more than a smack of idolatry in this. There is no prohibition on images of Mohammed (pbuh) in the Qur'an. There is in the Hadith. If you are Sunni. Shi'i, the other branch of Islam, has long had (respectful) images of Mohammed (pbuh). So this is more of a Sunni thing, and especially a Wahhabi thing, from Saudi Arabia, with the claim of not wanting to have images to encourage idolatry. Therefore, art outside the Persian world long focused on calligraphy and architecture. But in the modern age, that point is kind of belied, as there are images everywhere- on billboards and TV, even in Saudi Arabia. And of course, these cartoons are not going to encourage someone to turn Mohammed (pbuh) into an idol. But it is interesting that we, who see Jesus as God, don't have a problem making images of Him.
The Muslims claim Allah as God, meaning "the God". Mohammed (pbuh) is not. But the way they treat him, asking for him to intercede for them, considering him to be sinless (regardless of what the Qur'an says), and not allowing images of him- they end up putting him in the same category. God may not have images made of Him either, for he is not flesh. The end result is, they say with there lips that there is no god but God, but with their actions, and without a doctrine of the Trinity, they make two gods. For Mohammed (pbuh) becomes someone of such great respect that you may not say a word against him, that can intercede for you, that you can not even draw, for he is too holy.
I like this cartoon I saw, drawn by the famous American editorial cartoonist, Pat Oliphant. It brings out this point. It shows a woman at a cocktail party talking to a tall man next to her, saying "Not the Mohammed?" She doesn't say if the person is Mohammed (pbuh) or not. If it were not him, if it were any other Mohammed, there would be no issue here. I told my students that the Danish newspaper had just come out with a statement saying the cartoons were actually about Mohammed Al Drissi. Yes, it was a different Mohammed entirely. It was all a big misunderstanding. My point was, if it was Omar, there would have been no issue, except for those two cartoons linking Muslims to violence. And there is certainly plenty of that already. Thus the only thing the cartoonists are being judged for is their words, rather than the images themselves.
It is not images in general that the Muslim world is protesting, countrary to the claims of some; it is an image of their prophet. And not that it is unflattering- as you can see, only 2, maybe 3, of them are. What is protested is an unflattering image of a being that has been deified. Were it a flattering image, there would be a concern for idolatry, as the Muslims claim. Because it is an unflattering image, it is anger that it is dishonoring the prophet, who can never be spoken against, as he is too close to God. That is shirk.