Islamophobia, Ashura and some cartoons

Ashura marks the 10th day of the first Islamic month, Muharram, and is viewed as a signficant day.

Stop. This madness, this destruction, this abhorrent violence needs to come to an end. Right now and today. The wanton destruction of diplomatic embassies, the burning of effigies and the calls for tit-for-tat responses to the horrendously offensive cartoons printed by Jyllands-Posten must stop here. Why? Because the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, the faith of Islam and the values of the world’s great religions instruct us to behave better than this.

According to the Islamic holy book, the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was sent as a mercy to mankind. In a time when women were disrespected, infant girls were killed or mistreated simply because they were born female and slaves could not so much as stand next to their owners, the teachings of Prophet Muhammad came to correct these disdainful social norms and establish love, justice and kinship among human beings. The Prophet Muhammad was a man of mercy and kindness. The depiction presented by Jyllands-Posten could not have been further from the truth.

But at the same time, such provocations on the level of the 12 infamous cartoons can not be a green light for hatred and violence. These occurrences enrage some but should be viewed by all as opportunities for dialogue, for peaceful reconciliation and for the Muslim world to show its compassion toward removing the blindfold of ignorance.

In the midst of the religiopolitically charged atmosphere after last year’s bombings in London and riots in France, the evident frustrations of the Muslim community should not have been taken lightly by Jyllands-Posten. Although the newspaper was free to publish those cartoons, it has a responsibility to consider how such cartoons propagate notions of Islamophobia so prevalent in European society.

“We find (the cartoons) offensive, and we certainly understand why Muslims would find these images offensive,” the White House noted. “Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.” If our American ideals of freedom of speech and freedom of press are anywhere near universal, then we must also recognize the responsibility of the press.

But why stop today? Why this odd Thursday in February? Because to the world’s more than 1 billion Muslims, today also marks the day of Ashura, the 10th day of the first Islamic month, Muharram. Today is viewed as the most significant day for Muslims of all backgrounds outside of the month of Ramadan and serves as a lingering reminder of the brutality of force.

For many, this day marks when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina and observed the Jews of that city fasting in honor of God’s deliverance of Moses and the children of Israel from the Pharaoh. The Prophet Muhammad, in recognizing the prophetic bonds of brotherhood between himself and Moses, as well as the importance of the Jews’ deliverance from the atrocious Pharaoh, commanded the Muslims to observe the fast as well.

The day of Ashura also marks the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the Third Shiite Imam. In his campaign for nonviolence and the establishment of justice against a tyrant ruler, he was forced to flee the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. His pleas to the Muslim people from the sands of present-day Karbala, Iraq, to promote virtue and prohibit vice stand as a testament to the nobility of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. He and his family risked their lives to stand up for justice, a sacrifice that has resonated with Muslims and non-Muslims, including Mahatma Gandhi and Charles Dickens.

This important day not only shows how deep of a connection Islam and Judaism have with each other, but also tells of the universality of the message of the world’s great faiths. They not only share an intimate history, but many revered prophets of God, who were committed to a world blessed with justice, compassion, security and welfare while making sure not a drop of blood was shed unjustly to achieve this.

It is unfortunate that many in the world ignore these ties and choose violence over peace, extremism over moderation and ignorance over dialogue and understanding. I hope this day will serve as a turning point for the recent disintegration of peace and understanding, and that the day of Ashura will act as a reminder to us all of the bonds of compassion our great traditions have imbued upon us.

Mohamed H. Sabur is co-director of the Qunoot Foundation and a University alumnus. Please send comments to [email protected].