Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah; Photograph by Wael Hamzeh/European Pressphoto Agency

My friend Omid Safi has created a provocative blog entitled What Would Muhammad do? Today I would like to ratchet up the commentary game to an approach which may, at first glance, seem sacrilegious. Given that the Lebanese “Party of God” (Hezbollah) is now known to be sending its fighters to support the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad, it is time to ask “What Would Allah do?” As much as I admire the spiritual sentiment of the crucified mystic al-Hallaj, I am not advocating oneness with the Supreme Being. But if I were to try and imagine what Allah would say about the current trials besetting his umma, I think I might begin by insisting that those who spread messages of hate and turn jihad into an excuse for political gain stop using my name. The Shi’a at least had the common decency to call themselves shi’at Ali, rather than presume from the start that they exclusively spoke for me. If these partisans of the hundreds of sects that have evolved since the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran want to hear me, they should stop selecting isolated verses from my message for their own agendas. Submission to Allah is the message of Islam, not submission to any party claiming to be Allah’s party.

Muslims should remember the history not only of their faith, but also the religions founded by other of my prophets. Jews and Christians are not infidels; their lives are as precious to Allah as those of Muslims. Muhammad was sent as the “seal” of the prophets, not to brag that he was superior to my other prophets. Each prophet was sent for a specific purpose, to guide people at different times in history. Muhammad received the Quran not so everyone after that could stop time and live as though it was still 7th century Mecca and Medina. Look at his life and you will see that he was a mediator, who preached salam and knew full well that the greater jihad took place within the individual. Jews and Christians heard from their prophets that humans are not divine, not perfect, and easily seduced to go astray. But Moses gave commandments to run society, Jesus showed the power of love to conquer hatred and Muhammad was a living example of how to live, but not an icon to follow blindly because of the recorded faulty memories of his companions. (more…)

The most potent symbol of the history of the Middle East, indeed of much of human history, is the stuff of life itself: blood. In the sacred history of the three major monotheisms enough blood has been shed since their inception (by and against each one of them) to raise the sea level meters upon meters. Even in the Genesis origin story the first two natural births, Cain and Abel, became the first to introduce bloodshed as a norm. The God of Genesis got into the act, killing animals to make skins that would clothe the naked bodies he created of Adam and Eve and then preferring the animal sacrifice of Abel to the firstfruit figs raised by Cain. The same God went on to substitute a lamb for Abraham’s heir, although only when Abe’s knife was poised to slit his son’s throat, but then in Christian dogma the now-threefold deity shed a third of his essence on the cross. In that same dogma Jesus no longer needs that lost blood as he resurrected to make the trinity a divine threesome once more. But the bloodletting has never stopped.

By all accounts the prophet Muhammad was not fond of shedding blood. The forays and battles that took place while he and his followers were in exile in Medina are remarkable for how few deaths are said to have occurred. When he returned in triumph to Mecca it was not because of any great military victories, nor was their a bloodbath of the Meccans. At the start of Islam the Allah seen through the Quran is neither interested in literal blood sacrifices or a figurative eucharistic variety. Muslims purify themselves with water to make themselves ready for prayer. Calls for jihad have resonated throughout the Islamic era as countless thousands upon thousands have died for not being Muslim, being Muslim or being the wrong kind of Muslim: such is the political baggage common to most religions known to history and probably before recorded history. (more…)

by Will McCants, Foreign Policy, The Middle East Channel, October 12, 2012

Salafis, or Sunni puritans, have been much in the news since they sparked riots at U.S. embassies throughout the Arab world protesting film clips lampooning the Prophet Muhammad. A television personality on a Saudi Arabian-funded Salafi satellite channel in Egypt first fanned the flames, and Salafis ranging from the militant Mohamed al-Zawahiri (the brother of al Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri) to the mainstream Salafi political party al-Nour fueled the blaze when they blamed the U.S. government and called for protests against U.S. embassies. Salafis in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and elsewhere took up the torch, resulting in attacks on U.S. and other Western diplomatic installations across the Middle East.

Others were involved, of course, and the protests were small compared to the protests over the Muhammad cartoons several years ago. Nevertheless, the Salafi-driven protests are one more sign the ultra-religious right is asserting itself as the guardian of the moral order in Sunni-majority countries revolting against the ancien régime. Their noisy performance on the public stage poses a major challenge to emerging democratic systems, fueling polarization inside and fears abroad. But the new political realm also poses challenges to the Salafis who are on unfamiliar ground politically and ideologically.

To understand the political behavior of Salafis today, keep four things in mind: their religious beliefs do not predict their political behavior; they are a minority in almost every Middle Eastern country; the countries where they are a majority are incredibly wealthy; and their appeal and power arises from their commitment to an ultraconservative creed that is out of step with the mainstream. (more…)

Supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wave Hezbollah flags and shout slogans at a protest against a film made in the US that mocks the Prophet Mohammad, in southern Lebanon, Sept. 19, 2012. The Arabic on the headscarves read, “In your name prophet of God.” (photo by REUTERS/Ali Hashisho)

by Alaa al-Aswany, Al-Monitor, September 19, 2012

Whether you are Muslim, Christian or follow any other religion, you have the right to practice your faith, and others must respect your religious convictions without anybody mocking or degrading your beliefs. Thus, every Muslim has the right to feel angry upon watching a pathetic and badly made movie that depicts their prophet in a shameful, deceitful and insulting manner. Muslims were also within their rights when they felt angered by the cartoons that mocked the Prophet that were published in Denmark a few years ago. Furthermore, they were right to be angered by the movie Fitna (strife) — a film produced by right-wing Dutchman Geert Wilders in 2006 — which derided the Muslim faith and considered it the source of all the world’s terrorism. In all of these instances, Muslims were justifiably angered, and they had the legitimate right to embark on a campaign aimed at convincing the world that they were entitled, as human beings, to see their religious beliefs respected without prejudice. But, unfortunately, and as a result of these campaigns, Muslims lost that aforementioned right, and themselves contributed in distorting the image of Islam and Muslims because they let their anger get the best of them by overlooking the following facts:

First: The nature of freedom of expression in the West (more…)

The offending photographs of Kate Middleton, left; an Islamic depiction of Muhammad by not showing his face, right

[Note: The following commentary has been posted to my column “Middle East Muddle” on the online website of Anthropology News, published by the American Anthropological Association. To read the entire commentary, click here. For more commentaries on “Middle East Muddle, click here.]

