On Sunday, May 3rd two gunmen were shot dead as they opened fire at the security guard, outside the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland Texas where, “Draw Muhammad” art contest was in progress. The gunmen planned to commit a heinous act of terrorism and in its pursuit shot the security guard on duty. The intended act of terrorism is as despicable as it can be so is the caricature drawing contest organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Though Pamela Geller, the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, exercised her legal right of freedom of expression yet her expression was not free from malice and spite towards Muslims.Of course, no one can stop anyone from practicing the First Amendment and the right to free speech. We Americans cherish the freedom to say what’s on our mind. However, freedom of expression becomes questionable when it focuses on maligning the faith or religious beliefs of any one, and in this case, 1.6 billion Muslims around the world.

Many argue that the cartoon contest was an innocent art event, with a glitzy prize of $10,000, where artists from around the nation gathered to exhibit their artistic talents. Some state that mere caricatures of the Prophet of Islam should not offend anyone since it’s just ink on the paper. Yet many fail to understand why the cartoon depiction of Prophet Muhammad is so upsetting to the practicing Muslims. Therefore it is essential to understand the logic that fosters the high standard of devotion and loyalty.

In a Muslim household, as soon as a child is born the very first human name it hears is “Muhammad”. It is a tradition to recite the Adhan (call to Prayer), which declares Muhammad as the messenger of God, into the newborn’s ear. As the child learns to speak short sentences, parents teach the declaration of faith which states that “There is no god but God and Muhammad is His messenger”. As the child grows he learns that the Prophet Muhammad has the highest rank of all human beings in the world and thus he grows up to love and revere the Prophet more than anyone else. As an adult he considers the Prophet’s honor and love dearer than anything else. Muslims are even taught that when they utter the Prophet Muhammad’s name that it is followed by the salutation, “Peace and blessings be upon him.” This is how Muslims share these sentiments of love and utmost devotion towards their beloved Prophet.

Prophet Muhammad is not considered a deity yet his reverence is never compromised. A Muslim may tolerate insults towards his loved ones but is deeply wounded when the Prophet is insulted. Muslims consider portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad to be disrespectful because it renders the artist’s own depiction of the Prophet. Since there is no account of Prophet Muhammad’s visual illustration, an artist’s depiction will be deemed inaccurate. Moreover, Islamic cultures associate caricature with ridicule and insult. Hence, Muslims find cartoons of their beloved Prophet immensely offensive.

Although many Muslims follow the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings of tolerance and forgiveness, there are some who choose to act exactly opposite to what he taught and consequently, resort to violence. Contrary to the expectation of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, Muslim leaders have since condemned any use of violence and supported the right to free speech. Most openly exhibit tolerance and follow the teaching of the Qur’an when it states “And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’” (25:64). The event organizers have vowed to hold more cartoon contests but I’m sure Muslims who follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an will, once again, take the higher ground and respond with ‘Peace’. At the same time, however, I do believe Muslims or any reasonable human beings have the right to question whether events that seek to offend religious ideology are necessary. I invite Muslims and other faiths to challenge the arguments of American Freedom Defense Initiative through interfaith dialogue and respond back through intelligent discourse.

Lubna Qureshi is a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and a freelance writer for the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA. She is a Registered Dietitian and an Air Force wife of 22 years.


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