A Plea For Respect Of The Sacred

In the Name of the Compassionate and Infinitely Merciful Precious Beloved

Here we go again. The ugly film that was produced attacking the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) set off a wave of protests all across the Muslim-majority world. While there may be a number of socio-political, geo-political, and other reasons to explain the outbreak of violence, the fact remains that, no matter how vile the attack against the Prophet Muhammad, violence and destruction betray the very spirit of the Prophet and what he stood for.

What is particularly frustrating for me is that the reaction of some Muslims (not even 1%) to a cartoon, or movie, or book, or caricature of the Prophet Muhammad gives the perception that all Muslims are mindless barbarians with a seemingly Pavlovian violent response to any perceived or real slight. Indeed, any vicious attack against our Prophet - or any other Prophet, for that matter - is hurtful to us, for we revere and honor all of God's Prophets and Message-bearers. But, the reality is - although we may not like said cartoon, movie, book, or caricature - the overwhelming majority of Muslims will not go out and tear down an Embassy or KFC. Unfortunately, however, the TV cameras do not reflect this reality.

Yet, as the smoke clears from the protests around the world - and one hopes there will be no smoke at the planned protest here in Chicago - I issue a plea: a plea for respect of the sacred. This is not to stifle freedom of speech or expression. Everyone is free to disbelieve in the Prophet Muhammad and think what they want to think. At the same time, however, why not agree - all of us - to engage in mutual respect for all our sacred figures and symbols?

If you do not agree with the Prophet Muhammad's beliefs, that is totally fine with me. But, is it too much to ask to refrain from saying that the Prophet was a pedophile (which he was not)? Is it too much to ask to refrain from portraying him as a womanizer (which he was not)? Is it too much to ask to refrain from calling the Prophet Muhammad a terrorist (which he was not)?

The same goes for Christ, and Moses, and Abraham, and Noah, and all of the Judeo-Christian/Biblical Prophets. No Muslim would ever dare to malign these men, for they are just as holy to us as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Yet, I go even further: we should refrain from attacking Guru Nanak, the revered figure of Sikhism. We should refrain from attacking the Buddha. We should refrain from attacking and maligning the Hindu deities.

Indeed, we have a very long history of disrespecting holy figures in Western civilization. The attacks against the Prophet Muhammad are very, very old. In college, I remember reading in Dante's Inferno how the Prophet Muhammad was being punished in one of the lowest circles of Hell. I didn't organize a protest to "defend the Prophet's honor"; I simply chuckled and turned the page. Jesus and Moses haven't fared much better: think Monte Python's The Life of Brian and Mel Brooke's History of the World.

Yet, Dante's opinion of the Prophet Muhammad, or Monty Python's mocking of the story of Christ, or Mel Brooke's depiction of the great Prophet Moses didn't diminsh any of the significance or standing of these holy men in either my eyes or the eyes of world history. It was simply these artists' opinions, no more, no less.

Still, just because I may not hold Buddha or the Hindu deities as sacred, that doesn't mean I should publish a book maligning them in the name of freedom of expression. Yes, I may be free to do so - and I love and value that freedom - but that doesn't mean I should do it. In fact, I shouldn't do it, out of respect for my fellow Americans and world citizens who are Buddhist or Hindu.

The Taliban were so very wrong in destroying those statues of Buddha in Bamiyan. The "holy warriors" who attacked Churches in Egpyt and Iraq were very wrong. And the bigoted makers of the vile film "Innocence of Muslims" are wrong, as well.

Let us have mutual respect for our sacred spaces; let us have mutual respect for our sacred figures; let us have mutual respect for our sacred texts. In fact, let us have mutual respect for those of us who do not want anything sacred or religious in their lives. Not because we are afraid of the violence of some misguided "believers." But because it will lead to more love and respect for each other as members of the human family.

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