February 11, 2006

Cartoons and chaos

I have been staying away from commenting on this issue because I don’t believe I can be totally objective in my commentary. My religion is close to my heart and while I would try to be objective in my commentary, I can’t be a 100% certain that I was totally and completely objective in what I said. However, I went to mosque yesterday for Friday prayers and the sermon included references to the whole cartoon row and I must say that I totally disagreed with some of the comments by the Imam of the day and felt I had to write this here just so that there are opinions to the contrary – opinions which hopefully present a more balanced view.

Firstly, one of the tenets I believe Muslims should live by are words straight from the Qur’an – specifically Surah Al Kafiroon.The verses basically say, "you believe what you believe and I/we believe what we believe, you have your path and I/we have my/our path". This, to me at least, is one of the central rules of guidance for Muslims – both in dealing with others of different faith as well as other Muslims who decide to take a different path. We cannot try to enforce our ways, our beliefs on others nor does God want us to. Faith, any faith, is about belief – it might be belief in God, belief in an afterlife, belief in rebirth, belief that there is nothing after death but it is about some form of belief. This belief is personal to us. So why would we go worrying about what others say or do regarding our beliefs? Their beliefs (and actions) are theirs. Unless they forcibly try to stop us from believing what we believe or somehow try to coerce us into believing what they believe, what they do should not have any impact on what we believe. We should, as Muslims (and human beings), learn to co-exist with those of other beliefs because none of us will ever believe the same thing – even amongst Muslims, you have differences in belief. So why cry about the differences in belief that somebody else has?

Yesterday’s sermon started with something good. About the fact that yesterday, the 10th day of the first month according to the Islamic calendar, was a holy day for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. Now I don’t know if this still is the case – this particular incident which was related was from the prophet’s (PBUH) time. At that time, both Christians and Jews had fasted on this day because that was the day Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt and defeated the forces of Pharaoh. This again illustrated something that I strongly believe in – whether Muslims, Christians or Jews, we believe in the same God We all believe in the God of Moses, so unless there were three separate Moseses, we believe in the same God! So whether it’s prophet Mohammed (PBUH) or Jesus or Moses getting caricatured, we should be equally offended. (Yes, I realize that there are other issues in the case of a depiction of the prophet (PBUH) but again, that falls under your beliefs/my beliefs).

Where the preacher diverged from Islamic tenets, (in my opinion of course) was when he started with such a good foundation and then went on to say that we should do what we can to oppose those who publish the cartoons by boycotting their goods. If he’d built upon what he’d started, said that we all follow the same God and that while there might be those who might do stupid things either for the sake of publicity, stirring things up or simply because they believe they are doing the right thing, that what we had to keep in mind was that our faith was ours and that we couldn’t force anybody else to believe what we did, I would have agreed wholeheartedly with him. But he didn’t say that. In a way, I’m glad that Islam does not have a clergy – because probably a lot more people would have blindly accepted what he said because he was "authority" if we’d had a clergy.

As far as I’m concerned, Muslims have three God given things that dictate our path – the Qur’an, the prophet’s (PBUH) hadeeth and our brains. We should try to interpret the first two using the last and decide our course of action instead of being told by somebody else what is right and what is wrong. If we all learned to do that, we’d have far fewer problems from Muslims as a group both within the Muslim community and outside. But again, being human, I am not sure we’ll ever get there …