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Violent protests are the true insult to Islam

The real challenge facing the Muslim world today is how to stop violent protesters from becoming the face of the religion. In order to do that, we need more Muslims to get rid of their indifference and speak against the misrepresentation of Islam. 

Research shows that the people behind “Innocence of Muslims,” the film which disrespects Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and set off riots across the Middle East after it was uploaded to YouTube, are nothing more than a few Islalmophobic individuals. They produced a very a low cost, low quality film which aims to mock the Prophet Muhammad, and present Islam as a violent and irrational religion.

The producers of the film were able to achieve more than what they desired or expected. It was not the film itself that had an impact on those watching, but rather the violent response of Muslims protesting the film in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and other countries. These violent protests gave power to the producers. Without them, it is probably fair to guess that the film would not have gotten any attention or almost any views.

However, by now thousands of people watched the trailer due to the protestors. Since one of the goals of the film is to show Muslims as violent irrational people, the violent protestors confirmed the negative image of Muslims. Those who do not know much about Islam or Muslims are watching the protests on television; they see Muslims attacking embassies, and appearing angry and untrustworthy.

If we take a deeper look, I am convinced that the self-proclaimed Muslims attacking embassies and foreigners are the true enemies of Islam. It is they who are insulting the Prophet legacy more than any film or production. The real challenge facing Muslims today is how stop such people from becoming the face of Islam.

The film is disgusting and disrespectful, but should these protestors punish diplomats from foreign countries? Aren’t these diplomats guests that should be respected? One cannot fix a wrong with another wrong, and attacking Americans or foreigners to punish few individuals behind the film is a criminal act. Instead, a good Muslim would follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet used to tell his followers not to respond to insults with insults, but rather to do good to those who insult. He said, “I have family that I do good to them, but they insult me, and I visit them and they don’t reciprocate. Therefore choose the better path. A person you have enmity with, be to him like a dear friend.” Perhaps self righteous Muslims who are violently protesting should take more time to learn about Islam, rather than use it in a disgraceful way.

According to the Hadith (saying of the Prophet), the Prophet said, “he who believes in God and the Last Day must honor his guest” (Sahih Bukhari). When the prophet was asked by other Muslims to pray against their unbeliever enemies, he responded. “I was not sent to curse but to be merciful” (Sahih Muslim).

One of the stories I grew up hearing in my Islamic school is about the Prophet’s Islamophobic neighbor. This person would leave his garbage outside the Prophet’s house every day without fail. One day, the neighbor was to sick to leave his garbage. The Prophet was so concerned for his neighbor that he went to visit him at his home in order to offer his assistance.

Now, as I watch the television stations and read the calling of some self-declared Imams to protest – to attack and kill – I ask myself why. Where did these people get their knowledge from? These self-righteous preachers and protestors are the ones insulting the Prophet and his legacy. While thousands of people are dying on a daily basis in Syria, these protestors seem more concerned with a crappy film than with innocent lives. Why aren’t they in streets protesting the massacres in Syria?

Muslims today face a challenge to protect Islam from radicals and ignorance. Preachers, leaders and Muslim communities must speak louder and louder against such violence. However, the ignorance is a result of an education failure. These protestors did not learn the Islam that teaches peace and love, but rather have gotten a corrupted version which calls for violence.

Yet in the midst of this depressing week, I found some inspiration. My encouragement came from Libya, the place where U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed last week. People came out and spoke up against the thugs and killers in the name of Islam. Some Muslims decided to stand up to those trying to brand Islam as a violent, intolerant religion. Most importantly, they were willing to take responsibility. During the protest, people held signs denouncing the murder of the American ambassador. Other signs disowned the killers and apologized to the American people.

I found that the photo below generated much discussion on Facebook. Some took the negative route, comparing Muhammad to Jesus as if they were sworn enemies, while others claimed that this was a minority of Muslims who believe in peace and respect. What was most important for me is that people were inspired by this photo. Thousands of people liked and shared this photo because it strengthened hope in a future without religious enmity.