Two scandals have dominated the news, at least in Europe and America, over the week following the 9/11 anniversary. The first, which has yet to abate as I write this, is the widespread protests against a pathetic anti-Muslim film trailer trolled from Youtube, rhetorically warmed over in Arabic and promoted by extremist Muslims to stir up violence. The troll took a toll with the American ambassador and several other Americans killed in Libya, violent clashes in Egypt and in Yemen and a range of protests (many of which have remained peaceful) across Muslim communities. The second, which is equally absurd as a pretext, is the voyeuristic publishing by French, Irish and Italian tabloids of a long-distance photograph of the naked breasts of Kate Middleton, the newly wed wife of Britain’s Prince William. The paparazzi have once again harmed Britain’s royal family, first by chasing Princess Diana and now by turning a powerful lens on a private moment in a private home while Diana’s son vacationed in France. In both the body is all about politics…

For the entire commentary go to “Middle East Muddle” by clicking here.

The manipulated political fury expressed in religious rhetoric over a pathetically provocative anti-Islamic film trailer buried among the millions of needles in the haystack that is Youtube continues, now with a focus in Pakistan. It is not surprising that most Muslims should find the film’s absurd claims offensive. Yet, despite the media images of angry rock throwers holding signs in English, this does not drive the vast majority into the streets or trespassing into Western consulates. If all the cameras stopped rolling, the riots would stop cold. But, of course, now the cameras never stop and any bit of footage can appear on Youtube in a nanosecond. What should we do?

My friend Omid Safi posts on a commentary blog he calls “What Would Muhammad Do?” In his comments on this controversy, he notes that there is enough textual information to reconstruct what Muhammad did when he was insulted:

Yet we know that our Prophet himself was the target of repeated assaults and mockery, and even in his moment of triumph when he had the power to punish, he chose to forgive his enemies and set a higher moral example.

We invite Muslims from every country to raise their voice and be heard, and yet to do so in a way that honors the very example of the manners, the ethics, the path, and the being of the Prophet that we so adore.

There is no way, other than by religious faith in sacred writings, to know what the real Muhammad would do in the modern world, all those hadiths notwithstanding. So in effect Omid and everyone else must argue for what they would expect Muhammad to do if he did live today. But he doesn’t, and neither does Jesus or Moses or any of the revered prophets of the three major monotheisms. In a sense all of the commentary on the reaction to the film is WWWWMTD “what we would want Muhammad to do.”

WWMD is, of course, a take off on WWJD. Since J (as in Jesus) happens to be a revered prophet in Islam as well as Christianity, in principle a Muslim can accept that Muhammad and Jesus would do the same thing morally as guided prophets of the same God. (more…)

By Anouar Majid

The violence that erupted in the wake of the YouTube on the Prophet Mohammed is a wake-up call to all who care about the future of human civilization and, particularly, that of Arabs and Muslims living in Muslim-majority nations. (Muslims living in the United States are having the time of their lives—the land of what Iranian mullahs call Great Satan is the best place on earth for them.) Still, Muslims everywhere have been unable to unbind their ties to religious orthodoxy, clinging tenaciously to the decrees of religious scholars in mosques, as well as to the fatwas pronounced on the tube and the net alike.

I arrived in Morocco, arguably the most liberal country in the Arab world and a reliable partner of the West for decades, on the eve of the YouTube trailer controversy. As soon as I heard about the murders in Libya and the violent protests in Egypt and elsewhere, I chose not to be silent in the face of Islamist fury. I spent time explaining to cab drivers, unemployed youths, poorly educated workers, and highly educated professionals that the US government can’t control what people post on the Internet. I tried to get my interlocutors to understand that Muslims are laughably easy to manipulate—all one only has to do is draw a caricature of the Prophet or make a film about him to turn them into the world’s laughingstock. (more…)

The past week has seen a dramatic punctuation in the political present. This present is one in which several countries in North Africa and the Middle East are emerging from years of “stable” dictatorial rule in which human rights were ignored by the Western countries who philosophize how important human rights (or at least the right kind of rights) are. There is also a presidential election looming in the most powerful nation on earth, a nation divided in a partisan way with few realistic ideas on how to frame a way out of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is raining politics and that is fire and brimstone in the current climate.

The drama starts with the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, which like the abduction of Helen of Troy, prodded the United States to engage in two decade-long wars that have resulted in the deaths of former figure-head foes (Saddam and Bin Laden) but which are unwinnable in the old-fashioned “sign a peace treaty and let trade make us friends” sense after World War II. The spark, a most surreal one at that, is a pathetic trailer for the kind of film no one would ever pay money to see. Before Youtube, before the Internet, this would have been yet another throw-away on the huge cinematic rubbish pile already brimming with porn. But in a scenario that a producer would probably laugh away, an Islamophobic individual dubs intentionally hateful dialogue denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. For non-Muslims the main thing offended is taste; for Muslims this is hateful and hurtful, akin to throwing something sacred into a toilet.

The politics has exploded all over the media, not in spits but a massive vomit. (more…)

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