Al Qaeda linked ICNA inciting protests against Mohammed cartoons in US - Long Island Imam "there is no grey area"
February 12, 2006
At Long Island's mosques and among Muslim student groups at area universities, cartoon depictions in European newspapers of the prophet Muhammad have been profoundly upsetting. Some Muslims have marched in protest, others have joined in boycotts of Danish goods because a newspaper in that country first printed the cartoon.
And while many area mosques are divided on such customs as when the holiday of Eid begins and the role of women in Islam, they are united on their feelings about the cartoons.
"There was no gray area," said Habeeb Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, "regardless of liberal, conservative or moderate."
In a faith where some won't display photographs of family members because of the prohibition against idolatry, the reaction to seeing a caricature of the prophet published in Europe challenged the tolerance of many area Muslims. After organizing a protest outside the United Nations in Manhattan a week ago, Muslims on Long Island issued their own press release against the cartoons and the violence that followed.
"The feeling we have about the prophet is not explainable," said Tahir Mian, 39, of Hicksville, after attending afternoon prayers Wednesday at the Islamic Center of Long Island. "It's an insult."
There are no passages in the Quran, the Islamic holy text, which prohibit depictions of Muhammad, believed by Muslims to be the last prophet sent from God, said Faroque Khan, chairman of the Islamic Center of Long Island's board of trustees. Rather, there is a general doctrine that states there is only one God who should be praised.
"From that kind of a statement comes the general understanding or principle that there should be no images, no depictions," said Khan, not only of Muhammad, but of any holy figure at all.
When the 1988 film, "The Last Temptation of Christ," in which Jesus is tempted to live out his life with Mary Magdalene, the Islamic Circle of North America, based in Jamaica, Queens, joined with some Christians in protest. They did the same when an artist at the Brooklyn Museum of Art depicted Jesus as a naked woman, said Assistant Secretary General Azeem Khan.
The proscription against depictions of the prophet is not uniform in Islam, however. Muhammad is pictured in Islamic art in South Asia and Turkey.
"We interact with non-Muslims every day," he said. "We understand the misconceptions. Overseas, there's just an expression of anger that's just reinforcing a negative image."
Muslims are taught from the time they are young to try to emulate Muhammad in their everyday lives, by treating neighbors with respect and generosity, and completing good deeds. The Islamic Circle of North America distributes biographies that speak to Muhammad's virtues.
"To be even a fraction of what he does would be an accomplishment," said Malaikah Choudhry, 19, a student at Hofstra University and a member of the nationwide Muslim Student Association. "He's our role model."
News that this beloved prophet had been depicted in a European newspaper cartoon with a bomb in his turban traveled here through American media and by satellite television. After hearing that Muslims abroad were boycotting Danish goods, some local Muslims followed suit.
"We don't have that much to buy here from Denmark anyway," said Mian, of the Westbury mosque. "We like American products."
Azeem Khan, of the Islamic Circle, said another part of their efforts to show the beauty of their faith involves turning the camera on themselves.
"With so much negative propaganda, we realize we have to document our own community," he said. The New York chapter of his national organization has its own media department, recording their events by photography.
Similarly, Muslims throughout the United States are making documentaries about their community, like "Turning Muslim in Texas," which documents Muslim and non-Muslim families and their perspectives of Islam and the West.
Hamza Ahmad, a film major at Hofstra, said that while he and his family are sensitive to displaying family photographs, they aren't hesitant about supporting his goal to get behind a video camera and making movies.
"As a journalist, as a filmmaker, as a television producer, you have a lot of say into how people view the world," he said. "If there's not Muslims in those fields, it's a very biased portrayal. My goal in film is to portray Muslims as every day people. I could even see them star in a film."