Muslims protesting the killing of the American Ambassador in Libya (facebook)

I believe the people in the photo represent the silent majority among Muslims. They represent a majority that needs to follow in the footsteps of the courageous ones who speak up and defend their faith. This is the kind of protest that honors Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Now, we need more Muslims to toughen up, get rid of their indifference, get out and speak up for peace and against the misrepresentation of Islam.

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    1. Myron Joshua

      Are the protestors the problem or only the very visible tip of the iceberg. Is there something more prevelant (in the classrooms, in the mosques, in the media) that has created this phenomenon?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Andrew

      Thank you Aziz…

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    3. Thanks for your truthtelling, Aziz. Yes, it seems like the extremists empower the extremists. It is truly good work to defend a religion with quotes from that religion’s wisdom. Everyone’s thirsting for power and meaning – how can people who are extremists (there are just as many in Israel as anywhere else these day) find meaning and personal power without hurting others?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about religion. It’s pretty pointless to keep telling people that the bad guys are do not represent the ‘real islam’, the ‘real christian thought’, the ‘real values of the Torah’. What all these people have in common is that they are human beings, they should be judged as such, and only as such. They are not qualitatively different from football hooligans, only in scale.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ira Weiss

      Thank you Aziz. I have been following your columns on and off for some time and often thought they were excellent. But I never felt the urge to thank you for them until now. By this time I must have read 30 opinion pieces about the video and the uproar it provoked. Yours was the most astute by far. So thank you very much for this column, and belated thank yous for all the others that I found so valuable. شكرا جزيلا

      Reply to Comment
    6. “Vie among yourselves in good works, and leave your differences to me.” This in the Qur’an in two places, in slightly different wording, in the 2nd and 5th Suras; the context is how Jews, Christians, and Muslims should deal with their differences. I have yet to see this quoted in discussion of interfaith interaction. Muslims are under utilizing the potential of the Qur’an.

      There are many unpleasant Hadith, as well as good ones. There are unpleasant passages in the Qur’an, as well as good ones. So too in the Old and New Testaments. The last two chapters of Revelations have the Prince of Peace with a bloodied apron. Violence will always erupt from these texts, overt or otherwise, because of the contradictions within them. Which means faiths must confront themselves. Living some of the texts, you must discard others. This unbeliever thinks the Qur’an has a way out, but Islam must confront itself.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Right on, Aziz.

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    8. Piotr Berman

      I am not sure if the women in the photo represent “silent majority”. According to Al Ahram, top religious figures in Egypts declared violence and vandalism in demonstrations to be a “crime against Islam”.

      More dignified protests against blasphemy happen in various countries. A bit more than a year ago Australia designer and model showed a line of swim suits with likeness of Lady Lakshmi during Australia Fashion Week. Many Hindus were not amused at all and there were protests in a number of cities, and some Australian flags were burned. Mortified designer profusely apologized and canceled the line.

      Some photos from the demos were rather amusing, grim men carrying placards with the offending pictures, namely backsides of a shapely model.

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    9. Richard Witty

      The film clip that I saw of the video was incoherent.

      I don’t see how anyone could have been expected to have been influenced by it.

      I and many others are profoundly influenced by the sight of demonstrators professing to speak for Islam, and conveying a far far less basis of respect for Islam and Muslims.

      The presumption of “find out first, judge only with complete information if at all, and act aggressively only when demonstrably necessary” is NOT evident in the conduct of the demonstrators.

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    10. Piotr Berman

      A clarification: I meant Mahalakshmi, consort of Lord Vishnu, goddess of luck, prosperity, fertility etc. and not any of the ladies with first name Lakshmi like “Lakshmi Manchu, Indian Lady Gaga”.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Richard Witty

      I hope your voice is heard, Aziz, for all of our sake.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Mesho

      Aziz…you do understand that being one of 2 Arabs who contribute to this site,you are being used to “rein in” and “pacify” genuine concerns Muslims/ brown people have with US/Israeli imperial policies.

