Sunday, September 23, 2012

On Blasphemy And Freedom!

Years ago, I watched “Life of Brian”, a Monty Python movie mocking Jesus Christ. I remember laughing in the movie theater along with a majority Christian audience in England. Over the years, as my Islamic faith deepened, I would no longer watch this movie let alone laugh at or own it, I find it objectionable for its portrayal of the Jesus like character.  As a Muslim I consider Jesus, like Mohammad, sacred, both are human beings chosen by God to be His prophets and messengers to all of humanity.

Commencing on September 11, 2012 we have seen days of angry protests and violence following the, peculiarly timed, airing of a video clip titled “Innocence of Muslims” by a Salafi TV station in Egypt. The violence was combined with demands by religious and political leaders in Egypt for action against the makers of the movie in the USA. The angry convulsions turned into loud demands for legal action and changes to international law to ban insults to religions and religious figures.

In an attempt to understand the so-called “Muslim rage”, I watched the “Innocence of Muslims” video on YouTube. Needless to say, I found it as offensive as any cheap insult or remark one receives from hateful or ignorant types. It did not mean a great deal to me that someone who hates Islam produces a movie that insults my Prophet in a vulgar manner. Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, is sacred and beloved to me, I hold him in unparalleled esteem; but I also accept that some 80% of humanity do not believe in him, his message or believe in Islam.

To many Muslims, the word “prophet” carries huge religious meaning, a sacred or revered messenger from the almighty God. Many Muslims are unaware that, for most Christians, saying “we respect Jesus as prophet…” is sacrilege.  While the core beliefs in Christianity of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and his divine status are not accepted by Islam, most Christians take “prophets” to mean wise men, inspired by God, but not divine!  So it can be clearly seen how religious beliefs, especially historical ones, are incompatible and how easily acceptance of one belief can be blasphemous of the other. In other words to deny the divinity of Jesus and simply label him a wise man maybe as offensive to a Christian as telling a Muslim Mohammad was a wise and good man but not a messenger of God. Belief in Islam by definition is blasphemy of Christianity and vice versa, the same applies to Judaism and other religious beliefs.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah (God)  is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah (God) is Knowing and Acquainted.”  The Holly Quran 49:13

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah (God) has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah (God) is Hearing and Knowing.” The Holly Quran 2:256

The beauty of Islam, with its fundamental advocacy for equality, justice and freedom is virtually absent from the language of those who speak in its name calling for punishment of atheists and whose language focuses almost exclusively on the limitation of equality, limitation of freedoms and selective justice.

So, as I look at my personal belief in Islam and the recent Muslim rage events, I find myself reflecting on two very different but related questions: first is there a distinction between representation of religious figures, offensive or not, and incitement against the killing of fellow human beings of whatever faith? And a   second question: would a new international law banning blasphemy towards Jesus outlaw the teaching of Islam to our kids in the west? Answers to both questions are blatantly obvious: incitement to kill someone for their beliefs, no matter how distasteful to others, is wrong! And so would be banning the teaching or preaching of a religion because it disagrees with the basic tenants of another majority faith.

So while many call for change in international laws to punish those who publish material deemed offensive to religion, I find myself wondering how Islamic is it, to ban such material and punish its makers. Thus, I actually call for changing Egypt’s laws to allow such cheap rubbish as the Innocence of Muslims to be made in Egypt itself.  And for its makers to go about their sorry hateful lives in peace as long as they are are not inciting violence. Would such freedom hurt Egypt or Islam? Would Muslims anywhere rush away from Islam believing the trashy material shown on the video? Would Egyptians then not have the right to boycott people, businesses and TV channels that promote such insulting material?

Would a disgruntled unhappy Islam hater take advantage of this law then produce more hateful anti Islam material? Maybe, but let them! We each have our own narratives and our Islam becomes stronger not weaker with freedom!

Legalize offending religious beliefs for the sake of Islam, please!

September 23, 2012