A defence for the caricatures depicting the Prophet is a defence for Islamophobia

The caricature controversy keeps rearing its ugly head, this time after the murder of a French teacher for showing degrading caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.

Every time a Muslim reacts with violence in response to these despicable caricatures, a wave of support for the caricatures spreads across the world in defence of freedom of speech. This is very unfortunate.

Why is the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ caricatured?

What makes the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ significant today is that there are about 2 billion people around the world who love him and have him as their supreme role model. Caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would be of little interest if Muslims did not follow him. Every time he is caricatured, it is not the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who is in focus – instead, the focus is on all the Muslims in the world who follow him. The cartoons are not only depicting him as a historical person, but are meant to represent Muslims as a whole.

The “bomb in the turban”

The drawing by the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, where the Prophet ﷺ is depicted with a bomb in his turban with the Islamic creed (shahāda) inscribed on it, makes one question why he is portrayed in this way. There were no bombs at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, so how can this be a criticism of him? What is the context behind this image? Evidently, there is no visible context whatsoever. The message one is left with is that Islam, bombs, and terrorism are all one and the same, and that Muslims are dangerous.

Where does this caricature come from? Some Muslims are seen committing terrorist attacks, but instead of blaming only these terrorists individually, one wishes to blame all Muslims. To substantiate that all Muslims support terrorism, the Prophet ﷺ is caricatured with a bomb in his turban as a symbol of the inner faith of Muslims.

The obvious message is that all Muslims – at least if they are “good Muslims” – either openly or secretly (through “taqiyyah”) support terrorism.

Therefore, the drawing is Islamophobic

The drawing is a clear Islamophobic racist cartoon, and the reason behind this is that it conveys an extremely negative stereotype that Muslims are terrorists. This is supported by the following arguments:

  1. When the average viewer sees the drawing, the natural impression he is left with is that Muslims are terrorists or support terrorism. This is precisely why this drawing has become so popular in Islamophobic circles, and just as hated in Muslim circles.
  2. The Muslim creed – which defines all Muslims – is written on the bomb. Therefore, the drawing conveys that all Muslims are terrorists or support terrorism, not just a specific person or organisation. If, for example, the terms Al-Qaeda or ISIS were written on the turban, it would have conveyed a completely different message.
  3. The drawing is a caricature of the Prophet of all Muslims, not of, for example, Osama bin Laden. Had it been a caricature of the latter, one could argue that it would not have been Islamophobic. But precisely because it is attributed to the Prophet ﷺ, it is a picture that portrays all of his followers, i.e. all Muslims, as terrorists or supporters of terrorism.
  4. More or less all Muslims, about 2 billion people, experience the drawing as Islamophobic and a violation of their human dignity.

Can the message be explained away?

It is also necessary to emphasise that Westergaard tried to explain away the cartoon as a symbol of terrorists taking the Prophet ﷺ and the religion as a hostage. But, since the drawing from the beginning has been conveyed as a caricature of the Prophet ﷺ, and not one of a terrorist, this is not a credible explanation. Therefore, the drawing remains Islamophobic.

To further exemplify it: If a Nazi makes an anti-Semitic drawing that shows that Jews exaggerated the Holocaust, and the cartoonist says that the drawing is really only meant to criticise some Jews who make too much fuss about the Holocaust, this will be rejected. Why? Because the drawing must be able to convey a meaningful message by itself, without it having to be explained away. If the drawing itself promotes a racist, anti-Semitic, or Islamophobic message, then that is exactly how it should be understood, regardless of how the cartoonist later explains away his intentions.

What about other caricatures of the Prophet ﷺ?

Similarly, when the Prophet ﷺ is caricatured as, for example, a misogynist, the indirect message is that everyone who follows the Prophet ﷺ – namely, all Muslims – abuse and discriminate against women, at least if they are “good Muslims.”

Any caricature of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ that promotes a negative stereotype of Muslims will be Islamophobic because the Prophet ﷺ represents all Muslims.

Aren’t the caricatures a critique of religion?

Some may say that the caricatures are meant to be a criticism of the Prophet ﷺ. To portray the Prophet of the Muslims in Islamophobic stereotypes is quite different from non-Muslims criticising certain actions that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ did in his historical context. According to the secular world view Muslims must tolerate criticism of their religion, but they do not have to tolerate Islamophobia. That’s why the distinction between criticism of religion and Islamophobia is crucial. One moves from criticism of Islam to Islamophobia when one either:

  1. Stigmatises Muslims as a group by attributing negative opinions, characteristics, or intentions to them; or
  2. Mentions historical events related to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in a stigmatising way without showing the context of the event one wishes to criticise, which leads to stigmatisation of Muslims.