      We all know that Muslims as a whole don’t condone these attacks, but the fact that you spent a whole article appealing to “moderate” Muslims to speak out against violence is infuriating. In doing so, you display moral cowardice as you refuse to speak out against the systematic patterns of occupation, oppression, and humiliation that produce “violent” responses.

      There has been talk lately on the MSM that maybe the “Arab Spring” wasn’t worth it. Really? Are you going to demand that millions of Arabs and their supporters dial-back their cause for human freedom just because a couple of extremists attempt to throw them off course?

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      • Piotr Berman

        Mesho, did you check previous posts of Aziz? I do not think so.

        If Aziz wants to say something about meaningless violence, he does not need to hedge it with “context” etc. If he wants to write about other issues too (and he does) he does not need to mix them in one stew.

        I personally do not like when someone writes that sure, beating up Arabs in Jerusalem is against tenets of Judaism but we must remember how were were dimmis for 1300 years and psychological scars from that ordeal. Plus, they do not allow us to make passes at their girls. As I believe in the Golden rule, I support Aziz here, except that he could cite more other Muslim voices.

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      • Kolumn9

        You are right. He is a collaborator if he doesn’t blame all problems in the Muslim World on foreigners, aka the ‘context’ you are referring to.

        As for Arab Spring, apparently millions of Arabs and their supporters serve the cause of denying human freedom from their compatriots under the guise of an Islamist ideology. Unless a ‘couple’ of extremists are sufficient to elect Islamic fundamentalists to government in Egypt, no, it isn’t a ‘couple of extremists’ throwing human freedom off course. Under such conditions, it is entirely legitimate to ask whether the domination of a country by a fascist ideology or by a moderate dictator is preferable. In other words, perhaps many of the Arabs are just not ready to allow their countrymen to exercise their human freedoms.

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      • Mesho, in the first weeks of intervention, the US must have fired, minimally, 30-40 cruise missles into Libya. Each missle, I somewhat recall, costs about one million $US. Intervention was begun once Gaddafi said he would go “door to door” in Benghazi. The US has much too face, but not its stand, perhaps its last, in Libya.

        I say again, as Judaism must face itself, so must Islam. And only Muslims can do that. And I have no doubt many will. The Qur’an has many remarkable statements in it. That has to trump fear.

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    13. liberti

      Your apologia? Just words. I don’t believe them and am basically sick of the excuses. Nothing has changed since the 9/11 massacre in NYC. If there were no controls, this group of alleged religious people would do it again and again. The people of the Mideast are programmed to kill the infidels and Americans are the infidels. End of story. Also do not believe that the people depicted in the photo lifting that sign actually wrote those words themselves. The poster was probably given to them to carry perhaps with a few coins. The non-radical Muslims are not speaking out. They are not standing up. They are not confronting the barbarians and savages among them. And I don’t they ever will.

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      • SD

        Liberti, How many “people of the Mideast” who you say are “programmed to kill the infidels” have you met? Perhaps you have seen one too many bad movies? I was at the Damascus gate on Friday when a crowd of hundreds of Muslims emerged from the Old City after prayers. I was plainly visible as a rather cliche American, and not a single person so much as frowned at me. When the (very few) sign-wielding protesters emerged from the back of the crowd, the Jerusalem police force immediately “administered” shock grenades and tear gas to get them to turn around. Don’t believe what you read in the so-called news. Get out there yourself and experience a bit of life before making such ill-informed and simply ignorant assertions.

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    14. Kolumn9

      “One cannot fix a wrong with another wrong, and attacking Americans or foreigners to punish few individuals behind the film is a criminal act”

      The violence is just a symptom. The disease is the legitimacy and esteem granted to those individuals in Muslim society that are ‘defending’ against the misrepresentation of Islam. You just don’t agree on the tactics or what Islam represents, but don’t fundamentally differ in the same obsession that drives the crazies.

