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The Offensive Film and Questions of Why and How

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(Friday Sermon)
The Offensive Film and Questions of Why and How
Egyptian protesters climbing the wall of the US embassy

 

Quick background

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I am making this brief for those who are not following the news of what is going on now. An unknown person did a film in which he presents the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in a very insulting way. The film is very offensive to say the least. The film was recently dubbed to the colloquial Egyptian Arabic and was announced (mainly in Egypt) that it would be shown in the anniversary of 9/11. As usual, anger and outrage spread throughout the Middle East especially in EgyptLibya, and Yemen, and later Tunisia and Sudan. Calls for demonstrations in front of the US embassy in many of these countries were made and many people responded. Many people joined to have a peaceful expression of their objection but the rallies turned violent where the embassy buildings were invaded, flags and cars burned, and finally 4 diplomats including the US ambassador to Libya killed.

Please note the underlined phrases as they are important to the rest of the talk. I would like to share with my brothers and sisters 6 points regarding these events:

 

"Tell my people, you have no excuse if something happens to the Prophet while you have an eye that blinks", said Sa`d ibn ar-Rabee` in his last breath.
1- Our love to the Prophet is an essential part and a condition of our faith:
  • The Prophet says, "No one believes until I become more beloved to him that his father, son, and the whole humanity." (Authenticated by Ibn Dakik)
  • He also said that one will not find the pleasure and comfort of faith until "Allah and His Messenger are more beloved to you than anything else" (Authenticated by ibn Al-`Arabi)
  • We always find this expression in the words of the companions of the Prophet, "My parents are a sacrifice for you O Messenger of Allah," which gives more value to the Prophet than their closest and most beloved people, parents
  • Muslims grow up from the first day they comprehend loving the Messenger more than anything else
  • I would like to declare in front of the public that I, too, love Prophet Muhammad more than anything else and I ask Allah to make this love a true love.

 

2- Harming the Prophet in any form causes an enormous harm to Muslims

Accordingly, defending him and his honor is a duty every Muslim pledges. As a matter of fact, defending the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is defending Islam itself in its utmost form.

An example of that is what Sa`d ibn Al-Rabee` said in his last breaths. Sa`d died defending the Prophet in the battle of Uhud against an army of 3000 men who attacked Madinah and were about to kill the Messenger. He said when he was in his last breath, "What happened to the Messenger?" They responded, "He is OK. He sent us to find out what happened to you." He responded, "Send my salutation to the Prophet and tell him, May Allah reward you the best for what you conveyed to us." "AND tell my people, you have no excuse if something happens to the Prophet while you have an eye that blinks"

 

Why this particular time? Why show it during 9/11 anniversary?
3- The believer is smart and should be aware of what is planned

Part of being smart is to ask the "why" question:

  • Why do people make such moves? A cartoon that depicts the Prophet in a bad way, a film that insults, an article that inflames, etc. These people do not even know the Prophet and never met him before.
  • As a matter of fact, the Prophet is dead and these insults will not reach him. Similar to someone cursing someone else’s dad.
  • Why this particular time? Why show it during 9/11 anniversary?
  • Why dub it in colloquial Egyptian Arabic? Why promote it in Egypt? Why Egypt specifically?
  • Why would this news become very popular with 90% rumors than truth?
  • Why would people do such a thing all the time? Why did the people of Arabia do the same to the Prophet while they used to praise him a lot before he called them to Islam?

The answer cannot just be, "These are people of hatred and they want to get their hatred out." These people are not young kids who get excited in a fight so they curse. These people, throughout history, were not doing this randomly. Rather, it has been always an organized planned effort.

And here are a few answers that are obvious but more reasonable:

