It is imperative that Muslim-majority societies express fierce condemnation regarding the recent aggression and violence across the world, including the attacks on the embassies in Libya and Egypt. Concerted protests for reconciliation can serve as effective tools of deterrence against heinous and reactionary crimes in the name of Islam. This event is a disgrace and a degradation of Muslim values.
The Prophet Muhammad – for whose sake this uproar is taking place – endured barrage after barrage of ridicule, insults, persecution and violence during his mission in Mecca and Medina. However, he ignored these threats most of the time, remaining gracious and patient. Unlike other sects, he set examples for a religion that works from the moral high ground. The Qur’an states that true “servants of the Most Gracious [God] are [only] they who walk gently on earth, and who, whenever the foolish address them, reply with [words of] peace” [Qur’an 25:63]
Mercenary individuals or groups cannot take laws into their own hands in Islam. If it is necessary to raise objection to an act of injustice or humiliation, a group can utilize peaceful civil actions. However, one must respect the due process of a society’s laws, even if one stands up against blatant sedition or treachery. No individual or group can decide to embark on a killing spree, no matter how offensive the insult is.
In today’s world in which technology provides an immediate global audience for individuals to state anything they please – no matter how vulgar and unauthentic their statements or works – Muslim-majority societies do need to speak out against malicious acts contained in “trashy” movies or editorials. However, the best course of action is sometimes inaction. If one really wishes to avoid the pernicious effects of anti-Muslim propaganda, one must not play into the hands of bigots. We must remember that fierce reactions made Salman Rushdie famous, even in the face of his negative insinuations.
Ultimately, the issue of these protests rises higher than mere Islamophobia. Our leadership and scholarship within our community has not been vigilant enough in checking the spread of mindless reactionary extremism, nor has it succeeded in organizing shrewdly effective political advocacy work within the Muslim world. There are far greater issues before us today that require our community to take collective action. The Muslim world is at a crossroads, and many Muslim majority societies are facing economic, political, social, and environmental crises that require carefully orchestrated collective endeavors. We must educate and direct our masses to remain focused on the good governance and economic progress that can uplift our desperate condition.
We have done tremendous disservice to our own cause by remaining petty and reactionary, rather than engaging constructively with the rest of the world in compliance with the spirit of Islam. Why are many Muslim scholars solely relying on traditional rhetorical narratives and distant historical paradigms when describing Islam, rather than utilizing the principled dynamism of the Qur’an in order to set higher standards for modern values and collective trends?
Even though we apply vigilant standards of decorum to other communities’ perceptions of Islam, we do not apply these same standards of decorum to ourselves. As the Qur’an asks, shall we recite the Book of God and yet forget our own faults? If our global “umma” becomes easily provoked by purposefully malignant propaganda campaigns, we denigrate our own faith in the eyes of others. Who will teach others about Islam other than ourselves? For that matter, who will even teach our own Muslims about the beautiful mercy, forgiveness and restraint of Islam?