The caricatures of the Prophet ﷺ do exactly this because they portray the symbol of the ideal Muslim as a terrorist and misogynist, without showing any real historical context. The context is crucial for distinguishing between criticism of religion and Islamophobia.

Therefore, the caricatures are Islamophobic, in line with claims such as Muslims inwardly support terrorism, good Muslims oppress women, or that Muslims secretly want to conquer Europe, etc. This is the same rhetoric found in right-wing extremist circles and organisations that promote the idea that to be a good Muslim, one must support terrorism, murder, and the oppression of women.

Should the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ be defended as freedom of speech?

The distinction between criticism of religion and Islamophobia is crucial in this debate. Precisely because this distinction has not been clear enough, we see that many defend Islamophobic caricatures in the name of freedom of expression.

Islamophobia is still a new concept for many, so it is important to point out that Islamophobia is a branch of racism. When we see these caricatures in the context of Islamophobia, it is easier to see the moral reprehensibility of saying that Muslims must tolerate being portrayed in this way. For instance, we would not say that Jews must tolerate caricatures of Moses being portrayed as a greedy man with a big nose (a typical anti-Semitic stereotype). It is morally reprehensible to make such anti-Semitic portrayals of Moses a symbolic struggle for freedom of speech.

But it has taken the world many years and many lost lives to really understand the dangers of anti-Semitic propaganda. We must learn from the mistakes of history. Now, in 2020, we understand the phenomenon of Islamophobia much more than society did in 2005 when the caricature controversy first started.

It is now time to put these caricatures in their right context. Defending the drawing, printing, or publication of Islamophobic caricatures is not a defence of freedom of speech – it is a defence of Islamophobia.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Cartoons and films portraying Ambiya (Alayhimus Salaam) and Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum)

Q: What is the Islamic ruling regarding cartoons or films portraying stories of the Ambiyaa (Alaihimus Salaam) or the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum)? In today’s times, these types of films are available in the market and are widespread on the internet.

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A: Before addressing the issue in question, it is vital that we understand a few preliminary aspects in order for the issue to be understood in the correct perspective.

The purpose for acquiring Islamic knowledge is for one to find the correct direction in reaching Allah Ta’ala. Knowledge in itself is not the goal; rather it is a medium that leads one to the goal. The goal is practising on the laws of Shari’ah in accordance to the manner prescribed by Allah and His Rasul (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). If the knowledge one acquires does not lead one to the goal, then it is not worthy of being called Islamic knowledge. Perhaps it could be called information. Hence, the pertinent question that one needs to pose is, “What is Islamic knowledge and how should one go about acquiring this knowledge?”

In order for the knowledge which one acquires to be acceptable in the sight of Allah Ta’ala and sanctioned by Shari’ah, it is necessary that certain aspects be adhered to:

The first aspect is the aspect of authenticity and reliability. Extreme caution should be exercised in sourcing Deeni knowledge. One should ensure that he refers to reliable, qualified Ulama in the pursuit of seeking Islamic knowledge. Similarly, the material one exposes himself to in the course of seeking education should be acquired from authentic and reliable sources. If one acquires his knowledge from unauthentic sources or unreliable personalities, then obviously the overall impression of Deen which one will obtain will certainly not conform to the pure and pristine brand of Islam. Concoctions, adulterations and distortions will be noticed in various aspects of his Deen. This will be primarily due to the fact that he has not sourced his knowledge from the authentic, reliable sources which have been approved by Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). The disastrous outcome of acquiring knowledge through these channels is that Islam will be reduced to customs and rituals which will change with the fashions and the norms of the time. The great Taabi’ee, Muhammed bin Seereen (Rahmatullahi Alaihi), has said:

إنَّ هَذَا الْعِلمَ دِينٌ ، فَانْظُرُوا عَمَّنْ تَأَخُذُونَ دِينَكُمْ (الشمائل للترمذي رقم 415)

Certainly this knowledge that you are acquiring is your Deen, hence you should ensure that you acquire your Deen from authentic and reliable people.

The second aspect is the means through which the knowledge is acquired. It is incumbent that permissible means be adopted in acquiring Islamic knowledge. The method one adopts should conform to the method adopted during the Mubaarak era of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) and the Khairul Quroon (era of the Taabi’een and Tabe-Taabi’een (Rahimahumullah)). If one adopts a haraam means to acquire Islamic knowledge, this will be unacceptable in the sight of Allah Ta’ala and such information will be bereft of the true noor of Deen. Thus, such knowledge will not lead one to the pleasure of Allah Ta’ala and enable one to uphold the pillars of Islam.