  • One of the reasons is to distract people from Islam by spreading rumors. This is very much similar to what the people of Makkah were telling all the visitors to Makkah about Muhammad so they may not listen to him and disbelieve him
  • Another reason is to be famous. Unknown people are now very famous; they are mentioned by hundreds of millions of people and they receive calls from top officials (as Terry Jones received calls from the president asking him not to burn the Qur’an)
  • Making money is a third reason. Someone collects millions of dollars to produce a third class film that costs a few thousand dollars. Why not?!
  • A very important reason is to make a political gain and direct politics in specific direction. One of the people who claimed Prophethood after the Prophet passed away was asked about the reason he would do so. He said, I find it an effective way of gaining leadership. Politics play a very important role in what people do.
  • A final reason is to depict a picture for Muslims (and hence Islam) that these people are savage, barbaric and uncivilized.
We helped our opponents achieve ALL their goals with a very high percentage.
Add to this the timing and the fact that countries affected and inflamed the most are countries where the Arab spring is taking place; they are moving to democracy and freedom; their leadership is establishing a healthier relationship with the world based on mutual respect and mutual benefit:
  • It is not a surprise that this happens while a delegation of many business people from corporate America is visiting Egypt to explore opportunities for investment.
  • It is not a surprise that this precedes a visit from the Egyptian president to the countries of the EU promoting the same thing.
  • It is not a surprise for that to happen while Libya is electing its political leadership.

Please keep all these goals and reasons in mind while we move through the rest of the discussion.

 

4- Considering consequences is a very important branch of fiqh

The scholars call it Fiqh Al-Ma'alat (fiqh of consequences). Now let us look at the consequences of what the Muslims decided to do when they went down to show anger. I would make the statement that we helped our opponents achieve ALL the above goals with a very high percentage.

  • Instead of a few thousand hits on youtube for this film, they get hundreds of thousands of hits.
  • They became very famous while they were unknown and insignificant.
  • The image of Islam and Muslims were hurt and we have proven the film point.
  • Political problems happened/will happen and the international relations with other countries will be hurt.
  • Properties are damaged and people, innocent people, are killed.

One may argue that this is nonsense. Consequences are not important. We are people of principles rather than calculated consequences. We have to speak the truth no matter what. For those I have a couple of points:

The_Offensive_Film_and_Questions_of_Why_and_How1
US consulate in Lybia set on fire

1. Is it part of our principles to kill people, burn property, curse and yell, invade embassies, and threaten lives? Is it part of our principles to punish innocent people while Allah said that no one should be held accountable for a crime of another? (Al-An`am 7:164, Al-Israa' 17:15, Fatir 35:18, Az-Zumar 39:7, An-Najm 53:38)

2. YOU ARE WRONG. Not only principles and stances matter, but also consequences. Everyone knows what the principles are. Yet, only a few know how to respond. Those are the ones who mind consequences. Here are a few out of many examples:

  • How about the stance of Prophet Harun, the brother of Prophet Musa (peace and blessings be upon both of them) when some of his people worshipped the Bull after Musa went ahead to meet Allah? Harun did not do anything; he did not even follow Musa with those who did not worship the Bull.

Musa was very angry when he came back, but Harun's justified his attitude saying, {I was afraid lest you should say: You have caused a division among the children of Israel and not waited for my word.} (Taha 20:94)

The principle was to leave them and what they worship and catch up with Musa. The consequence was a division between the people. Harun weighed it and he decided not to divide. Musa then turned to Allah and asked forgiveness for him and his brother.

  • How about the leader of hypocrites during the time of the Prophet, Ibn Salul, who insulted the Prophet and mobilized people against him,

{… when we go back to Madinah, the most honorable (meaning himself) will drive the most humiliated (meaning the Prophet) out of it …} (Al-Munafiqun 63:8)

This statement was the spark that caused serious troubles for the whole society. `Omar wanted to stand for his principles and kill the man. The Prophet forbade him from doing so. The question is why? The man deserved to be killed. This is not even his first time to cause such a problem and it does not look like it is his last. The Prophet said, "Leave him. People should not say that Muhammad kills his companions" (Muslim) What do I call that? Minding consequences

 

5- The question now is how to respond to such an event:

Freedom is not only about protesting in the streets. It is about all other forms of expression.
Well, 1) follow the guidance of Islam, 2) follow the tradition of Muhammad (peace and Blessings be upon him),  3) mind consequences, THEN respond. Here are a few ideas:
  • Ignore! Yes, this is a response. As a matter of fact the most effective response, one that defeats the goals of the offenders, perfectly according to the Sunnah of the Prophet, and one that has the best consequences. There are numerous places in the Qur’an where Allah commands that: {And turn away from the ignorant,} (Al-A`raf 7:199) {turn away from them}. (As-Sajdah 32:30)

Ignoring such things reduce their effect tremendously. A word of wisdom that may be attributed to `Omar Ibn Al-Khattab says "Defeat the falsehood by ignoring it."

