The Muslim world is currently infuriated by a widely disseminated anti-Islamic film made in the United States and which insults Prophet Mohammad peace be upon him. The film has provoked a violent reaction across the Muslim world— violence that has led been to attack U.S and Western embassies in various Muslim-dominated countries.
So far, the United States government has ordered non-essential staff to leave its embassies in Tunisia and Sudan after both diplomatic posts were attacked, and there was fear the violent anger would spillover to East Africa, Kenya in particular. Indeed, given events of the past couple of weeks in Kenya, especially in view of the wave of grenade and gun attacks targeted at various Christian worship centers in Garissa, Nairobi and Mombasa, this new anti-Islam film was highly expected to provoke violent reactions from Muslims in Kenya.
However, thanks to efforts by some well-meaning Muslim scholars, the rage of local Muslim youths was somehow contained through an open dialogue that appealed to reason rather than emotion. We must, therefore, appreciate and commend the efforts of the Muslim scholars who came out openly on local FM stations to call upon Kenyan Muslims not to respond with anger to the latest U.S-made film that disparages Islam and insults the Holy Prophet.
By calling for calm and restraint, the scholars and Kenyan Muslims at large cannot be accused of being lesser Muslims compared to those who responded violently in other countries. The scholars cited and engaged their audiences on a number of Quranic teachings and classical Islamic traditions that enjoin Muslims to use knowledge and wisdom to challenge those who seek to paint their faith in bad light.
True— Islam indeed puts a high premium on the use of rational faculties to respond to challenges and criticisms, including defending the teachings of the religion itself and the messengers of God. And speaking of wisdom to respond to those who disparage Islam, one is reminded of the words of Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Farah Maalim during a forum of Muslim youth organized by the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance.
“The modern world is very dynamic and the challenges that Islam faces today are purely ideological. Therefore, we Muslims cannot continue responding to those challenges with physical violence because an ideology can only be challenged by another ideology. We should, therefore, seek knowledge and use it wisely as the best weapon to respond to those who paint Islam and Muslims in bad light,” said Mr Maalim. Mr Maalim said this way back in 2007.
But given the new challenges that Islam faces today, especially in the face of a provocative film such as the one doing the rounds, the call for sober and knowledge-driven responses remains as relevant as it was then. Looking at it from a different perspective, it appears that the rage that we Muslims usually exhibit when faced with similar provocations only works to embolden those who seek to disrespect Islam and the Holy Prophet.
We should understand that the world has many mischief-makers and every society will forever have them. From the look of things, it appears that some people derive pleasure from the misplaced anger of Muslims and they would do anything to provoke that anger— safe in the knowledge that the freedoms enjoyed in Western countries would guarantee them safety.
However, if Muslims chose the path of wisdom, they would not give such people the opportunity to derive their pleasure. Hence, as much as we don’t encourage anyone to disrespect any religion, culture or civilization, it is very likely that if Muslims chose to ignore or respond differently to films or cartoons that disparage Islam and the Holy Prophet, the mischief behind such projects would just die a natural death.
Surely, it does not help much for irate mobs to attack innocent people including U.S. citizens merely because an anti-Islam film was made in their country. Infact America has the fastest growing Muslim population and Islam remains an integral part of their civilization. It is therefore important for Muslims to deal with such matters intellectually, politically, and economically.
Although such attacks on U.S. installations have been justified on grounds that the American system of government and values allow people with an anti-Islam agenda to operate freely— hence guilty by association— Muslims should know that the best way to challenge, and probably change, the American system of values is through propagation of an alternative system of values that would persuade Americans to abandon their system.
The life and teachings of Prophet Mohammad provide very good lessons that Muslims can use to challenge the American system. When the prophet started his missionary life, it was extremely difficult for him to persuade his own people of Mecca to abandon the cultic and idolatry ways that were deeply-rooted in their culture and society.
In fact, like many prophets, Prophet Mohammad was rejected by his own people forcing him to flee to Medina where strangers accepted him. But he painstakingly continued to preach and extend the olive branch to the people of Mecca until majority, not all, of them accepted his message and came on board.
And despite being allowed by God to fight in self-defence, the Holy Prophet was still commanded to be compassionate to his tormentors— he did not go into a murderous rage slaughtering innocent men, women and children because they did not accept Islam or opposed him.
In this regard, Muslims should follow the example of the Holy Prophet himself by being prepared to peacefully challenge those who disrespect Islam. Some of the offending films and cartoons that have caused outrage among Muslims have sought to portray the Holy Prophet as someone who did not take criticism kindly— an angry and intolerant person who would violently respond to anybody who dared criticize him.
Hence, if Muslims consider such depiction of the Holy Prophet to be false and, therefore, offensive; then they, as followers of the Holy Prophet, should be the last ones to violently respond to such hateful, malicious and deliberately provocative film. There is no doubt that the US and the Western world continues to play doubt standards when it comes to issues concerning Islam and Muslims.
However, Muslims should learn lessons from the Treaty of Hudaibiya in the sixth year of hijra between the Holy Prophet Mohammed and the Qureish of Makkah. While the Muslims then did not comprehend the implications of the apparently humiliating treaty, the Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him had foreseen its great benefits and the soundness of his strategy. In view of the foregoing logic, it is time we Muslims woke up, opened our eyes, engaged our rational faculties and embarked on crafting an intellectual and political way of responding to future anti-Islamic films, cartoons or literature.
The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).