The third aspect is adopting the Sunnah approach when acquiring the knowledge of Deen. The Sunnah approach is to show the highest level of respect and honour to everything related to Deen (viz. The Quraan, the Ahaadith, the Ambiyaa (Alayhimus Salaam), the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum), the Ulama, the symbols of Islam, etc.) as well as conforming to all the aadaab (etiquettes) of Deen. When Islamic knowledge is acquired in this manner, adhering to the way shown to us by Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and adopting the etiquettes of Islam, one will witness the true spirit of Deen being revived in the lives of the believers. The books of Hadith are replete with many glaring examples which illustrate the Sunnah method adopted by the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) and the Taabi’een (Rahimahumullah) in the pursuit of acquiring the knowledge of Deen. When the knowledge of Deen is in reality the knowledge of Nubuwwat, and those who tread on the path of acquiring it are honoured with the title “The heirs of the Ambiyaa”, one could well imagine the great need for one to adopt the outer as well as inner qualities of the Ambiyaa (Alayhimus Salaam). In other words, one should not confine knowledge to words or actions; instead one should endeavour to cultivate the very spirit and noor of the knowledge in all respects. Acquiring such knowledge under the guidance of the true men of Allah Ta’ala who acquired this knowledge from their seniors and so forth and so on, with an unbroken chain linking up to Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam), produces an indelible impression on the hearts of people, thereby sparking the true love within people to emulate the Mubaarak Sunnah of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) in all facets of life.

 

How did the people of the past acquire Deeni Knowledge?

Hereunder are two examples which will illustrate and shed some light on the method of how the people of the past acquired Islamic knowledge.

1. Hazrat Abdullaah bin Abbaas (Radhiyallaho Anhu) says:

After the passing away of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), I said to an Ansaari friend of mine, “Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) is no longer with us, but a large number of the Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) are still present among us. Hence, let us go to them in the pursuit of Islamic knowledge.” He said, “What is the need to acquire `ilm whereas these eminent Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) are present? Who will approach you to enquire regarding any deeni mas’alah whilst these great men are amongst us?” Despite my friends words, I was not in any way discouraged. Rather, I continued my quest for knowledge and began approaching every Sahaabi who had heard something from Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). In this way, I managed to gather a substantial amount of `ilm from the Ansaar (Radiyallahu Anhum). If on my visit to any Sahaabi (Radiyallahu Anhu), I found him resting, I spread my shawl at the entrance of his home and remained seated, awaiting his emergence. At times, my face and entire body would get covered with dust. However, this did not dissuade  me from my endeavour and I continued to remain seated there, anxiously awaiting their emergence. I thus continued my pursuits until there came a time when people began to flock to me for learning the knowledge of deen.’ My Ansaari friend (Radiyallahu Anhu) realised (and saw the fruit of my efforts) and remarked, “This person has surely proved himself to be more intelligent than all of us.”

2. A student of Hadith  once came as a guest to Imaam Ahmad bin Hambal (rahmatullahi alaih). It was the sublime conduct of the Imaam that he presented water to the student when going to bed. He placed it close to the student so that he may use it for wudhu at the time of Tahajjud. The following morning, the Imaam noticed the water untouched. Hence, he exclaimed, “Subhaanallah! A student of knowledge, yet he does not perform tahajjud during the night!” Imaam Ahmad (rahmatullahi alaih) indicated to this fact that the knowledge one acquires should motivate him towards upholding the mubaarak Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) in his life.

 

Why is it impermissible to acquire Deeni knowledge through viewing cartoons and films?

After closely examining the issue of acquiring knowledge through viewing cartoons and films which outwardly portray Islamic information, one will realise that this means of acquiring knowledge does not conform to the above mentioned Islamic method of acquiring Islamic knowledge. Furthermore, acquiring Islamic knowledge through this means is impermissible due to the following reasons:

  1. This means of acquiring ‘ilm is impermissible in Shariah as it directly opposes the command of Allah Ta’ala and His Rasul (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). Nabi (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) had sounded severe warnings in his mubaarak Ahaadith for those who have any involvement in picture making. Hence, propagating Islam via this means is impermissible.

