Some Muslims Don't Get It: Freedom of Speech and the Legitimacy of Muslim Protests

The Muslims who murdered Ambassador Christopher Stevens were purportedly defending the name of Prophet Muhammad. But they have done the exact opposite of their intention: tarnished the name of the Prophet in the eyes of the few non-Muslims.
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The legitimacy of Muslim protests about the film "Innocence of Muslims" and the freedom of speech are major issues facing the world today. I am pleased to offer a summary of issues and pluralistic solutions.

It is not the Muslims, Jews or Christians who are bent on a collision course; it is a few bullies among us, who want to give it to the other, kill and get killed, all in the name of religion and freedom. It is sheer insanity as the actions are anathema to the values of religions. As a society, we must resist stereotyping any group of people.

The Muslims who murdered Ambassador Christopher Stevens and staff members were purportedly defending the name of Prophet Muhammad. But they have done the exact opposite of their intention: tarnished the name of the Prophet in the eyes of the few non-Muslims. However, the thoughtful people on either side rarely subscribe to such outbursts; indeed, the Muslim majority has unequivocally condemned this action and calls for punishment of the individuals who have resorted to taking the God-given life.

2012-09-21-Freedom.0f.Speech.MuslimProtests.Solutions.WorldMuslimCongress.jpgNot only Muslims, but the Christians, Jews, Hindus and others have also condemned the badly made trailer. I watched a small part of it, and it was too disgusting to merit watching the rest. I condemn the film and the intent of the film producer without any reserve. However, I understand his probable motivation, he saw how the Islamophobes raked in $42 million, and he thought he could have some too.

Legitimacy of the Protests

The bad news is there are indeed a few Muslims who sincerely believe in killing the person who insults the Prophet, though they sound like loonies, they are not. They are guided by the books, not the Quran, but the ones cooked up as supplementary books.

Hasan Mahmud, a member of the Advisory board of World Muslim Congress, an expert on shariah, cites the following books and statements that legitimize the battle cries to kill those who insult the Prophet. "As reported in Sahi Bukhari and Sahi Muslim, and in Sirat of Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq pages 550, 551 and 675 Prophet killed people who mocked at the Quran and Prophet. Among them were Abu Afaq (120 years old), Asma Binte Marwan (a slave woman mother of five sons), Ibn Khatal's two singing girls (one of who fled away) and Huwayrith Nuqaydh Wahb Qusayy."

Mahmud states, "These reports are obviously false. Had those been correct then Prophet acted against the Quran which is impossible." The Quran 4:140 (Asad), "And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God's messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things -- or else, verily, you will become like them. Behold, together with those who deny the truth God will gather in hell the hypocrites."

Indeed, we are gathering the courage to question the misinterpretations carried out in the past, but are still frightened by the conservatives who are ready to hurl fatwa bombs toward those who make that attempt. At least the new generation of Muslims knows no fear, thanks to the Internet.

The basic sources of guidance for Muslims are Quran and sayings of the Prophet. If you cannot find an answer to an issue, you can do the mutual consultation, Ijma, as the Prophet called it. If we do that, some of those sayings will be erased from the supplementary books.

Quran is the word of God, and not a word has been changed since it was compiled, Muslims have guarded this exceptionally well through the system of memorizing and checking regularly against the original.

When it comes to Hadiths, the second most respected source of guidance, they were collected and compiled nearly 200 years after the Prophet. The first and most respected among them was Imam Bukhari. Thanks to him for examining authenticity of the source of the Hadiths and dropping them from 700,000 down to 7272 in nine volumes, that is a 99 percent rejection rate.

Muhammad Yunus, a thinker and a writer at New Age Islam, shares Imam Bukhari's quote, "Why do people impose conditions which are not in Allah's book ... Allah's conditions (as stated in Qur'an) are truth and more valid" (Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi 1984, Acc. 364, 735/Vol.3).

Muslim, Bukhari's immediate successor had this to say, "If we discuss about all those accounts which are held authentic (Sahih) before the learned, and suspect by a critical scholar -- we would simply be tired (because they are so large in number)" (Sahih al-Muslim, extracted from the muqaddimah).

My personal contemplation is, if he had more time, he would have narrowed it down further and retained those Hadiths that would have reflected the character of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and most of the ones quoted above would have been removed.

The third source of guidance, rather misguidance comes from the Supplementary books written by men in the last few centuries, these men probably believed God was their property and not the Lord of the Universe as the Quran says. The Prophet is known as Mercy to the mankind, Rahmatul Aalameen, apparently these men did not believe in Quran or Prophet's practices to do unmerciful harassment of minorities.

The men chanting death to the movie maker have replaced Quran with the supplementary books as their chief source of guidance. No amount of talking or quoting Quran will do any good at this instance, but there is hope.

Abrupt changes are difficult for anyone, no one, including you and I would change for others, so are they. Those few imams (clergy) and ulemas (scholars) will resist with all their will to abandon those supplementary books. Facts did not matter to our president and the right wingers, and it does not matter to Muslim right wingers either in the short run. However, the need to coexist will bring about the necessary changes through freedom and not impositions.

The change will be effective and sustainable if they believe that the Quran and the Prophet supersede the items they have in their supplementary book. When Muslim Ulema (scholars) debate the issue, and get the Imams to participate in the dialogue and produce the right supplementary books, the old books will be willingly replaced with the new for reference.

Is someone willing to invest in a conference and producing the amended book s to reflect the values of Quran and Prophet's life examples? It can change the course of history.

There are many verses and examples, suffice it to quote a few. Quran 4:140 (Asad) "And, indeed, He has enjoined upon you in this divine writ that whenever you hear people deny the truth of God's messages and mock at them, you shall avoid their company until they begin to talk of other things -- or else, verily, you will become like them. Behold, together with those who deny the truth God will gather in hell the hypocrites."

Muslims have failed, nay; a few among Muslims have failed Allah, Muhammad (pbuh) and Islam. In simple words, Quran 5:32 says killing one person is like killing the whole humanity and saving one life is like saving the whole humanity. Did those Muslims in Benghazi remembered that?

Once a man insulted the Prophet, and Prophet said, were you not an ambassador of another nation, I would have asked you to leave right now. Mistreating the embassies and ambassadors is a violation of Arab hospitality as well as Prophet's words. Hasan Mahmud adds, "One of his three last advices while the Prophet was in his death bed was: 'show respect to ambassadors of other nations as I did'" (Sahi Bukhari Vol. 4, 393).

"If you are unjust to a fellow being, Muslim or a non-Muslim, by God, on the Day of Judgment, I will stand against you and stand up with the victim." That was a strong warning from the Prophet about crossing the lines of Justice.

Quran 5:8: "O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do" (Al-Ma'edah 5:8).

Freedom of Speech

Now a few Muslims are hell bent on punishing the guy who made the movie, and it is embarrassing that a few Muslim rules are calling to pressure the United States Government instead of explaining the value of free speech to their people.

Freedom of Speech is understood in two different ways: One group believes that irresponsible statements must be controlled and censored by the government, whereas the other group believes in complete freedom of speech.

The entire world differs with us on the value of freedom of speech. It's an American value and not necessarily a western or a Christian value. It is part of our psyche to hold the freedom of speech as one of the greatest values of our nation, whereas their psyche calls for punishment. Neither is a superior or inferior value to the follower of that value, it is part of them.

Freedom is an inherent value of all religions, without which no religion would have come into being, or would have flourished. Islam and Christianity are the biggest beneficiaries of that freedom. Indeed, it is the freedom of speech that has allowed Islam to flourish in Christian majority nations, and I wish Muslim majority nations reciprocate the same to Christians and others who are their minorities. A hallmark of great civilization is free speech and a two way values, live and let live.

Most Americans, including American Muslims have condemned the trailer and the idiot who made it; however, it is not easy to punish the guy in our system. We are who we are because of that freedom, and are willing to defend his right to the free expression.

Even the President of United States cannot do a thing about it, Google turned down his request to yank the film trailer off YouTube, and I hope the Muslim majority nations can appreciate the value we place on freedom, which is guaranteed in our constitution, a good solid enduring system of laws. So, it is not America, it was the individual who made that movie. He has a right to make that, and the others have the right not to see it.

Muslims nations do value freedom and accountability. One of the key values of Islam is responsibility; no one but the individual is responsible for his or her actions on the Day of Judgment, and Muslims are advised to leave the judgment and punishment to God alone.

In the last seven days, I have become an ambassador of American value in engaging with people from around the world in explaining the ultimate common good freedom of speech facilitates. I used the phrase "Freedom of expression ultimately triumphs" as a corollary to Mahatma Gandhi's "truth ultimately triumphs."

One of the most common challenges I encountered was the duplicity of practice in Europe. There is a punishment prescribed for questioning the Holocaust, but not for the sentiments of others, and most times that ends the conversation abruptly. We have to do better than that.

Muslim have a special role to play in the world, and not get entrenched in score keeping; they need to follow the model of the Prophet -- an Amin, a trust worthy conflict mitigater and goodwill nurturer to build cohesive societies.

I urge the head of Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and our special envoy to the Muslim Nations to quickly gather the statements from major Imams in the area, and make a public declaration as a short term solution and save the destruction and ill-will. Indeed, the Mufti (chief clergy) of Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood has issued statements that it is un-Islamic to do harm to people and property in the name of the Prophet. I wish they had reacted quickly, and thanks to the American Muslims for responding instantly with advice and condemnation.

To summarize, the short term solution is to pull the Muslim scholars together and issue a collective press release to protect and defend the guests of their nation. The long term solution would be, through consensus and free will, work on replacing the books that contravene Quran and the Sunnah.

Mike Ghouse heads the world Muslim Congress, a think tank and a discussion forum to nurture the pluralistic values embedded in Islam.

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