The Prophet DID ignore the ignorance. He had a much more important job to do and no time is left to respond to every single piece of ignorance against him

  • Reflect! Yes, reflect on how much the Prophet suffered and was harmed JUST to deliver this message to all of us. Even until this moment people attack him because of that. Put yourself in his shoes and learn some of his patience.

Work on the amount of love for him on your heart. Learn more about his tradition and the values he stood for, called for, and was attacked for.

Reflect on how his attitude of forbearance and forgiveness turned his worst enemies into his most beloved companions. Find out what the same people who insulted him said about him later when they were touched by his character and the messages he delivered.

  • Seize the opportunity. Yes, it is an opportunity. People are becoming very curious and they want to find out more about the Prophet and what is happening. Be a representative of what the Prophet was about and show it to people in words and actions.
  • Join hands with others who denounced the film even though they aren’t Muslims. Support the State Department when they denounced the act and praise the statements issued by embassies apologizing to the Muslim world instead of attacking them and burning their flag.
  • Respond professionally. I ask Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Tunisia particularly to use the freedom they acquired to show the world who the Prophet is and what Islam calls for through films, movies, art, poetry, speech, and professional journalism. Freedom is not only about protesting in the streets. It is about all other forms of expression.

 

6- Final remarks 

Why would the US ambassador to Libya, a man who showed nothing but support and friendship to the Libyan people, got killed for such a crime that he disapproves of?
I stood before you before opposing our government and condemning its acts in many cases such as the war on terrorism. Our government makes mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes and sometimes even crimes. It is part of our duty to oppose the wrong. However, in this particular case, I am also standing before you and telling you that our government did not do anything wrong in this issue.

I am actually surprised that people protested in front of US embassies in the first place. As a matter of fact, the response of our State Department is very professional and it is one that is praiseworthy. Several officials denounced the film and letters of apologies went out. The administration took a lot of heat from their presidential opponent just for their professional and friendly responses.

Allah clearly said in the Qur’an that no one should be held accountable for others’ mistakes. (Al-An`am 7:164) Why do people punish US diplomats for a mistake they never committed or agreed with? Why would the US ambassador to Libya, a man who showed nothing but support and friendship to the Libyan people and they (Libyan) witnessed he is a good man, got killed for such a crime that he disapproves of?

One might say "the US government should have stopped it from being presented. The fact that they didn’t means they approve of it and support it."

I wonder what people expect the government to do? Go arrest the guy and put him in jail?

Freedom of expression is a value that we should support the most. It is by which we promote our values, speak our minds, oppose the wrong, and enjoin the good. By this value, we petition the government when it strays and demand justice when it disappears. By this value we call people to Allah and share with them our message.

We cannot tolerate compromising this value or make it easy for executives to stop it when they want even if it to our favor. If that happens, then the US will be on a slippery slope of corruption and we should be the first ones who defend this value.

However, this rude film has nothing to do with freedom of expression. It is inflammatory, offensive, disgusting, and full of hate speech. It also is a threat to our society and our relationship with the whole Muslim world. It is offensive to 1.5 billion Muslims, a few millions of them live in our country. We should take these offensive people to court. We should use our political power as well as public support to win a court case that silences such rudeness or at least keep it checked. 

We revolted against oppression and it is about time to plan for a leadership role in this world.
The final point I want to make is about the overall religious education in the Muslim world. The Arab Spring countries (and others that will follow) are getting out of an era where people of knowledge were deprived from educating the public. Also, we lived decades playing victim until we got used to it intellectually and spiritually.

We need to get out of this victimized mentality where we are always "objects" of a plan against us. We need religious preaching to push people towards what is beneficial to them. We need preaching that drives people towards renaissance, progress, and development. We are no longer an oppressed population. We revolted against oppression and it is about time to plan for a leadership role in this world.

Muslims should no longer be as "light" as they are now. If they do, a simple film by an idiot can destroy years of hard work. We need to start building a strong relationship with nations around the world and show the world how civilized we are. We need an overhaul to our education system to be able to get out of the cocoon.  It is about time that real scholars influence this population.

Finally, although I am very distressed by the events, I am extremely hopeful for the future insha Allah.

References
A Friday Sermon delivered in the Andalusia Islamic Center, Yonkers, NY on September 14, 2012
Wael Hamza is a Muslim writer, thinker and an active figure in MAS (Muslim American Society ), U.S.A.

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