إن أشد الناس عذابا عند الله يوم القيامة المصورون (صحيح البخاري 2/880 ، صحيح لمسلم 2/201)

Those involved in picture-making will be subjected to the worst forms of punishment on the day of Qiyaamat. (Bukhari 2/880, Muslim 2/201)

  1. In many of these films, men and women are seen together. This opposes the law of Shariah in regard to segregation between non mahram males and females. Hence, this type of enactment, instead of creating an Islamic effect, only destroys the fabric of Deen through inciting one towards sin.
  2. The actors in these films are portraying illustrious personalities such as the Ambiyaa (Alayhimus Salaam) or Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum), etc. This enactment is in itself deception, as the onlookers will begin to form their opinions of Ambiyaa (Alayhimus Salaam) or Sahaabah (Radiyallahu Anhum) based on the actions of these sinful people. To add insult to injury, the film being videoed is impermissible in Islam. Hence, they are trying to propagate Deen through resorting to haraam in portraying the lives of these illustrious personalities.
  3. Propagating Islam through this medium degrades the position of these illustrious personalities and reduces Deen to a thing of entertainment. Furthermore, this will lead to the masses beginning to regard these so called “Islamic movies” as a substitute to Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
  4. Presently, the kuffaar are using this as a means to distort and adulterate the Deen of Islam. Muslims should not be so gullible as to fall into the traps and the nets of the kuffaar. It has been proven that many of these films shattered the Imaan and beliefs of many Muslims and created suspicions and doubts in their Deen.
  5. Portraying these great personalities via cartoon characters causes great disrespect to these saintly personalities. How can Deen come alive in the Ummah when gross disrespect is shown to those who were responsible for bringing Deen alive in the world?
  6. In reality, the outcome of such plays, films, cartoons etc. is making a mockery of the pure and exalted Deen of Allah Ta’ala and the illustrious men of Islam. Similarly, those who view these types of films will be viewed as supporters and promoters of this sin in the sight of Allah Ta’ala.
  7. Lastly, the kitaabs of Aqaaid have recorded that if people enact a play for entertainment purposes where one person assumes the position of a great Aalim or Mufti, and people refer Deeni issues to him, and laugh at him and make a mockery of him, then on account of showing disrespect to Deen, all present will come out of the fold of Islam. Hence, the outcome of viewing these cartoons, films, etc. is extremely destructive and detrimental to one’s Imaan.

We make Duaa to Allah Ta’ala to bless the Ummah at large with the true love and respect for Deen and the symbols of Deen, and enable us to emulate the Mubaarak Sunnah of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) in our lives.

وَمَن يُعَظِّم شَعـئِرَ اللَّـهِ فَإِنَّها مِن تَقوَى القُلوبِ ﴿الحج: ٣٢﴾

وكذا لو جلس على مكان مرتفع وحوله جماعة يسألونه مسائل ويضحكونه ويضربونه بالوسائد يكفرون جميعا (شرح العقائد صـ117)

عن أبي أمامة قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم إن الله بعثني رحمة للعالمين وهدى للعالمين وأمرني ربي عز وجل بمحق المعازف والمزامير والأوثان والصلب وأمر الجاهلية وحلف ربي عز وجل بعزته لا يشرب عبد من عبيدي جرعة من خمر إلا سقيته من الصديد مثلها يوم القيامة مغفورا له أو معذبا ولا يسقيها صبيا صغيرا ضعيفا مسلما إلا سقيته من الصديد مثلها يوم القيامة مغفورا له أو معذبا ولا يتركها من مخافتي إلا سقيته من حياض القدس يوم القيامة ولا يحل بيعهن ولا شراؤهن ولا تعليمهن ولا تجارة فيهن وثمنهن حرام يعني الضاربات (مسند أحمد، الرقم: 22307)

عن علي قال قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: بعثت بكسر المزامير، وأقسم ربي عز وجل لا يشرب عبد في الدنيا خمرا إلا سقاه الله يوم القيامة حميما معذبا هو أو مغفورا . ثم قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: كسب المغني والمغنية حرام، وكسب الزانية سحت، وحق (كنز العمال، الرقم: 40689)

عبد الرحمن بن غنم الأشعري قال حدثني أبو عامر أو أبو مالك الأشعري والله ما كذبني سمع النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول ليكونن من أمتي أقوام يستحلون الحر والحرير والخمر والمعازف ولينزلن أقوام إلى جنب علم يروح عليهم بسارحة لهم يأتيهم يعني الفقير لحاجة فيقولون ارجع إلينا غدا فيبيتهم الله ويضع العلم ويمسخ آخرين قردة وخنازير إلى يوم القيامة (صحيح البخاري، الرقم: 5590)

إن أشد الناس عذابا عند الله يوم القيامة المصورون (صحيح البخاري، الرقم: 5950)

Answered by:

Mufti Zakaria Makada

Checked & Approved:

Mufti Ebrahim Salejee (Isipingo Beach)