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It's a Question of Love, Newsnight, not Fear!

By Shaykh Riyad Nadwi, PhD
03 February 2006

As Muslims across the world voice their displeasure at cartoons in Europe depicting the Prophet of Islam (on whom be peace) as a terrorist, and journalists repeat the well-worn mantras of "wake-up call", "freedom-of-speech in danger", "Muslims must conform to our norms", and "secularist traditions under threat", many are still wondering, "What is all the fuss about?"

Last night on the BBC Newsnight programme, Mr Stephen Green of "Christian Voice", who had earlier led the campaign against the staging of "Jerry Springer the Opera", supported the cartoons by arguing that Islam is different. As he puts it, "Christians do not blow up bombs on the London Underground". I urge Mr Green to reflect on the fact that as a Muslim who loves and respects Jesus (on whom be peace) I was also deeply offended by the clips I saw of the Jerry Springer show, and the fact that a devout Christian like Mr Bush had invaded Muslim countries and probably caused the deaths of 150,000 Muslims in less than five years did not prevent me from writing a strong letter of protest against that opera.

These cartoons are being hailed as a barometer of freedom and European tradition and many Western commentators have begun to swallow this "spin" hook, line and sinker. A prime example of this was Mr Tim Whewell's report on Newsnight yesterday, in which the newspaper editor who engineered this controversy, Flemming Rose, called for a debate about how much the "receiving country" and "migrant community" have to compromise. For good measure, Mr Whewell included in his report a scroll through several anti-Zionist cartoons from Arab newspapers, without pointing out that nowhere in the Muslim world will you find a disparaging cartoon of the Prophet Moses (on whom be peace). Nor did Mr Whewell bother to look for the numerous examples of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim cartoons in the Israeli press. Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian followed this declaring, with an air of authority, "Of course, it looks a bit rich".

The first point that seems to have eluded these journalists, and also happens to be very convenient for a certain interest group, is that Muslims still love and respect their Prophet, genuine love that is, as usual, hard to express in words.

Indeed, it is difficult to find comparisons in today's Britain to convey the intensity of this sentiment to a Western audience. Perhaps the public emotion for Princes Diana upon her death and the respect for the Queen mother can help to elaborate the point. These were people who had relatively little impact on the daily lives of those who adored them and yet I doubt that there would be any newspaper in Britain today that would publish a derogatory cartoon of either of these women. To grasp a glimpse of the attachment Muslims have to their Prophet, one would need to combine the feelings of respect and love for these two women in the British consciousness and multiply it a hundred times over. The Prophet's words and deeds impact the lives of Muslims around the world every day in countless ways, from the way they greet each other in the morning to the last words they pray at night. He is for them the perfect example of guidance and compassion, and is dearer to a Muslim than his own family.

The second point that appears to evade journalists is that these cartoons, whilst undoubtedly very effective tools for creating tension between Palestinians and Europeans in Palestine, and between Muslims and Christians worldwide, were produced with the full knowledge of the impact they would have on the Muslim heart. When someone takes a conscious decision to offend 1.5 billion people across the world, "good journalism" requires a search to discover the underlying motives. What we were offered in Mr Whewell's report, however, was superficial gloss and inaccurate comparisons.

We need to ask the real question: if Muslims are forced to leave Europe, the Arab world stops trading with the West and the Palestinians sever links with European aid institutions, all because they are unable to accept the disparaging portrayal of their beloved Prophet, which country in the world will that benefit most?

The time has come for the editors of programmes such as Newsnight to stop furthering the agenda of others by scaring people into believing that they are about to be imprisoned by a Muslim army. Instead, they should start asking intelligent questions. Shouldn't "free speech" also provide the freedom to ask why there are so many pro-Israel journalists campaigning to promote Anthony Browe's "Triumph of the East" and Giselle Littman's "Eurabia" theories of scaremongering (http://www.occri.org.uk/articles/TriumphoftheEast.htm)?

To Muslims I say in expressing your feelings on this matter, please do not play into the hands of those who have orchestrated this campaign. We need to bear in mind that their objective is not simply to denigrate the Prophet (S.W.S) but to create fitna (strife in our world) between Muslims and the rest of the World. They study our history; they know that this technique has been employed successfully in the past. In Muslim Spain, there was a coordinated campaign of sending people to stand outside Mosques after Juma to curse the Prophet. The aim was to provoke excessive reaction and create friction with the non-Muslims, and sadly it worked. This campaign was the beginning of a long process that eventually culminated in the forced removal of Muslims from Spain altogether.

Difficult as it may be to control the eruption of feelings and anger in the face of such provocation, it is absolutely imperative that we maintain focus on the real source of this problem and not get entangled in the traps they have set for us.

Remember the story of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph (R.A.) who was sitting with the Prophet Muhammad (S.W.S) while someone cursed him repeatedly from across the road. Eventually Abu Bakr's patience was spent and he responded to the curses. The Prophet thereupon got up and walked away. When Abu Bakr asked "O Prophet of God, why did you walk away when I replied to his curses?" the Prophet said: "As he began cursing , God appointed an Angel to respond, but as soon as you responded to him the angel went away".

Our responses must be both measured and wise so that our impulsive reactions do not become a source of celebration for our antagonists. Our love for the Prophet (S.W.S) should manifest itself in our words and our actions. Our claim to love Him will appear hollow if our actions violate the standard of conduct he has set for us.

Of course, we must let people know how we feel and the injustice done by this act of spiteful mockery, but for those of us who may feel that they must respond with equally spiteful generalisations and calls for extreme actions, in contravention of the teachings of the very Prophet that we are supposed to be defending, they must realise that they would be doing exactly what was expected of them by those who have instigated this problem in the first place.

Say (O Muhammad): "If ye do love God, follow me and God will love you and forgive you your sins: For God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Al-Quran 3:31)

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