Area Muslims condemn violence, caricatures
While offended by the publication of caricatures of Mohammed, members of the local Muslim community despair of the violence that has followed.
BY ROBERT L. STEINBACK
The international controversy sparked by a Danish newspaper that printed cartoon images of The Prophet Mohammed -- in defiance of Islamic practice never to visually depict him -- and the violence that followed has placed South Florida Muslims in a familiar position: Caught between cultures, torn between beliefs.
The publication of the cartoons "has really insulted us to a very deep core," said Altaf Ali, executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Ali said CAIR Florida will send a letter today to the local Danish and Norwegian consulates offering the organization's assistance to help in cooling tensions.
The crisis was touched off last September when the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten printed 12 editorial caricatures depicting Mohammed in various ways -- including one showing him with a bomb on his head -- to accompany a story on self-censorship and freedom of speech. Escalating anger in the Muslim world peaked Saturday when mobs set ablaze the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, Syria. The next day, a Danish consulate in Beirut was burned down.
Islam forbids the depiction of Mohammed, considering it an act of idolatry.
"To insult our prophet hurts us so deep, it's hard for anyone to comprehend. You're hurting someone who is more dear to us than our parents or our children," Ali said. "We are taught that we do not truly believe unless we love the prophet more than we love ourselves, our families or others."
Still, Ali said, to respond with violence is wrong.
The prophet "was a man that was never violent," he said. "The way the Muslims are reacting now is not the way he would have reacted. He would have reacted with diplomacy and tolerance. It's OK to protest, but it's not OK for Muslims to get violent."
While expressing deep offense at the Danish newspaper's caricatures, many, like Ali, expressed despair at the violence wracking parts of the Muslim world.
Muslims locally "are not taking this in a good way," said Imam Roshan Ali of Cooper City's Nurul Islam mosque. "We believe that the prophet was sent as an example for all mankind. To depict him in any way whatsoever is very debasing and demeaning for us. People are very frustrated by seeing these things on the news."
Still, Imam Ali -- whose title is equivalent to "reverend" or "rabbi" -- said he has counseled nonviolence in response, because that is in keeping with the prophet's teaching.
"If you look at the life of Mohammed, he went through much more [persecution] than that," Ali said. 'He did not retaliate against anyone. He did not take revenge on them. He didn't say, `God, destroy these people because they have done these things to me.' "
"This is a very very sensitive issue," added Khalid Salahuddin, a member of Masjid Al-Ikhlass in Miami. "Violence -- while I understand why people are doing it, we don't condone it. To attack other people only because they are the same faith or nationality, that's equally wrong."
FIU Islamic Studies assistant professor Aisha Musa, a convert to Islam, said defending free speech isn't the same as defending what is said by that speech.
"I'm a person who believes that free speech is something everybody should have," Musa said. "If someone says something that is stupid and wrong, I will tell them it's stupid and wrong, but I won't tell them they shouldn't say it."
She feels the violent response of some in the Muslim world is counterproductive.
"Probably the intention of the people who drew the cartoons was to upset people, and I believe the best thing to do when people are trying to upset you is not to get angry," Musa said. Otherwise, "you're giving them what they want."
Musa said the prohibition against depictions of Mohammed is similar to the Second Commandment, which cautions against worshipping graven images.
Melissa Matos, a political science and history major at FIU, is also the communications director for CAIR-Florida. "A lot of Muslims feel hurt and saddened that people would publish things like this," Matos said. "As well, there are others who wish that maybe some people wouldn't further the anger. Most of the people I've talked to [want that] both sides would try to reduce the tensions.
"But most people feel it's pretty sad because it doesn't look to be happening."