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    15. Mesho, you’re no different than the right-wing Jews who call Jews like me traitors when we slam Israel.

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    16. the other joe

      I’ve never really understood the logic of defending the honour of a deity (or his prophets). Surely if he is God, he will take is own revenge, if his prophet’s words are true, they remain true even if idiots defame them.

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    17. Greg

      Thanks for this, Aziz.

      Where others see religious conflict I’m afraid I only see a warped version of class conflict, with protests like these another way of distracting ordinary Muslims from their real tormentors – their political and economic exploiters.

      Everywhere you look people crave dignity. Their anger and sense of injustice can be channelled positively by leaderless mass-movements like the Arab Spring, but those movements are genuinely dangerous for those who have an interest in the status quo. Brewing false controversy over a stupid film keeps the rabble onside.

      And I get tired of people implying (or outright claiming) that Muslims are inherently more likely to become violent when their religion is percieved to be under threat, and that this is some kind of built-in problem with Islam.

      The built-in problem is that Islam is overwhelmingly the religion of the poor, and it manages to restore some of the dignity to the masses that material and political circumstances take away. Little wonder that it is so cherished as a way of life, and so quickly defended when percieved to be under attack.

      It’s poverty that is the problem, and religion an excuse not to take it seriously.

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      • This Greg thinks the other Greg somewhat right. But, having been embedded in the need for faith, I have seen that it is a social survival tool very many cannot, will not discard. There are several statements in the Qur’an which would allow a renewal. “To every people I have given a prophet, and nothing said here detracts from what they said,” in paraphrase, is one. The life raft stays with us; but its direction can be changed. Only by those who live it.

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    18. Niazbeen Shinwari

      Great Work Aziz..This Article is well written and I Fully Agree with you! =)

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    19. Handala

      The problem with Islam today is that it’s stuck in 8th century Arabia…it’s understanding is based on interpretations that are over 1200 years, which may have been progressive then but are certainly retrogressive today! A modern approach to decipher the Book (aka Qur’an) is necessary to make this truly beautiful religion applicable in today’s time and age. Muhammad Shahrour was able to do that, i recommend every person (Muslim or not) who is genuinely interested in knowing what Islam is all about to read his book “The Qur’an, Morality and Critical Reason” available on his website (for free) For Arabic readers, “El Kitab wal Qur’an” is a must!! Salam

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    20. Kabir Maulaya

      “ISLAM” the religion of piece. O you the people of this Ummah let join hands and save the words that our beloved Prophet Muhammad {S.A.W.} calls for it, =PIECE=. We are the muslims and we are the world.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Myrna

      Aziz Abu Sarah, you never cease to amaze me and this time as always touched the deepest part of my heart! Bravo to you for all the good and loving work you do in this world!

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    22. Piotr Berman

      Handala “The problem with Islam today is that it’s stuck in 8th century Arabia…”

      So we can compare Church of Scientology favorably to Islam. By the way of contrast, Babylonian Talmud is even older than Quran, and Upanishads are older still.

      One question that was raised is if a religion allows for sexual intercourse with “underage” girls. If I understand correctly, there is no concept of “underage” in Judaism. There is a provision in Talmud that after marrying a prepubescent girl the husband can have an intercourse with her on the 4th night after the wedding. So if she was 10 years old, she will be 10 years and 4 days old, much better.

      If you believe that God orders now the same morality as ever, there is no reason to reject something merely because it dates to the early Iron Age. Of course, you can argue that the sages made a wrong interpretation.

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    23. petra

      It really doesn’t matter what the muslims do.The western media will always pick the one violant person over the thousands of peacefull muslims and portray this as the muslim world.The media are playing a dirty game to make islam look bad.Maybe i would believe these stories too, if i didn’t have Islamic inlaws.I’m always very shocked by the amount of hate against muslims, it’s like the second world war when the germans did their best to make jews look like non-humans.(Hope you understand my attempt to write in English.)

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