Sept. 11 again became a day of sorrow for Americans in 2012. And like that fateful day 11 years ago, hatred took the lives of the innocent. Ten Libyans along with four American diplomats, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, a tireless champion of the Libyan people’s struggle against tyranny, paid the ultimate price when a vitriolic infantile concoction disparaging the Prophet Muhammad surfaced on the Internet. Incensed protesters, asserting that the film blasphemes Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, violently attacked U.S. diplomatic outposts from Benghazi to San’a and have now spread throughout the Islamic world.
As a Muslim, I too could hardly contain my outrage last week at the blasphemy being committed in the name of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. My anger was prompted, however, not by the film or news of its production, but rather by the protesters themselves. Why? Because to disparage a religious group like this film does is not new. From the earliest days of the Prophet’s ministry 14 centuries ago, philosophers, poets, popes and even his contemporaries ridiculed and derided him. Despite that history, more than one and a half billion people revere Muhammad today.
Rather, my anger was prompted by this latest round of senseless and unconscionable violence in the name of “defending” the Prophet, a tactic that has emerged since the publication of “The Satanic Verses” in 1988. Even after a generation, when an event like this occurs, some Muslims reflexively leap to the streets committing violence and often taking lives in the process, suggesting to the world, and proving to the delight of Islam’s detractors, this is the only appropriate reaction for a self-proclaimed religion of peace.
As a part-time professor of Islamic Law and whose job it is to promote Islam’s virtues in places like Afghanistan and Yemen, I am once again taken aback by how quickly my fellow Muslims forget their faith while claiming to defend it. Like all decent-minded people, I am sickened by attacks upon my faith and against a man I personally revere. However, it is in remembering how the Prophet lived his life that I take solace and I realize that these protests allegedly in the Prophet’s name are not what he would have done.
Instead, for instance, consider how the Prophet ignored a man who tried to provoke him to anger by openly urinating in his mosque in Medina. Yet another tale tells of the Prophet being repeatedly harassed by a woman who constantly threw trash on him — including a lamb’s uterus — as he walked by. When the harassment suddenly stopped, he inquired about her only to discover she had become ill and even visited her on her sickbed. Or after more than a decade of unrelenting persecution and plots to murder him, the Prophet returned to the city of his birth, Mecca, backed by army of 10,000 only to forgive all of the inhabitants for their offenses.
If the Prophet’s own example were not enough, how can self-proclaimed believers resort to violence when their faith incessantly reminds them to demonstrate mercy and compassion? What should protestors make of commandments that judgment belongs to God alone? Do they forget how their faith commands them to preserve and protect God’s most precious gift, that of life? Is violence against the innocent consistent with a faith that demands feeding of the poor and sheltering an orphan? Muslims need to be reminded that the best “defense” against the calumny of others is explained by the Quran itself: combat evil with good and compete with one another in doing good works.
Peace is both a journey and an ideal. However, Muslims rightfully angered by offenses leveled against something so near and dear to their hearts also need to take heart that this faith which has stood for centuries was not sustained by a need to defend, but by steadfastness, mercy and love. And it should be remembered, no matter what, evil cloaked in faith is never acceptable, especially to God.
Hamid M. Khan is a Senior Program Officer of the Rule of Law Center with the United States Institute of Peace where he works on rule of law issues regarding Afghanistan and teaches a training course on Islamic Law within the Institute. Khan is also a Professorial Lecturer of Islamic Law at the George Washington University Law School. He has lectured on Islamic legal matters around the world including at the NATO School, the U.N. Department of Peace Keeping Operations (DPKO), Stanford Law School, Northwestern Law School, American University College of Law, Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver, and in various interagency capacities with the U.S. government including the U.S. Navy’s Postgraduate School, the National Defense University, the Marine Corps University, USAID, and the State Department, and he served as an adviser to NATO/ISAF on issues of Islamic law, counterinsurgency, and empowering women under Islamic law and theology.