Taking A Stand
September the 22nd was a cold and chilly evening in Toronto. After the tumultuous events around the world, Canadian Muslims had finally decided to be part of the mass protests around the world. Except with a two-fold premise. The primary goal of course was to take a stand on the Islamophobia surrounding Muslims from all sides. However, we also wished to take a stand against the violent and reactionary actions of our very own Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.
As I boarded the bus from a local mosque, I felt a little ashamed on the numbers present from our own community. Word on the street was that this rally was proposed to various religious groups. Being a Shia, I was glad that our brothers and sisters from different faiths would participate with us – especially after certain political lobby groups had been able to divide us along sectarian lines, especially with regards to the turbulent events in Syria.
As we journeyed to downtown Toronto, I wondered about all the arguments for and against protesting. I knew for a fact that the Prophet would never condone violence, even if someone had insulted him. He is beyond that. The ahadith have even mentioned a story of how he used to be abused by a woman in his neighborhood, who would dump garbage on him. The Prophet was never reactionary. Rather, he went to visit this woman when he noticed that there was no one there to throw garbage on him.
From a spiritual point of view, what we do know is that a human being has four faculties – and that if the faculty (or construct) of intellect supersedes the others – then man can rise above and beyond the level of Angels. But if man chooses, for example, to let the faculty of anger to take control, then man can only be ranked below animals.
To Protest or Not to Protest?
When the news of the film had initially broke, my curiosity got the better of me. I instantly went on YouTube in search of the 15-minute clip. It was derogatory, defamatory and insulting. But what didn’t make sense was the violence. I knew that every country had its own political context, like the drone strikes on Pakistan and Somalia, the army’s brutality in Egypt, the sectarian and tribal struggle for power in Libya. So was an insult on the Prophet an excuse? Or was it our own “red line”? Was protesting going to help? Or should we just ignore such “trivial” attempts to mock the holiest of men?
Looking at things from a historical perspective, protests and rallies had made a difference. The revolutions in the Middle East, from Tunisia to Egypt were spurred on by a desire for change. Tahrir Square was even noted as a primary catalyst for the Occupy movement. And irrespective of all the failings of the global Occupy movements, there have been some success stories. So protesting could only help. But these would require concrete goals. Asking for blasphemy laws to be put into place, or rather adding a restriction on freedom of speech would only make our global society more totalitarian – wouldn’t it?
Another aspect that really bothered me is the duplicity we as Muslims showed. If we truly respect all divinely appointed Prophets, and of course – the final Prophet more than the others, where were we when Western media destroyed the fabric of Christian values in the movie and book The Da Vinci Code? You could argue that it is upto the Christian community to lead the way in protesting – but were we even aware that it was defamatory towards the Prophet Jesus (pbuh)? Yet certain countries like Iran had turned out in numbers to protest against the movie, and even banned the book locally.
So I figured I am a hypocrite. I had watched the Da Vinci Code and had barely taken any action with respect to it. I guess this was a good time; it can never be too late.
Freedom of Speech
One argument that still didn’t sit well with me was the notion of freedom of speech. In the global world today, defamatory language, from the subtle swearing to the abusive taunting surrounds us in our day-to-day lives. Of course, it’s immoral to use such language, language that the Prophet himself would be disappointed with. It’s so easy to find insulting and defamatory language and videos in the social media world with respect to any religious leaders.
But there are limitations. Anyone who has had to write a paper for school or work is fully aware of the copyright laws. Plagiarism is discussed at length, and is taken very seriously. Isn’t that an infringement on freedom of speech? What about those who speak against the government? In Western countries they are targeted and systematically dismantled. From war resistors to NGOs, everyone is aware of governmental laws that limit freedom of speech.
What spurs on Muslims further is the glaring hypocrisy of the Western world. When it comes to Anti-Semitism, institutions have been set up to crack down on anything that may or may not even be anti-Semitic. With respect to racism, there are preventative laws as well as repercussions in all aspects of the Modern world, including sports. So why not take a stand against Islamophobia? Isn’t it our right as Muslims to do so? No it’s not a right, it’s a responsibility – for future generations to come.
Read more about the protest in Toronto here: