What Would Mohammed Say?

The murderous logic of last week's killers in Paris led them to believe that they were avenging the honor of the Prophet Mohammed and that the deaths of 14 people were revenge for Charlie Hebdo's blasphemy.

The satirical paper, whose tagline is "Journal Irresponsible," responded this Wednesday with a cover cartoon showing the Prophet Mohammed holding the sign "Je Suis Charlie," the slogan that has gained instant recognition as support for free speech. The cartoon also has a tear running down the Prophet's cheek and has the caption "Tout est pardonné," or "all is forgiven."

Though many Muslims still find any representation of the Prophet offensive, this time, Charlie Hebdo is approaching a more ethical depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, who would never have condoned violence in his name. He would have been appalled by the murder of innocent civilians that has brought Islam into a new disrepute, causing a backlash of renewed Islamaphobia and further damaging the image of Islam as a peaceful, compassionate religion.

Mohammed was a gentle and compassionate man at a time in history when tribes and factions were forging alliances with the sword. The Koran is full of references to war as the backdrop to building the Muslim community but also contains a clear condemnation of this sort of vigilante behavior. Muslims the world over have denounced this cowardly terror attack as completely incompatible with Islam. "Terror has no religion," stated a leading cleric in Qatar.

The compassionate teachings of the Prophet Mohammed have been recognized by world figures such as the peace-loving Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote,

"I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam..it was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for his pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission."

Benjamin Franklin, America's own founding father and philosopher, also wrote of his respect for Islam, praising the compassion of the Prophet Mohammed and his teachings. Franklin compared the behavior of Pennsylvanian frontiersmen who brutally massacred Native Americans with the actions of the great Muslim leader Saladin, who showed mercy and compassion toward his captives by emulated the Prophet Mohammed in his actions. Franklin asserted that the Native Americans would have been safer if they had lived in a Muslim country.

"The greatest success of Mohammed's life was effected by sheer moral force without the stroke of a sword," according to the great historian, Edward Gibbon, and this is sadly not a concept understood by today's fundamentalists and terrorists.

Fanatical terrorists have little knowledge of their own professed religion. They obviously have no understanding of the Prophet and his teaching, they choose the Quranic quotes that serve their vicious purpose without understanding the context and they are often ill-educated, petty criminals who are alienated from their own culture and that of the country where they have grown up with little or no religious inclination.

The alarming rise of radicalized young men and women adopting a militant form of piety is similar to the motivation of young people joining gangs in a desperate need to belong or to have meaning in their empty, lonely lives. Tragically, the easy availability of modern weapons has turned their adolescent angst into a murderous rejection of the more compassionate principles of their faith. Events such as the massacre of French journalists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo are beyond comprehension as a statement of faith. They are simply "an assault on our common humanity," according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

While many agree that freedom of speech is often abused by ignorance, vulgarity, racism and even blasphemy, the killing of innocent people in the name of Islam is much more offensive than any cartoon could ever be. In the words of the Prophet himself: "The (true) servants of (God) the Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, reply with (words of) peace."

The latest cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo may not exactly equate for everyone with "words of peace." But for the more than three million people who bought copies of the magazine this week, there is a great universal message of "Tout est pardonné."

Forgiveness, mercy and compassion are difficult under the circumstances but they are the central tenets of Islam and other great world religions. The twisted minds of the Paris murderers have done more damage to Islam than they intended. The Prophet would really have been in tears.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Chairman of the Ibrahim Foundation

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