Muslims ask the West to agree that mocking a religion is unacceptable

[Sabiha Khan is communications director for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Anaheim.]

For the past few weeks, Muslims from all over the world, from Morocco to Indonesia, have been protesting a series of cartoons that depict Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in a most insulting and disparaging manner.

While some protesters have resorted to violence, which Muslims wholly condemn, the majority of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims feel deeply hurt by these cartoons, and many have engaged in peaceful protests.

To characterize the maelstrom as a “pro- vs. anti-free speech” issue is to misunderstand it. Muslims believe in freedom of speech and Islam advocates it. Muslims also know that if freedom of speech or expression were ever curtailed, they, as a minority group, might be among the first to fall victim.

However, freedom of speech is not a pretext to incitement and hate. With freedom of speech comes great responsibility.

Many in the West, including Americans, are perplexed as to how cartoons could enrage so many Muslims. Basically, there are religious and political reasons for the reaction.

Religiously speaking, Muslims are taught to revere all the prophets, including Muhammad. After God, we are taught to love him and all the prophets even more than we love our own parents or children. We grow up learning about Muhammad’s life, his teachings and the message of peace he brought to the world.

Politically, quite a few Muslims around the world fear that these cartoons are a manifestation of the contempt they feel the West has for them. They point to the war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, desecration of the Quran, the later-retracted description by our president of the war on terror as a “crusade” and the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict, among other legitimate grievances.

Muslims strongly believe that this controversy is not an issue of free speech, but rather is about concerns over hate speech and incitement.


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